BANGKOK — Although Buenos Aires and Bangkok are half a world away, Argentine Ambassador to Thailand Alicia Sonschein says it’s the cultural differences that spice up her job.
“Distance must not be an obstacle, but a driving force to enhance bilateral relations,” says Sonschein. “Thailand is Buddhist like me, and the temples and spicy food…there’s so much diversity to discover.”
In August, Sonschein will have been Ambassador for three years. Her tenure has witnessed two historic moments: King Rama IX’s death as well as His Majesty the King Rama X’s coronation.
But day-to-day work revolves around rebuilding political and economic cooperation between Thailand and Argentina. Bilateral relations effectively halted from 2014 and were only restarted in 2017.
One of the most important aspects of the relationship to get going again was, of course, trade: largely food and wine from Argentina, and auto parts from Thailand. But the embassy’s operations are slowed by bureaucratic red tape where it can take months or even years for imports to be improved – especially when it comes to fresh ingredients such as meat and vegetables. Other imports from Argentina include soybeans, wheat, cereals, leather and shrimp.
“We are trying to open our markets, and enter the Thai markets,” Sonschein said.
One Argentine product Thais are familiar with, which Sonschein brings up with pride, is Bon o Bon – the spherical chocolate balls filled with giddy-sweet chocolate and caramel.
“It wasn’t easy, but now it’s in Villa Market, Siam Paragon, Gourmet Market, and so on,” Sonschein said.
Tourism flows between the two countries remain unbalanced. In 2017, more than 64,000 Argentines, mostly backpackers, visited Thailand – but only about 2,000 Thais visit Argentina annually. The embassy hopes to change that.
Besides snacks, the popular La Albiceleste national football team, there’s one final way that Thais connect with their faraway neighbor: dance. A dedicated group of Argentine Tango and Milonga enthusiasts meet every Friday night at Dream Hotel in Sukhumvit 15 to sashay their hips.
“I love to dance, especially Argentine dances. Our proceeds go to charity, so you can dance and make merit at the same time,” organizer Sukumarn Boonchoo, said. “Beginners welcome!”
Sonschein, 65, joins the milonga sessions from time to time.
“Not just football, there’s tango! When Thais see these two things, they think of Argentina. Thais love tango. It’s so incredible, a lot of them dance better than me!” Sonschein said. “The melting of culture is fabulous!”