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A Lust for Life<br />

Eric Smulders van Heer Janspolder

A Lust for Life

A Lust for Life<br />

Eric Smulders van Heer Janspolder<br />


Copyright © 2022 Eric Smulders van Heer Janspolder.<br />

Typeset in Goudy Old Style.<br />

Printed and bound in the UK.

Dedication:<br />

Patrick<br />

I dedicate this book to Alexander, my best oldest son, Patrick, my best second son<br />

and Pier, my best third son.<br />

Thank you, Patrick, for offering me the contract with LifeBook as a Christmas<br />

present in 2019, without which my autobiography would never have been written.<br />

You and your brothers are the superstars of my life. This autobiography describes<br />

my life: exciting, stressful, chaotic, and happy. My multi-faceted, not exemplary<br />

romantic life, which started in the red-light district in The Hague at the ripe age<br />

of 16, has been treated with suitable discretion.<br />

Never give up... bad grass never dies.<br />

With love, Daddy


Prologue<br />

Eric’s family 11<br />

Smulders Family History 3<br />

Timeline – Eric Smulders 47<br />

1. Early Life 51<br />

2. University Years 67<br />

3. Young Adulthood and My Early Career 1961–1962 73<br />

4. Shell 1964–1972 and the Start of My Life in Japan 79<br />

5. Siber Hegner 1972–1979 101<br />

6. Cartier 1979–1983 117<br />

7. Friesland Foods 1983–2005, Sailing Escapades and My Real Estate<br />

Investments 123<br />

8. Hong Kong and My Career as an International Art Dealer 149<br />

9. “Happy Retirement” in Phuket 167<br />

Appendix A 209<br />

Appendix B 215<br />

Appendix C 219<br />

ix<br />



This life story was written bearing in mind my artistic character and ability to<br />

remember many things in multicolour and multidimensions.<br />

My great appreciation and love go to the Nestor of the family, Francis, my oldest<br />

brother and the walking encyclopaedia of our family history, without whom the<br />

family data in this book would not have been available.<br />

The story I have told in this book is for general informational purposes only. These are<br />

my recollections and thoughts. All information of the memories herein is provided<br />

in good faith. I make no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied,<br />

regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability, completeness, or<br />

veracity of any of the information contained herein.<br />


My brother Francis, the family “Nestor” (on the right) and Felix, his partner of 53 years<br />

Never give up! Go where others don’t dare to go … follow your instincts!<br />


<strong>ERIC</strong>’S FAMILY<br />

Eric’s Parents:<br />

Henri A.J.M. Smulders ML<br />

(Master of Laws)<br />

3/4/1908–19/2/1997<br />

Dame Marguerite J.G.A. Waucquez ML 29/1/1908–1/3/2010<br />

Eric and his brothers:<br />

Francis Smulders MD 1931– Ophthalmic Surgeon<br />

Robert Smulders MSc Mechanical<br />

Engineering<br />

(ex-Honorary Consul-General of The<br />

Netherlands in Monaco)<br />

1933– Industrialist/<br />

Shipbuilder<br />

Maurice Smulders ML 1935–2019 Industrialist/<br />

Entrepreneur<br />

Eric Smulders DEc., MBA (Master of<br />

Business Administration)<br />

Dr Louis Smulders PhD Physics.<br />

Managing Director of Royal IHC<br />

Americas.<br />

1938– Entrepreneur<br />

1940– Physicist/Entrepreneur<br />

Harry Smulders DEc., MBA 1944– Entrepreneur<br />

Paul (Seven) Smulders ML and CEM<br />

(Certified in Exhibition Management)<br />

(Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of The<br />

Netherlands for the provinces of Phuket,<br />

Krabi, Phang Nga and Suratthani: Dean<br />

of the Consular Corps in Phuket)<br />

1948– Entrepreneur/Specialist<br />

in trade promotion,<br />

international<br />

exhibitions and events<br />


Eric’s children:<br />

Alexander, born 1963 – MSc<br />

Patrick, born 1965 – MBA<br />

Pier, born 1973 – MBA<br />

Eric’s grandchildren:<br />

Alexander’s children:<br />

Ivar – BSc<br />

Etoile – BSc<br />

Asia – BSc<br />

Declan (Dutchy)<br />

Henry<br />

Patrick’s children:<br />

Tristan<br />

Caspian<br />

Pier’s children:<br />

Mathilda<br />

Beatrix<br />

Frederik<br />


How it all started... Brussels, 29th April 1930<br />


Smulders family tree – my position enhanced for clarity of position<br />


Me and my “superstars” on my 80th birthday. From left: Pier, me, Alex, Patrick.<br />


Alex and his beautiful wife, Alice<br />


Ivar<br />


Etoile<br />


Asia<br />


My wonderful grandson, Dutchy (Declan)<br />


My wonderful grandson, Henry<br />


Patrick and family: Patrick, Kiki, Tristan and Caspian<br />


Patrick with Tristan<br />


Patrick with Caspian<br />


Patrick with the boys<br />


My cowboy son, Patrick<br />


Patrick and his sons at an Ajax match<br />


Patrick, Tristain and Caspian at Christmas<br />


Pier and family. From left: Freddie, Charlotte, Mathilda, Beatrix and Pier<br />


Mathilda and Pier<br />


Beatrix catching her first fish in Northland, New Zealand<br />


Freddie<br />


<strong>SMULDERS</strong> FAMILY HISTORY<br />

The Smulders dynasty can be traced back to 1384. Members of the Smulders<br />

family always worked as gentlemen landowners. From the middle of the 19th<br />

century onwards they became founders and owners of many industrial enterprises.<br />

The industrial beginnings date from around 1845 when Willem Hendrik Smulders<br />

(1815–1883) became one of the leading steam engine builders in the Netherlands,<br />

based in Tilburg. His eldest son August Frans Smulders (1838–1908) built the first<br />

steam engine and specialised in steel construction in the Netherlands. He became<br />

one of the leading figures in the Dutch industrial revolution.<br />

Members of later generations were founder owners of the following industrial<br />

enterprises:<br />

• Tilburg: Willem Hendrik steam engines, 1845<br />

• Bois-le-Duc (now known as s’Hertogenbosch): AF Smulders, shipyards and metal<br />

constructions, 1862<br />

• Utrecht: AF Smulders, foundries and engine construction, 1872<br />

• Utrecht: Louis Smulders & Co; engine factory called Jaffa/Stork, later part of the<br />

VMF Group, 1872<br />

• Schiedam: AF Smulders, shipyard Gusto, 1905<br />

• IJmuiden: Henri and Frans Smulders, founders and shareholders of Netherlands<br />

Steelworks (later Koninklijke Hoogovens, nowadays Tata Steel), 1918<br />

• Other sons of AF Smulders:<br />

• Louis inherited NV Chaudronneries AF Smulders, at Grâce-Berleur near Liège,<br />

Belgium (500 staff)<br />

• Piet inherited Canoy Herfkens Steenfabrieken in Venlo, Netherlands (350 staff)<br />


AF Smulders (1838–1908). Painting by Henri Luyten. Knight Order of Orange Nassau<br />

(Dutch), Commander Order of the Holy Virgin of Villa Viçosa (Kingdom of Portugal),<br />

Knight Order of Médjidié (Great Ottoman Empire)<br />


AF Smulders residence. “Les Tourelles”, Boulevard Tsarevich, Parc Russe, Nice<br />


My great-uncle, AF Smulders’ oldest son, Henri PAJ Smulders 1863–1933. Painting by<br />

Thérèse Schwartze. Order of the Italian Crown (Order of the Iron Crown), Order of Merit,<br />

Knighthood by King Leopold I. (Belgium). Order of Merit, by King Stanislas II<br />


My grandfather – Josephus Johannas Franciscus Maria (Frans Smulders) MSc (1871–1937).<br />

Painting by Willem Maris Jzn. Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau (Dutch) Knight in the<br />

Legion of Honour (France) Officer in the Order of Leopold II (Belgium) Commander in the<br />

Order of the Holy Virgin of Villa Viçosa (Portugal) Medal of the Tsarist Red Cross in exile<br />


Residence of Frans Smulders, now the residence of the Nuncio, the Papal<br />

Ambassador, The Hague<br />


Artist’s impression – Industrial complex, Bois-le-Duc (now known as s’Hertogenbosch):<br />

AF Smulders, shipyard and metal construction, 1862<br />

Artist’s impression – Schiedam: AF Smulders, shipyards: Werf Gusto, 1915<br />


Helvetia – Frans Smulders was the first owner. She was built at the Gusto before the First<br />

World War and my grandmother baptised her so, in celebration of her Swiss heritage. The<br />

ship is now used as a UK Royal Navy training flagship. (Picture taken from own collection)<br />

After the passing away of AF Smulders, the shipyard Gusto (with approximately<br />

2,000 employees) was handed over to his sons, Henri (1863 s’Hertogenbosch–1933<br />

Paris), who was also an avid sailor (he won the first Olympic silver medal for Holland<br />

at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, sailing his yacht in a mixed team race and<br />

competed with a Dutch crew in both races of the 3–10 ton class, winning silver and<br />

also taking fourth place), and Frans, my grandfather, who had studied engineering<br />

at the Technikum Mittweida (now called The University of Applied Sciences,<br />

Mittweida), in the Kingdom of Saxony, Germany. The other companies were taken<br />

over by his other brothers or their heirs. The daughter of August Frans married<br />

Frans Jurgens (of Anton Jurgens’ United Margarine Factories, which later became<br />

the Unilever concern).<br />

When my grandfather, who ran the Gusto shipyards, passed away in 1937 (probably<br />

due to the huge pressure from the world economic crash of the 1930s) my father,<br />

Henri Smulders, a young lawyer still in his twenties who had studied law at Leiden<br />

University (Master of Law; ML), took over the full management of the company (with<br />

now only approximately 200 employees due to the economic crisis, which in later<br />

years fortunately recovered dramatically).<br />


Wherf Gusto... 1970s. Taken from an article written by my late brother, Maurice<br />

My father was forced to learn quickly ‘on the job’ (talk about being thrown in at<br />

the deep end), which he did very successfully: later, in the 1960s, he was the leading<br />

initiator and president of the merger of Gusto with four other shipyards, forming the<br />

IHC Holland NV Group, which became a world leader in offshore engineering (ca.<br />

5,000 employees).<br />

SBM (Single Buoy Moorings) was founded by my second brother, Robert, under the<br />

IHC umbrella in Bern, southern Switzerland and was later domiciled in Monte Carlo<br />

(where he still lives and is still affectionately known as ‘The ex-Honorary General<br />

Consul of The Netherlands in Monaco’ in every fashionable venue or club there).<br />

This company pioneered and still dominates the world’s offshore mooring market<br />

and floating oil production systems.<br />


SBM (est. by Robert) are the world leaders in offshore mooring establishments<br />

At this point I need to address some family history relating to my mother’s family.<br />

Our maternal grandfather, Jules Waucquez (1868–1938), was a quite remarkable<br />

gentleman. He was also a very successful entrepreneur, and a great collector of art.<br />

Horses were his greatest hobby, so much so that it is said he rode every day at 6am.<br />

In 1907 he won the first prize in a ‘four in one hand’ competition, which features<br />

the incredible skill of not only driving a carriage (full of people) but doing this whilst<br />

leading four horses with one hand. He was a deeply religious man and he built, at<br />

his own expense, a church in Brussels devoted to Sainte Alix in memory of his own<br />

daughter Alix who had died in 1933. At one time he was a member of the Belgian<br />

Senate and was also a Knight in the Order of Leopold II. His offspring were raised in<br />

Belgian nobility by King Baudouin of Belgium. He married our grandmother, Maria<br />

van Glabbeek (1874–1951), in 1895.<br />


My maternal grandparents, Jules Waucquez and Maria van Glabbeek.<br />

Portraits by Eugène Huc<br />


Painting celebrating Jules Waucquez’s “Four in Hand” victory in 1907<br />

The consecration of Sainte-Alix, 1936 and today (overleaf)<br />


Sainte-Alix church as it is now<br />


TIMELINE – <strong>ERIC</strong> <strong>SMULDERS</strong><br />

17th May 1938 – Born in Schiedam, Holland.<br />

1940 – Moved to Wassenaar due to the regular RAF bombing of Rotterdam’s<br />

industrial areas.<br />

November 1944–April 1945 – Moved to The Hague, to grandmother’s house when<br />

Wassenaar was evacuated by the Germans who decided to use Wassenaar as their<br />

base for launching V-1 and V-2 missiles.<br />

April 1945 – Moved back to Wassenaar.<br />

1946 – Moved back to Schiedam (near to Werf Gusto).<br />

1947–1949 – Boarding school St Jozef in Zeist.<br />

1949–1956 – Boarding school Jesuits, De Breul Zeist.<br />

June 1956–1961 Netherlands School of Economics, MBA.<br />

July 1961 – Married Marijke Fens.<br />

September–December 1961 – Scholarship for PhD, Carnegie School of Technology,<br />

Pittsburgh, USA.<br />

January–February 1962 – Thew Shovel Company, Lorain, Ohio, USA.<br />

February 1962 – Fired from the Cooking Pot direct sales company and later<br />

McDonald’s.<br />

March–September 1962 – Almacoa Ltd., salesman earthmoving equipment, Brussels,<br />

Belgium.<br />


September 1964–1968 – Royal Dutch Shell, Singapore and Malaysia<br />

20th February 1963 – First son Alexander born in Brussels, Belgium.<br />

3rd July 1965 – Second son Patrick is born in Singapore.<br />

September 1968–June 1969 – Japanese studies, Asian Language School, University<br />

of Sheffield.<br />

November 1969 – Divorced from Marijke Fens.<br />

1969–1972 – Shell Tokyo, studying Japanese together with a marketing job in liquid<br />

gas.<br />

July–September 1972 – Finance Manager, Shell Ethiopia. September – fired from<br />

Shell.<br />

1972–1979 – MD Siber Hegner Japan (SH) and aided the Hermès Group to open<br />

their first boutique in Hong Kong.<br />

1972 – Married Anne Marie Zwolsman, daughter of Reinder, then the Real Estate<br />

tycoon of the Netherlands.<br />

15th July 1973 – Third son Eric Pier was born in Yokohama, Japan.<br />

1979 – Fired from Siber Hegner, Japan and studied the Harvard AMP.<br />

1979 – MD, Cartier Far East, Hong Kong.<br />

1983 – Fired from Cartier, Far East.<br />

1983–2005 – MD, Friesland Foods, Hong Kong/China.<br />

1998 – Split from second wife Anne Marie and start relationship with Elisabeth<br />

Cassegrain (French).<br />

2003 to present – Live in Phuket.<br />

2006 to present – Opened Master Paintings Gallery, Hong Kong, and later opened<br />

Soul of Asia, Art Gallery in Phuket.<br />


2006 – Meet my present partner in Phuket, Oe (Uraiphan Sae-sin, Thai).<br />

2008 – Split from Elisabeth Cassegrain.<br />

2008 to present – Living in Phuket with Oe (Uraiphan Sae-sin, Thai).<br />



Early Life<br />

I<br />

started my life on 17th May 1938 as the fourth son of Henri and Marguerite<br />

Smulders-Waucquez (my mother was Belgian) and was born in Schiedam (near the<br />

shipyards) in a large comfortable residence with three older brothers, some maids<br />

and a nanny (Mies Schoof). In 1940, we moved to Wassenaar, an upmarket village<br />

near The Hague, where I spent my early youth. As the fourth brother, I had to defend<br />

myself against domination by the three older ones, and, as a result, I developed a<br />

rather strong and maybe manipulative, anti-authoritarian and very competitive<br />

character from very early on.<br />

My father was a disciplined, authoritarian figure: principled, religious, but also loving<br />

and very caring. He was strict and insisted on the best for all his sons. His wife, my<br />

mother, was born and raised in Brussels in a leading Catholic family and educated in<br />

a boarding school run by the strictest of nuns (Sacré Coeur). She once told me, maybe<br />

half ashamed, that she never knew where the kitchen was in their vast residence in<br />

the Avenue de Tervuren in Brussels. Together they formed a very successful, happy<br />

and ambitious couple who got all of their seven sons to achieve master’s degrees in<br />

various disciplines.<br />


My father, Henri AJMS Smulders, M.L (Master of Laws – Leiden University) 1908–1997.<br />

Painting by Karel van Veen 1975, Olie op doek op schildersboard.<br />

Collectie Francis M. Smulders, Amsterdam<br />


My mother Dame Marguerite Smulders-Waucquez (dus …cuyers Waucquez) (1908–2010)<br />

Painting by: Leo van Eekelen, 1942 – oil on canvas. Bruikleen: Mr Maggie Hylkema –<br />

Smulders (Naarden). Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Holy See)<br />


Boulevard Militaire 144, Brussels, my mother’s birthplace<br />

Avenue de Tervueren 245, Brussels. The house where my mother grew up and where my<br />

brother Francis was born<br />


My old nanny, Mies Schoof with Seven’s daughter Pauline,<br />

my goddaughter, in her retirement home<br />

We were all mainly educated by a nanny (Mies Schoof); by my mother from a<br />

distance; and by the Jesuits. My mother closely watched our behaviour and school<br />

grades, reporting, I suppose, to my father as required. He was the disciplinarian, and<br />

on the right – or should I say wrong – occasions I was made to feel the back of his<br />

slipper ravaging my bare bottom.<br />

As he came home very late during the week, I saw my parents together mostly on<br />

Sunday nights, when we had dinner with them in our official dining room, decorated<br />

by my father’s favourite Old Master paintings (I may have inherited my hobby for<br />

the Arts later in life from him). These were usually rather solemn occasions, always<br />

without the nanny.<br />

Already, as a young kid, I wanted people to like me, and for whatever reason, I was<br />

the nanny’s favourite, which is still a source of humour and envy for my brothers<br />

today. I was very fond of her, too, visiting her regularly at her retirement home, in<br />

her later in life, until she passed away in 1997. I was like an adopted child to her;<br />

being her favourite, I enjoyed many advantages over my brothers, such as being the<br />

only one who was allowed to stay in her room after dinner (I “sucked up to her”<br />


they would sneer). My mother passionately wanted one of her seven sons to become<br />

a priest, and at the age of seven or eight, I told her I wanted to become one (to the<br />

great annoyance of my other brothers who thought I was a hypocrite). It got me a<br />

considerable amount of additional motherly love and care. However, around my 15th<br />

birthday she realised that I did not have a priestly fibre within me. This need for<br />

other people to like me stayed with me my whole life. It is something I have also tried<br />

to instil into my children, because life is so much more pleasant with many friends.<br />

Around 1940, we moved to one of Holland’s nicest towns, Wassenaar, where we<br />

stayed during the war years.<br />

I was always fascinated by fishing, and when I was six years old, I stumbled upon a<br />

large house with a huge pond full of goldfish. I walked around and asked a German<br />

soldier who was guarding the house if I could catch some fish in the pond, not<br />

realising that this was the local headquarters of the SS (the German occupiers –<br />

Secret Service – of Holland). A little while later, I came home triumphantly with a<br />

large goldfish and proudly told my father I had caught it in the local canal. He, of<br />

course, did not believe me and asked me where I had caught the fish. I showed him<br />

the SS headquarters. Very quickly, the fish miraculously disappeared, and I had five<br />

days’ house arrest.<br />

Some months later, I was walking through the local park when I found a fallen-down<br />

wooden signpost on the grass. This was 1943 and there was a huge lack of any kind<br />

of fuel, so I naturally picked it up and, while proudly singing Heil Hi Ho (a popular<br />

German tune on the radio), dragged the pole behind me to our house, not realising<br />

that it had Verboten für Juden, meaning ‘Forbidden for Jews’, written on it: Jewish<br />

people were not allowed to walk in the park!<br />

When my father saw me approaching the house with that sign, he raced out and took<br />

it from me, his face angry and upset. He disappeared behind the house with the sign,<br />

knowing that he would have been arrested by the Germans for sure if they had found<br />

him with it. This was not talked about again until much later, with total silence on<br />

this subject during the war. My mother told me that within one hour he had hacked<br />

the sign into little pieces, which were then burnt in the wood fire in the kitchen.<br />

In spring 1943 the Germans were moving their rocket launchers all over town (the<br />

London Blitzkrieg) to hide them from the RAF, so Wassenaar became too dangerous,<br />

and we moved to my grandmother’s house in the Banka straat in The Hague. This<br />

was a large patrician house with plenty of room for us all. My grandmother (the wife<br />

of Frans) was a wonderful, beautiful, and affectionate lady born into one of the oldest<br />

patrician families (Reichlin von Schwyz) in Schwyz, one of the oldest Kantons in<br />


Switzerland. She called herself Eine Urschweitzerin. Her family had lived there for ages<br />

and owned a whole mountain called de Birre. She moved to Holland after she had<br />

met my grandfather in Gstaad, where they were both skiing.<br />

My grandmother Marie Louise Smulders, neé Reichlin von Schwyz 1885–1972.<br />

Oil by Thérèse Schwartze<br />


I vividly remember one morning after breakfast, when the Germans were combing<br />

all the houses searching for young men to work in their war industries. I did not<br />

know it at the time, but my grandmother was hiding two of her sons (my uncles<br />

Lou and Frido) in the attic. They were in the Dutch resistance, thus arch enemies<br />

of the Germans. If they had been found, they would have certainly been tortured<br />

and liquidated. When the doorbell rang, she opened the door to face two German<br />

officers, and what happened next I will never forget: In Hochdeutsch, she addressed<br />

the two officers (who were in hindsight very decent guys) as follows, “We Swiss,<br />

looked after your children after the First World War. How dare you now come into<br />

my house to look for my children.” The two officers first looked surprised, then<br />

saluted and went to the next house. I witnessed the whole scene and believe that this<br />

event instilled an attitude in me to take no shit from anyone. This served me well in<br />

later life.<br />

My father and my grandmother (much, much later)<br />


Another vivid memory I have is from after the war ended in 1945, when the<br />

British parachuted food packages (Operation Manna) over our town, as Holland<br />

was experiencing a terrible hunger crisis. At one time a food package landed at the<br />

wrong place, in the middle of a minefield close to our house. I can still see me<br />

there, together with a large crowd, standing behind the fence surrounding the field;<br />

nobody dared to go and fetch the food packages. Suddenly, in absolute silence, a<br />

woman, poorly dressed and emaciated, went into the field, bare footed, to pick up<br />

the food. I can still see her tiptoeing, under the deep silence of the crowd. When<br />

she returned safely, after some 10 or 15 minutes, everybody cheered and applauded.<br />

Another lesson: go where others don’t dare to go; risks provide unexpected chances;<br />

follow your instincts.<br />

Me with my goat in the pasture that later<br />

became a minefield, circa 1941<br />

Me, aged eight or nine<br />

Life passed quietly, with its ups and downs; I was an enquiring and adventurous<br />

young boy. When I was eight or nine, I climbed trees to collect birds’ eggs, which of<br />

course would be illegal now. I spent one night in the police station when I was caught<br />

climbing trees in a public park, which was forbidden. So, my father asked the serving<br />

officer to keep me overnight in the cell to teach me a lesson, because he thought this<br />

discipline would do me good. Indeed, I learnt my lesson. I also remember I scratched<br />


my name on the wall along with many other local rascals. I would like to go back to<br />

see if it is still there…<br />

Once, when roaming parks and bushes for birds and eggs, I found a young heron<br />

under a tree, which I proudly showed to my father. Unfortunately, the bird decided<br />

to shit on his shoes, which made him more than unhappy, to say the least. This love<br />

for nature has never left me. The nanny was very fond of birds as well, so we had a<br />

shared hobby, and in our attic she bred canaries. This was a great source of irritation<br />

for my parents, but to me it was wonderful. For this, and some other reasons that<br />

