MANILA, Philippines – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh. The Dutch are known for producing some of the best painters in history. Their love for the arts continues to make them famous as they dominate the design and architecture industry today with their modern, artistic structures.
Dutch Ambassador Ton Boon von Ochssee and his wife Martine are typically Dutch — tall, organized, straight forward, and possessing very good taste in art. When they first moved here in 2012 following a posting in Kuwait, Martine took it upon herself to make sure their new house would feel like a home in no time.
She said that transforming the house into something of their own was rather important to her and her husband. “People often ask us if we go home for Christmas. I often say, wherever we are, we are home,” Martine said. “If we consider Holland to be our only home, then this and all the other places we lived in will be nothing but hotel rooms.”
Filipino art for the home
The official residence of the Dutch Ambassador was already furnished with furniture and art from the Netherlands but Martine added a good number of pieces from Filipino designers as well. She admitted that the works of local artists in the Philippines caught her eye shortly after setting foot on Philippine shores.
“We were so surprised when we arrived here with the art and one of the first things we did was go to Manila FAME,” Martine said. After seeing what Filipino artists can offer at FAME, she found herself buying other pieces to complement their Dutch furniture.
The spacious house, designed by reknowned Filipino architect Ramon Antonio, has an abundance of floor to ceiling glass windows giving it a modern suburban Dutch home feel. However, the ambassador said they like keeping its Filipino identity while treating it the Dutch way — very neat, organized, and perfect.
To the Dutch, riding a bike is a part of their daily lives. Here in the Philippines, the couple still use their bikes often. Martine even rides her bike to go to the Ayala Center in Makati, crossing EDSA on the way. She said it takes her only about 12 minutes from their house.
One of the ambassador’s most well-known projects here in the Philippines is co-organizing events that bring the Dutch tradition of biking together with a cause.
The couple also loves going to weekend markets in the Makati area on their bikes.
Freely roaming around their home are Max and Bendi.
Max is a 9-month-old shih tzu while Bendi is a house cat they brought with them from Kuwait. Bendi and her sister grew up in their garden, the Dutch couple said. They did not want any pets at the time and Martine even gave them away to another diplomat-family already. But she found herself a few days later asking for Bendi back as she was “very special.”
Max, meanwhile, is Filipino. Martine always wanted a shih tzu and was inspired by dog owners she met at High Street as well as her new peers in the diplomatic community to get one.
“I remember telling Ton that I was just going to take a look,” Martine recalled the morning of her visit to a breeder. “When I got home, we had Max. I was surprised,” the ambassador chimed in, adding that the surprise was indeed “very pleasant.”
“She was not very fond of him at first,” Martine said pointing at Bendi. But just a few months later, the two are already playing together in the garden and frolicking indoors.
In the garden is Gertrude, a life-sized sculpture brought in from the Netherlands which the couple inherited from previous ambassadors. When they arrived, she was already looking old and worn out. “We had to give her a botox,” Martine laughed. After having her restored to her former glory, she now stands proudly near the garden — a perfect symbol of the Dutch people who are also known for their delicious milk and cheeses.
A marriage that lasts
The couple has one son who now lives and works in Saudi Arabia. He is an economist who specializes in oil and gas industry analysis. Prior to the Philippines, they were posted in the Middle East and some parts of Africa and the US. For a family who has been traveling almost all their life, the Boon von Ochssees certainly have a wide variety of interesting stories to tell.
One such story is about the ambassador’s earlier posting as a younger diplomat in the Middle East. “A few years after our arrival was the invasion of Iraq and then the Gulf War. Although I would definitely not look for a war to live through, we found ourselves there,” Martine recalled. “While we were there, we sort of lived history in the front row seat and that made it very exciting.”
She admitted that living in the Middle East was hard for her at first as she was a bit headstrong. Covering up with a black abaya and not being allowed to drive herself around were huge adjustments for her. However, learning to adjust to the custom of the host country is part of her husband’s job description and as his wife, Martine had to as well.
“I look back at it as a very interesting period of my life,” Martine said, adding that meeting a lot of the nice people from the country also made her feel at home after a while.
Martine added that moving to different countries can be a challenge for a diplomat’s family, saying that it’s actually fun to be in a new place but adjustment takes time. A few years later (Dutch diplomats have 3 to 4 years of posting in each country), they have to pack up and leave no matter how settled they have become.
She added that she thinks it must have been difficult for their son as well to constantly leave friends behind and make new ones. Being the wife of a diplomat also entails a lot of work as she takes on the role of supporting her husband. Something that the ambassador defnitely appreciates her for.
“I wouldn’t be successful without Martine,” he said, looking at his wife fondly.
Though they have only been in Manila for a year, the couple is already known for being gracious to others. They also radiate with affection for each other.
“You learn to go through the ups and downs of life together,” the ambassador said when asked what makes a marriage last. Martine added that it’s always best to carve each one’s own identity and to keep things interesting.
In their ever-changing lives and with all the traveling, adjustments, and new people they meet, Martine said giving the marriage and family life their all is the secret to a long and happy life together.
“There are no half-marriages in the foreign service. They just won’t last,” she said. – Rappler.com