Richard Grosse, Singapore Consul General to Medan, North Sumatra since June 2018, welcomed us to his office in Forum Nine building with a wide smile. Without trying to guess his age, he explained that he has been working in the foreign service for over 40 years, and being posted in Medan could probably be his last post. When pursuing his bachelor degree in the University of Singapore (now called NUS), subjects like political science, history, philosophy, politics attracted young Grosse towards the foreign service.
“Medan is the 8th city I’ve been living in. The first time, I was posted to jakarta. I have now come to what we call “keliling dunia”, one big circle and I now come back to Indonesia,” he said and chuckled. After Jakarta Grosse was posted to Brussel (Belgium), then Cairo (Egypt), then Vancouver (Canada), then New York, then Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), followed by Oman, and finally Medan (Indonesia).
“I’ve been very fortunate”, he continued. “Not many people have this kind of opportunity. My experience as a diplomat, of course, is very different than as a tourist. We never really understand a country because as a tourist you only visit the country in such a short time. The positive part of the job is you understand the history, the culture and the people a lot better.”
Married with 3 children, Grosse admitted one of the most challenging parts of the job is to move his family from country to country. He realized that for his kids to adjust to a new school, new friends, new neighborhood must have never been easy. “My children have studied in different systems and adjusted to different lifestyles every few years. To survive, they needed resilience and the ability to adjust in a new environment, they’ve got to be quite adaptive. Everytime, they don’t just shift into a new city but into a completely different culture. For example, in Cairo they had to speak Arabic, in Brissel, they had to speak French, Dutch.”
“What is the first thing you learn when you enter a country?” he asked. “The language”, I guessed. He laughed and said “no, it is uang”. You need to learn the currency, and which one (money) is which!” It literally was not the hot tea served that warmed the room, it was Richard Grosse’s personality. “Of course, language is critical too. In some countries, such as Cairo, There were not many people who could speak english. I had to pick up Arabic.”
“Nevertheless, the bigger adjustment (in this job), I think, is made by my family. I have a job, I come to work, there’s a system i’m familiar with, but for them, they have to come to a new country, new school, new language, new environment. I must give them a lot of credit for having survived all these years under different systems. Not many people can do that. Having gone through different systems, and come out well adjusted. My son is now a diplomat and my daughter is a journalist, a producer for CNA (Channel News Asia), and my youngest one is in NUS (National University of Singapore). My son has been posted to several countries now, he has a daughter but he understands the challenges of bringing family with him, so the cycle goes on. I give all the credit to my wife, she is the pillar, she is in charge of all these,” Grosse described, smiled while reminiscing about his long journey in the foreign service. .
Talking about the job itself in Medan city, Richard Grosse who claimed to find many kinds of food in Medan are very delightful, explained that his mission is to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans visiting, living, and working in Sumatera island, and to promote bilateral, economic, and cultural links between Singapore and key provinces in Sumatera, Indonesia.
“Generally we help the Singaporeans here with their passports. In rare cases, some of them get arrested for whatever crime, so we help them inform their families or help them get a lawyer. We assist but we follow the rule of law in Indonesia. Non public issues include people from other nationals who want to apply for a visa.”
“On an official level, our job is to develop relationships between the two countries, Indonesia and Singapore. We always encourage and arrange our ministries to make a visit to Sumatra to meet some key government officers in Sumatra and vice versa,” he added.
Based on BKPM (Badan Koordinasi Penanaman Modal) records, Singapore is the biggest investor of Indonesia, followed by China, Japan and Malaysia. Some supporting reasons for Singapore businessmen to target Indonesia, are an increase in the market potential index (Ease of Doing Business / EoDB), a large market potential, and the great number of human resources.
As the consul general of Singapore, Richard Grosse recognized the role of consul general office of Singapore in facilitating the economic relations between the well-entwined countries.
“In terms of tourism, I know Lake Toba is highly promoted, but I also encourage Singaporeans to visit other parts of Sumatra. Many people still don’t know there is a lot of beauty elsewhere. Aceh is beautiful, but I’m very impressed with Bukit Tinggi, and not to mention, the food has drawn many tourists to Medan,” he answered when asked about the tourism potential in North Sumatra.
Facing his last few years in the diplomatic mission, Grosse admitted he was actually quite happy waiting for his retirement. “I don’t have any specific plans yet, but surprisingly I would like to travel. I want to be a tourist without any responsibilities, without having to worry about my mobile phone, because I have always been “on call 24/7” for the past 40 over years,” he explained.
Writer: Elsa Malona
Photographer: Vicky Siregar