I did not understand, she was finally fired when I was around 10, which nearly broke<br />

my heart. Birds remain my hobby to this day, and in nearly all my adult life I have<br />

had an aviary; even now I have a very big one in Phuket (6x18m).<br />

My memories from Schiedam are somewhat vague, but I do remember it was the<br />

foremost city in the world for Genever factories. All the big brands had, and still have,<br />

operations there. When I was around 10 years old, my first love was the daughter<br />

of a well-known Genever maker called Mieke Nolet. She was, however, not socially<br />

acceptable to my parents. I later realised this was a silly attitude, as her family became<br />

world leaders with their Ketel Vodka brand and one of the wealthiest families in<br />

Holland. I still drink a lot of Ketel Vodka (wherever I can find it) in her memory<br />

although now she must now be in her eighties as well.<br />

The house where we grew up in the postwar years. Tuinlaan 12, Schiedam<br />


Probably because I was too unruly, I was sent to a local boarding school called St<br />

Jozeph, in Zeist at 10 years old. I hated nearly everything about it, especially the<br />

lack of privacy in having to sleep in one large space shared by 30 to 40 other boys.<br />

I misbehaved and disregarded the rules, and as a result, spent a lot of time in<br />

punishment either helping the cleaning staff or in the kitchens washing the dishes.<br />

Fortunately, I only had to stay two years there as I was fairly miserable. I was<br />

subsequently sent to a much nicer boarding school run by Jesuits called De Breul,<br />

also in Zeist. This was the best Catholic boarding school in Holland, where my<br />

grandfather, father and all of my brothers were also educated. There, I opted for a<br />

classical education and learnt Greek, Latin, German, French and English between<br />

the ages of 12 and 18 years old. I also learnt Italian (I spent three summer months at<br />

the Università de Studiare Italiano di Perugia), Spanish (three months at a Spanish<br />

school in Málaga), Malay and later, Japanese. It’s no wonder that when I was employed<br />

at the Shell company 10 years later, they considered me to be a language wizard.<br />

In my third year, when I was 15, I was kicked out of school for three days. I got off<br />

lightly, but three of my friends were sent home for good. The reason for this was<br />

that one of my classmates had found an old German field gun and had brought it to<br />

school hidden in his suitcase. At night, dressed in bedsheets to make us invisible in<br />

the snow, we would go out and try to shoot rabbits or a swan in the school’s pond.<br />

One night, during the evening chapel, which we were supposed to attend, we were<br />

out in the school grounds, hunting. The priests of course heard the bang! bang!<br />

bang! and raced on their bikes through the school grounds to find out what had<br />

happened. To cut a long story short, they found a dead swan and raised a big alarm,<br />

and at 11pm, in the bitter cold, they called a general assembly of all 500 pupils. As<br />

nobody would come forward, the head of the school, Father Smit, warned us that<br />

the culprits, unless they repented, would be expelled from the school. He gave us 12<br />

hours, until 11am the next day, to come forward. I told my friends to go to confession,<br />

but they refused considering this hypocritical. That night, in my pyjamas, I knocked<br />

on Father Smit’s door and asked for confession, knowing full well that the holy duty<br />

from a confession meant what I told him would also be a holy secret he could never<br />

disclose. Later, it was discovered who else was involved (not from me!) and my friends<br />

were expelled. They should have listened to me!<br />

Of course, everyone wanted to be on a good footing with the priests, who were our<br />

superiors. I found a great solution by making Father X my confessor. He was head of<br />

the school and the Latin and Greek teacher as well, quite an old man who even my<br />

father had used as his confessor during his own days at school.<br />


Every week during obligatory confession, I was asked to sit on his knee in the rectory.<br />

He was ‘friendly’, and always put his right hand in my back pocket (and that was all!!).<br />

To this day my right bum cheek seems to be the more sensitive of the two.<br />

After each confession, for penance, he would give me a number of pages from our<br />

Latin and Greek study books, which – surprise, surprise – were also the subject of<br />

tests in class the following week. I would by then know the text by heart. It’s no<br />

wonder that, to the envy of my classmates, I graduated summa cum laude in Latin and<br />

Greek. Talk about corruption in the Church.<br />

I was always fascinated by girls (this may be due to lack of motherly embraces and<br />

boarding school at an early an age?) and I lost my virginity in de Houtstraat in The<br />

Hague (the red-light district) at the age of 16, when I occasionally stayed with my<br />

grandmother who lived in that town. Using my pocket money and her ice cream<br />

money, I had an early lesson in the joys of investing wisely and astutely…<br />

After that, my fascination with girls was explosively increased when my father allowed<br />

me (at 16 years old) to go on a five-week Mediterranean boat trip, (a refrigerator<br />

vessel, commonly known as a reefer ship, built by the Werf Gusto) with Tineke,<br />

the 17-year-old daughter of the owner, and two of her girlfriends. We had adjoining<br />

cabins and all three were so bored that they all started to fancy me (I still remember<br />

the other two girls’ names: Yoko and Ingrid). To say that I was truly introduced to<br />

female affection at a very tender age and trained in amorous endurance is certainly<br />

an understatement, but the positive effects have stayed with me throughout my life.<br />

Tineke lived some 15 minutes by bicycle from my boarding school so I could pay her<br />

a visit on nearly every free day. One time, when we were in the tennis changing room<br />

together, I suddenly saw the face of her younger brother Jan (RIP) staring through<br />

the misted-up window. I knew that the little rat would report all he saw to his father,<br />

so needless to say I was out of there like a rocket, running like a hare with whatever<br />

clothes I could grab under my arm; her father was very conservative and strict. From<br />

that moment I was less than welcome in Tineke’s house. That was the end of my first<br />

relationship. Another consequence of this sad breakup was that I suddenly stopped<br />

mentioning her in my weekly confessions and my confessor asked me what happened<br />

and wanted all the details. I think I told him enough to give him the Sin of Desire<br />

which has to be confessed, as naughty desires are a deadly sin for which you can go<br />

to Hell. Long live my Catholic Jesuit education.<br />


My father Henri Smulders at my son Alexander’s wedding<br />

My father bought a small five-metre sailing yawl which we sailed during our holidays<br />

at a lake near our house, Kralingse Plassen – always with a girlfriend of course.<br />

The lake was surrounded by vast fields of reeds and most of the time was spent not<br />

actually sailing, but mooring our boat out of sight in the reeds (which was called riet<br />

zeilen, amongst our friends). What made this thing even more adventurous was the<br />

fact that the water police were always ready to arrest you if you were found alone<br />

and unmarried with a girl in the reeds. With the sail down covering the boat it was<br />

a pleasant and comfortable place for mischief. The problem was that on returning<br />

to the local yacht club there was sometimes a great deal of difficulty erasing the<br />

creases on the sail, to the great hilarity of my buddies; oh wonderful, careless youth!<br />

Obviously, it was here that I acquired my lifelong passion for sailing. For my friends<br />

who did not have sailing yawls, and therefore had no riet zeilen opportunities, they<br />

would make out with their girlfriends on the side of the plentiful dykes in Holland,<br />

while out of vision from others. This could explain why many Dutch girls walk with<br />

their heels wide because they had to anchor them into the side of the dyke to prevent<br />

them sliding into the water below?<br />


My father Henri Smulders, (1908–1997) Kees Verkade 1986, Brons,<br />

Erven Mr Maurice Smulders van Vijfhoeven<br />


My mother, Dame Marguerite Smulders-Waucquez, 2002<br />



University Years<br />

From the ages of 18 to 23, I attended university in Rotterdam, the Netherlands<br />

School of Economics (now renamed Erasmus School of Economics). This was<br />

and still is the leading business university in Holland, with two Nobel prize winners<br />

as professors.<br />

University life in Holland was generally very pleasant, and, like everything else in<br />

Dutch society, status was very important. It was essential to join a fraternity (called<br />

Corps), which consisted of the most elite students. My fraternity was called The<br />

Council of 11, and to this day I still have a regular connection with the surviving<br />

ones (from the 11 there are seven still active in 2020). This membership requirement<br />

was so important socially, that my father insisted he would not pay my university fees<br />

– or for any of my brothers’ studies – unless we were Corps members.<br />

Within the Corps, I practised all kinds of sports such as rowing, boxing, hockey,<br />

etc. In the team sports, we would regularly compete with teams from other Corps<br />

in other universities. Besides studying and sports, there was a lot of emphasis on<br />

socialising, with a big drinking culture at the centre. We would drink with each other<br />

until late hours most days of the week. I was very good at yoga at the time, and, on<br />

one drunken night, I decided to do a head stand on the bar. Of course, I fell right<br />

into a number of beer glasses, which resulted in an ambulance trip to the hospital for<br />

some serious stitches on my bum… this helped my reputation in the Corps!<br />

During my first year I did not have enough money for a car, so I bought a motorbike<br />

– a 500cc Jawa Brand. This was a powerful machine and filled me with a lot of pride.<br />

When my parents invited all of their sons on a family holiday to Sardinia, I decided<br />

to join them, travelling by motorbike all the way from Holland! The ride to Sardinia<br />


took one week and was quite uneventful, however, on the way back, while travelling<br />

through the north of Italy, I must have fallen asleep because I hit the back of a truck<br />

at high speed. Two or three days later I woke up in a local hospital – Hospital Distrital<br />

de Ticino – and found myself with severe head injuries, a triple broken jaw, broken<br />

nose and other fractures. The hospital was not equipped for full-scale surgery, so, as<br />

I could not be transported to a better place, my parents gave the hospital permission<br />

to do all medical work with local anaesthetic. Sometimes the pain was so intense that<br />

I passed out. I understand now how all the saints in the Catholic Church could resist<br />

the Inquisition: I presume they also passed out as pain, like anything else, has a limit.<br />

I still walk around with a silver jaw, a cow bone in my nose and five artificial front<br />

teeth (my real ones were found by the truck driver stuck into the back of his truck<br />

which he later, sweetly, brought to the hospital hoping in vain they could possibly<br />

be reused.) However, after two months I was fully recovered and could take up my<br />

student life again.<br />

During my second year of studies, a world-famous swimmer from Switzerland called<br />

Louis Lourmais swam the Rhine river non-stop from Switzerland to Rotterdam,<br />

with great publicity as this had never been attempted before. One drunken night,<br />

I made a bet with my friends that I could jump into the Rhine one mile ahead of<br />

his arrival and be received as a hero by the assembled press and crowds. I hired a<br />

frog suit and from a little motorboat with my friends on board, I jumped into the<br />

ice-cold Rhine. I nearly drowned, but I did succeed in impersonating Lourmais upon<br />

arrival. The ruse was of course discovered, but everybody saw the joke in me trying<br />

to impersonate Lourmais and there was ample press coverage. The following, is an<br />

article from the front page of the Telegraaf, which freely translated reads as follows:<br />



The arrival in Rotterdam had been made into a great show by the organisers. Ship<br />

sirens were whistling when the Frenchman arrived at the harbour pier. Lourmais was<br />

accompanied by, in ‘v’ form, a swimming group of 16 Dutch divers. There was a platform<br />

on the pier with a large banner “WEEST WELKOM LOUIS”. Some gentlemen gave<br />

some speeches and Cocky Gastelaar (a world famous Dutch former swimmer who twice<br />

improved the world record in the women’s 100-metre freestyle in 1956) offered him a huge<br />

flower bouquet whilst the swimmer was shivering from the cold, waiting to get out of his<br />

frog suit into a warm bath. Before the arrival there had been a considerable commotion<br />

within the waiting public, police and firemen. A pseudo frogman had arrived a bit earlier<br />

in similar dive suit, a student called Eric Smulders [yours truly], who intended, with his<br />

fellow students, to be honoured for his achievement [as an impersonator] on the podium<br />

by arriving first and receiving the flowers and welcome kiss from Cocky!<br />


When it was discovered that I was an imposter, the police could not appreciate the<br />

joke, grabbed me, and forcefully removed me from the podium. Later, they saw the<br />

funny side and did not arrest me.<br />

Preparing for the arrival of Louis Lourmais – imposter!<br />

One night in my second year, during the very rough initiation month for the new<br />

students (feuten), there was construction work going on in the main bar, and there was<br />

a lot of liquid concrete lying around. Everyone was drunk and we decided to round<br />

up all the novices (feuten) and build a wall using them. We lay them on top of one<br />

another and every layer was secured with concrete. This was a lot of fun, but not for<br />

the novices, especially those lying on the bottom. Finally, reaching nearly 1.5m high,<br />

the wall collapsed, as the building blocks (i.e. the lying down bodies) were showing<br />

signs of serious stress. A number of ambulances were required to take them to the<br />

hospital for treatment. The press, of course, got wind of this and blew the whole<br />

thing up as a huge scandal committed by rich kids. The government got involved, the<br />

Corps house was closed for a month and strict guidelines were introduced to prevent<br />

this from happening again.<br />


During this time, I got to know my first wife, Marijke Fens, the only daughter of<br />

a successful Dutch entrepreneur, who accompanied me to all the Corps festivities<br />

during my studies. She herself was studying to be a medical doctor and, between the<br />

two of us, we had enough money to have a good time and travel around Europe. I was<br />

forbidden to ride a motorcycle again after the accident, so I bought (it was all I could<br />

afford at that time) a tiny car called a Messerschmitt, with a 30hp engine, which<br />

was so light that it could be lifted up by two people. It was made in Germany as a<br />

predecessor to the Citroën 2CV, which I bought in my third year. The Messerschmitt<br />

was finally destroyed when I used a crane to lift it to the second floor of our Corps<br />

House so that I could drive it around the bar; later the car had to be disassembled to<br />

get it out again, but I never found the time nor money to put the thing back together<br />

(a number of parts were missing anyway).<br />

Student time was a lot of fun for me, but I also had the drive to succeed and compete<br />

with my brothers. When I went home for the weekend with my dirty laundry, my<br />

mother would always say, “I don’t care about your student fun, what are your grades<br />

and when do you graduate?”<br />

Marijke Fens. My first wife, Alexander and Patrick’s mother<br />


With Marijke and my Messerschmit<br />

Marijke’s father Mr JAL Fens, entrepreneur<br />


Marijke’s mother, Mrs Fens, Oma Fens with her two grandchildren Alex and Patrick<br />

I was also a part-time night watch at a dubious hotel called Casa Blanca, well known<br />

for its short time ‘rentals’. In those days, unmarried couples were forbidden to<br />

book a room and I made good money declaring them ‘temporarily married’ for a<br />

substantial fee!<br />



Young Adulthood and My Early Career<br />

1961–1962<br />

In June 1961, I graduated from university with a cum laude master’s degree, having<br />

completed my degree within five years; although, I must admit that I took the<br />

easiest courses and many shortcuts, including a thesis that was ‘creatively’ rewritten<br />

with the help of an old manuscript called The history of Swiss trading companies in the<br />

world (what a coincidence that I joined a Swiss trading company later in my life).<br />

With Marijke on our wedding day<br />


In July of that year I married Marijke and for our honeymoon we went to the US on<br />

the SS Amsterdam. The marriage was a formal affair with Marijke in a white bridal<br />

gown and the Bishop of Rotterdam officiating the Mass. In hindsight, we were too<br />

young to handle the seductions of expatriate life that were to come.<br />

I applied to several American universities to continue my studies, and with my top<br />

grades was accepted with a full study grant at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh,<br />

not realising that this was one of the top technical schools in America. We left for<br />

the US in July of that year.<br />

I stayed at Carnegie for only three months, as I was asked to write a paper on<br />

differential equations, which I knew nothing at all about, having studied only<br />

the simplest of courses before graduation. This was my first real failure. I called<br />

my father and said, “This university is not for me, but can you help me with a job<br />

in America?”<br />

At that time, Werf Gusto shipyard was working with one of the largest<br />

earthmoving companies in America: The Thew Shovel Company and I was ‘lucky’<br />

(Daddy always helped when asked, thank you!) to be accepted as a trainee almost<br />

immediately. We moved from Pittsburgh to Lorain, Ohio, in January 1962, and<br />

I became an export clerk for the company. My job included selling spare parts,<br />

filling in quotations, etc. I found the work boring, except for learning to operate<br />

tractors and mobile cranes.<br />

I was living with Marijke above what I later found out was a funeral parlour, where<br />

corpses were embalmed, but the rent was very low. In addition to my job in Lorain,<br />

I had two consecutive moonlighting jobs, both from which I was fired. The first<br />

one was a night-time job selling cooking ware, house-to-house, in the evenings.<br />

I had to buy the whole set of very pricey demonstration pans in advance, which<br />

was the trick, of course. I accidentally set fire to one of the cooking pots during a<br />

home demonstration (home-to-home sales called ‘cold calling’) and was fired. To my<br />

chagrin, I not only had lost my job but also my investment in the cooking ware set<br />

which was substantial considering the little money I had at that time.<br />

A short time later, I got a job at McDonald’s, working from 6pm to midnight,<br />

filling up milkshake cups. There were five machines and a cup would take 30<br />

seconds to fill, so, by the time I got to the fifth one, the first one was ready and had<br />

to be removed. I had to be on the ball all the time, but one night I was distracted,<br />

maybe by a pretty customer, and, before I knew it, every milkshake on the machine<br />

exploded, with ice cream covering the ceiling. Needless to say, I got fired for the<br />

second time.<br />


The next year, Marijke became pregnant with Alexander, my first son. By this time,<br />

I knew every spare part of every crane the company built and had a machine operating<br />

licence, which allowed me to operate a tractor and mobile cranes.<br />

For my further training Thew found me a sales job with their Belgian distributor<br />

Almacoa, in Brussels. We moved back to Europe and every morning I got up at 5am<br />

to drive my company car, a 2CV (the cheapest car on the market but fun, with a<br />

folding roof), to various potential clients all over Belgium. Whilst most of my friends,<br />

including my brothers, had jobs in their family companies, I was ploughing around<br />

Belgium trying to sell tractors to farmers and contractors, and I started to feel that<br />

I was not succeeding in life, and that felt terrible. Whatever I did and however much<br />

I talked, I did not get any orders for three months. At Easter, on Good Friday, I had<br />

to go to a beach resort in Belgium called Knokke, where a contractor had just won a<br />

huge contract to build a new pier. The contractor – I still remember his name as Jan<br />

de Nul – told me that he needed the biggest crane that could be produced. This was,<br />

of course, exciting news, as Thew built one of the largest mobile cranes in the world,<br />

which would suit his needs and would make me the most successful salesman in the<br />

company, worldwide.<br />

Mr de Nul requested for me to come back the next day, Easter Saturday, to make a<br />

presentation and quotation. As I had asked my wife Marijke to go to Paris for the<br />

Easter weekend, I told him I would come back the next Tuesday. When I did arrive<br />

at his doorstep that Tuesday, he told me, “Sorry, but on Saturday the salesman<br />

from P&H (my biggest competitor) came by, and I bought a crane from them on<br />

Sunday night.”<br />

This was the largest crane ever sold in Europe, and I missed out on a commission of<br />

$17,000: two times my yearly salary. To say I was disillusioned is an understatement,<br />

but it taught me a lesson for life: when an opportunity presents itself, you either go<br />

and jump on it immediately, or you might miss the chance of a lifetime.<br />

During this time my first son Alexander was born in Brussels on 20th February<br />

1963.<br />


Alexander is born. Marijke and me, the proud parents, with Alexander<br />

Never selling anything did not do my standing in Almacoa much good, and after<br />

eight months on the job I was fired; by then I had also crashed three company cars.<br />

The first two were because I had fallen asleep, and the last one was because I had<br />

seen a pretty girl walking down the street. I was distracted, and, before I knew it,<br />

I banged into a row of cars in front of me, damaging three or four of them. I still<br />

remember the look on my boss’s face when I returned the busted-up car to the office.<br />

All of this did little to improve my inferiority complex towards my brothers and<br />

friends, to say the least. At that time my brother Robert was already deputy managing<br />

director of the family business Werf Gusto, with 2,000-plus employees. Not many<br />

years later he was sitting under the huge portrait of my great-grandfather (AF) as<br />

CEO, whilst I was sitting in a smashed-up car somewhere in Belgium about to get<br />

fired for the third time at the age of 25.<br />

I called my father again and he helped me get a job as an export manager of a<br />

joint venture between the Werf Gusto and Thew Shovel Company in Apeldoorn,<br />

Holland, where they were assembling Thew cranes under franchise. So, in around<br />

May 1963, Marijke, Alex and I moved to Apeldoorn, a small, uninteresting town in<br />

the east of Holland.<br />


My boss – the very young CEO of Werf Gusto and founder of SBM,<br />

‘Single Buoy Moorings’ – my brother Robert<br />

I had to live in a very small working-class apartment in Apeldoorn with my wife and<br />

my new son, Alex, which did not make me feel very proud in the company of my<br />

other brothers or my contemporaries; it did not fit with my grand visions for my life.<br />

My brother Robert was head of the company for which I was working, and I drove<br />

a 2CV, which was the cheapest car in existence at the time and he, of course, drove<br />

a large company car. I did feel like I was failing, and it was a feeling that I could<br />

not shake off. My brother Francis was already an accomplished eye surgeon, Robert<br />

was deputy managing director at Gusto and my brother Maurice was working for<br />

an important client of Werf Gusto. This was a successful Dutch shipowner, Jan<br />

Dammers, who would go on to become one of the foremost ship owners in Holland<br />

(Dammers and van der Heide) and whose only son was... Jan Dammers Jr. (the boy<br />

who ratted on me at school).<br />

After one month on the job I was sent on a sales job to Iceland and after two days<br />

there, an airport strike broke out which kept me locked up in Reykjavik for four<br />

weeks, fully paid and staying in a wonderful hotel (Grand Hotel Reykjavik – indirectly<br />

paid for by my boss/brother, Robert!). The strike was in protest at the closure of US<br />

army air bases in the country. Poor Marijke, in the meantime, stayed in Apeldoorn<br />

in our ‘council’ flat with Alex, but all I can say was that this was force majeure.<br />


A peculiarity about Iceland at this time was that there were nearly no men on the<br />

island as they were all out fishing, so there was a large population of eager local<br />

females looking for something to do in their spare time. The huge thermal baths in<br />

the open air were especially great (nude) meeting places and allowed me to acquire a<br />

basic knowledge of the Icelandic language in addition to my other languages.<br />

After about one year I became bored with my job and applied to Shell International<br />

Petroleum Company in London for an expat job in marketing.<br />

Robert Smulders MSc (1933 – ) My brother Robert – at a much later age, still good-looking<br />

and very distinctive (please note the slide rule in his hand, of which he was very proud as<br />

there were no computers at this time). Portrait by Urban Larsson<br />



Shell 1964–1972 and the Start of<br />

My Life in Japan<br />

With perfect references and still very young, I was quickly accepted by Shell and<br />

sent to London for a three-month training course with about 50 other lucky<br />

candidates (I am still friends with some of them). I mentioned earlier the importance<br />

of being a member of the student Corps – well, this was the first question on the<br />

Shell interview form and read as follows: Were you a member of the Corps in your<br />

university and if not, why not? Nowadays, a question like that would be politically<br />

unacceptable.<br />

Whilst I was learning all about oil refineries and oil marketing in London, Marijke<br />

and Alex stayed in Holland (still in Apeldoorn). After three months, everyone in<br />

the class received an envelope telling them where they would be going next, and<br />

I was assigned to Singapore, to be the retail manager of their gas stations there.<br />

I moved there with Marijke and Alex. On arrival we were picked up in a Shell-owned<br />

limousine by a driver wearing a white uniform with gold buttons. We were given a<br />

very posh house with three servants, our first company house. When I left for work<br />

the next day, Ninah the amah (servant) knelt at my feet, frantically polishing my shoes<br />

and saying to me, “Sir must never leave with dirty shoes for work.” My immediate<br />

reaction was to think: what on earth have I been doing in Europe all my life? As a<br />

result of this first experience, I spent the rest of my career in several jobs in the Far<br />

