Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam Camilla Mellander has relished the rich culture of Vietnam, a nation which Sweden has forged special ties with.
Mellander was stationed in Israel as deputy ambassador when the Swedish government decided to close down its embassy in Vietnam in 2010.
In December 2011, the Swedish government annulled their decision and Mellander was named the Swedish ambassador to Vietnam in August 2012.
“I’m elated that I was appointed ambassador to Vietnam following the reversed decision as Vietnam is one of the few nations that Sweden has forged a special bond with. Many Swedes also work and live in Vietnam,” Ambassador Mellander told Tuoi Tre (Youth) reporters.
She has an excellent grasp of several languages including English, French, German and Hebrew. She is also learning Vietnamese.
Upon her appointment, the diplomat left her Northern European country for Hanoi with her teen children.
Her husband, who works at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, cannot accompany her to the Southeast Asian country.
Ambassador Mellander invariably has her hands full taking care of her 12-year-old boy and girl, and fulfilling her role as Sweden’s highest-ranking diplomatic official in Vietnam.
Her average days typically begin at 6:00 am so that she can take her children to a school intended for foreign students in Hanoi.
She then tends to her work schedule, which generally includes workshops and meetings with partners or Swedish enterprises operating in Vietnam.
Despite her hectic agenda, the ambassador always makes it a point to attend the opening and closing ceremonies of her children’s academic years to give them a morale boost.
“The Vietnamese and Swedish apparently share this practice,” she said smilingly.
During her days-long working trips, the ambassador usually seeks help from her husband, who comes over from Sweden to tend to the kids.
“Rarely do the children lack parental care because Swedes believe no one cares for children better than their own parents,” a staffer at the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi revealed.
“However, there are very few family reunions during a year,” the staffer added.
“I always try to get my work done by 5:00 pm every day and devote the rest of my time to my children. I usually take them to performances in Hanoi to introduce them to Vietnamese art and culture,” the devoted mother shared.
Vietnamese employees at the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi divulged that Ambassador Mellander is also on a first-name basis with her subordinates.
Right from the onset of her ambassadorship, she insisted her employees call her Camilla.
As she always leaves her office door open, staffers of all ranks are free to come in and share their opinions with her without making an appointment.
‘Working in Vietnam is a reward’
Ambassador Mellander stressed that she was first impressed with a dynamic, bustling Vietnam.
“Eateries and shops are seen at all intersections. People find opportunities to do business everywhere, even on the sidewalk,” she observed.
While she and her husband were strolling around the capital’s downtown area in the early morning, they spotted a person taking a cassette player to Ly Thai To Park.
People then gathered for dances and they even asked the diplomat and her husband to join.
The couple and their new friends took great delight in salsa and tango dance steps.
The ambassador then observed that Hanoi residents do morning exercise almost everywhere.
“It’s a unique practice. Vietnamese people don’t need a stadium or modern center to do the job as we do in Sweden,” she remarked.
She and Thao, her close Vietnamese friend, sometimes take a leisurely walk around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, visiting pagodas or even stopping to savor draft beer on the sidewalk at the quarter’s Ta Hien ‘international’ intersection, which is usually packed with foreign tourists and expats, particularly in the evening.
Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam Camilla Mellander (first left) savors draft beer with her friends on the Ta Hien ‘international’ street in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Ambassador Camilla Mellander
When the Swedish Embassy invited Tareq Taylor, a respected chef and TV-personality from Sweden to promote the European country’s cuisine in Vietnam in 2014, the ambassador treated him to ‘bun cha’ (rice noodles with grilled pork and meatballs), one of Hanoi's popular delicacies, in the Old Quarter.
She then suggested that Chef Taylor prepare the dish fusing Swedish tastes during a lunch held outside the embassy.
The ambassador also came up with placing tables and stools outside the edifice and turning the sidewalk into a street café.
The initiative, inspired by Hanoians’ habit of sipping coffee on the sidewalk in the morning, was a hit among locals.
As the co-chair of the Informal Gender Policy Coordination group, Ambassador Mellander is also instrumental in gender equality promotion efforts in Vietnam.
In 2013, she came forward with an ambitious project to augment women’s involvement in government decision-making in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong.
The diplomat also took a field trip to the northern province of Ha Giang to gain a better understanding of situations involving women being trafficked across borders in the region.
Ambassador Mellander has tactfully talked her male counterparts into assisting her attempts to empower Vietnamese women.
Most of her companions during the two above-mentioned field trips were males, including the Canadian ambassador and the deputy Icelandic ambassador to Vietnam.
In 2014, she was honored with a much-coveted diplomatic award by the Swedish government for her outstanding contributions and promotion efforts.
The award is intended for the European country’s ambassadors stationed in more than 100 countries.
The ambassador recounted that during the American war in Vietnam, which ended in 1975, the ties between Vietnam and Sweden were quite special, as Sweden voiced its support for Vietnam during that time, thus resigning itself to an unfriendly relationship with the U.S.
“My tenure in Vietnam is a reward indeed,” she noted.