Travel Blogger Match-up Part Seven
While staying at the Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok in Bangkok, Thailand, Michael Taylor has a wide-ranging interview with the hotel's affable General Manager, Eric Hallin. They move outdoors for a yummy lunch by the pool.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Eric Hallin has spent most of his life living abroad. He accompanied his family overseas at the age of nine, returning for four years and 10 months to finish college, serve in the military, and launch his career.
With the exception of four trips home to visit family and friends each year, Eric has spent his entire adult life abroad. He is General Manager of the Rembrandt Hotel & Towers Bangkok
What do you miss most about Sweden?
I miss the Swedish summer. Spring and summer in Sweden are just wonderful, lasting from a week to four and one-half months – maximum. The sun goes up at 2.30 am and goes down at 11.30 pm. There are only two or three hours [without sunlight], but it never gets completely dark.
What about winter?
The sun comes up at 10.30 am and goes down at 2.30 pm. People enter a dark tunnel and then – when spring comes – they see light at the end of the tunnel.
How long have you been living in Thailand?
Thirty-four years. I'm more Thai than anything else, but I'm still Swedish.
What do you like most about Thailand?
I like the people, and I like the food – and it's the people that create the food. They are very artistic, and Buddhism has a lot to do with that. It “corrupts” people, but in a good way. It forces them to become Thai. I have been to about 100 countires, and I love working with Thai people.
If you could recommend one book that would help someone understand Thailand better, what would it be?
It would be two books, and both are by Lewis Carol: “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. Unlike most other countries in Asia, Thailand was never colonized. As Rudyard Kipling said, “East is East, and West is West.” It's like two parallel societies – the thinking is similar, but it's not the same
You arrived in Thailand almost 35 years ago. What was Thailand like in those days?
It was a lot less commercial. There were very few hotels and almost no tall buildings. When it came to foreigners, almost everyone knew everyone else. Traffic was much worse because there was no Skytrain and no highways. There was more street food and wonderful smells. People would meet at temples.
How has Thailand changed?
Socially, it has become much more comemrcialized and secular. And more people can speak English now. There was always an English speaking elite, but many people could read and write English – but they couldn't speak it because of the way they were taught English at school.
What is your favourite city?
Cusco, which is in Southeastern Peru. It is high in the Andies Mountains. I also like San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Paris. Why do I like these cities? Because each one of them has a big soul. Bangkok is quite similar to New York in this regard.
Why Cusco? I've never heard of it!
My parents were living in Katmandu, Nepal, at the time. There were many similiarities – the animals, the people, the weaving, the woodwork ...
What cities that you haven't been to yet would you most like to visit?
New Orleans, Louisiana; Ulan Batar, Mongolia; and Shanghai, China.
What advice do you have for travelers?
Try to see a city the way locals see it. I like atmosphere so I will sometimes just take a bus, not knowing where it will take me. If you know someone that lives there, they can be your key to the city. You can see it through their eyes. Someitmes that is good, and sometimes that is bad.
What do you make of social media?
It is spreading very quickly. If I'm in a place and I have Internet, I ofen check in on 4 Square to see what's around me and who's around me.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Bangkok – other than your own, of course?
Many! It really depends on what neighborhood I'm in. For Japanese food, I like Isao. For French food, I like Beaulieu. It doesn't get points for atmosphere, but the food is simple with fantastic ingredients. It's wonderful for lunch. I also like Normandy Grill for French food. They have a gustation menu, which is fanastidc value for lunch. For simple Thai food, I like Krua Pradipat. Their tom yum goong is fantastic. You have to queue to get a table. Once or twice a year I go to Sra Bua at the Kempinski. It's semi-molecular with Thai flavours. Baan Chiang is a small house. It's been there for 30 years. For down home Italian food, I like Bella Napoli. And I love eating in Chinatown. There are lots of nice restaurants along the river.
If you could only name one cooking style, which would be your favourite?