East and never ended up in Europe again.<br />

Getting a licence from Shell to operate a Shell petrol station was a licence to print<br />

money for the operator, and I was responsible for giving out those licences to locals.<br />

There was so much competition amongst local entrepreneurs to get a licence (and<br />

keep it, as I could fire them) that they would lavish attention on me by regularly<br />

inviting me into their bars and restaurants. Sometimes I was offered a box of money,<br />


which was put in front of my door, but I would pass this straight on to Shell out of<br />

principle, of course, but also because had I been caught accepting these seductions,<br />

I would probably have gone to jail and surely been fired.<br />

Singapore – Handing over the keys for a Shell petrol station franchise.<br />

My friend and salesman Queck Ki Kie is on the left of this picture<br />

Singapore was bombed several times by Indonesia around this time, but I never<br />

really saw any of this, and it did not bother me while I was there except occasionally<br />

having to go to bomb shelters (which was kind of exciting and often ended in a<br />

big party). Indonesia (recently freed from Dutch domination) was opposed to the<br />

formation of Malaysia and the new Singapore state (led by the famous leader Lee<br />

Kwan Yew) and got involved in a conflict with the Malays. This stemmed from<br />

the creation of the Malaysian state and disputes over ownership of the land and<br />

borders. Through all this we continued to live our expatriate life very happily – at<br />

least I did.<br />

I was in Singapore for about 12 months, and, whilst there, my second son Patrick<br />

was born on 3rd July 1965. I had a 10-staff marketing team working for me and<br />

I remember one of them, a salesman, was a Chinese man called Queck Ki Kie.<br />


He had four wives (following Chinese tradition). He confided in me that this was<br />

actually very hard: they would gang up on him when he came home late, which<br />

he often did. Also, he could never get one a better present than the other; he<br />

always had to consider the feelings of four women rather than just one. Contrary<br />

to common belief (including mine) he was actually pretty miserable. His oldest wife<br />

had the right to select the next ones and any intimacy with a younger one had to<br />

be preceded by honouring his first wife first. As in the rest of life, all that glitters<br />

is not gold.<br />

Part of my job was to keep contact with the local Sultan of Johor Baru, who had<br />

around 100 wives. He was a rather notorious character who actually shot a caddy (in<br />

the leg) on his own golf course when the caddy could not find his golf ball. As he<br />

was the absolute ruler he could not be prosecuted. I became rather friendly with him<br />

(and even played golf with him on occasion) but I never wanted to sell anything to<br />

the Sultan, because he would – in principle – not pay his bills. Ever!<br />

Life was wonderful in Asia because I was living the lifestyle I had dreamed of. Shell<br />

was very profitable in those days and I was very well paid. I loved this life, but I am<br />

not sure Marijke was too happy with me being out five nights each week, though she<br />

had her own party life and friends. I suppose this contributed to the later breakdown<br />

of our marriage.<br />

After about a year, we were moved to Malaysia where I became gas manager (LPG)<br />

for a very large area which included Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak. I was in charge of<br />

selling the gas bottles to the local population. The canisters were very expensive and<br />

would often disappear; the locals would cut them in half and use them as cooking<br />

pans. Unfortunately, several customers were blown up while attempting this, because<br />

there was still gas left in the canister. We were often sued – this added both spice and<br />

legal experience to my job.<br />

These were very interesting times. I regularly travelled to Borneo, Brunei, Sabah<br />

and Sarawak. Shell had a refinery in Malaysia and were the market leader of the<br />

oil industry in this part of the world. If you were Asian and worked as a manager<br />

for Shell, you would usually get a lucrative job in the government later on. For<br />

me, as a young man, this was a very prestigious company to work for. Of course,<br />

I loved this.<br />


Marijke partying in Malaysia<br />

With Marijke. “Happy times” in Spain<br />


In happy times, long ago, Marijke, Eric, Alexander and Patrick on the way to Malaysia<br />

With Marijke and the boys at the beach<br />


Marijke, Alex and Patrick at Christmas time<br />

Bed time once again<br />


I have always been interested in languages and there used to be a Malay national<br />

language competition for the foreigners to see who could make the best speech in<br />

Malay. I participated and nearly won (I got second prize)! This was the reason that<br />

I was later considered a language wizard and sent by Shell to the Asian Language<br />

School at the University of Sheffield in England to learn Japanese.<br />

We had a wonderful colonial house, fully staffed, in the best area of Kuala Lumpur<br />

and were really spoiled with many parties and servants. I owned a blue sports car<br />

(I have always had a slightly ostentatious side) but this was not appreciated by my<br />

superiors in London. Once, I was told off for lacking respect for authority: when<br />

my English boss came into my office I did not stand up to greet him (I actually had<br />

my legs on my desk as it was after working hours). I have always disliked authority<br />

anyway. On the whole, the Dutch are not as good with etiquette as the English.<br />

I particularly remember one occasion when Robert was visiting me on a business<br />

trip for Werf Gusto. We were swimming in my tiny pool and I asked him how much<br />

he made, and he told me that not only did he make five or six times more than me,<br />

but he also had a company car and travelled first class. I nearly had a heart attack<br />

and could have drowned in the pool had he not helped me out. Whatever mental<br />

security I had was instantly destroyed, but it did convince me I had to do even better<br />

one way or the other, so thanks Robert!<br />

I was once invited to dinner by the Sultan of Brunei. There were around 1,000<br />

people surrounded by hundreds of his concubines at this formal banquet; lucky man<br />

he was (or not?). On this occasion, Marijke had accompanied me, although we were<br />

starting to drift apart by this stage, as we otherwise spent little time together due to<br />

my travelling and partying.<br />

Sometime later, I was selected as one of two Dutchmen and two Englishmen – all<br />

young graduates – to go to the Asian Language School in Sheffield to study Japanese<br />

(I was later supposed to play a top role in Shell Japan). Marijke moved with me<br />

again, and we lived in a semi-detached, typically English, middle-class house with a<br />

view over the moors; quite different to our fully staffed mansions in Malaysia and<br />

Singapore. Instead of lavish parties our only outings were eating Yorkshire pudding<br />

on Sunday afternoons with our neighbours. The rest of the time I studied Japanese<br />

and Japanese script for what felt like day and night. No wonder Marijke was bored<br />

there. While in England the inevitable happened: we split up.<br />

After a lot of wrangling (with the help of my father – unfairly in hindsight – using<br />

his contacts in the legal world) our two children were assigned to me as principal<br />

caregiver (there was no co-parenting system at that time). Of course, this caused huge<br />


grief to my ex-wife (and my children, who naturally missed their mother) and should<br />

never had happened, but the past cannot be changed. As I was now alone with Alex<br />

and Patrick, I asked my brother Maurice to help me out till I found a suitable nanny.<br />

Maurice (RIP) lived in a large house in Brasschaat, Belgium, which was an ideal place<br />

to live for a Dutchman who did not want to pay Dutch taxes. He and his wife, Nicole<br />

(RIP), lovingly cared for my two children along with their own kids for around nine<br />

months, while I continued my Japanese studies in Sheffield. Although the boys have<br />

fond memories of their stay, it must have been a traumatic and psychologically very<br />

difficult time for them.<br />

After nearly a year in Sheffield, I graduated in more-or-less fluent spoken and written<br />

Japanese (2,000 characters plus, with each two or three readings, kun yomi and on<br />

yomi) and Shell sent all four graduates to Shell Sekiyu in Tokyo.<br />

With my brother Maurice (RIP) on board his yacht – De Maas Yacht Club, Rotterdam 2014<br />


Bronze bust of Maurice in his family memorial garden. Bronze by Carla Rutgers<br />

Maurice’s wonderful wife, Nicole (RIP)<br />


Nicole<br />

Going to school in Belgium with Maurice and Nicole’s daughters, 1969.<br />

From left: Mireille, Alex, Ondine and Patrick<br />


In the meantime, after many interviews for a nanny for the children, I found one<br />

who impressed me and I thought was very suitable.<br />

Arriving in Japan with Mrs June, Alex and Patrick<br />

Her name was June van Heerden (we called her Mrs June). She was in her early forties,<br />

twice divorced, and prided herself on having been the first professional female white<br />

hunter in South Africa. We picked up Alexander and Patrick from my brother’s<br />

house and travelled to Japan. Both of my children loved Mrs June’s hunting stories<br />

and pictures of slain game. In Yokohama, where we lived, she became known as<br />

Mrs Gin because she copiously consumed gin and tonics. We had a beautiful antique<br />

Japanese house on the Bluff, which has since become a famous Japanese restaurant,<br />

near the Gaijin Bochi cemetery. The ground floor was a wonderful tatami room<br />

which served as my bedroom and was next to the staircase leading to the children’s<br />

rooms upstairs. Life was very pleasant with ample room for local romances (young,<br />

single foreigners were difficult to find and very much in favour with Japanese ladies).<br />

You see, based on stories about the GIs who were in Japan for many years after 1946,<br />

Caucasians were rumoured to have the ‘largest equipment’ for amorous activities.<br />

Often, when I was standing in a bus or a train, I overheard small talk from Japanese<br />

ladies saying something like “Omotte iru ano gaijin totemo okii desu ka?” (“Do you think<br />

that foreigner has a very big one too?”) I would reply to their great embarrassment:<br />

“Boku no wah totemo okii desu yo.” (“Mine is gigantic, also.”)<br />


Alex and Patrick in my tatami bedroom (with the famous paper doors) with our<br />

beloved Sachiko<br />

My early years in the Far East – my Japanese dancing lessons<br />


During my time there I had become good friends with another Dutch student named<br />

Maarten van den Bergh, who, 20 years later, would become the managing director of<br />

Shell worldwide. He was remarkably successful at Shell; I wasn’t!<br />

Maarten van den Bergh, President of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, 1998–2000<br />

As a bachelor, there were enough opportunities for extraneous activities. My bedroom<br />

(the tatami room on the ground floor) had rice paper doors and this was where I passed<br />

my nights, not always alone, especially not on weekends, when I usually came home late<br />

from a local disco. Much later I learnt that Alex and Patrick spent many hours on the<br />

staircase at night, next to my bedroom, enjoying the noisy antics which emanated through<br />

the paper doors. Surely, this first-hand learning was superior to a sex education in class?<br />

In addition to this first-hand schooling, my mother had always impressed the importance<br />

of education upon me, so I ensured my own children went to the best schools.<br />

They became very close to our Japanese head of house, Sachiko, who we had to<br />

leave in Japan after I was transferred to Ethiopia/London (to their great chagrin,<br />

and another traumatic event in their early lives). Later, after my marriage to Anne<br />

Marie, Mrs June retired and many years later found a new husband in New Zealand.<br />

I visited her only once, years later, and bought her 12 extra-large bottles of Gordon’s<br />

gin, which she loved.<br />


During my stay in Japan, I met three wonderful entrepreneurs who are still amongst<br />

my best friends. The three of them, George Worthington, Anthony Willoughby<br />

and Robert White had started their own businesses and I became a minority<br />

shareholder in all three businesses (my old moonlighting habits from my time<br />

in the US resurfaced?). After hours, I would advise them and help them out. At<br />

one time George and Anthony had started a company called Royal Windsor and<br />

sold beautifully packaged sets of gold-plated pens and lighters (copies of Parker<br />

and Dunhill) via a door-to-door sales company and business boomed. We made<br />

so much money that the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) got wind of this and started<br />

threatening us. In the end we had to give up as messing with the Yakuza is no<br />

joke, and after a year they forced us out with barely feigned physical threats for<br />

about 10% of the real value. George, being very creative, then set up an escort<br />

service ESL (Executive Services Limited) to guide foreign visitors through the<br />

intricacies of Japanese tourist sites around Tokyo. The guides were specially selected<br />

beautiful Caucasian ladies (I was lucky to be on the selection committee), mostly<br />

students and teachers, etc. and prospective clients could choose from an extensive<br />

picture portfolio of the ‘well-trained’ beautiful guides. However, their services<br />

soon extended far beyond usual guide working time (after 6pm). After a year of<br />

rapid and profitable growth (with especially Anthony enjoying the inherent perks<br />

of this type of business), the Tokyo police decided that this was not an appropriate<br />

‘activity’ and we had to close down (fortunately my participation was secret). The<br />

GM of ESL was an American lady called Mary with whom Anthony had become<br />

romantically involved.<br />

As a true Englishman he fancied only ample-bosomed Caucasian ladies. This left<br />

him with relatively little choice except to (ab)use the ESL foreign staff pool – despite<br />

the fact that the local ladies’ pond contained abundant, as the Japanese called it,<br />

gaijin (foreigner) sushi.<br />


George Worthington opening his Louis Quatorze boutique<br />

Former Miss Hong Kong – Michelle Reis modelling an LQ handbag –<br />

Hong Kong airport, 2007<br />


George with Mary, MD of ESL at the opening (and later) Tony’s “squeeze”<br />


I sold my shares back to George (much too early to my regret – very much below their<br />

worth; the story of my life), who then started a company similar to his tarnished brand<br />

Royal Windsor, called Louis Quatorze (with a ‘paper’ address on the Place Vendôme<br />

in Paris close to the Cartier boutique). This became one of the leading leather goods<br />

brands in Asia with boutiques in major duty-free shops across Asia. I remember that<br />

later, when I worked at Cartier, I always sent him their latest leatherwood designs<br />

from which he skilfully made (and even improved) copies. Once, I received a fax from<br />

Alain Perrin, CEO of Cartier, asking me to investigate and possibly sue the Louis<br />

Quatorze brand which I obediently did, though I could not find any incriminating<br />

details despite my exhaustive efforts…<br />

George’s creative and imaginative mind always thought of new schemes to make<br />

money. After the ESL fiasco he came up with the following brilliant idea: he invented<br />

an automatic condom in cooperation with a German condom factory.<br />

The thing was supposed to work as follows: the condom in rolled-up form had a tiny<br />

string attached which, once pulled, would roll it out like a roller curtain, thereby<br />

avoiding messing about with the thing when in a hurry and amorous mood. It was<br />

even more sexy if you invited the lady in question to initiate action by pulling the<br />

cord herself.<br />

We tried out a (German) concept model on beer bottles in various bars, of course to<br />

the great hilarity of surrounding customers, who saw how well it functioned and we<br />

actually sold a number of them while at those locations. Encouraged by the success, we<br />

placed an order with the factory, but they had a minimum run of 10,000 pieces which,<br />

in our optimistic mood of a huge success, we bought and had them shipped to Japan.<br />

We found Mitsubishi Pharmaceuticals very interested as we demonstrated the products<br />

in the boardroom on an Asahi beer bottle, and we signed a contract to distribute the<br />

first 10,000 pieces through their chain of pharmacies. Of course, we were delighted<br />

with this order as we sold them at 300% profit margin but, alas... In our enthusiasm<br />

we forgot that a western male member is approximately the size of a beer bottle neck,<br />

but the Japanese counterpart is rather like a Tabasco bottle neck and Mitsubishi soon<br />

returned everything they bought because they did not fit the local customer.<br />

It is rumoured the Japan started the Second World War because they were jealous of<br />

the gweilo’s equipment. This envy can be proved by their behaviour when you enter<br />

a Japanese hot bath: immediately, the local customers who each have a little towel<br />

on their head remove it to cover the private parts. An unnecessary move in my mind<br />

because without reading glasses they can hardly be seen anyway!<br />


We also received a number of bills for reimbursement which were incurred because<br />

our product was lost during use and had to be retrieved by a gynaecologist. We lost<br />

more than $50,000 US on this venture – a lot of money in those days. Lesson learnt:<br />

Never undertake a new project without full research. Enthusiasm is often caused by<br />

wishful thinking without getting the full facts.<br />

There’s another equally amazing story about Robert White. I benefitted handsomely<br />

from my participation in his company called Live Dynamics. He developed human<br />

relation courses similar to Anthony Robbins’s and became hugely successful in Japan<br />

with tens of thousands of graduates who paid up to $2,000 US for a three-day course.<br />

Sometimes, when he lacked course trainers, I stepped in to impersonate one. This<br />

was a huge learning curve for me. At one time he even had his own aeroplane with<br />

RW White emblazoned on it, which was a source of dispute between shareholders.<br />

Eventually, when it was time to move on with Shell, I sold my shares in this company,<br />

but this time for a very handsome reward – thanks, Robert. He later expanded into<br />

China where he again became highly successful and is now wealthy and retired,<br />

living in Aspen, USA, with his fourth or fifth wife.<br />

Me as a trainer at a Robert White training course – Tokyo, Japan<br />


Robert White – training course in Hangzhou (very recent photograph)<br />

Robert White – training course in Hangzhou (very recent photograph)<br />


The course he ran obviously did not promote marital bliss but instead provided<br />

ample opportunities for consoling some of his emotionally disturbed female students,<br />

who adored him. He was, as you may gather, a very clever psychological speaker<br />

(manipulator?) and we are still in regular contact.<br />

Anthony Willoughby was another extraordinary entrepreneur who at one point (as<br />

an old Harrovian!) toured the Far East as a ‘world champion’ in rope jumping. He<br />

attracted not only crowds and money, but also many attractive blondes who were<br />

mesmerised by his amazing muscle mass. He became quickly known (or so he was<br />

fond of saying) as having the largest ‘tool’ in Asia (which explains his dislike for small<br />

Asian ladies – a real misfit?).<br />

Anthony Willoughby in the beginning<br />


Anthony Willoughby now. Anthony takes and still leads “I Will Not Complain” leadership<br />

expeditions to Papua New Guinea and Mongolia<br />

After he retired from rope jumping at the age of around 35 (maybe he became too<br />

old?), he started a company called I Will Not Complain. I had a 40% share of this<br />

company which performed executive training all over Japan, based on the principle:<br />

‘Whatever the pain, don’t complain!’ He took groups of leading executives on truly<br />

physically demanding hiking trips, like climbing Mount Fuji or trekking through an<br />

African desert. Anthony had an amazing influence on the people he trained. He<br />

once made the front-page of the Wall Street Journal. He became very well known in<br />

Japan and China as he was an extraordinarily gifted speaker. When I sold my shares<br />

in his company, I made multiples of my original investment. I am still in occasional<br />

contact with him, and he still continues his training expeditions, probably with the<br />

help of a walking stick or even wheelchair now.<br />

Due to my full-time job at Shell, taking care of my kids in Yokohama, and being alone<br />

(except when practising my hobby with local damsels – mainly on the weekends),<br />

I was fully occupied and I loved the excitement.<br />

After a few years in Japan, Shell sent me a notice to tell me I would be leaving Japan<br />

to take over as temporary finance manager for Shell Ethiopia (the actual finance<br />

manager was on leave). I was happy with this new adventure though I missed Japan,<br />

and I knew very little about finance, so I was very much thrown in at the deep end.<br />

This was a temporary role to cover the finance manager’s leave, so I was only there<br />


for two months. My children stayed with their mother in Holland while I stayed in<br />

Addis Ababa in a suite at the Hotel Ethiopia. This was the best local hotel. However,<br />

every night around 10pm there would be a knock on my door followed by a low<br />

husky voice whispering, “C’est l’amour qui passe.” (“Love is passing by.”) Naturally,<br />

I never opened my door.<br />

Work in Ethiopia was very stressful as I tried to figure out complicated financial<br />

matters, but the weekends were wonderful. I would go on safari with an Israeli army<br />

group who I befriended (they were there to train the Ethiopian army). I particularly<br />

remember an attractive female captain, Sarah (the wife of an Israeli commando<br />

general), who could shoot a wild pig from 200 metres, which we would then eat for<br />

dinner around the campfire.<br />

I was asked to work out the budget for Shell for the next year and at first it<br />

seemed impossible for Shell Ethiopia to turn a profit, but I finally figured out<br />

that if I could bring the cost price down for crude oil, the company would quickly<br />

become profitable. However, this was an unauthorised change to the worldwide<br />

Shell accounting standards where everybody used the same parameters to make all<br />

budgets comparable, i.e. the same price for crude oil, $2.95 per barrel, was used<br />

worldwide. I ‘forgot’ to mention this in the budget proposal hoping nobody would<br />

find out. The next week, I received a fax from the overall manager for Africa to<br />

congratulate me on my work; I was very pleased. However, when the regional office<br />

in London checked the details and found out what I had done I received a message<br />

from London to report to head office. I was fired on the spot. This was the fourth<br />

time in my short working life I’d been fired, in this case for transgressing Shell’s<br />

code of ethics, or something like that.<br />



Siber Hegner 1972–1979<br />

Having lost my job at Shell (with only three months’ severance pay) I approached<br />

several head-hunters specialising in expat jobs. As I was fluent in reading and<br />

writing Japanese (very sought-after skills for international companies working in<br />

Japan at that time), it was just a few weeks until I received an offer to join the biggest<br />

Swiss trading company in Japan (after the usual interviews in Zurich, of course). The<br />

company, Siber Hegner (SH), with 2,000 plus employees, was not only the leader<br />

in the silk market – especially kimonos – but represented many of the foremost<br />

reputable Swiss companies in Japan: watches (Vacheron Constantin, Omega and<br />

Tissot); high-end jewellery; Dunhill lighters; and Parker pens – all market-leading<br />

brands. Other agencies were high-end textile machinery and arms manufacturers (eg.<br />

Oerlikon-Bührle, Switzerland).<br />


Vacheron Constantin original headquarters, Geneva<br />

My initial job was GM of the consumer goods section, which sold Omega watches<br />

(200,000 plus per year), Vacheron Constantin and Tissot. Vacheron Constantin were,<br />

and still are, the world’s most expensive watches. I was also responsible for jewellery<br />

and diamonds and grew to know and love these products, which would later become<br />

useful in my time at Cartier. I travelled to Switzerland two to three times per year to<br />

buy the collection for our future sales.<br />

During one of my visits, I was invited by one of the board members of the Swiss<br />

Watch Association for dinner in Geneva’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. At the dinner he told<br />

me the following extraordinary story: “You know, Eric, one of my best friends is a<br />

director of this hotel. Two months ago I was called up in the middle of the night<br />

and was told that on the third floor a Middle Eastern servant was found without<br />

his head.<br />

At that time half of the hotel was occupied by some VIPs from the Middle East;<br />

they made reservations for some months to escape the heat in their own country.<br />

They usually occupied three to six floors of the hotel. The group included at least 30<br />

eunuchs and a large number of women. What was I supposed to do in this situation?<br />


After some reflection I called a friend at the Department of Foreign Affairs at 3am<br />

(nearly all influential Swiss businessmen are buddies) and asked him what to do. He<br />

then contacted some top people in the government – they needed to avoid a scandal<br />

as the financial relationship between the Middle East and the Swiss banking system<br />

are significant. So, the following was decided as the most pragmatic solution: the<br />

floor in question was declared diplomatic territory, and the following morning a<br />

large crate of undeclared contents (this was now under diplomatic protection) was<br />

shipped from the hotel to the airport and whisked away on a private plane. The<br />

rumour was that a staff member had been more than appropriate when approaching<br />

one of the consorts.” A great story, although it can never be verified.<br />

Around 1971, Japan came into the watches market with the quartz (digital) movement,<br />

which outdated the Swiss mechanical watch industry almost straight away. The Swiss<br />

watch industry was old-fashioned and had never had any serious competition, with<br />

delivery times of around three years for new orders. As a result, when I took over<br />

the division, I was shouldered with a huge backlog of orders of automatic watches to<br />

be delivered in the next three years (some 600,000 pieces!) as committed to by my<br />

predecessor (who had been fired). There was a great deal of panic in Switzerland about<br />

this, and the company feared for their future as the market was rapidly changing to<br />

quartz technology. The chairman of the group sent me an urgent fax to come to<br />

