The September 11th attack
Life of diplomats isn't all glitter
By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer
Ah, the glamorous life of a diplomat in the so-called Geneva of the Pacific.
Ji Doo Lee, a retired Navy admiral, is consul general of Korea.
At cocktail parties where the chardonnay and Pacific Rim delicacies flow freely, they grease the wheels of international trade, culture and military cooperation.
But the Sept. 11 attacks have added a new and more somber dimension to a diplomat's job.
Already mired in the Ehime Maru tragedy, the Japanese consulate in Nu'uanu has installed a metal detector and X-ray machine at its main entrance since Sept. 11. Each day, select staff screen the mail for anthrax, wearing latex gloves and masks.
Peter Cushman Lewis, New Zealand's honorary consul, has received a dozen calls from Hawai'i residents who are considering moving "down under," where they presume it's safer.
"It's a flight to safety," said Lewis, the vice president for administration at Hawaiian Electric Industries.
French honorary consul Patricia Lee regrets that dignitaries such as the great-great grandson of luxury products maker Louis Vuitton and master stylist Frederic Fekkai have canceled their plans to attend Hawai'i's annual French Festival for security reasons.
On the other hand, Russian honorary consul Natasha Owen says the tragic event has solidified relations between the United States and her homeland.
"Our countries have grown closer," said Owen, a former real estate agent who represents the Federation of Russia from her Kahala home. With telephones in the office, the kitchen, her bedside and even the lanai, she's on call 24 hours a day.
Kasio Mida is consul general of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Next year, the Consular Corps of Hawai'i, Inc. enters its 50th year as an organization representing Hawai'i's close-knit diplomatic community.
While corps members recently mourned the death of Chilean honorary consul Keith Adamson, they've gained Kusuma Cooray, a Sri Lanka honorary consul.
Aside from helping tourists and expatriates of their country, Hawai'i's consuls keep in close touch with the U.S. Pacific Command, the East-West Center, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Pacific Forum, the governor's office, and many cultural and business organizations.
Overall, they say, Hawai'i is considered an attractive assignment for rising diplomats.
"Everybody thinks if you're assigned to Hawai'i you must have done something good in your career," said Kasio Mida, consul general of the Federated States of Micronesia. "This is a choice assignment, a reward for doing well in the foreign service."
But the job isn't all glitz.
Ask Japanese Consul General Minoru Shibuya, who had to cope with the fallout of the sinking of the Ehime Maru just four months after being posted to Hawai'i.
So far, Navy divers have recovered eight of the nine drowned Ehime Maru crew members, allowing the families to hold Buddhist funeral rites to send the Ehime Maru victims peacefully to their next life. Shibuya has attended each funeral, and hopes the body of 17-year-old Takeshi Mizuguchi will soon be found.
"If they could find the last one, that would be splendid," said Shibuya, who has held diplomatic posts in Bangkok, Jakarta, Rome, Washington and New York.
Japan is the busiest
Overall, the sheer volume of Japanese tourists in Hawai'i 1.8 million last year means lots of traveler emergencies, including lost and stolen passports.
Shibuya is also charged with greasing the wheels of trade between Hawai'i and Japan. But both economies are suffering from the fallout of Sept. 11. He notes that Hawai'i has seen only half as many Japanese tourists as usual in the past two months.
For Mida, the big worry is how many Micronesians will lose their jobs in Hawai'i's recession.
Mida deals largely with social issues affecting Micronesians who live and work in Hawai'i under a 15-year compact of free association between Micronesia and its protectorate, the United States.
His four-member office assists Micronesians here for medical treatment, students on scholarships and those who are threatened with deportation for running afoul of the law.
A typical day at the office for Korean Consul General Ji Doo Lee, a retired Navy admiral, begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends, officially, at 4:30 p.m.
But like Shibuya, Lee has a calendar crammed with evening and weekend functions. Right now, his office is busy preparing for the 100th anniversary of Korean immigration to the United States in 2003.
"A lot of people think that the life of a diplomat is quite glamorous. It could look that way from the outside because there are a lot of tax exemptions and waivers," Lee said. "But you also have a lot of responsibilities."
Those responsibilities now include alerting Koreans in Hawai'i about security threats such as anthrax and other weapons of terrorism.
A typical diplomat's career
Minoru Shibuya is the Japanese consul general.
These diplomats don't pay state taxes, and with a flash of their consulate ID can avoid paying sales tax if a purchase of, say, groceries, exceeds $100.
They also have diplomatic immunity, which means that if they commit a crime during their assignments abroad, their government can choose to bring them home instead of leaving them to face the local justice system. But they must abide by local laws.
"We pay our parking tickets," said Paul Robilliard, consul general for Australia, who arrived in Hawai'i two months ago after serving as senior spokesman for the Parliamentary and Media Branch of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Australian consulate operates out of a penthouse at 1000 Bishop St., and serves Canadian and British citizens and tourists as well as Aussies.
For Robilliard, who has served as Australian ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, the perks of his job are obvious:
"It's a great honor to represent your country; the work is usually very interesting, and you get the opportunity to travel to different societies," he said.
However, on the flip side, he said consuls general move about every three years, which can be disruptive if they have children.
That's not a problem for honorary consuls, who are often citizens of the United States or at least permanent residents, and who are drawn to the job for its prestige, social events and opportunity to do public service.
Life of an honorary consul
Niklaus Schweizer became the honorary consul general of Switzerland in 1973.
Niklaus Schweizer, University of Hawai'i professor, became Switzerland's honorary man in Hawai'i in 1973.
He often deals with Swiss tourists who land in paradise and think they no longer need to take medication, such as anti-depressants. When a Swiss tourist goes haywire, Schweizer gets a call from police and has to talk his countrymen into getting back on their medicines.
Indeed, some of Schweizer's experiences in Hawai'i are worthy of a memoir.
He was the one who had to tell former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos that he would not be granted a visa to Switzerland, where he kept hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous bank accounts. Marcos was forced out of office in 1986 and fled to Hawai'i, where he died three years later.
"I said, 'Excuse me, your Excellency, I have something to convey,' " Schweizer said. "Should you express a wish to visit our country, we could not honor your wish."
On Sept. 11, Schweizer was attending a diplomatic conference in San Francisco when news of the attacks hit the West Coast.
"We immediately stopped the proceedings and said, 'What we are doing is so unimportant that we cannot go on,' " Schweizer said.
Reach Yasmin Anwar at 525-8027.