After 16 years in Washington and two months of farewell parties — some 50-plus breakfasts, lunches and dinners — Ambassador Chan Heng Chee returned home to Singapore on Saturday. “It’s bittersweet and a little sad,” she told us Friday after a champagne send-off from her staff.
Chan turned her final week in D.C. into a sentimental journey: art museums, coffee at Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown and a final lunch at her favorite neighborhood restaurant, Nam Viet.
“I have been driving around just to look at the trees and get a feel of Washington before I go,” she said.
Chan, 70, was the second-longest-serving ambassador in Washington (only Djibouti’s Roble Olhaye, who also represents his country at the United Nations, has served longer) and the first female ambassador to the United States from an East Asian country. When she arrived in 1996, there were five other female envoys; now she counts 29 out of a total of 192.
Which she did: Chan gained respect for improving trade relations with the United States, befriending D.C.’s network of powerful women and hosting lively dinner parties.
“I used to be a university professor of political science,” she told us. “When I throw a dinner party, I like a discussion. I didn’t know the word ‘salon’ until I got here and people told me I ran a salon. My first reaction was, ‘Is this good or bad?’ ” (The best conversations, she determined, are facilitated by arranging 14 guests around one long table.)
“I’ve met so many people who put public service before themselves,” she said. “It happens in other countries, but not to this degree. It’s very American.”
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