Zurich, and in the presence of their house bank chairman (of a large private bank),<br />

I was requested to solve the situation by whatever means I could. I still remember that<br />

it took me a few seconds to realise that this was the opportunity of a lifetime to make<br />

a request for a super compensation package. They really had no other way out other<br />

than appointing me: I spoke Japanese and knew the Japanese watch market with all<br />

its distributors, dealers and complications from my job as GM of the Siber Hegner<br />

consumer goods section which included their watch agencies and their jewellery.<br />

I asked the chairman to pay me two million Swiss francs if I solved the problem<br />

in two years (a request like this, made by an employee, was absolutely not Swiss<br />

protocol). I then asked that if the company became profitable in those two years,<br />

he would pay me a further two million Swiss francs and pay for sponsorship to the<br />

Harvard Advanced Management Program. He did not like that at all, neither did<br />

the bank chairman, but they had little choice, so they agreed in writing. I went<br />

back to Japan, worked like a madman, fired half of the staff of the company (some<br />

400 people) and, through all kinds of actions and dealer manipulations, succeeded<br />

in solving the problem. After the second year, we had cleared the backlog of orders<br />

and become profitable again. I also made contact with the Dumas family, owners<br />

of the Hermès brand and they agreed to open a boutique with S as their agents<br />

in Hong Kong (SH was very happy with this) but not in Japan where they opened<br />

their own boutiques.<br />


Programme of my participation in a Japanese Speech Contest 1971 – second place<br />


During one of my home leaves (with Mrs June, Alex and Patrick in tow) I had asked<br />

my brother Robert (my former ‘boss’ in Gusto) to line up a number of eligible highclass<br />

ladies for dating and maybe further action. My first date was uneventful, a<br />

daughter of a Dutch banker. The second date was more successful. She was called<br />

Lizzie (RIP) and was one of Holland’s top golf players (handicap six) who was also<br />

the daughter of a private banker. Lizzie was previously my brother Francis’s girlfriend,<br />

for two months. At the time (seven years earlier) he was the rector of the illustrious<br />

Amsterdam Student Corporation.<br />

My brother Francis, rector of the illustrious Amsterdam Student Corporation 1953–1954<br />


Lizzie was a much taller than me and when I danced with her it was more cheek-tonavel<br />

then cheek-to-cheek, which was not good for my ego, but she was very keen to<br />

take things further. I invited her to Japan to get to know each other better but after<br />

a three-week stay in Japan, I regretfully ended our relationship (in a very cowardly<br />

fashion: by registered letter shortly after she returned to Holland). I am happy to<br />

add that she did not need to wait long (had I been a good learning experience?)<br />

before she met one of Holland’s most eligible bachelors, RvH textile magnate, and<br />

an old Corps friend of mine. From what I heard she later became the trainer of the<br />

Dutch national golf team and got married to my old buddy – both, unfortunately,<br />

recently passed away.<br />

My third date: bingo! I met Anne Marie, the eldest daughter of the foremost real<br />

estate developer and press star, Reinder Zwolsman, who was at this time at the top<br />

of his career. He not only possessed vast real estate properties (Hotel Paris on the<br />

Place Vendôme, Paris; the Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus in The Hague; Amstel<br />

Hotels in Holland; and the Euromast in Rotterdam – then the highest revolving<br />

restaurant and nightclub in Europe) but was also an accomplished singer and one of<br />

the Holland’s greatest war heroes during the German occupation. He played a vital<br />

role as a double agent, on the surface cooperating with the Germans but secretly<br />

reporting directly to our Dutch Queen Wilhelmina’s own team in London. For his<br />

work he was later awarded the highest Dutch decoration for bravery: the Bronzen<br />

Leeuw (Bronze Lion), which was awarded to him after the war in 1951, personally, by<br />

Her Majesty Queen Juliana, who referenced an official quote from the government<br />

while decorating him: “for brave and discreet acts in the fight against the enemy”.<br />

It was agreed by the Monarchy and by the Dutch government in exile in London<br />

during the war that: “Zwolsman repeatedly put his life at risk during the occupation<br />

years”.<br />


Anne Marie on our wedding day<br />


Reinder Zwolsman (RIP) – Anne Marie’s father<br />

Mrs Zwolsman (RIP), mother of Anna Marie and grandmother of Pier<br />


Anna Marie’s family home, the Zwolsman residence, Wassenaar, Park Rust en Vreugd<br />

Mr Zwolsman’s summer house, Loosdrecht, Hollandsnook<br />

Anne Marie was a very attractive Dutch lady with a social standing that enticed me,<br />

being as insecure as I was then. Within a few weeks we were engaged and a few months<br />

later married at the Hague Cathedral. The marriage was a huge affair. My father-inlaw<br />

sang Ave Maria in his magnificent baritone voice, accompanied by Holland’s most<br />

famous violinist, Theo Oloff (Dutch Symphony Orchestra). After the ceremony we<br />

went to their family estate in Loosdrecht, one of Holland’s most beautiful lake estates<br />

where the party continued deep into the night with hundreds of guests. I will never<br />


forget that Mr Z started playing the organ in his house (he had a huge church organ<br />

installed) at around 2am to the tune of Zijt gij welgekomen Jezus (Eric) lieve Heer (a Dutch<br />

religious song which translates to: “Did you come well, Jesus (Eric) my Lord?”). Within<br />

nine months, on 15th July 1973, Anne Marie delivered my third son, Eric Pier, in<br />

Bluff Hospital in Yokohama. He was named after the Scheveningse Pier also built by<br />

his grandfather; the name Pier was also influenced by the fact that that Mr Zwolsman<br />

always maintained that he was a direct descendant of the De Grote Pier, a well-known<br />

warrior and Frisian rebel leader (c.1480–28 October 1520).<br />

Mr Zwolsman’s wife, Mrs Zwolsman (RIP), the mother of Anne Marie and grandmother<br />

of Alex, Patrick and Pier (and still technically my mother-in-law), was a very special<br />

lady, who not only took care of her quite extraordinary, extroverted, larger-than-life<br />

husband and her five children (she had two daughters and three sons herself) but<br />

also us when we needed a place to stay when I was between jobs after Shell but before<br />

Siber Hegner (I met Anne Marie shortly before being fired from Shell). She received<br />

us in her palatial estate in Wassenaar with open arms and was like a grandmother<br />

for Alex and Patrick who called her Oma, and we all became very close to her. She<br />

would even host some big dinner parties on my behalf while Alex, Patrick and Pier<br />

attended the local international school for one year. I am especially grateful for her<br />

hospitality and care and giving us the love we needed when we needed it the most.<br />

Scheveningse Pier, Den Haag<br />


The Grand Hotel, Amrath Kurhaus in The Hague<br />

De Grote Pier painting<br />


Mr Zwolsman with his (De Grote Pier’s) legendary 7ft sword<br />

My life in Yokohama now continued with Anne Marie and our three children where<br />

we spent many years enjoying the benefits of this wonderful country and the many<br />

friends we made in Yokohama. We had now moved to a new house, very modern,<br />

with a large garden right opposite the renowned international Yokohama Country<br />

& Athletic Club (YC&AC). Anne Marie adjusted very quickly and very well to<br />

Japan and enjoyed our stay out there, although I was often absent on business travel<br />

around the country. On weekends we often frequented the many, sake-filled, quaint<br />

and wonderful little restaurants surrounding the house. The whole family were very<br />

active in sports and at one time I was the squash champion of the YC&AC. Also,<br />

we had a jogging club on Sunday mornings with three other friends (Frits van Riet<br />

(RIP), Mannas Boele and Hans Pauli) which always ended up in a copiously alcoholinfused<br />

brunch organised by one of the wives (this totally nullified any of the jogging<br />

benefits and usually ended in early evening).<br />


Anne Marie with Alex, Pier and Patrick<br />

Anne Marie<br />


Anne Marie with Alexander<br />

In July 1979, I went to Zurich to collect my financial settlement. I was met at the<br />

airport by one of the board members of SH and we drove along the Bahnhofstrasse to<br />

the head office of one of their main bankers. He told me, “You see all those beautiful<br />

buildings here, most of them are private banks and to ensure discretion, a number of<br />

them have big parking places behind their offices, hidden from view from the main<br />

street. Once you park your car there you talk into the microphone which is installed<br />

on every parking place. After the verbal code has been approved, you are directed to<br />

a numbered garage which opens when your car approaches. You drive into the garage,<br />

the door closes, and you are in an elevator which transports you to the designated<br />

floor. The door opens and you are in an official meeting to do whatever business<br />

you need to do. This is the way Switzerland works. Whatever you bring in your car<br />

is then offloaded, counted and so on.” In our case we had nothing to hide, and we<br />

went through the main entrance of an impressive old building. In the boardroom<br />

I was given the promised cheque of two million Swiss francs.<br />

In the presence of some directors of the bank, my chairman who also attended,<br />

addressed me as follows, “Eric you have done a great job for our company and you<br />


have solved our precarious financial situation, but you have broken all the rules of<br />

a Swiss employee. Switzerland works differently from any other country and the<br />

elevator system in many of these buildings shows you how we can deal with any<br />

situation around the world. Recently some large gold shipments from somewhere<br />

around the world were delivered here in the Bahnhofstrasse in a similar way, out of<br />

the prying eyes of passers-by. We work on the basis of ultimate loyalty and secrecy,<br />

and this is something you do not know about.”<br />

I sat there rather flustered, with the cheque in my hand and I left through the<br />

normal exit of the bank – and now found myself fired for the fifth time. Switzerland<br />

is a very paternalistic country, where ruling families own everything and everyone<br />

else are underlings. I am Dutch, and I believe I have to stick to my own rules, which<br />

means I grab an opportunity when it comes along. Throughout my life, I have<br />

had this opportunistic attitude, which was at odds, of course, with the Swiss way<br />

of thinking. I have always remembered my father saying to me on my graduation<br />

dinner from university, “Eric, you just finished the easiest university with the easiest<br />

courses that allow top grades in the shortest time. I am proud of you, but you are<br />

not an intellectual; you are an opportunist. And in your future life, you should<br />

remember that 1 + 1 = 3 for you and 2 for somebody else. Also remember: onkruid<br />

vergaat niet (bad grass never dies).”<br />

I did not feel too bad about what had happened, because I remembered my father’s<br />

life lessons and was delighted with the substantial bank account I suddenly had<br />

(in Switzerland). The company back in Japan had perhaps taken a knock to their<br />

reputation having fired so many staff, as Japan is known as the country of lifelong<br />

employment. However, if I had not made this move, the company, and SH, the parent<br />

company, could have gone bankrupt. I also had the entrance document for the sixmonth<br />

Harvard AMP course in my pocket. This was a very prestigious course, taken<br />

by experienced and ambitious young managers and sponsored by companies from all<br />

over the world. It was expensive, too, because the company paid a $65,000 tuition fee<br />

for me, a substantial sum in those days.<br />

The Harvard management programme was interesting, with some 60 other<br />

participants from all over the world, many ambitious young leaders in their own<br />

companies. We were inundated by head-hunters who were looking at us as very<br />

saleable products for their own businesses, so they approached us with many<br />

proposals for employment. During my third month of the course, I was approached<br />

to become managing director of Cartier Far East in Hong Kong. I accepted this<br />

offer with both hands, as I was delighted to go back to the Far East (to which I had<br />

really, already dedicated my life, as it is the best place in the world to live), and the<br />

prestige and immensely creative jewellery designs, including watches, fascinated<br />


me. I also spoke fluent French as my mother was a French-speaking Belgian. I still<br />

remember my first French study book (issued by the French government) which, on<br />

the opening page, had a picture of a lady in the kitchen and a man smoking a pipe<br />

while waiting for the food being prepared for him. The first line read as follows:<br />

Papa fume une pipe avec Maman dans la cuisine. It took only one day for a boy to write<br />

a note on the blackboard when the French teacher was not yet there: et Maman<br />

fume la pipe de Papa, of course, to great hilarity of the entire class.<br />



Cartier 1979–1983<br />

After I had finished the management programme, I was sent to Paris for a training<br />

course. Being the only non-Jew, non-circumcised, non-French board member it<br />

was quite an experience. But I was a bit like a chameleon, and I adjusted quickly to<br />

this new world of glamour, movie stars and jewellery. In the meantime, Anne Marie<br />

had replaced Mrs June and she, together with my now three children, were back<br />

in the Netherlands staying with her parents, whilst I was awaiting confirmation of<br />

my next career move after Harvard. After a few months in Paris and working with<br />

some glamorous Cartier female staff (female beauty was an essential requirement for<br />

working with Cartier), I moved to Hong Kong. My family joined me later in the year<br />

after the children finished their school year.<br />

Upon arrival in January 1980, I was met at the airport by the then managing director<br />

of Cartier, a famous man in the luxury industry, Philippe Charriol, in a Rolls-Royce.<br />

He turned out to be one of the biggest social players in Hong Kong and the Cartier<br />

brand image was one of exclusivity and success, which reflected upon any wearer of<br />

their products. (Philippe (RIP) tragically died in February 2019 in a car crash whilst<br />

racing his Porsche on the Circuit Paul Ricard, home of the 2018 Formula 1 French<br />

Grand Prix.)<br />

In this atmosphere, I blossomed, surrounded by starlets, photo models and more<br />

people of that nature, and I threw huge parties in Hong Kong. One time, we organised<br />

a cocktail party in the vaults of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and a five-carat<br />

diamond ring was given as a prize for the person wearing the heaviest pearls.<br />

The Chinese love jewellery, for its prestige and for its value (important if they have<br />

to flee somewhere) so were, of course, loaded with this kind of stuff. The winner was<br />


a retired model from Kowloon, in Hong Kong, who weighed in at 98kg, including<br />

48kg of pearls. This event, like all Cartier activities, was widely reported in the local<br />

press (Tatler magazine gave us their front page) and organising them was part of my<br />

job description.<br />

Another remarkable occasion was the launching of Cartier in Australia and the<br />

opening of the first Cartier boutique in Sydney. A local PR company organised a<br />

black-tie VIP event inviting the usual pack of local movie stars and models who were<br />

very happy to give acte de presence for a substantial attendance fee. In the end, some<br />

600 people attended with a helicopter spraying Cartier perfume (thinned down with<br />

water) over the ecstatic crowd. Press coverage was wonderful, and the new boutique<br />

had record sales growth during the first quarter.<br />

Every month, we had a meeting in Paris in the Cartier office on the Place Vendôme,<br />

where we were required to personally report progress and accountability for the huge<br />

entertainment expenses, along with all the other regional directors, to the managing<br />

director of the group, a man called Alain Perrin. Perrin was the icon of the French<br />

luxury industry, who created the company himself by buying the last surviving two,<br />

or three, Cartier jewellery boutiques and transforming the name into a worldwide<br />

brand.<br />

Cartier, Place Vendôme, Paris, (original store which was reopened on 15th March 2020)<br />


Cartier would throw huge black-tie parties on the Place Vendôme throughout<br />

the years (source: Les Temps du Cartier)<br />


The name Cartier, although renowned worldwide, had become somewhat faded after<br />

the war. You can now treat a lady to a 50/50 McDonald’s hamburger in exchange<br />

for an amorous session (a horizontal language lesson) whilst in the old days only a<br />

Cartier ring or similar would suffice to achieve the same purpose. So, as the Cartier<br />

boutique business shrank dramatically over the years, it was ripe for a takeover. The<br />

new Cartier threw huge black-tie parties on the Place Vendôme attended by whoever<br />

was important at that time, again including models and movie stars. I once attended<br />

a champagne dinner and sat opposite Anita Ekberg (RIP). I most vividly remember<br />

her rather amazing bosom…<br />

Anita Ekberg (promotional photo distributed and copy given to me at a Cartier party)<br />

In 1983, I attended what turned out to be my last monthly meeting. Perrin had a<br />

habit of picking one of his eight regional directors during such a meeting and – in<br />

often vile language – shouted and cursed at him, picking out all he had done wrong<br />

to set an example for all those present. His diatribe would be littered with expletives,<br />

such was his management style. We would all really fear these meetings and no one<br />

wanted to be the one on the receiving end. He always used French slang (argot),<br />

which I often did not understand, so, to prepare myself for this particular meeting,<br />

I bought the Larousse French dictionary of dirty words (two tomes of more than 500<br />


pages each). Sure enough, my time came up and he started addressing me as the Le<br />

Con Hollandais who “thought he could spend as much as he wanted”. These meetings<br />

were always high pressure, as Cartier was a high-pressure group that expected figures<br />

of 48–50% growth per year. As a student, I learnt that when someone hits you in the<br />

face or assaults you verbally, you react by doing the same in return in order to deter<br />

them. I looked up ‘con’ in the dictionary.<br />

“What are you doing?” shouted Alain.<br />

“I am looking up the word ‘con’ (dickhead) in the dictionary,” I replied calmly.<br />

Alain was a very ambitious character whose drive and ambition had got him to the<br />

top of the jewellery world at the time. Everybody laughed, but I had made him so<br />

angry that he picked up an ashtray and threw it at me at the other end of the table,<br />

where some 20 people were seated. Drawing on my lesson from my student days<br />

(when someone hits you, you always hit back, no matter their size or the consequence),<br />

I threw the ashtray back which unfortunately hit his head, 12 metres away from me.<br />

There was pandemonium, of course, but the result was that I was sent out of the<br />

boardroom with Perrin shouting at me, “Viré! Viré!” (“Fired! Fired!”)<br />

Needless to say, this was the end of my career in the jewellery business and made<br />

this the sixth time I was fired. What Perrin did not realise at the time was that he<br />

had signed an English Hong Kong-based employment contract that was extremely<br />

advantageous to me should my job be terminated. One clause in the contract gave me<br />

a 10% bonus on the net profits of Cartier Far East. However, during my stay in Hong<br />

Kong, I had convinced top management (Moshe Levine was the chairman of the<br />

Swiss holding company in Geneva) that it would be fiscally extremely advantageous<br />

for the company to re-invoice all duty-free sales in the world through Hong Kong. So<br />

suddenly the turnover had shot up in Hong Kong to around 135 million US dollars<br />

from a previous modest 12 million, especially because the Bahamas and Far East<br />

duty-free invoicing business was very successful. (This was very soon after the Paribas<br />

Geneva Branch separated from its mother bank in Paris due to tax investigations<br />

into (possibly) illegal French-owned bank accounts held at their Swiss subsidiary, and<br />

which became a huge scandal in France!) To cut a long story short, I went back to the<br />

super Cartier penthouse where we lived with magnificent views over Hong Kong on<br />

the Peak, and told Anne Marie that I was out of a job again.<br />

The next day, jobless, I went to a prestigious legal firm called Johnson, Stokes and<br />

Masters with my contract. The solicitors I met there proposed to me a no win, no<br />

fee deal (‘no cure, no pay’). In other words, they asked for 20% of the payout that<br />

they could wring out of Cartier. I refused, because, with the little knowledge of law<br />


I had acquired, I knew I had a watertight case. Cartier would never countersue me,<br />

because their practice of avoiding French taxes by ring-fencing through Hong Kong<br />

and Switzerland would have driven the French press wild with bad publicity, and<br />

could possibly have raised some unwelcome fiscal questions in France about this<br />

practice as well. After some rather heated correspondence back and forth between<br />

Paris and myself, the contract was settled for a rather modest payout for me, as they<br />

were extremely tough negotiators (compared to my yearly profit share contractual<br />

rights of 10%), of 1.5 million US dollars (as the yearly profits including duty-free sales<br />

ran at about 12–15 million US dollars). Needless to say, from that moment on, I was<br />

ostracised by the Cartier organisation.<br />

So, now I had been fired for the sixth time, it made me realise that under the proper<br />

conditions, being fired can be very profitable! The contract also stipulated that<br />

I could stay for 18 months in company housing (a huge penthouse on the Peak with<br />

monthly rent of Hk$180,000 or US$22,500) in the case of a one-sided termination<br />

of contract, including my full Far East salary. So, this time there was little stress, if at<br />

all, and I took my family for a one-month trip to Sri Lanka and we had a great time.<br />



Friesland Foods 1983–2005, Sailing<br />

Escapades and My Real Estate Investments<br />

I<br />

returned from the holiday in Sri Lanka with no job but no stress, as I had more<br />

than sufficient money to be able to take my time finding new employment.<br />

However, I soon became restless and began to look for investment possibilities for<br />

all of my cash. The timing was right, because, around that time, there was a housing<br />

market crisis in Europe, especially in Holland, where banks had to confiscate<br />

hundreds of thousands of properties whose owners were bankrupt with interest<br />

rates at 16% and up. One bank, Rabobank, offered me a portfolio of approximately<br />

120 apartments, 40 shops and two small offices in The Hague for 105% mortgage,<br />

but with prepayment of the expected negative cash flow for the coming three years,<br />

for which I had the (Swiss) cash. I immediately accepted the deal as I knew as an<br />

elemental economist that 16% interest rates were unsustainable and would soon<br />

crash down, as they did! So, suddenly, I became a large property owner in The Hague<br />

which required numerous trips to Holland.<br />

During this time my youngest brother, Seven, who is currently the Honorary Consul<br />

of the Kingdom of The Netherlands for the provinces of Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga<br />

and Suratthani, as well as Dean of the Consular Corps in Phuket, introduced me<br />

to Robert Schipper, the managing director of the largest Dutch dairy group (later<br />

called Friesland Campina which is now the second largest dairy company in Europe,<br />

after Nestlé), who was looking for a general manager for their Hong Kong and China<br />

operations. I accepted the job immediately as I was bored with doing nothing but<br />

golfing, sailing and partying in Hong Kong. Thank you, Seven.<br />

There were only six people working for the company in Hong Kong (called Friesland<br />

Foods) in a grubby district called Wan Chai. At the time we were the market leaders<br />


in Hong Kong and south China for sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk,<br />

and were highly profitable. The daily consumption of sweetened condensed milk<br />

surely is the reason that the Chinese have some of the worst teeth in the world.<br />

As there were not many refrigerators at that time, households needed long life<br />

(canned) milk products and we provided those. The volumes were huge (200 plus<br />

50ft containers per month) and I accepted their offer, because I needed to be busy<br />

again, but I found myself with very deep contrary feelings about the prestige of selling<br />

jewellery and the prestige of selling milk products.<br />

This was a totally different and unknown world to me. The company was the largest<br />

dairy company in Holland, but it was a cooperative based on farmers. The whole board<br />

of the company were active farmers in the north of Holland. These were quite different<br />

social circles to those in which I had been mixing. However, having adjusted to my<br />

new circumstances with a company that was very generous with their employment<br />

package (housing, schooling costs, car, etc., but no profit sharing), I overcame my<br />

inferiority feelings after a few months. I started thriving in the job, which also involved<br />

representing the World Food Bank, helping to distribute essential food to countries<br />

such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. This job had meaning and value compared<br />

to my previous superficial activities with spoiled rich clients.<br />

Seven at an audience with His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, Her Majesty Queen<br />

Máxima and Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix on the occasion of the HC Conference in<br />

The Hague, April 2018. When the King was introduced to Seven during the conference he<br />

remarked, “Are you the Smulders in whose penthouse I stayed many years ago to watch the<br />

Monaco Grand Prix?” “No, Your Majesty,” he replied, “that was my older brother, Robert.”<br />


Within a few months I had appointed three product managers whose duties were<br />

to scout the supermarket shelves for saleable brands and then prepare professional<br />

marketing proposals to be sent to the brand owners. Most of the agencies for these<br />

brands were in the hands of two old colonial trading companies (Jardines and<br />

