manager of the Norwegian Handicraft Company in Chiang Mai is a
laughing, blue-eyed Norwegian, Fred Lambersoy. He is, amongst
many other things, an adventurer, and one can easily imagine his
forebears in the long boats. He is also a man whose ambition
includes building a toilet in a village in Nepal!
He was born in Narvik in Norway and his
father was an air force major who had met a young English woman
during the war. Along with peace came a return to Norway for the
couple and a new baby - Fred.
When he finished school, he was like most of
us - totally clueless as to what he wanted to do; however, in
Norway some decisions are made for young men, called compulsory
military service. In those days it was 15 months, but some lucky
draftees were seconded out to the civilian air traffic control
as unskilled staff. Fred described himself as a “pencil
Fred found the environment interesting and
after the 15 months decided to join the Air Traffic Control
group. However, it was not just a case of filling out the forms
and lining up at the control tower - there was a very long
‘apprenticeship’ to go through. The first phase being taken
on as an ‘assistant’ which would last for many years before
there was a place in training school. For Fred, this took four
The next phase was the actual training which
included theory in college in the UK and then practical work
back in Norway. This went on in rotation for another four years
before he then became a fully-fledged Air Traffic Controller.
He likened the work as similar to that of a
pilot, who works very hard for the half hours before take off
and landing, and is bored for the eight hours in between. “It
can be quite a tricky job, a challenge,” said Fred. There is
also more than one type of traffic controller, with the control
tower guys controlling the traffic you can see, working with
their eyes, then there are the approach controllers, with
everything being monitored through radar and then there are the
area controllers, monitoring all plane movements in the area,
even ones not actually landing at your airport, but just going
through your air space.
Fred enjoyed the work, with positions of air
traffic controllers being lifetime posts and highly sought
after; however, when his employers decided to send him to
northern Norway, Fred resigned. “I think I was the only air
traffic controller to resign,” he said.
It was 1974 and the beginning of the oil boom
and Fred joined a helicopter company. “I did everything except
fly helicopters or maintain helicopters. Call me logistics
consultant if you like.” It really was boom time, with the
company going straight up, taking everyone’s wages upwards
too, but after five years, Fred had enough. “I was never home.
I was working 12-14 hours a day.” He was also married (and
still is, to the same lady 38 years later), and I am sure that
also had a bearing on his decision to quit.
At this time there were jobs going again for
air traffic controllers in Norway, and with the new equipment
being phased in (for which he had been trained in the UK) he
decided to return. The pay was good too. “We were paid more
than the prime minister,” said Fred, laughing.
Wanderlust began to set in again after a few
years and he pointed his long boat at the Middle East, after
reading that air traffic controllers were needed in Oman.
Unfortunately, certain other people were also headed in that
direction, called Operation Desert Storm, and politically he
found he had to be very circumspect in what he said,
particularly as far as making any direct criticisms of how
things were run at the airport. However, he did enjoy the
country. “You had a six lane highway running to the airport
and 500 metres away you were witnessing what it was like 2,000
years ago! Local people dressed in the burnoose and their veiled
women, and under the tree their new Toyota van.” He travelled
all over the country in the five years he was there, but it was
time to settle down, he thought and he returned to his old air
traffic control job in Norway.
What Fred did not understand at the time was
that adventurers like Fred don’t settle down that easily, and
after 18 months he was on his way to Hong Kong. It was 1997 and
he was in Hong Kong to see the changeover from Kai Tak Airport
to the new one, but after two years he had had enough. “I
really didn’t feel that I was made welcome,” so he had no
regrets at leaving, but where should they go? That was the
burning question. Or was it time to retire with a pipe and
The carpet slippers were actually quite close
to the mark, as his wife had set up a little business in China
manufacturing woollen slippers that she exported to Norway. As
they both wanted out of China, they began to check other
possible locations in SE Asia and were advised by an
acquaintance to try Thailand, and in particular, Chiang Mai.
They came for a week and decided they would give it 12 months
and see what happened.
It is now five years later, and ‘what
happened’ has become the Norwegian Handicrafts business now
employing 75 people. The enterprise is branching into
traditional Norwegian embroidery and Fred is sort of in slipper
But I did mention Fred’s toilet building
ambition! He is an avid trekker in Nepal, and on one trek he
stayed with a peasant family on the route, but was horrified
when he got up in the morning that there was no loo! He said to
his fellow trekker, “We should go back and build them a
toilet!” One day, he will.