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New zeal, land ahead for couple

2008/12/07 | Permalink | Source

It is truly amazing how fast time flies; it seems only yesterday that the diplomatic circuit welcomed New Zealand Ambassador Jane Coombs and her husband Tim Strong.

But in actuality it's been almost three years.

During that time they built a great reputation for themselves in business and cultural circles.

With Strong behind the mic and Coombs heading the mission, the dynamic duo brought relations to their next plateau.

High on the cards is the "good progress" the Korean and New Zealand government has made in advancing a free trade agreement.

Last week both sides concluded their preparatory talks.

"I'm hoping that in the near future we can move from this stage into a more formal stage", she said with pride. "I feel we are on the eve of that, so that's a huge sense of professional satisfaction".

Another accomplishment the ambassador is most proud of is the launch of the Kiwi Chamber of Commerce.

"It was time for New Zealand to have its own visible identity here and I'm very excited about the vision that the Kiwi Chamber has".

The chamber will work as an agent of support to mentor new interests into the Korean New Zealand base.

The film co-production treaty was another of Coombs targets when she first took over the role as ambassador in Seoul.

"On the one hand it's about harnessing the creative sectors of our two countries. On the other hand there's a fundamental partnership that treaty entails and that treaty can access the same kind of economic benefits in New Zealand that we would give to a domestic film", she said.

Also on the agenda when Coombs first arrived was bringing the science and technology sector closer.

Her plan moved ahead so well that the joint projects have received joint funding from both governments.

Culturally, the embassy is planning a huge extravaganza from April 3-5, 2009 at the COEX center.

"I'm very excited about the prospect that thousands of Koreans will experience a little piece of New Zealand when they walk into that pavilion next year and experience the sights and sounds of our country".

There will be several New Zealand musicians, a fashion show and food and wine to enjoy.

The ambassadorial family is off to Washington D.C., not far from Strong's home in New York, where their son will enjoy a different education and American sports, something he can't wait for.

For Coombs, the move is a big push for her career. Strong, on the other hand, is thrilled to be going back home after 16 years of doing the diplomatic dance.

"I'll be able to go to jazz clubs, go visit voice teachers that have been doing my style of music for a long time, so I'm excited about that", said the popular jazz performer and husband to Coombs.

He did mention that he has some projects in the works but will announce them on a later date. Strong confessed that they are music and film related.

"But my first order of business is that my son is comfortable and settled, then Jane, then myself", he said.

One thing is for sure, they will miss Korea. They both said that they will miss the buzz and energy that radiates from Seoul including the people and their warm and welcoming attitude.

"I do like the Korean temperament; I find Koreans very communicative and expressive", she said.

Strong added, "They celebrate life and to me that is really what everyone should do. I'm really going to miss that part".

Their fondest memory, the one that will put a smile on their faces 40 years from now, is the diplomatic community itself.

"I don't think we could have walked into a better diplomatic community", he said.

If you think Strong is just saying those words, then proof is in their final farewell reception at their residence. There was not an inch to be had. Everyone that was invited came, a rarity in today's busy world.

While Coombs echoed that sentiment, another fond memory she brings with her are the simple everyday pleasures, like walking her golden retriever Chewbacca along the Han River.

She explained that for a New Zealander, getting close to the water is an almost magical experience and was thrilled to find the Han River is only a short walk from her residence.

Their most amusing memory was when they first arrived in Korea.

"People would always say to me 'Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Ambassador'. I think that's the funniest thing, welcome to the club", he said with a laugh.

"I would nod my head and say thank you but she's the ambassador".

He added that there would be times when Strong would show up to an event only to find his name badge replaced with a different name like "Mrs. Coombs", or "wife of the ambassador".

While Strong participated in many diplomatic functions, he was also busy following his other love, jazz.

An acclaimed jazz singer, Strong gave several memorable performances in Korea.

His most recent was as part of an orchestra.

But his biggest "thank you" goes to guitarist Han San-wong who "is really as good as it gets around the world. He's outstanding; we did some beautiful collaborations of jazz, funk, blues, contemporary, fusion music and gospel".

Strong's creative juices garnered him a role in the local film "Sangsabu Ilche" ("The Mafia, The Salesman").

There is word that he might be staring in another Korean production sometime in the near future.

By Yoav Cerralbo

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