Swire) who did little to promote these products in the market as they kind of sold<br />

by themselves because of their brand name. So, when our professional marketing<br />

reports were received by the brand owners, they were so impressed that some of the<br />

major consumer brands on the market changed their agencies over to us. In this way<br />

we acquired brands like Heinz, Tabasco, Campbell’s soup, McDonald’s milkshake<br />

powders and many others. When we became agents for McDonald’s milkshake<br />

powders in China, I was sent to the McDonald University in the US, all-expensespaid<br />

for a one-week instruction course on food hygiene, corporate philosophy, etc.<br />

I learned how to make the perfect hamburger and how to put enough ice cubes<br />

in a milkshake to maximise profits. During the food hygiene course and to my<br />

considerable disgust they showed me a movie detailing the amount of sputum coming<br />

out of peoples’ mouths when talking. This was represented in colour sprayed over an<br />

open buffet with some yellow, red and blue dots presumably caused by people who<br />

are coughing. I have never touched a buffet since or at least I try to be the first person<br />

to serve myself.<br />

We became very creative in finding other food products, such as the selling of chicken<br />

feet to China. Chinese love to eat chicken feet but they are considered as garbage<br />

by European chicken farms and sold for next to nothing. Within a few months we<br />

had an extremely profitable business going, shipping a few chicken feet containers<br />

per month, initially with huge profits, though very quickly the Chinese competition<br />

took over this business and prices were destroyed, so, that was the end of this trade.<br />

Similarly, pigs’ ovaries were a Chinese delicacy and aphrodisiac but after we got going<br />

with a few shipments and a few containers of these, business was destroyed in a<br />

similar way.<br />

I came up with a much more creative idea and that was the export of chocolate<br />

milk powder to Japan. In those days both chocolate and milk powder were highly<br />

taxed by the Japanese to protect the local producers, but chocolate powder, for<br />

some reason, could be exported at a very low tax rate. So, we shipped tens of<br />

containers of Friesland chocolate milk powder to Japan where a local distributor<br />

somehow centrifuged this product, transforming it into milk powder and chocolate<br />

powder and these products could be sold separately at huge profit margins. Of<br />

course, after some time, the Japanese authorities woke up to this little trick after<br />

receiving complaints from the leading chocolate maker, Morinaga. So, this highly<br />

rewarding business was stopped abruptly, but we had still enjoyed remarkable<br />

trading figures.<br />


Within two years we had tripled the turnover and profits soared to the delight of our<br />

Dutch (farmer) shareholders. The Tabasco brand was my champion brand as within<br />

two years we became the biggest Tabasco distributor in the world, with huge demand<br />

from China (from an initial 12,000 bottles per month to 300,000 per month; the<br />

Chinese loved this stuff). Profit margins were magnificent at approximately 30 cents<br />

per bottle and we had no competition. It is no wonder my employers were more<br />

than delighted with the profit explosion and never put any restraint on my rather<br />

excessive corporate spending (which I had grown used to from my time at Cartier).<br />

For example, I bought a Daimler for my partner, Elisabeth – more on Elisabeth later<br />

– and a Jaguar for my friend and employee, Bernard. To avoid undue attention in<br />

Leeuwarden these cars were included under unspecified ‘corporate vehicles’ (we had<br />

a fleet of delivery trucks) in the balance sheet.<br />

The Tabasco story is so extraordinary, and the product became so important in my<br />

life that I cannot leave out a short description:<br />

The McIlhenny family (owners of Tabasco, located on Avery Island outside New<br />

Orleans) were so happy with our performance in two years, as we became their<br />

biggest distributor, that they invited the manager who I had appointed, Bernard<br />

Yiu, and me for a five-day visit to their factory, which included three days, all costs<br />

provided, partying around Bourbon Street in New Orleans. During our visit I was<br />

told by one of the family members the extraordinary story of Tabasco which had<br />

been in the family for nearly 200 years. It was after the American Civil War that a<br />

certain Colonel McIlhenny from the Confederate Army ended up on Avery Island<br />

and married one of the daughters of the slave-owning family of the island, which<br />

was one of the largest slaving estates in the southern US. Suddenly they were faced<br />

with a crisis as, at the end of the American Civil War, they had to pay a ‘salary’ to<br />

their now free ex-slaves. The Colonel was an amateur botanist and started a farm<br />

on the island where he initially grew, amongst others, orchids and exotic plants like<br />

Tabasco peppers imported from Mexico. Somehow, he invented a process to extract<br />

the juice from the peppers, mix it with vinegar and some other stuff which became<br />

Tabasco sauce that he marketed around New Orleans. The iconic Tabasco bottle was<br />

originally an eau de cologne bottle and when the factory manufacturing this cologne<br />

went bankrupt, he bought a large stock of remaining empty bottles which he then<br />

used for his Tabasco sauce.<br />

In the 1930s he imported a strain of magnificent Malaysian orchids which needed<br />

deep roots of two to three metres to flourish. Whatever he tried they wouldn’t grow,<br />

but after performing soil tests salt was discovered, which became the largest salt mine<br />

in the US some decennia later. Around 1960 somebody from Esso called asking for<br />

permission to do some wild catting (drilling) on the island. Sure enough, they found<br />


oil under the salt layers and Avery Island is now home to one of the biggest private<br />

oilfields in the US. No wonder that they never accepted any of the many takeover<br />

bids they received for this worldwide unique brand. As the saying goes, the Gods<br />

really pissed on the McIlhenney’s shoulders. The orchid farm is now one of the<br />

biggest in the world and the money received from the millions of yearly visitors alone<br />

pays for the whole production process of Tabasco. “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” sing<br />

the local employees (still 98% black workers) in their gospels in church on Sundays.<br />

And that’s the Tabasco story.<br />

One day I was walking through a supermarket and I noticed a shopper loading three<br />

carts with food items. Curious as I am, I asked him, “What are you doing with all that<br />

food, do you have a number of wives and kids to look after?” He smiled and replied,<br />

“No, but I am the food and beverage manager of the Holiday Inn hotel in Beijing<br />

and every two weeks I come to Hong Kong to buy supplies for our restaurants.” That<br />

night the idea came to me that at Friesland Foods we could fulfil that role much<br />

better by bringing the needed food directly to the hotels in China, a rapidly growing<br />

market. So, the next six months were spent appointing wholesalers in the major<br />

cities in China who would stock our brands and distribute them to the local hotels<br />

and supermarkets. At first of course, this was met with considerable resistance from<br />

the food and beverage managers who saw their pleasant and regular trips to Hong<br />

Kong disappear. However, we continued our efforts and in a short time a whole new<br />

business grew out of nothing, not only for the food products but also for the dairy<br />

products, much to the delight of our cooperative farm owners.<br />

After two years on the job the company had so much money that Friesland bought<br />

a new 12,000ft office in the centre of Hong Kong far away from grubby Wan Chai.<br />

This office was later sold for six times the purchase price after my retirement, another<br />

pleasant surprise for the Friesland farmers (my employers). At that time, our staffing<br />

had increased from less than 10 to 200 plus employees; we now had three offices in<br />

China. I thrived, travelled a lot, and loved my work.<br />

In the meantime, I had appointed an extraordinarily capable young Chinese manager<br />

called Bernard Yiu (still one of my best friends) and he quickly took over my daily<br />

work which left me with ample time to pursue further interests. In my second year<br />

our Dutch parent company bought the Foremost Group, a company that existed<br />

from selling ice cream to the US troops all over the Far East. Suddenly I was also<br />

charged with the management of a large ice cream factory in South Korea, so I added<br />

Korea to my field of work and learned basic Korean.<br />


Greenland Gardens brochure and financial statement of capital –<br />

Rabobank investments, 1992<br />


Through the China business I met many people and one of them was Thomas<br />

Yau. Thomas was a real estate developer in Beijing and was looking for a partner<br />

to develop the first housing compound for expatriates as there was a huge lack of<br />

suitable foreign housing. For example, some local expat houses had baths just one<br />

metre in length, where no properly fed American wife could fit more than her two<br />

legs in without spilling all the water. Having acquired a taste for real estate with my<br />

booming Rabobank deal a few years earlier in The Hague, Thomas quickly raised<br />

my interest and I jumped on the opportunity to take a 50% share. In exchange for<br />

his expertise and full-time dedication to the development for which I had no time,<br />

I provided Thomas with the start-up cash and explicitly asked him to provide extralarge<br />

baths.<br />

My old connections with Shell enabled me to sell the project to Shell China who<br />

at that time employed a few hundred expats and their families for a massive oil<br />

exploration exercise. They quickly agreed to sign a lease rental contract for the whole<br />

project for five years, that was for some 50 houses and 200 apartments. Bingo! This<br />

was a fantastic opportunity as Dutch and British banks were eager to provide finance<br />

for a project that was basically guaranteed by Shell and located in booming China.<br />

With a huge bank loan, we started building and despite the daily construction and<br />

political headaches, Thomas managed to complete the project in three years and<br />

the first major foreign development built in Beijing, called Greenland Gardens, was<br />

ready for occupation. I was also in charge of Friesland Foods Singapore, so I was very<br />

busy, but thoroughly enjoyed my various jobs.<br />

One of my other good friends at the time was a wonderful fellow called Sjouke Postma,<br />

who with great success had founded and expanded the Rabobank activities in Hong Kong<br />

and China. With him I made my first real estate investments in Hong Kong and China<br />

which turned out to be very profitable investments as well. After some attractive real<br />

estate deals in Hong Kong our first investment in China were a few houses in Shanghai,<br />

‘luckily’ financed by… would you guess who? Rabobank. Once, my son Alex, then living<br />

in Beijing with his family, called me to say that he had met Sjouke at an embassy cocktail<br />

party. There, Sjouke showed him a large paper bag full of local renminbi which were<br />

the proceeds of the sale of our joint investment in Shanghai (where we doubled our<br />

money in less than one year as this city was booming). He proudly told Alex, “I have<br />

your inheritance here in this bag.” At the time there was no working banking system in<br />

China and almost all transactions were done in cash. The problem was that Sjouke, who<br />

loved a good whisky as much as everybody else, woke up the next morning and forgot<br />

where he had put the bag with our joint money. It took many hours of retracing his steps<br />

around the various Beijing nightlife spots he had visited until he finally found the bag<br />

safely sealed and stored in the safe of his hotel (the famous Peace Hotel in Beijing) which<br />

he had totally forgotten he had booked…early Alzheimer’s?<br />


Anne Marie had been very busy with Pier and her two ‘adopted’ children who quickly<br />

had grown very close to her, as they still are today. After a few years, Alex left to study at<br />

the Colorado School of Mines for an MBA in petroleum engineering and Patrick was<br />

accepted to St. Paul’s boarding school near Boston and later Eton and Harvard. Pier<br />

followed with boarding school at the Dragon near Oxford (at a very young age like me<br />

at St. Jozef’s), and later went to Eton, Brown University in Rhode Island and Harvard.<br />

Patrick becomes the UK National winner of the School Hurdles<br />

Championships (under 18s) for Eton<br />

At one time, probably after considerable amounts of my usual Ketel vodka, I posted<br />

on the internet: Sperm for sale with two-times Harvard graduate DNA inside – impeccable<br />

origin but personal delivery only after picture exchange. I got thousands of replies but,<br />

honestly, never followed up. That being said, my children still believe they have some<br />

half-brothers or half-sisters somewhere around the world.<br />


Super proud Opa: following in Patrick’s footsteps (see page opposite). Declan (Dutchy)<br />

winning the gold medal for All England Prep School Judo Championships, 5th March 2022<br />

Belmond Reid’s Palace Hotel, Funchal, Madeira, for my parent’s 80th birthdays<br />


Black’s Link 1, Hong Kong, Christmas 1998<br />

I always had a dream to buy a boat and sail the oceans. From a very young age I have<br />

been crazy about the sea, diving and fishing. My first boat in Hong Kong was a very fast<br />

45ft catamaran called the Horny Cat, a name given by the previous owner. As it is very<br />

bad luck to change a boat’s name once it has been baptised, I of course had to keep it<br />

the same. Its curious name soon became well-known in Hong Kong racing circles and<br />

always caused hilarity when the Horny Cat was mentioned in award-giving ceremonies<br />

at the Hong Kong Yacht Club, as it was a fast ship and we won quite a few races. My<br />

second boat was a trimaran called Try Again Three owned by a German called Hanz,<br />

who had moved to Canada after the war. He, with some friends, built this ship and<br />

sailed around the world only to find himself stranded in Hong Kong without money.<br />

Somehow, I got to know about the boat, saw it and bought it on the spot. I was now the<br />

proud owner of a trimaran and sold my catamaran the Horny Cat. In the boat he had<br />

built a remarkable large wood carving with the self-explanatory inscription, “Ass or gas<br />

but nobody rides for free” – I kept this sign on the boat for as long as I had it.<br />

After a few more years I bought my third boat, a two-master of 60ft in length called<br />

the Luo Shen. Every year we participated in the South China Sea races with an<br />

eight-staff crew including my great buddies: Henk Stijweg, Mark van Ogtrop (also<br />

nicknamed ‘van Achterop’), Eric Verkain, the navigator (nicknamed ‘The Vaginator’<br />

(RIP)), Freek de Nes, Lucas Klarenbeek (nicknamed Klaarkoombeek or ‘Mr Orgasm’),<br />

Jan van Loo (called ‘van de Water’ (RIP)) and Eduard van Voorst (called the ‘Baron’,<br />

which he was), Edje Kooy and more. We would spend some six to eight days battling<br />

heavy waves up to 10 metres high to Manila (500 miles) or Puerto Azul, competing<br />

with 50 or 60 other yachts. Upon arrival there were huge parties and when the fleet<br />

arrived in Puerto Azul or Manila, we were always greeted by busloads of local ladies<br />

who wanted to meet their (so long deprived from female company) ‘sea heroes’.<br />


In my younger days and now (below). Did I mention I loved sailing and always wanted my<br />

own boat? (Note: I am chained to the wheel on the racing yacht)<br />


During one particular race we ended up in a hurricane and because I had the<br />

heaviest boat with the highest handicap, we won the race on handicap. However, my<br />

vice-captain, Lucas Klarenbeek (Klaarkoombeek), and navigator, Eric Verkain (‘The<br />

Vaginator’), were so drunk that they forgot to check us in with the arrival committee<br />

in Puerto Azul. We were disqualified as a result, and at the prize-giving in the Hong<br />

Kong Yacht Club later, we were awarded the silver toilet bucket instead of first prize:<br />

a huge and prestigious silver trophy.<br />

Part of my duties as captain during the races was to look after the health of the<br />

crew. During the race to the Philippines, I had experienced sailors on board, but on<br />

return we usually took some passengers; mainly wives or girlfriends. On one return<br />

trip we hit stormy weather and the wife of my good friend, Genevieve van de Water<br />

(van Loo), got so seasick that I had to give her the ultimate seaman’s medicine: a<br />

rocket-like suppository made by a specialist French company. The kit, fortunately for<br />

me, included a glove which I used. She did recover sufficiently enough to later hold<br />

down some food. Apparently, if dehydration is too severe, it’s necessary to blow in<br />

a large amount of water in ‘that way’ through a large diameter straw or tube, which,<br />

fortunately, I never had to do myself.<br />

On one of our return trips, we came too close to one of the South China Sea islands<br />

called Spratly Islands and were shot at by Chinese gunners who had illegally occupied<br />

the islands to build their military bases. Sure enough, one shot went through the<br />

main sail and left a big hole which we triumphantly showed to the press in Hong<br />

Kong upon return. The result was a headline in the South China Morning Post and<br />

Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong (which were still British) with a picture of a ship<br />

and a big hole in the sail reading, “Dutch sailors shot at by the Chinese illegally<br />

occupying the Spratly islands!”<br />

On another occasion I was asked by one of my best friends Michel X (RIP) to help<br />

him sail his creaky sailing yacht, a 45-footer, from Hong Kong to Singapore with him,<br />

a non-experienced sailor, as captain. Michel was a wonderful, colourful friend who<br />

had a profitable shipping business in Hong Kong and wanted to move his business<br />

to Singapore and to move his boat there as well. His business partner was a younger<br />

Chinese lady with whom he was rumoured to have had a long term, intra-office,<br />

romantic relationship with. One day he called me to intervene in a dispute about a<br />

diamond ring he had given her. The diamond was so tiny that it was barely visible<br />

under the naked eye and appeared to be very cheap quality (which was very difficult<br />

to see because of its size). She said to me, “You know I have screwed this man for<br />

many years and wasted my life for this tiny, shitty ring.” After assuring her that it was<br />

a Cartier ring (of course it was not!) I had sold to Michel at an immensely expensive<br />

price, she calmed down and I presume, continued her romantic activities with him.<br />


We left Hong Kong with a crew of six for an epic 14-day trip on the clear understanding<br />

that there would be no alcohol onboard; Michel would become aggressive and<br />

argumentative after a few tipples. A few days into the trip we noticed a change in his<br />

normal behaviour and sure enough after the crew searched the boat, we found eight<br />

bottles of brandy hidden under the floorboards. There was no satellite navigation<br />

yet, so the course was adjusted hourly on large maps, under Michel’s supervision as<br />

the captain, with a sextant and dead reckoning. At some time around 4am on the<br />

third night, while resting, I noticed a change in the noise that the waves made against<br />

the boat (you get very perceptive to the wave sounds against the hull). I immediately<br />

jumped up to investigate and saw an island a few hundred metres ahead of us. Amidst<br />

lots of shouting, the two crew on watch immediately ‘gybed’ the boat and sure enough<br />

we narrowly escaped a seaman’s death, somewhere off the coast of Vietnam. Later,<br />

checking out what had happened, we found that we were on the proper course,<br />

but Michel had set the course line right across a tiny ‘x’ on the chart. This was the<br />

tiny island we nearly hit (plus the watch was also sleepy?). So, all booze was tossed<br />

overboard much to Michel’s displeasure as he was the captain and was supposed to<br />

be the final decision maker – not in this instance.<br />

Yacht racing in the South China Seas<br />


Yacht racing – me and the guys (and the “Horny Cat” cup!) From Left: Eric Verkain,<br />

The Captain, Freek de Nes, Jan van Loo, Edje Kooy, Ed van Breen, Sjouke Postma<br />

After more near-misses avoiding nasty collisions with a couple of oil tankers<br />

(Singapore is the main oil refining centre in the Far East) we finally arrived in<br />

Singapore after two weeks. One remark I will never forget was from one of my<br />

crew members, Freek de Nes: he had caught and cleaned a fish, then smelled his<br />

hands and said, “This reminds me of a night hobbying in Wan Chai!” Freek was<br />

an ex-special forces officer and even in the worst weather he would go forward on<br />

the deck and climb the mast to fit a stuck sailing rope. He did pay heed to my real<br />

estate stories during our trips together and after he left from Hong Kong he built<br />

an equally large real estate portfolio in Holland. Freek, I am still waiting for my<br />

consultant fees! Not long after the trip, Michel settled in Singapore, where I visited<br />

him regularly. We always had a lot of fun together (he could be very funny). He<br />

then became ill and passed away a few years later. I was honoured to read his final<br />

eulogy in his local church in Singapore.<br />


From left: Sjouke Postma, Jan van Loo, Dr. John, me and Michel X<br />

Sailing a small boat through dark nights, huge waves and sometimes even with lives<br />

at risk, will create an unbreakable bond. I will never forget the nights when we were<br />

all forced to sit in the outside cockpit as 10-metre-plus waves crashed over the boat<br />

because being inside the cabin was too dangerous if the boat turned over. For many<br />

hours we would be clipped via our harnesses to a cable around the boat to prevent<br />

us from being swept away and not be found again. In bad weather feeding the crew<br />

was a hazardous event and most of the delicious meals, lovingly prepared by the<br />

respective ladies of the crew, went to waste as nobody could eat anything. I am still<br />

close to nearly all of my crew, 20 or 30 years later.<br />

I will never forget that during one of the races a very good friend of mine (RIP) on<br />

another competing boat was swept overboard never to be found. Ceremonies were<br />

held in his memory later at the Hong Kong Yacht Club and other places.<br />

Busy as I was, I still remained very interested in birds and I constructed a huge bird<br />

cage in our apartment by closing off the maid’s quarters which had an adjoining<br />

little garden. The bird market in Kowloon is world famous and I had ample supplies<br />

of exotic birds there. At one time I bought two magnificent multicoloured Chinese<br />

pheasants, one of which fell off his branch into the pond and died on the first day.<br />


I returned it to the seller, a gentile old Chinese who looked at me and gave me the<br />

following priceless reason, “You are gweilo (foreigner) and bird not know gweilo, only<br />

Chinese, so he see you and get heart attack.” This was one of the funniest things<br />

I had ever heard but I did not get my money back.<br />

I made many friends during these days and some of my sailing buddies like Henk<br />

Stijweg, Mark van Ogtrop, Eduard van Voorst, Michel X (until his death) etc. are still<br />

close friends. I met Henk for the first time in Hong Kong at the Mandarin Hotel bar,<br />

my usual hang out place in those days. I gave him my Cartier business card which<br />

was made from thin metal and was gold plated. Although I asked him to return it<br />

many times (I only had a very limited supply of these cards), he never gave it back<br />

to me and as far as I know he still keeps it somewhere – Henk, when you read this,<br />

please give it back to me, it is a dear memory of a crazy time in my life.<br />

Maybe my best friend ever was a man I met on the Shek O golf course on Hong<br />

Kong Island, Prof Dr Henk Tideman (RIP) a world-famous maxillofacial surgeon<br />

who was working at the Medical University of Hong Kong. On one occasion at the<br />

Shek O golf course, Henk intervened during a most unpleasant occasion. We were<br />

playing with a local Dutch banker called Lucas W. He was an arrogant, but otherwise<br />

pleasant enough fellow, but lacked the kind of humour that Dutch golfers display<br />

when they play together. When missing a putt during a particular game, I jokingly<br />

told him, “Take a Mulligan.” This incited such an explosion of anger in him, that he<br />

hit me in the face, upon which I naturally grabbed him by his throat, ready to smack<br />

back. Fortunately, Henk prevented the incident becoming a full-blown scandal and<br />

later, during a lunch in the Hong Kong club to which he had invited me, Lucas<br />

hesitantly apologised for his unacceptable behaviour. I helped Henk build his house<br />

in Phuket and stayed close friends with him for more than 20 years (he also moved<br />

to Phuket after retirement, and we saw each other a few times per week). Henk had<br />

the intellectual mind and I was the practical one, and we understood each other<br />

perfectly. Alas, he got very ill a few years ago and I had the sad honour to be the one<br />

to close his eyes, one of the saddest moments in my life. His wife Marion stayed here<br />

in Phuket, and we are still in close contact.<br />


Prof Dr Henk Tideman and me on the golf course<br />

Sailing was my greatest hobby and we had lots of races around the Hong Kong Yacht<br />

Club. At that time I still wanted to look young and regularly dyed my steadily greying<br />

head to a sexy dark blond, or so I thought. The strong sun and seawater meant that<br />

no colour would stay the same. After each race my head would have a shiny red glow<br />

and I acquired the nickname ‘Eric the Redhead’. I tried to remedy this by going to<br />

the (ladies’) barber shop twice a week. I might have had a streak of premenopausal<br />

anxiety in those days!<br />

During a Dutch regional golf meeting in Manila, I met with Jhr Patrick Testa, another<br />

well-known Dutchman, who had a large circle of business friends in Holland. We<br />

knew each other already from our student years and I asked him if he was interested<br />

in helping me to sell my package of real estate in The Hague. Within two weeks he<br />

found a buyer: an obscure, rather unsavoury Yugoslavian who bought the whole lot<br />

for cash delivered in a big suitcase. Although I made a very nice profit on the deal<br />

