The Consul General of the United States of
America in Chiang Mai is Eric S. Rubin, a career diplomat who
describes Chiang Mai as "A special place - in a special
place." Since we were then on the same wave-length, I
probed the life of a Consul General in some depth.
Eric was born in New York City. His father
was a TV producer (remember ‘Jeopardy’?) and his mother a
social worker, and he has one younger brother now a lawyer.
Schooling was in a semi-urban high school, and though he had
potential he admitted that extra curricular activities, such as
editing the school newspaper and campus politics, stopped him
reaching his capabilities.
However, by the time he had finished school
his interests were history, languages and travel. This latter
interest was fuelled by annual overseas vacations with his
parents. He also spoke on the influence that his teachers had
been on his life, including one who began teaching him Russian
from the age of 16.
Following high school, he went to Yale where
he studied History and Political Science, with his subjects
being British and Russian Imperial history. In case you think
that those subjects are not relevant, Eric disagrees. "Our
world today is almost entirely the product of the former
imperialism and colonization," and you only have to look at
countries in Europe, the Middle East and even Asia to see the
truth in those words.
When he finished at Yale, he had three
options open to him - firstly the Foreign Service, or a training
programme in journalism with the New York Times (he had been
working as a ‘stringer’ for them whilst at Yale), or finally
law school. He sat the exams for admission to the Foreign
Service, but knew that sometimes you had to wait years before
getting the nod, and by the time Yale was over, there was still
silence from that region and since law school was not a
preferred option, he accepted an offer from the New York Times,
joining as a ‘copy boy’, the lowest rung on the ladder.
However, Eric who is someone who always finds
the positive side said, "I got my wife through the New York
Times! The thing that’s made me the happiest to this
day." Just in case you think Eric resorted to a classified
advertisement, this is not correct. His wife also went to work
for the New York Times!
After being in the newspaper business for two
years, his first option came in - an offer from the Foreign
Service (and you think you’ve had to wait some time for your
job application to come back)! He went to Washington and waited
for his first overseas posting. With his knowledge of the French
language, and being able to speak Russian and his understanding
of the historical European background, Eric would surely be
first cab off the rank to Moscow. Not so fast, said America.
Eric was posted to Honduras for his first two year stint.
I asked Eric if this ignoring of his talents
was at all galling and he admitted that initially he did think,
"Do I want to do this?" But here’s where his
positive attitude came forth again, saying quickly,
"Although it was a challenging time for a new American
diplomat overseas, it was important to take the learning
perspective. It was broadening and training, and when you join
up you have to have world-wide availability and be prepared to
go anywhere for the needs of the Service."
We touched on the primary duties of someone
in the Service and he said, "There is a career corps of
people serving the country - it is important to have a
non-political Foreign Service." He also added,
"Serving our country is the real goal, something we take
very seriously - but it can be tough."
One tough area is when a career diplomat is
asked to carry out the policies of the government, which he or
she may personally disagree with. Interestingly, while ‘public’
dissent is not allowed, there are avenues for ‘internal’
dissent, which Eric has even used at one stage during his
Returning to the USA, he then began working
on what are called the Foreign Desks, rotating through the
Soviet Desk, dealing with the break-up; the Eastern Desk,
dealing with the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian
situation. He was almost becoming an expert in exploding
Wanting to travel again, he was given an
assignment in Kiev, in the Ukraine. This required language
schooling, which he enjoyed - the gift for languages having been
apparent since school days. "I liked language training. You
get paid to go to school."
After two years in the Ukraine ("It was
very exciting watching the rebirth of a country") he
returned to Washington and then to the White House to be the
Press Spokesman for Foreign Affairs. While there Eric said,
"I got to witness the reality of American politics,"
which included being on duty the night the story broke about a
certain young intern and the President, Bill Clinton!
After the White House he had another stint in
Europe, but after the horrors of ethnic wars and atrocities, he
took a sabbatical - a teaching fellowship at Georgetown
University which he enjoyed for two years.
Following this he made an application for the
Consul General’s position in Chiang Mai, not expecting to win
what is a prized plum in the Foreign Service, but was pleasantly
surprised when he got the posting. "I wanted to serve in
Asia and get management experience in a Consulate." Not
only that, but Eric believes that Thailand is a wonderful place
for children, and with his two girls (aged 5 and 3) as his
principal ‘hobby’ Thailand is that ‘special place’.
Eric is positive, and yet a realist. "I
have no grandiose expectations - but I do want to make a
difference." With his affable nature and innate ability, I
am sure that he has and will continue to do so.