(and Patrick a hefty commission), if I still had the package now it would be worth 10<br />

times more. Alas, the story of my life is that I nearly always become impatient and<br />

make deals too quickly and break out of them too early (this could be true of my<br />

marriage with Anne Marie as well?).<br />


I will never forget that we met with this Mafioso character in the small office of<br />

Amro bank (now ABN AMRO) in The Hague. He appeared with a suitcase full of<br />

cash that took some time to count as at that time Holland’s highest denomination<br />

of bank notes was a 1,000 guilders (paper money) note. I suppose nowadays banks<br />

would have some trouble with accepting a large load of cash without investigating its<br />

origin. However, at the bank, the manager, who went by the name of Koemans, did<br />

ask him, “Sir, without being impolite, can you tell me how you got so much money<br />

together?” He replied, “I worked hard and made a lot of money, especially with a few<br />

brothels at home and your amazing and generous country spending foreign aid in<br />

Eastern Europe. Everything I trade in is subsidised by your wonderful foreign aid tax<br />

money.” To say Mr Koemans and his staff were non-plussed is an understatement.<br />

So, life was very good. I had plenty of money and was comfortable getting involved<br />

in the China real estate deal.<br />

My parents’ Golden (50th) Wedding Anniversary, Hotel Cipriani, Venice, 1980<br />


My parents’ 55th wedding anniversary with their seven sons, Park Hotel, Vitznau,<br />

Switzerland, 1990<br />

55th wedding anniversary, with their sons and grandchildren, Park Hotel, Vitznau,<br />

Switzerland, 1990<br />


My brother Robert’s 70th birthday celebrations at his amazing summer house with one of the<br />

best views on the Cote d’Azur. From left: Francis, Robert, Maurice, Eric, Lou, Harry, Seven.<br />

Roquebrune, summer 2004<br />

I was travelling all over the place and almost never home. Anne Marie, with the<br />

three children in boarding schools or university, became restless and our marriage<br />

started to deteriorate. So, she decided to take some months leave from Hong Kong<br />

and attend art courses at the Leiden University in Holland. In the meantime, I was<br />

using my time to take care of my investments and the food business.<br />

During this time, I came across a unique opportunity to buy one of the first built<br />

convertible Rolls-Royce’s (a blue Corniche) after the war, which turned out to be the<br />

oldest one in Hong Kong and of course attracted considerable attention – something<br />

I did not find unattractive to say the least. For a number of years, I was the driver<br />

who picked up ‘Sinterklaas’ (a Dutch national figure something like Santa Claus)<br />

from Aberdeen Harbour (Hong Kong) to the Dutch Consul’s residence. Sinterklaas<br />

was always played by ‘Bolle’ van Ginkel (RIP) a well-known (and fat) Dutch expat<br />

who kept a bottle of Genever under his robe from which he took a regular nip to<br />

soothe his nerves. ‘Bolle’ actually hated these small kids who had to sit on his knee<br />

and, many a time, were so anxious that they peed on his toga, but he had the figure<br />

and the looks to play this role each year. He also promised each kid a solid gold<br />

bicycle much to the great dismay of their parents. Once on the way back it started to<br />

rain and I closed my roof not realising that the properly inebriated Sinterklaas had<br />


unscrewed his two-metre-long ceremonial staff, the sharp end of which went straight<br />

through my very expensive roof (I still hear the cracking sound). This became a<br />

famous story as one of Holland’s most popular comedians, Youp van het Hek, wrote<br />

a column (hilarious for everyone else, but for me sarcastic) about this event in the<br />

Dutch newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, describing me as a Dutchman who married<br />

rich, with a coloured moustache (the nasty, ungrateful SOB as, in my function as<br />

Chairman of the Dutch Association that year, I put him up and feted him for the<br />

whole time he stayed in Hong Kong!)<br />

Me and Sinterklaas (Bolle van Ginkel (RIP)) – the drivers’ uniform borrowed (with thanks)<br />

from the Mandarin Hotel<br />


Driving Sinterklaas around Hong Kong<br />


I do not know when it started but many, many years ago (probably about 40 years<br />

ago) I bought a Panama hat which suited me so well that, to this day, I always wear a<br />

Panama hat, and now have a collection of 50 or more. Because of my quite noticeable<br />

car as well (although Hong Kong is known as having the most Rolls-Royces per<br />

square mile in the world) I became known as Mr Whitehead. Later, when I started<br />

my art business in Hong Kong, this paid off handsomely as I became known as a<br />

slightly eccentric person to say the least. My Rolls was a convertible so, after I started<br />

my art business, I could use it to load large paintings for delivery to clients.<br />

My employers at the time, the Friesland Farmers’ Cooperative, called CCF (where<br />

a Volvo was considered extravagant), became aware of my unusual behaviour. Sure<br />

enough, during one of my six-monthly visits to head office I was asked to see the<br />

personnel manager who went by the name of Sjouke B. After some small talk he<br />

came to the point by asking me hesitantly, “Eric, I heard some rumours that you<br />

are driving around in a R…r…r…r…Rolls-Royce in Hong Kong, is that true?” (in the<br />

farmer’s world, even a Volvo was seen as being Peyton Place). I told him, “Yes that is<br />

true, but it is an antique car and I love taking care of old cars, so I spend most of<br />

my weekends under the car repairing whatever breaks down.” I presumed he was<br />

satisfied with that remark because he congratulated me on my interesting hobby,<br />

however back in Hong Kong I received the following fax:<br />

“Dear Eric, as you have such an interesting hobby do your mind writing an article<br />

for our corporate journal (named with the highly original name, Wij In de Wei, which<br />

translates to ‘We in the Cowfield’) about your unusual hobby and sending us some<br />

pictures?” (Later on they changed the name of the magazine!)<br />

Initially, I was quite shocked and did not know what to do about this but, in the end,<br />

I sent them pictures and a story about antique cars with me on a roller plank in a<br />

dirty overall, full of grease, half under the car. The article proved a success and I got<br />

various requests from other car amateurs to help them but left these unanswered<br />

and that was the end of that story. A few years later, when I moved to Phuket, I sold<br />

the Rolls-Royce to Pier’s father-in-law, Nick Smith, the ‘Rupert Murdoch of New<br />

Zealand’, who truly was an antique car collector. A few months later he told me that<br />

he had sent the car for restoration to a garage and they found more Chinese-made<br />

spare parts than original Rolls-Royce ones!<br />

Upon reflection I think it was quite strange how quickly I adapted to this new job so<br />

far away from the glamour of Cartier and the publicity I was used to. How I enjoyed<br />

staying in the simple Oranje Hotel when in Friesland, and not in the Ritz on the<br />

Place Vendôme. (In my mind I always called it the Imperial Oranje Hotel to make the<br />

place more palatable in my new life.) Also, I loved my job now, business was growing<br />


exponentially in China, and Hong Kong remained my playground. Our imports<br />

from Belgium became so big that I was rewarded with the decoration of Chevalier<br />

of the Order of Leopold II by the prime minister of Belgium during one of his visits<br />

to Hong Kong. In a speech at the Belgian consulate, he said, “If you sell more in<br />

the future, I can even make you a Baroneke (Little Baron).” Belgium still hands out<br />

nobility titles to well-deserving individuals to this day.<br />

Receiving the “Chevalier of the Order of Leopold II” from the prime minister of Belgium at<br />

my penthouse in Hong Kong<br />

One time I was sent to Bangladesh and asked to quote for some 500 tons of<br />

fertilizer which were produced by Shell in Pernis (Holland) and at a price which<br />

was subsidized 50% by the Dutch government. I quoted this extremely favourable<br />

price to the Director of a Bangladesh Government’s purchasing department, but he<br />

decided to buy a similar fertilizer from Morocco for three times the price and paid<br />

for by Dutch Development aid. The difference, most probably, was divided amongst<br />

the local officials through kickbacks. This was the last straw for the then Dutch<br />

ambassador who was so disgusted with the total corruption in the whole system,<br />

that he asked the Dutch Government for reassignment. I still remember his name:<br />

John van Sinninghe Damst – a very nice gentleman, who had previously been the<br />

deputy ambassador at the Dutch Embassy in Indonesia. This is an example of the<br />


‘politics’ in various countries I experienced when I was working with Friesland.<br />

Neither Friesland, nor myself, were ever involved in any such dealings, but these are<br />

the games which we maybe were supposed to play – much to my displeasure. But not<br />

with food aid. In this respect I remember that one night the GM of my Dhaka hotel<br />

invited me to a nightly activity in the garden of his hotel: the cook would throw the<br />

buckets of leftover food over a high wall behind which a large group of people were<br />

waiting, howling and screaming to fight for these leftovers. I will never forget those<br />

haunting sounds.<br />



Hong Kong and My Career as<br />

an International Art Dealer<br />

At home, in the Penthouse, Hong Kong<br />


With my Renoir circa 1999<br />

It was not much later when Anne Marie left for Holland, fed up with my behaviour,<br />

to study Art at Leiden University and I met the third important lady in my life,<br />

Elisabeth Cassegrain. I was standing in the line for check-in at the Cathay Pacific<br />

counter desk when I saw this beautiful blonde in front of me also checking in for the<br />

same destination: Manila. Within a few minutes we were talking, and on the plane<br />

I got to know her a little bit better. I recognised her face from the many pictures<br />

published of her in the Hong Kong lifestyle media, such as Tatler. She was one of the<br />

most photographed socialites in Hong Kong at that time and she obviously loved all<br />

the attention. And so did I.<br />

The Cassegrain family is one of the wealthiest families in France as her father,<br />

Alain Cassegrain (RIP), started a leather goods business after the war together with<br />

his brother Philippe (RIP). Unfortunately, as happens in many successful families,<br />

the older brother Philippe bought out other family members including Alain for a<br />

relatively low price. Nowadays the Longchamp brand, which was so named by the<br />

two brothers because of their love for horse racing, has become one of the world’s<br />


top brands in luxury goods with over 200 boutiques worldwide. Alas, poor Elisabeth<br />

to her great chagrin (although she pretended to be part and parcel of this family),<br />

would never see a share in a future massive inheritance. Anyway, for me she had,<br />

or so I thought, all the elements for a successful alliance (her social connections<br />

brought me back to my Cartier time) and our relationship, which actually started<br />

after Manila, grew into a fully-fledged affair whilst Anne Marie was in Europe. She<br />

has one lovely daughter from a previous marriage, Marine, with whom I have recently<br />

(and due to writing this book) been able to re-establish contact with. Marine is now<br />

married and still living very happily in Hong Kong with her husband and beautiful<br />

young daughter. During the time I spent with her mother, Marine was a large part of<br />

my life and we had a wonderful relationship at the time with many good memories.<br />

I am very happy we are in contact again.<br />

With Elisabeth in the Penthouse, Hong Kong. Paintings from left: S. Ruysdael,<br />

Pieter de Hooch, Jean Dufy<br />


Preparing the dining table<br />

Out on the town with Marine<br />


Marine with her beautiful family<br />

With Marine in Phuket, April 2006<br />


One of Elisabeth’s top qualities was being a highly talented organiser of our social<br />

life, and for my 60th birthday she organised a three-day long party for me in Beijing,<br />

culminating in a black-tie dinner on the Great Wall of China. This was organised by<br />

one of her friends who was the general manager of one of the leading 5-star hotels in<br />

Beijing: the Palace Hotel. He somehow got permission to organise this black-tie party<br />

on the only fully restored part of the wall, some 100 miles outside of Beijing, reserved<br />

for visiting foreign VIPs. More than 150 people attended, and all were bussed from<br />

Beijing and stayed at the Palace Hotel. They were returned after midnight, again<br />

by bus, now properly inebriated and so able to withstand the (then) hardships of<br />

the China roads. I remember my mother being carried up on the wall with a sixman<br />

team of carriers in an ancient antique Chinese sedan chair. Elisabeth had also<br />

hired a beautifully restored, old farmhouse (which as it happens was managed by<br />

‘I Will Not Complain’ as a training centre) where dinner was held, together with<br />

a band and many speeches. Through one of her contacts, Elisabeth had compiled<br />

a small documentary film about my life in Hong Kong, where many of my friends<br />

and business contacts were asked their opinion about me. The film is lost unless<br />

Elisabeth can trace it and send it to me, but one of my good friends, a judge, when<br />

asked, “What do you think about Eric Smulders?” replied with the legendary words,<br />

“I don’t know but I believe he is in jail, already, for a long time”.<br />

My 60th birthday – with my mother and my sons at the Great Wall of China<br />


My 60th birthday party venue on the Great Wall of China (actually the farm was restored<br />

by Anthony Willoughby for his “Great Wall” training sessions)<br />

Organising things was Elisabeth’s great talent, she even had blankets prepared in<br />

advance for when the weather cooled down during dinner. She was the ultimate<br />

perfectionist and it did get so cold that the blankets saved the evening. Unfortunately,<br />

her perfectionist character was also the cause of many conflagrations with me, a<br />

person who is completely disorganised and needs to be surrounded by secretaries to<br />

remind him of his daily duties and clean up after his administrative messiness. On<br />

the other hand, in financial affairs, I can remember every figure or balance sheet<br />

that is in front of me and I can make instant decisions intuitively without doing too<br />

much research just based on my common sense. As a matter of fact, even until now,<br />

I have only one file in which my important papers are stored, including my last will<br />

and testament (already signed by my three children as ‘OK’, to avoid an inheritance<br />

mess later). Every year, on the 1st of January, I pull out all expired correspondence.<br />

Even today, I will have to move heaven and earth to get some suitable pictures for<br />

this less-than-always-exemplary life story.<br />


Some regrettable episodes that I have forgiven myself for, but never forgotten, have<br />

been my ghastly treatment of my first wife Marijke, and the pain I caused Anne<br />

Marie and Elisabeth through my unquestionably egoistical, self-pleasing behaviour,<br />

etc. Marijke later remarried a successful hotelier, started her own real estate business<br />

in Spain and had another successful son called Gordon. Patrick and Alex have always<br />

been very close to their half-brother and he now runs a very successful international<br />

business from Spain with his delightful Spanish wife.<br />

I still question myself about my behaviour, because on the other hand I have a very<br />

generous side to my character as, fortunately, people close to me would certify.<br />

I would rather say: non, rien de rien, je ne regrette rien. After all, regrets are useless<br />

sentiments because the past can never be changed – thanks Edith Piaf (Le Moineau)<br />

for that wonderful song.<br />

Gordon and family, from left: Ana Jr., Gordon, Gordon’s mother-in-law and Ana, Gordon’s wife<br />

When Anne Marie was in Holland and first heard rumours about my goings-on with<br />

Elisabeth, she returned quickly to Hong Kong but it was too late for me to give up<br />

on Elisabeth. Anne Marie stayed in our apartment, and I moved in with Elisabeth<br />

(her apartment was one quarter of the size). After a number of months of moving<br />


ack and forth between the two ladies and with regular interventions by my son Alex<br />

(who lived nearby) emotions got out of hand. Anne Marie finally gave up on me,<br />

packed up and returned to Holland – a sad story.<br />

As a result of all of this, my stress levels became so high that after consultation<br />

with my sons, I went to Sierra Tucson (Arizona) for two months, to a famous<br />

addiction and depression treatment centre similar to the Betty Ford Institute but<br />

even more exclusive and expensive ($2,500 US per day). For eight weeks I followed<br />

all the courses, meditations, sharing and medications that were offered. I soon<br />

realised that depression was a redline that ran historically through some of my<br />

family and can be treated with the proper medication and attention. Even now,<br />

after many years, I still take my daily Prozac to prevent a relapse. Because of the<br />

centre’s price and exclusivity some my co-patients were famous movie stars and<br />

industrialists, one of whom became a great friend (RIP). He was the chairman of<br />

a US conglomerate and had been forced by his sons to enter the same treatment<br />

programme: the reason for this was that he had knocked out a police officer when<br />

he was stopped for drunk driving.<br />

Upon registration everybody receives a code name and you are sworn to secrecy<br />

about the other participants with a legally signed document. After a few interviews<br />

I was allocated to three treatment groups: depression, sex addiction and alcoholism.<br />

As most of my ‘colleagues’ were highly intelligent and sometimes extremely successful<br />

people, I generally had a good time and made some great connections. The sex<br />

addiction class especially was a great ‘meeting’ place because we all were there for the<br />

same reasons; although any sexual activity was forbidden with a threat of immediate<br />

termination (also called a relapse).<br />

I remember one of my friends was a Brazilian and a top official at the United Nations<br />

in Geneva, Switzerland. When asked about his different sexual encounters (when<br />

more than five was already considered total addiction by US standards) he said, to<br />

the great hilarity of everybody else in our group, “Well, at least a few thousand.”<br />

Another one I remember was, and still is, a famous movie star who confessed that<br />

he had a caravan equipped with a very luxurious bedroom behind his convertible<br />

Cadillac so he could pick up ladies in his Hollywood hunting grounds. Meeting all<br />

these characters was an unforgettable experience for me. I left after six weeks having<br />

made the decision to stay with Elisabeth and split from Anne Marie which removed<br />

the major cause of stress and depression. So, from there I went back to Hong Kong<br />

‘cured’ and with a lifelong prescription of Prozac.<br />

After amicably signing a separation agreement, Anne Marie returned to Holland<br />

where she started a successful interior decoration business in Wassenaar with her<br />


est friend Jkvr Floep Mak van Waay (an ex-girlfriend of my brother Robert – which<br />

he always denied). Holland seems very small, right?<br />

So, until today I remain officially married to her but legally separated, which gave her<br />

the great advantage of receiving her monthly ‘housekeeping’ allowance, tax free. We<br />

are still on very good terms sharing our youngest son, Pier, and her ‘adopted’ sons,<br />

Alex and Patrick, and all of our grandchildren (now 10 in number and still growing!).<br />

They have always been a mutually vital shared interest.<br />

Anizy Castle in the Bourgogne<br />

In the meantime, Elisabeth’s father had bought a wonderful old Castle in the<br />

Bourgogne called Anizy, originally from the 12th century, probably with the money<br />

he received for selling his shares in Longchamp. For many years he renovated the<br />

buildings (the moats, the church, etc.) with great dedication and consideration<br />

for their original state. Elisabeth had one sister, Veronique, who was married to a<br />

wealthy French banker, and so her father very smartly donated the castle to his two<br />

daughters with a droit d’usage (right of usage) for his life. Suddenly, the two sisters<br />

(thus also me) were responsible for the maintenance and staffing of the property.<br />

Elisabeth’s parents had even built a large, heated swimming pool building, all financed<br />

by me and my brother-in-law, who they considered to be their walking ATMs.<br />


So, my life continued in Hong Kong now with a new partner and her small daughter.<br />

Reflecting on this now, I wonder how much less complicated and stressful my life<br />

would have been if I would have just kept my zipper closed and stayed with Anne<br />

Marie? But, alas…<br />

I enjoyed my favourite city, Hong Kong; I loved the many black-tie balls, parties<br />

and receptions to which Elisabeth continued to be invited. In some way we were a<br />

strange couple with me running my businesses, playing golf and sailing, and Elisabeth<br />

running the Garard and Asprey boutiques.<br />

It was around the year 2000 that my real estate development in Beijing started to<br />

face lots of (cheaper) local competition from Chinese developers who built similar<br />

estates all around my own, between Beijing city and the airport. Also, during this<br />

time Shell had withdrawn most of its oil exploration executives from China as no<br />

major oilfields were found.<br />

I was now expected to look for local expatriates who only wanted fully furnished<br />

accommodation. This was a major complication because, every month, new tenants<br />

came in and wanted all kind of changes and renewals. On top of this the local<br />

Chinese competition had driven rental prices down and the Chinese government<br />

became more and more restrictive with its regulations on foreign ownership. A non-<br />

Chinese could only own one property which forced me to create a separate legal<br />

corporate entity for every unit, be it apartment or house (in my case multi BVIs)<br />

which became a huge administrative and accounting nightmare. So, I now decided<br />

it was time to sell, and again I did it for a tidy profit. However, if I would have kept<br />

these properties for another 10 years, they would have increased in value by five to 10<br />

times as real estate prices escalated to similar levels as Hong Kong. Again, the story<br />

of my life: buy on impulse, sell too early!<br />

I had enough money to continue my more-than-pleasant life, and Elisabeth introduced<br />

me to a famous architect who had built several of the Aman Puri resorts around Asia,<br />

the world’s first 6-star resorts. His name was Jean-Michel Gathy and he proposed a<br />

small exclusive project to me in Phuket, Thailand, right across from the original<br />

Aman Puri Hotel. It was some five miles by sea away, on a rock point with a 270<br />

degrees sea view over Kamala Bay. This project (now called Laemson Villas, Kamala)<br />

was supposed to become the ‘mini’ Aman resort. I immediately jumped upon his<br />

ideas as the location was unique and I would be working with a world-famous<br />

architect who had already prepared the basic plans for seven large, new, Aman-style<br />

houses. The Aman Puri Hotel was forced to sell this project to the Bangkok Bank<br />

(a stock market listed bank with the major shareholding held by the Sophonpanich<br />

family) because they had defaulted on their real estate loans during the Asian crisis.<br />


I knew the chairman of the group, one of the best-known figures in Thailand, Khun<br />

Chai Sophonpanich, as I used to give big dinner parties in Bangkok in the Oriental<br />

Hotel to sell the Cartier baubles and other Cartier creations, where his family was<br />

also always invited. Within a few days we had agreed on a deal and I bought a house<br />

there, as did my son Patrick, who bought the house next to me so we could visit each<br />

other with our (now) own private beaches.<br />

The building and completion of the project took around seven years and required<br />

my regular presence on the site. During this time, after retirement from Friesland<br />

and the selling of my Beijing real estate project, I finally realised my dream: I could<br />

now become an international art dealer. I was lucky to find a wonderful place in<br />

central Hong Kong which was undergoing a real estate crisis, and soon opened the<br />

Master Paintings Gallery which I stocked with old masters, impressionist works and<br />

more modern artists. We regularly gave cocktail parties and exhibitions, which were<br />

masterfully organised by Elisabeth as well as black-tie dinner parties in the Mandarin<br />

Hotel. Business was profitable, seeing regular sales of important works. My first<br />

important sale was to a Dutch banker friend, a marine by Bakhuizen. He had the<br />

extraordinary name, Willem Pijpers (RIP) whose wife soon got the nickname ‘Befje’,<br />

a not very polite, Dutch play on words.<br />

The Master Paintings Gallery actually became the most important art gallery in Hong<br />

Kong due to the fact that, with the more-than-sufficient funds in my possession,<br />

I bought a sizeable collection of wonderful art works from Sotheby’s, Christie’s and<br />

Bonhams over the years: famous names such as Rachel Ruysch, Breughel, Jan Steen (sold<br />

to my architect Jean-Michel Gathy), Bellevois, Lucas van Leyden and impressionists like<br />

Renoir (one), Georges d’Espagnat (still two in my house), De Vlaminck, Dufy, etc. My son<br />

Alex still has some of my paintings, a Breughel, a still life with the ubiquitous lobster<br />

by Rachel Ruysch and a large 17th century marine by Bellevois, etc., on loan.<br />

Dealing in major paintings is quite a challenge in Hong Kong where my customers,<br />

mainly Chinese, really had no idea about this type of art. Once, one of Hong Kong’s<br />

most famous businessmen, Sir Ka-shing Li GBM KBE JP (to give him his full title)<br />

came in surrounded by his bodyguards and asked me if I could repaint a 17th<br />

century large marine painting. I politely declined. On another occasion I had sold<br />

a painting to a Chinese client; a beautiful Italian landscape painting (attributed to<br />

Oreste Albertini) with the usual river in the middle to determine the horizon on the<br />

painting. The next day he asked me to take the painting back because it brought him<br />

bad luck. I went to his house and he showed me the painting on his wall telling me,<br />

“The river looks like it flows out of my window and because water means money<br />

for the Chinese this is extremely bad luck as all my money goes out of the window.”<br />

I convinced him to keep the painting saying, “Look at that little fisherman on the side<br />


of the river. He sits on the right, and this means the water is going from right to left<br />

otherwise he would’ve been sitting on the other side. Indeed, in that case the water<br />

would have gone out of your window, but not now. So, don’t worry, in this painting<br />

the river streams into your house which will bring in more and more money.” He was<br />

very happy with this explanation and as far as I know, he is still enjoying the picture.<br />

On another occasion we participated in the Taiwan International Art Fair. I was assisted<br />

by Mark Grol who worked for a year for me in the art business as he had just graduated<br />

from art school in Holland. We managed to sell a large Eugène Boudin to a local dentist<br />

which was fortunate as it was only 60% of the original picture as part of it had been<br />

burnt (except for the signed part), but it had been professionally restored and beautifully<br />

framed in Hong Kong. In the catalogue raisonné of the artist there was an original picture<br />

of this painting which we showed to the client to prove that our painting was officially<br />

registered as work by the artist. Mark had a brilliant idea to convince the buyer that part<br />

of the picture being burnt was actually a sign of good luck, because the previous owners’<br />

house had survived 90% of the same fire and they had kept the painting in the family<br />

for a few hundred years as symbol of good luck. Fortunately, the unburnt part had the<br />

original signature and the client agreed to buy this ‘masterpiece’. That night, Mark went<br />

to the dentist’s house who gave us cash ($125,000 US compared to my purchase price<br />

of around $22,000 US – we had to make some profit, right?) and Mark personally hung<br />

the painting in the dentist’s living room, where I presume it still is. I must have been a<br />

good teacher because a few years later Mark became first auctioneer and later managing<br />

director of Sotheby’s and is still a good friend of mine.<br />

Delivering a Bellevois painting (1631–1676) with my favourite driver, Lito (note the<br />

numberplate with my initials helping to advertise Master Paintings Gallery)<br />


Hong Kong Dutch Chamber – “COBRA” Exhibition<br />

at Master Paintings Gallery – Opening 1999<br />

I had another assistant during those days, a beautiful young lady called Carole, the<br />

sister of my son’s (now ex) wife, Noelle. We worked together very amicably for a few<br />

years until she left because she could not stand Elisabeth’s constant intrusions into<br />

the workings of the art gallery. Elisabeth had developed her own business selling<br />

antique Mongolian rugs for which she regularly travelled to inner Mongolia, to visit<br />

the locals in their yurts. She assembled a wonderful collection of these rare rugs<br />

which have become extremely expensive now: if they can still be found. However,<br />

she insisted on selling them through my gallery, which created many mini explosions<br />

between her, Mark and Carole. Elisabeth was a perfectionist, which by definition<br />

required only perfection, which is impossible in a large gallery. In the end both Mark<br />

and Carole resigned. I closed the gallery with an extremely successful sale. This was<br />

advertised with a quarter-page advert on the front page of the South China Morning<br />

Post and included a picture of me and the words: “Everything is for sale, including<br />

me.” (I followed this up with a second advert once the gallery closed, thanking<br />

everyone who had visited and bought from me.) This did not suit Elisabeth’s sense<br />

of humour: she was very upset that I put myself publicly ‘up for sale’. Actually, I had<br />

many very positive reactions and some (mock?) proposals. Everything was sold with<br />

the exception of a small number of my best paintings which I either kept, or were<br />

sold through Sotheby’s and Christie’s, thereby closing this chapter of my life in Hong<br />

Kong. The time had come to move permanently to Phuket.<br />


Master Gallery Hong Kong closing down sale, China Post<br />

With my favourite dog, Anizy (RIP), after an evening hobbying in Hong Kong<br />


Around this time, and just following my mother’s 100th birthday celebrations (in<br />

2008) held in Kasteel, Braschaat, I flew, on Patrick’s private plane, with Patrick, his<br />

wife Kiki and baby Tristan, plus Alex and Pier, from Antwerp to London so that<br />

we four guys could fly on to Antigua the following day. Alex, Pier and Patrick had<br />

offered me a week of sailing on a wonderful exploration yacht called Carl Linne which<br />

belonged to a friend of Patrick (named in honour of the 18th Century Swedish<br />

biologist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus, known as a father of modern<br />

ecology), so that I could celebrate my upcoming 70th birthday alone with my sons –<br />

our version of a boys-only vacation. We had an amazing week, not only exploring the<br />

various Dutch and English islands, diving and fishing, but primarily having lots of<br />

amazing times, simply ‘hanging out’ with each other.<br />

Partying with my sons on our “boys only holiday”<br />

prior to my 70th birthday, Antigua, 2008<br />


Enjoying an alcohol drenched dinner. From left: me, Patrick, Pier and Alex<br />



“Happy Retirement” in Phuket<br />

Now I spent time travelling between Phuket and Hong Kong managing the<br />

building of my house, which actually took around seven years. Elisabeth<br />

hated Phuket as a permanent residence and would only join me for some weekends.<br />

With all this spare time on my hands and, as usual, being curious about local<br />

business opportunities, I met two Norwegians called Bjorn Moller (RIP) and<br />

Fredrik Gromer who convinced me to build the first beach club in Phuket on<br />

Bang Tao beach. I thought this was a great idea and I financed the building of an<br />

amazing club with a pink swimming pool, right on the sea in what was possibly<br />

the best location in Phuket, at the corner of Bang Tao Beach and the Aman<br />

Puri. However, after two years planning and building, I discovered that the two<br />

had conspired to steal most of my money and lied about the progress of all the<br />

construction work, and orders placed and paid for by me to contractors. To make<br />

a long story short, for the first time in my life, I was cleverly cheated out of some<br />

$600,000 US. I tried to sue the two rascals but they both fled the island. Even<br />

now the remains of what was going to be a pink swimming pool can still be seen<br />

in the corner of Bang Tao beach.<br />

So, I actually spent most of my time alone in Phuket where I had a very good<br />

friend called Ole Schistad, who, in his last post, was ambassador for Norway in<br />

Singapore. We became close friends and spent many weekends together fishing<br />

on my boat. He had a large circle of local and international friends as he was<br />

a most likeable and intelligent person. During a dinner party at his house he<br />

introduced me to a scion from a leading family in Phuket called Uraiphan Saesin<br />

– ‘Oe’ would eventually become the fourth important woman in my life – who<br />

ran a number of successful real estate businesses in Phuket. She was (and still is)<br />

a beautiful, well-dressed, elegant Thai lady and I was duly impressed and tried to<br />


make a date with her. She first refused as, due to my inclination to dress quite<br />

colourfully, she thought I was gay! But I managed quite quickly to convince her of<br />

the opposite after I invited her for dinner on my boat. I pretended to have cooked<br />

(actually, it was pre-cooked) a meal but my cover was blown when the microwave<br />

oven exploded.<br />

My relationship with Elisabeth grew more and more problematic as she absolutely<br />

refused to come and live in Phuket, and Hong Kong, for me personally, had<br />

become a past station in my life. My frequent trips to Thailand in the meantime<br />

became a major obstacle in our relations as Elisabeth did not like, in fact she<br />

hated, the nightlife and my so-called vibrant social life in Phuket. Elisabeth,<br />

brilliant as she was in these matters, quickly acquired a group of local friends,<br />

the majority of whom I liked as well. However, I also had my boating, golfing and<br />

bar friends who did not exactly fit her taste and whom she called my ‘marginals’,<br />

but they were my real buddies with whom I had fun, did my sports, went diving,<br />

fishing and occasionally, of course, clubbing. Also, when we were together, I was<br />

generally on my boat and poor Elisabeth hated boats as she became seasick just<br />

by looking at one. Phuket was not a notable high society place in which she<br />

could blossom, so we grew apart more and more which caused stress and sadness<br />

because she was one of the loves of my life, but as the famous expression goes:<br />

‘A dog only leaves his basket when he has another one to go to’, and I now had<br />

one in Phuket. At my 70th birthday party, I appeared dressed as Rudyard Kipling<br />

riding on an elephant. For two days we had an amazing time with all my mostly<br />

local friends and all of my six brothers present. At the end of the second day,<br />

Elisabeth made my staff clean all the floors of my house with Dettol and this<br />

was the last drop which made the proverbial bucket overflow (I still see them<br />

scrubbing on their knees), and we finally broke up the day after.<br />


With my beautiful life partner, Oe, in Laemson<br />


Oe (Uraiphan Saesin) – my very loving life partner and her entrepreneurial father<br />

New Year’s Eve, Times Square, New York, 2012<br />


Off to a fancy dress party, 2021<br />

I soon faced the return of my depressive moods as the stress caused by, once<br />

again, having to choose between two ladies became unbearable (history repeats<br />

itself). Whilst on holiday in New Zealand with Oe to visit Pier and his family,<br />

I consulted with Patrick, Alexander and Pier and decided to return once more,<br />

(yes you can guess, maybe as an escape) to Sierra Tucson. However, this place had<br />

changed dramatically since I had been there some years before as now it was a<br />

public company (PLC) with a very clear profit goal and was no more the caring<br />

institution as I remembered it. There were some excellent doctors specialising in<br />

medication for depressive illnesses though, and I soon found the right combination<br />

of ‘effective brain pills’ including, of course, Prozac which cleared up my brain in<br />

a few weeks. There, I also got to know one of the world’s top golfers whom I could<br />

even now call by his first name.<br />


Parachute jumping in New Zealand<br />

Certificate for leaping 630ft from the Sky Tower, Auckland, New Zealand<br />


I returned from Sierra Tucson and stuck to my decision to make a clean break with<br />

Elisabeth, including a rather generous financial offer (remember ‘the dog and his<br />

two baskets’), and returned to Phuket and decided to continue my life with Oe<br />

permanently.<br />

These ladies in my life came at a very substantial cost (Eigen Schuld Dikke Bult). As a<br />

matter of fact, Anne Marie is still on my ‘payroll’ as of today and Elisabeth, amongst<br />

others, ‘court cased’ me out of my 300m2 Hong Kong flat on The Peak, worth some<br />

$5 million-plus US today. She also disposed of around 50 suits, shoes, etc., and sold<br />

my collection of Hermès ties through Sotheby’s New York. I had all their ties in<br />

my collection from the first design onwards (remember I was instrumental in the<br />

creation of one of the first Hermès boutiques outside of France, in Hong Kong).<br />

Before my Laemson house was finished, I usually stayed in a house in Kamala<br />

right on the sea in a small compound called Kamala Beach Estate, which at the<br />

time was owned by my brother Seven, or on my boat. In the evenings there were a<br />

lot of things to do which I liked; especially socialising with the many new friends<br />

I met through the art business (most of them called les margineaux de Eric – Eric’s<br />

marginals) by Elisabeth.<br />

When I retired in Kamala, I also became quite proficient in snooker. Myself on the left with<br />

the hat and the blue suit and snooker champion Elle with her US, ex-marine husband<br />


Also a few hundred metres from the house was a wonderful little bar called<br />

Mountain View where I spent many a night sipping my Ketel vodka and enjoying<br />

the atmosphere created by the many expats working or retired around Kamala.<br />

With their expert guidance I also became quite proficient in snooker. The bar’s<br />

owner was a formidable woman called Elle, married, or semi-married, to an ex-<br />

GI from Vietnam who entertained us with many of the GI songs she knew by<br />

heart. All such pleasant pastimes made me forget that I lived mostly alone in<br />

Phuket. In the meantime, the construction of Laemson Villas (Pine Point in Thai)<br />

was riddled with problems as several contractors went bankrupt or refused to<br />

continue working on this very difficult and rocky site. Also, from Kamala there<br />

was no road to Laemson except a sandy path of some three kilometres. One night,<br />

while worrying about the whole project, specifically that when it rained this road<br />

was only passable for four-wheel-drive trucks, I hit upon an idea: why not approach<br />

a number of European embassies in Bangkok as they usually have infrastructure<br />

budgets?<br />

Home – Laemson Villa 1, Kamala, Phuket<br />


“Living in Paradise” – Article from Elsevier Magazine, June 2019<br />

So, after being introduced to several ambassadors by, amongst others, my brother<br />

Seven who already knew many people in the diplomatic service (from his previous<br />

job as Director of the Netherlands Council for Trade Promotion – NCH) and Ulle,<br />

my Norwegian friend and ex-diplomat, I went to work trying to convince them that<br />

there was a wonderful infrastructure project in Phuket worth investing in. To make<br />

a long story short I was finally successful as one embassy agreed to commit their<br />

remaining budget for the year to build a paved road from Kamala to Laemson,<br />

which later became known as Millionaire’s Mile. A few years later this road was<br />

extended by the Thai government to make a big loop and connect again to the main<br />

road from Patong to Kamala and all this from a generous country’s development<br />

aid budget. Bingo! The road was built quite quickly and my construction problems<br />

were mostly solved as big trucks could now be used to move all the rocks and build<br />

our houses.<br />

When I was not busy with the galleries and the construction project, I found<br />

time to replace my small 38ft boat Nong Nuch with a new, much larger ship, a<br />

Riviera 48, built in Australia and considered as one of the finest brands on the<br />

market. I named the boat OSU 5 (the four boats I owned before were the Horny<br />

Cat, a trimaran called Tri Again Three, the Luo Shen and the Nong Nuch) which was<br />

fully equipped for deep sea fishing, trawling and as a ‘live aboard’ with four airconditioned<br />

bedrooms. The name OSU is a Japanese war cry, used by me and my<br />

children to this day as a form of greeting.<br />


So, I flourished in Phuket, started a new art gallery group called Soul of Asia which<br />

at one point expanded to seven different locations in the various top hotels in the<br />

area. Since the start of this enterprise, I employed a wonderful (and at that time<br />

very young) lady called Moddang who was instrumental in helping me to start up<br />

this growing, but for the most part loss-making venture; my hobby. Moddang is<br />

still with me after 15 years and we have a great relationship. She also serves as my<br />

private secretary, knows all, or most, of my little secrets, and I hope this wonderful<br />

relationship will continue for a long time. However, as is my character, I have a<br />

kind of buying addiction and soon filled those galleries with beautiful artefacts,<br />

antiques, Buddhas and paintings. I later realised Phuket was not the right place for<br />

art galleries as most tourists come here for fun and not for buying art. There is (and<br />

became worse with Covid-19) not enough demand to keep the galleries profitable.<br />

While some people have private planes and others have concubines or mianois (little<br />

wives), I have spent my money on my art hobby. A better (though maybe not as<br />

pleasant) way to SKI (spend kids’ inheritance)?<br />

So today, at the time of telling my story, I am the happy owner of a few hundred<br />

paintings, many Buddhas and other antiques which are not easy to sell, and in the<br />

end, I presume my children will have to solve my stock problems as I don’t want to<br />

close the galleries, which I love and keep me busy.<br />

Another memorable event from this period was my 80th birthday party. For this<br />

occasion, I had not only invited my whole family but also all my old friends who<br />

were still alive from my time in Asia, including my student-year club. The event was<br />

held in a 5-star beach hotel in Noordwijk near Amsterdam called the Grand Hotel<br />

Huis Ter Duin. It was a black-tie, two-day affair, where I arrived by helicopter onto<br />

the field where the reception was held. This whole event was masterly organised by<br />

a famous, stunning blonde Dutch ballet dancer called Annette Wijdom, who was<br />

a friend of my brother Robert’s and was recommended by him. (Annette founded<br />

the Fa Fa International Showdancers in 1987, who regularly perform at the Moulin<br />

Rouge in Paris and around the world.)<br />


Me at my art galleries – Soul of Asia, Surin and Bang Tao, Phuket, Thailand<br />


My beautiful staff when Soul of Asia had more than ten outlets in Phuket hotels (again, all<br />

were closed after one year as we had no sales...)<br />

Annette Wijdom – creator and hostess of my 80th birthday party in Noordwijk<br />


At my 80th birthday<br />


A few years ago, I sold my boat, the OSU 5 and bought a large 51ft catamaran called<br />

the OSU 6 with four air-conditioned bedrooms and fully equipped for fishing. The<br />

OSU 5 had provided me with wonderful recreation and for a few years I organised<br />

monthly ‘fishing trips’ on the first Monday of each month, calling this venture<br />

The Andaman Tuna Society, with the motto: ‘Everything happening on the boat<br />

stays on the boat’. The rule was that anybody could bring a lady friend, but not his<br />

wife (one German guy always brought a new boyfriend) which allowed all of us to<br />

have uncontrolled fun, fuelled by ample supplies of alcohol. We never caught a fish<br />

though, but our trips became legendary. One member was the famous sailor Henry<br />

Kaye (Hoorray Henry, RIP) who would entertain us with his acerbic British sense<br />

of humour and the amazing companions he brought with him. On one occasion a<br />

Russian lady who came with him got so excited by seeing the open sea, probably for<br />

the first time in her life, that she stripped in the front of the boat to loud applause of<br />

the dozen or so Tuna Society members present on the upper deck.<br />

In March 2012, together with Ulle, a German fishing fanatic called Walter and<br />

another German (Hanz) and his wife (‘amply bottomed’; I’ll come to that), we made<br />

a trip on the OSU 6 to the Andaman Islands some 500 miles away from Phuket,<br />

just below Bombay. The trip was quite uneventful but not without danger as the<br />

sea was full of little floating handmade bamboo objects used by regional fisherman<br />

to drag nets around. With alert night watches and a good radar, we avoided all<br />

these obstacles and whilst getting a lot of fish we arrived in Port Blair, the capital of<br />

the Andaman Islands. The local authorities came on board and the first thing they<br />

asked was, “Where are the girls?” as they were all strictly Muslim (but they still like<br />

their booze) and suspected that we were carrying sinful ladies from Patong, as well<br />

as other illegal cargo. The first thing they asked was if Hanz had a marriage licence<br />

for his wife as otherwise he would be committing a criminal act called Iklat (close<br />

together) which under Sharia law is a crime for which you are arrested. Fortunately,<br />

she was mentioned in his passport which they grudgingly accepted though not<br />

without argument. After a long discussion we promised them half of our catch<br />

and gave them each two bottles of whisky and some money (euphemistically called<br />

‘facilitation fees’ in many countries) with which their suspicions soon enough<br />

evaporated.<br />

Port Blair is a boring and dilapidated city without any bars, nightclubs or proper<br />

restaurants. However, one incident stays in my mind: A Mr Singh, the Head<br />

Inspector, fell in love with our captain, Anna, at that time an attractive young<br />

Muslim man. In Anna’s presence Mr Singh asked me if Anna was for sale and if so<br />

for how much? To Anna’s horror I told him yes, but for five million rupees. After<br />

that, Anna never dared to leave the ship as he really believed he could be sold to<br />

this bearded Sikh.<br />


After a few days in the harbour for refuelling, buying provisions, fresh water and<br />

so on, we went back to sea for some amazing fishing and diving around the many<br />

magnificent islands. I saw every big sea game from a pod of whales to huge groupers,<br />

dolphins and sharks in many forms, including the first hammerhead shark I ever saw<br />

in my life.<br />

Happy retirement. My biggest Groupa EVER! 2021<br />


What a catch! My fishing success – not a catch during an Andaman Tuna Society outing!<br />

But this one IS a catch during an Andaman Tuna Society outing! (Was the catch actually in<br />

my right hand or in my left hand?)<br />


Happy retirement – relaxing at home with my dogs<br />

One island we didn’t reach was the North Sentinel Island. We only got within<br />

one mile as it was strictly forbidden to get closer. This was a historically notorious<br />

island inhabited by cannibals who, to this day, will convert anybody they catch<br />

into a 5-star dinner. As a matter of fact, after the tsunami of 2004, the Indian<br />

government tried to help them, but they were shot at by arrows when they arrived<br />

by helicopter. Only a few years ago according to the newspapers, a Protestant Pastor<br />

ventured there on his own to try to convert the heathens, but he disappeared as<br />

soon as he set foot on the island never to be heard from again. During the 17th<br />

and 18th century, sailing ships going to the Far East stopped in front of this island<br />

if they had any mutinous crew on board. They would deposit them on the island<br />

where the waiting locals had prepared a large cooking party on the beach. In full<br />

view of the ship’s crew, as a warning for bad behaviour, they would (slowly) cook<br />

these poor souls into (probably) delicious meals (all this is recorded in the shipping<br />

annals by the Dutch East India Company).<br />

The return trip was uneventful, and we caught a lot of yellow fin tuna, some<br />

sailfish and one small (50kg plus) marlin. All billfish were of course released but<br />

the tuna made delicious sashimi. To the amusement of Ulle and myself, Walter’s<br />

wife had a huge behind and Anna, our Muslim captain, was mesmerised by the<br />


sight of so much overflowing flesh from too-small-a-bikini. The rest of us preferred<br />

to look the other way. After arriving in Phuket some five days later, we parted ways<br />

with this quite unsavoury couple, never to meet again.<br />

Another memorable event happened at the time when my great friend Mark van<br />

Ogtrop ran the Dusit Laguna Beach Hotel as managing director. One day he asked<br />

me to invite a number of our mutual friends to moor in front of the hotel. He<br />

took care of a superb, hotel-made lobster dinner brought on board with sufficient<br />

champagne to nearly sink the boat. Much later that night, a rather boisterous<br />

group left the boat, crossing the grounds of the hotel to return to their respective<br />

houses. One German guest got so irritated that she shouted from her balcony,<br />

“Scheise ich kan nicht schlafen sonst rufe ich Herrn Director an” (“Shut up I can’t sleep<br />

otherwise I’ll call Mr Director”) whereupon, Mark shouted the reply that has since<br />

become a famous dictum amongst his colleagues worldwide, “You shut up, I am<br />

the fucking GM!” Consequently, he had to deal with a highly excited German lady<br />

first thing in the morning and appease her one way or another, but that was part<br />

of his job after all.<br />

During all my time in Asia I continually grew closer to my parents – we all grow<br />

wiser as we grow older. I tried to visit them as much as I could, at least once every<br />

two months. After my father passed away in 1997, I visited my mother nearly every<br />

two or three weeks until the end of her life, by which time she was over 100 years<br />

old and we would play scrabble together in three languages. The older she got, the<br />

naughtier the words that she used, much to the great hilarity of us both.<br />

I will never forget her voice on our last telephone conversation we had at around<br />

12pm on the night she passed away, whispering, “Ekie, you must come now.” I left on<br />

the first flight available but, alas, I arrived too late.<br />

I often walked with my father in his large garden in Brasschaat, Belgium, which was a<br />

few houses away from where my brother Maurice used to live. I regularly brought some<br />

Han or Tang dynasty statue for him which he collected (my brother Seven inherited<br />

the best one, an ultra-rare Tang Dynasty buffalo-drawn carriage). I remember one<br />

day during one of our walks he spoke these wise words, which are becoming more<br />

wise the older I get, “Do you know, one of the worst things about growing old is that<br />

everything gets stiff, except where it should.” Wise words they prove to be, and surely<br />

all my older brothers can vouch for this prophecy as well.<br />


My mother playing Scrabble, circa 2002<br />

Another great couple of friends are Robert and Maggy Wigman. Robert was a retired<br />

scientist and oenophile who, when he came to Phuket, decided to turn his hobby<br />

into a business and started a company called Wine and Taste. One day, playing<br />

golf, I suggested that I would take over the 50% share from his partner who had<br />


lost interest in the business, which I did. For some years I was a happy shareholder<br />

in a quickly growing wine business which is now one of the major quality wine<br />

suppliers on the island. However, a 50-50 partnership with one side doing nothing<br />

and the other side doing all the work is not a sound business construction. After<br />

a few years we decided on a friendly split. Now, thanks to Robert I have a solid<br />

knowledge of wine and he has grown his business into the leading quality wine<br />

supplier on the island. He made his hobby into his work, which is the secret to<br />

success in business life.<br />

I have not mentioned my wonderful brothers Lou and Harry because they both<br />

live their lives so distanced from mine. Lou in the US and Harry in Belgium<br />

and France. Lou is probably my most brilliant brother with a cum laude degree in<br />

physics from Delft University. He has an extraordinary gift of knowing everything<br />

about everything: from all the stars in the constellations by name (he is an avid<br />

stargazer) to the smallest details of American and international politics. He now<br />

lives happily with his wife, three daughters and numerous grandchildren in the<br />

US. There is a rumour that because of his exceptional memory, he had, at one<br />

time, his own dedicated invitation-only table at the casino in Monte Carlo and<br />

other casinos around the world, for playing Baccarat. This he has always strongly<br />

denied. So, whatever the truth is, it is an interesting observation on his intelligence.<br />

Left to right: Robert, Maurice, Lou, me, Francis and Seven celebrating Lou’s 70th birthday,<br />

Utah, USA<br />


Lou with his wife Titia and two of their grandchildren<br />

In 2011, Lou and his wife, Titia, invited all their direct families for a five-day-long,<br />

extremely generous bash in the US to celebrate his 70th birthday. While there,<br />

we visited many of the wonderful sights in the region, including, amongst others,<br />

Yellowstone National Park. All my brothers were there with the exception of Harry.<br />

In the park I was nearly (and stupidly) killed by a wild buffalo on the road. Much<br />

to the consternation of other travellers in the park, I got out of the car and touched<br />

him, which was extremely unwise, and I hurriedly retreated. On returning to the<br />

hotel, I saw a big sign which read, “If you see a buffalo never get out of your car as they<br />

can be extremely dangerous.” I was a really stupid tourist with an amazing guardian<br />

angel. These were wonderful memories and thank you again, Lou and Titia. We look<br />

forward to your 80th birthday celebrations soon!<br />

Harry is by far the funniest of all my brothers, whose practical jokes are still<br />

remembered at every family meeting. He is a very special case. He graduated as an<br />

economist (Nederlandsche Economische Hogeschool – NEH, Rotterdam) and passed<br />

an MBA at INSEAD, Europe’s top business school in Fontainebleau, France. Harry<br />

has led a multi-faceted entrepreneurial rollercoaster of a life in Belgium, where his<br />

two daughters and son still live. In March 2011 he settled in south-western France<br />

(Aquitaine) with his wife Marie-France, where they operate their very successful<br />


hospitality business based at his beautiful estate near Saint Emilion, Bordeaux. He is<br />

a writer and ‘soul wake-up’ companion.<br />

My brother Harry’s beautiful estate in St. Emilion, Bordeaux<br />

With my brother Seven in Phuket, 2021<br />


Seven with his wonderful wife of 30 years, Oh<br />

So, my life story now comes to an end after a rather tumultuous but often<br />

interesting and exciting past, and I hope to spend the remainder of my years living<br />

in Laemson 1 with Oe and all my buddies. I have found in my present partner<br />

Oe a wonderful new basket where I still happily sleep up to this day. Oe, together<br />

with her family, is now my very supporting and loving (fourth) life partner, and<br />

she makes my life in Phuket even more pleasant. I am spending the autumn of my<br />

life enjoying most of my hobbies: golfing, fishing, alcoholising (I am sure I am, as<br />

most of my friends are, a happy geriatric alcoholic) and still occasionally, diving.<br />

I am especially grateful to have my younger brother Seven living here, with whom<br />

I play golf at least twice a week. Even if he gives me 36 shots, he still beats me as he<br />

is a single handicap player. Also Nabil, another retired maxillofacial surgeon, Fred<br />

Majoor my great friend, a retired, highly successful editor in Holland, Jan van<br />

de Weg (or Jan de la Rue, or chiquer Jan de l’Avenue), who, amongst others, was<br />

famous for playing the piano in Yab Yum, Holland’s first high-class sex club, Rene<br />

Beerlage, Ben Beune (nicknamed ‘Ben Bonkers’ due to his numerous amorous<br />

conquests), and many others who make my life here so exciting. I literally enjoy<br />

every single day with all my non-marginaux and marginaux friends. There are of<br />

course many other friends (far too many to mention) such as Michel and Sue<br />

Arnulfy, John Magee, Kabir and Sonya Bandari (and more) with whom I spend<br />

quality time fishing, golfing and sharing mutually alcoholic episodes.<br />


Whenever the end comes, as it must, you can come and say farewell to me in my<br />

freezer coffin, lying on a block of ice (and ironically, I hate the cold) in Laemson<br />

1, while my favourite tunes by Frank Sinatra play (“I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve<br />

travelled each and every highway, but more, much more than this, I did it my way”),<br />

Edith Piaf (“Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien, Ni le bien, qu’on m’a fait, tout ça m’est<br />

bien égal”) and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.<br />

I want to be cremated in the Kamala temple which, as we donated money for the<br />

rebuilding of the temple after the tsunami in Phuket of 2004, has one pillar with<br />

Oe’s and my name inscribed on it.<br />

Yours affectionately,<br />

Opa, Pappie, Eric<br />

October 2021, Phuket<br />

P.S. I refrained from mentioning the huge amount of stress and many sleepless nights that<br />

accompanied most of the events in this book.<br />

Kamala Temple – column plinth dedicated to me and Oe after helping with the Temple<br />

restoration after the 2004 Tsunami, Phuket<br />


Relaxing after a hard day’s fishing<br />

Oe and myself, New Year’s Eve, 31 December 2020 (Khun Boot in the background left)<br />


Oe and myself diving on a holiday in the Philippines, 2012<br />

Me diving again in the Andaman Islands<br />


Oe<br />

My granddaughter Etoile who inherited my love for the sea and diving with a 43kg kingfish,<br />

caught by herself and is the largest kingfish caught with a speargun off the coast of<br />

New Zealand in the last three years!<br />


The morning after the night before, after another wonderful evening spent with “my<br />

marginals” in Phuket!<br />

Family time with Pappie: Declan (Dutchy) fishing<br />


Alex’s daughter Etoile and me at my birthday<br />

Alex with Asia<br />


Pier’s children – Beatrix, Mathilda and Freddie<br />


Alex and Alice at Christmas time in Laemson<br />


Ivar graduating from St. Paul’s boarding school in Boston, USA<br />


Asia and Ivar at St. Paul’s School, Boston, USA<br />


Asia and Ivar at St. Paul’s School, Boston, USA<br />


Patrick with Declan (Dutchy) and Caspian<br />


Family times – relaxing with Pier’s daughter Beatrix<br />

Me with Alex’s son Henry<br />


Sharing an ice cream dessert with Tristan<br />

Mathilda, Henry and Beatrix on board my boat in Phuket<br />


Kiki, Tristan and Caspian<br />


Oe’s only daughter, Milky, her husband, Too, and baby Mountain<br />

With Oe at Christmas 2020<br />


With love: the last (and first) farewell. My dearest brother Maurice (RIP)<br />

My dearest brother Maurice (RIP)<br />


Maurice and his wife, Nicole (RIP)<br />



From Elsevier magazine<br />

Translated by Eric Smulders<br />

<strong>SMULDERS</strong> GOES TO HONG KONG – September, 1998<br />

First, he sold Cartier watches to the Chinese, later Friesian milk products and now<br />

Dutch Master paintings. An interview with multimillionaire and art dealer Eric<br />

Smulders van Heer Janspolder, a non-characteristic and very colourful Dutchman in<br />

a city which never sleeps:<br />

“The Chinese find it very interesting and maybe somewhat eccentric what I do.”<br />

In the restaurant of the Hong Kong Club, the most renowned and exclusive<br />

men-only club of the city, still emanating the great, colonial atmosphere from<br />

earlier times, and in no way whatsoever seeming to fit with the Chinese People’s<br />

Republic to which the former crown colony has belonged for a year now. Along<br />

burgundy-red walls and over soft, grey carpets you can hear the controlled murmur<br />

which has been a centuries’ old patent for the English upper class. Landscapes in<br />

wooden frames, porcelain dinner plates, horse racing trophies behind glass. The<br />

customers are obediently served by western waiters in white, navy-style uniforms,<br />

a scene from the 1920s. Anyone who is important in Hong Kong is a member of<br />

this club. Two hundred of the nine hundred members (of which only three are<br />

Dutch) are Chinese, but they are not there every evening: it is Saturday, and no<br />

Chinese in Hong Kong wants to waste his private time on (five star) western food.<br />

Obviously, the Dutch businessman Eric Smulders is a member. Smulders (59) is a<br />

member of all private venues in Hong Kong that are socially important. Everyone<br />


knows Smulders and Smulders knows everybody. A Hermès Birkin bag with a<br />

beautiful woman behind it passes his table, “Eric, darling!” After a short conversation,<br />

framed by hearty kisses, she continues her way. Smulders bows ‘bye-bye’; “No idea<br />

who she is, in my work you meet so many people. Impossible to remember all.” He<br />

himself is easy to recognise certainly when he moves around his blue Rolls-Royce<br />

Corniche convertible from 1958 with his white Panama hat. He says, with childlike<br />

pride, that it is the oldest Rolls convertible in the city with the densest Rolls degree<br />

in the world. He uses it like a delivery van for his paintings which always fit thanks<br />

to the opening roof.<br />

“In Hong Kong no one is jealous,” says Eric. “I have had this car for twelve years, put<br />

it anywhere, no one makes a scratch.” That is true also for the Jaguar and Daimler<br />

of which he has one of each as well. You cannot call Eric Smulders poor. Twenty<br />

years of living, working and building relationships in Hong Kong and China resulted<br />

in a private capital of many million guilders (according to well-informed insiders, but<br />

at least one zero too much, he says modestly) as well as a 300m2 penthouse on the<br />

33rd and 34th floor on Peak Road – the Wassenaar of Hong Kong. Replace all the<br />

houses of Wassenaar with skyscrapers, put them on a steep hill and you get an idea<br />

of his living environment.<br />

“It is very difficult to become a member here”, says Smulders, correcting his tie which<br />

is needed to enter the club. “You have to be invited to become a member at a yearly<br />

membership cost of 4,000 guilders per year, but there is a 10-year waiting list. There<br />

are also other clubs with a long waiting list, but then you have to pay a fortune, here<br />

you can be blackballed by one existing member.”<br />

Fortunately, Smulders knew the Chairman of the Hong Kong Club (“He bought a<br />

19th century landscape from me and I play golf with him at Shek O golf club”), that<br />

made the waiting list a lot shorter.<br />

Smulders leads a very un-Dutch, far from Calvinist, lifestyle, actually he is very<br />

“un-Dutch”. Not everyone can or will tell that he will celebrate his 60th birthday<br />

with some two hundred relations and friends, including his six brothers, for a<br />

weekend-long party in black-tie on the Great Wall of China and Beijing, where<br />

his 90-year-old mother will be carried to the wall in a classic Chinese carrying<br />

chair. This event will be covered by the Hong Kong Tatler (magazine) and the South<br />

China Morning Post under the auspices of his 40-year-old girlfriend, the French<br />

socialite Elisabeth Cassegrain-Thomas, ex-representative of the Sultan of Brunei<br />

and director of her own PR company which represents Garrard, Aspreys and<br />

Longchamps (brands) and as such also knows anyone of any importance in this<br />

Asian metropolis.<br />


No, Smulders is not married to her, he has already been married two times and<br />

considers that enough for one lifetime – but he also has his problems. He had to<br />

move from his penthouse on the Peak to the lower Peak as living in the clouds for<br />

six months a year made him depressive. The high Peak is somehow more dignified<br />

than the low Peak but at least he now looks upon other apartment buildings below<br />

him and not to the clouds with a partial sea view. But this is really luxury whining.<br />

Smulders laughs about it. “This is Hong Kong,” he says. “Everything has to be higher<br />

and higher; everything changes all the time, if you cannot live with constant change<br />

better go somewhere else to live.”<br />

The economic slump in Southeast Asia, due to the sharp fall in the price of the real<br />

estate, a barometer of Hong Kong’s prosperity, changed the value of his apartment<br />

last year from about 20 million to 12 million guilders. Twenty years of speculative<br />

demand due to the opening up of China, pulverized in less than six months’ time.<br />

The values of real estate go up and down, but this also represents great opportunities<br />

to make money.<br />

“Selling fine art nowadays is very difficult. My clients are all experienced businessmen<br />

and they always research a painting before they buy whether it is a Breughel, Renoir or<br />

an Apple. Unless I buy from a private collection the market is now totally transparent<br />

as all prices can be looked up on internet, so I always tell my customers my cost<br />

price and add 25%, which if the painting is expensive is always still negotiable – no<br />

more fat profits alas, but still enough to maintain a most pleasant lifestyle”. He is<br />

an admirer of Loek Brons who he regularly meets at expositions and became one<br />

of Holland’s best knowns art dealers. “Here you have a totally self-made man with<br />

no art or any other higher education except a great sense of business with which<br />

he created this textile empire (Zeeman Textile chain) and an innate love of art which<br />

made him also successful in the art business in his later life.”<br />

Smulders is an inventive person, and about 10 years ago when he found himself<br />

not sufficiently occupied in his job, he discovered an opportunity to start the first<br />

housing estate for foreigners in Beijing. At that time foreigners could not find proper<br />

housing –housing was built for Chinese people and not for large American ladies<br />

who did not fit in the tiny local bath where one amply fleshed leg would make the<br />

bath water run over already. So, it was with a Chinese partner he built Greenland<br />

Gardens consisting of more than 50 houses and a few hundred apartments with extralarge<br />

baths, “American style”, which were soon rented out to the many expatriates<br />

streaming into the fast-developing Beijing environment.<br />

Due to the economic crisis hitting Hong Kong, many prime retail locations in<br />

central Hong Kong were vacated and he convinced the managing director of Hong<br />


Kong Land, with whom he regularly plays golf in Shek O, to give him a large retail<br />

space in the middle of the central business district for two years, rent free, provided<br />

he decorated the nearly 1000m² which looked terrible empty (the ground floor of<br />

Princess building). So, with his usual enthusiasm he organised an opening exhibition<br />

of a collection of paintings called Nudes in the World of Art.<br />

“Chinese are not different from us in appreciating the beauty of the female form,<br />

and the exposition created a huge sensation with lots of publicity but very few sales<br />

unfortunately because Chinese wives do not want pictures of naked ladies in the<br />

living room. Anyway, the exposition put Master Paintings, as the gallery was called,<br />

on the map and there were sufficient sales to keep my cash flow positive, so the new<br />

gallery was off to a flying start”. With a wry smile he admits that he himself had to<br />

remove a large painting of a very sensual Rubensian nude to a darker place in the hall<br />

(of his apartment) as his partner also did not appreciate the display of this centuriesold,<br />

sensuous flesh in the living room.<br />

“I could never live in Holland anymore,” he muses, “although I love my country and<br />

go there a few times a year. The weather is too cold, taxes are far too high and the<br />

society tends to be jealous of success. There is a well-known story about this in Hong<br />

Kong which goes as follows: a certain Mr Chan makes a lot of money and buys a<br />

gold-coloured Rolls-Royce which he proudly drives around. He claims that if he had<br />

a car like that in Europe lots of people would kick it or scratch it, but in Hong Kong<br />

a passing father would tell his son: ‘You see that car, my boy, it belongs to Mr Chan<br />

who was smart and worked hard and made a lot of money, so you better do the same<br />

and then you can buy a similar car when you get older.’”<br />

He obviously loves it here, and anyway, the majority of his close friends are Dutch.<br />

“Dutchmen are everywhere, and you meet them all around the world doing some<br />

kind of business. Recently when I was in Manchuria looking for antique Mongolian<br />

carpets, I sat in the bar and heard a man talking with an obviously Dutch accent.<br />

I started a conversation and sure enough he was as Dutch as can be, trying to set<br />

up a rail-road container business from Ulan Bator through China to Rotterdam.<br />

Wonderful, I hope he will make pots of money. The Dutch are gezellig (warm?), have a<br />

great sense of humour, a healthy thirst for alcohol and don’t go home like the French<br />

at nine o’clock”. He ends the evening with the remark I will not forget: “The Dutch<br />

are the Chinese of Europe, we go everywhere, we are inventive, and we never give up,<br />

something to be very proud of.”<br />





Article from newspaper<br />

Dutchman proficient in Malay after five months<br />

He nearly won top prize in speech contest.<br />

Singapore, Saturday.<br />

A Dutchman who arrived here five months ago without any knowledge of the Malay<br />

is today fluent in the language.<br />

Mr Eric Smulders, 27, a marketing re-seller assistant with the Shell Company here,<br />

has gained so much ground in his study of the National Language since his arrival<br />

last December that he was able to take part in a speech contest of the company.<br />

According to a spokesman for the contest judges, Mr Smulders “lost narrowly to the<br />

third-placed winner.” There were eight contestants. Mr Smulders, here on a two-year<br />

contract, said he joined the company’s National Language class for the senior staff<br />

in January. “That was my first contact with the Malay language,” he said. “Though<br />

a Dutchman, I have not picked up the language from Indonesians at home or in<br />

Indonesia. I attend an average of one-hour lesson a week.” How in that little study<br />

time during the five short months of his stay here could he pick up the National<br />

Language so fast? “Respect and sympathy for one’s country and national language<br />

and a personal ambition to master that language.”<br />

Much easier<br />

Mr Smulders elaborated this point, saying: “If one shows respect and sympathy for a<br />

person’s national language and understands the importance of a national language,<br />

coupled with one’s ambition to master that language, then its all that much easier<br />


to master the language. Of course, a constant contact with the language must be<br />

maintained. I, for instance, read and listen to the Malay language and converse with<br />

my colleagues and friends in that language whenever I have the opportunity. One<br />

common language certainly creates a feeling of togetherness among the people of a<br />

nation. It binds the people of a country. In this case, the Malay language binds all<br />

the Malaysians.” A linguist, Mr Smulders knows English, French, Dutch, and Italian<br />

besides his mother-tongue.<br />

Govt exam<br />

“Malay,” he said, “is not very difficult to master. Grammatically, it is much easier<br />

than any of the European languages that I know.” His ultimate ambition? “To master<br />

the Malay language during my two-year stay here. I intend to sit for the Government<br />

Standard I examination this August,” he said. Mr Smulders, a Master of Science<br />

Economics degree holder from the Netherlands School of Economics in Rotterdam,<br />

has worked in Belgium and the United States previously.<br />




Speech made by Ton Niewenhyzen Segaer on Eric’s 80th birthday.<br />

Now nearly 62 years ago a group of about 70 young men stood in front of the<br />

Rotterdam Student Corps building Hermes. We didn’t know each other, our hair<br />

was completely shaved off as is the norm for first year aspiring corps members and<br />

most of us hadn’t any idea what would happen to us: we just came from school and<br />

some from military service and we were starting at a new phase in our lives. As the<br />

doors were closed we only could enter through some five meter high windows and<br />

alot of infighting and loud screaming and shouting, we were arranged in alphabetical<br />

order. Because my name starts with an N, I came between Wim Meier Warner Philips<br />

with behind me Eric Smulders, Herman Vos and Herman Vriens. Luck or not we<br />

quickly became friends sharing all the misery together and formed our club, “The<br />

Raad van Elf” which is the only one from 1965 which still regularly meets together,<br />

wheelchair or not.<br />

Eric also just had left school and even at this early stage he made a clearly odd or<br />

remarkable impression. Not only because of his already over used voice bands and<br />

dark voice but also because of his scarred head (and other parts?) due to his refusal<br />

to accept any challenge, whatever the size of his opponent he always fought back. In<br />

his third year he was absent from the year club for nearly three months because of a<br />

motorcycle accident somewhere in Switzerland which added some interesting scars<br />

such as a cow bone in his nose and a bunch of fake teeth to his already marked face.<br />

Quite an unruly guy, he actually accepted no shit from anybody.<br />

I also remember that Eric had a monkey in his student room which made us avoid<br />

the place because of the smell and the aggressiveness of the little beast who would<br />

attack anybody except any of his many female visitors which he smuggled into his<br />

room as in those days co-habitation, even for an hour, was not allowed.<br />


Eric also had a car quite special for those days, a sort of motorised double bicycle<br />

(made in Azerbaijan or some other faraway place) which on a drunker night, was<br />

carried into the Corps building to drive around on the bar and other makeshift race<br />

tracks made from long tables.<br />

Also with his husky voice he could impress us with a poetically pornographic version<br />

of Mack the Knife which became our club song. He was certainly not afraid of anyone<br />

and even at this young age he was totally intolerant to authority. One night he got<br />

into a fight with a night watch and lo and behold, he managed to chase him away,<br />

probably too drunk to realise that the guy was twice his size.<br />

Also I have to mention that he managed to finish his studies with an economics<br />

Master degree (in a record time of less then five years) far ahead of all the others<br />

because being a (brilliant?) opportunist, he chose the easiest courses available. For<br />

his scription (normally a six to 12 months research project) he found an old book<br />

in the library dated 1921 which had only once been taken out in more than 50<br />

years, creatively re-writing the “History of Swiss trading Companies” as the book was<br />

called. He completed his Scription in an absolute record time and paid the library<br />

fine gladly for the never returned book. Incredibly his cleverly reworded Opus was<br />

awarded an A to the great envy of all of us. He only told me this story very much<br />

later, on a very drunken night. Because he finished his studies so early we missed<br />

the alcohol drenched sumptuous ship launchings on his family’s shipyards where we<br />

would overload on champagne and even brought some bags filled with bottles to be<br />

used sometime later… We always left as the last ones properly inebriated...<br />

And then we lost contact for a number of years, everybody busy with wives, ex-wives<br />

children, careers, etc.<br />

Eric started his career with Shell in Malaysia and he told me later that after having<br />

been lodged in a beautiful Shell house, he had the help of three staff to do all his<br />

housework. The first morning they made him kneel down on the floor to give a last<br />

brush to his shoes saying, “Tuan I must never leave his house with dirty shoes.” As he<br />

later told me that moment, “I made probably the most intelligent decision of my life,”<br />

never to return to Europe any more for work… and so he did... all the stories must be<br />

true because I got them straight from the horse’s mouth…<br />

It is remarkable that time falls away whenever we meet each other due to the deep<br />

connection formed during a student time. Three members have unfortunately left us<br />

already, Thomas, Henk and Herman, and one or two have decided not to have any<br />

contact anymore for whatever reason.<br />


Eric you have added a Heerlijckheid (titled land property) to your name unclear<br />

whether inherited or bought. Whatever, the “Heer Janspolder” some 200 hectares<br />

you acquired (vanity is the name?) is an actual for more than 50 years under water<br />

polder where tons of mussels could be harvested every year were it not that the soil<br />

has been poisoned forever by a refinery nearby on the island of Goeree Overflakkee.<br />

And now dear Eric and Oe we are your guests at your 80th birthday party in the<br />

wonderful hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk, a weekend-long, 200 pax feast of family<br />

and friends, all expenses paid but, as a typical economist, no extra room charges or,<br />

unsigned by you, bar charges...<br />

In our family we always celebrated what was possible to celebrate in big parties with<br />

speeches and cabaret... I have met many old friends I haven’t seen for years so thank<br />

you for your wonderful generosity, a great band and amazing speeches.<br />

A big thank you on behalf of your whole student club also and we all hope to be<br />

there on your 90th party as well. Again, thank you very much and may we have a<br />

magnificent time and unforgettable weekend. Your buddy, Ton Niewenhyzen Segaer.<br />


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