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The Curious Mind of a Diplomat

Peleg Lewi has served as a diplomat for his country, Israel, for 26 years and currently serves as the Israeli consulate general in Guangzhou.

“In Israel—at the time, 27-28 years ago—to be a diplomat was very respectful, a very thought about profession… Nowadays a lot of people are doing it as a second career option,” Peleg said.

He got his start by studying political science and international law but did not know where his life was going. He did not know what he wanted to do but knew he did not want to go into the family business of buying products from China.

“My grandfather and my uncles used to come to the Canton fair back in the 80s and 90s… This is karma. This is life. Twenty-five years later, I came back here to the diplomat office,” Peleg said, laughing at the irony and his change in thinking over the years.

When he started as a diplomat, he took an eight-month course and was sent to his first post in Colombia in the 1990s.“

For me, Colombia was a big lesson because that was the first time that I saw how a nation can be divided,” Peleg said. “I was there at the end of the cartel, but still bombs were in the streets. The personal security was very low.”

He said he understood the situation at the time to be purely economic and the country not knowing how to divide the wealth. He said this is common throughout South America and related it to his country of origin, Uruguay.

He went from Colombia to Hungary when Hungary was entering a political and social transformation.“There was a huge Jewish community that was coming out of the closet…

There was no free practice of religion (before),” Peleg said. “For me, it was an amazing time to see how society was changing.”

He was adamant that diplomacy is not a profession but more of a lifestyle.

“The most important thing, ability or strength you need to have as a diplomat is… curiosity. Because if you’re not curious, you will always do the same. You will be a great bureaucrat, you will say whatever is needed to be said, but if you are not curious and openminded, you will not do the next step,” Peleg said.

He added it is important for him to understand where he is and be curious about it in the short time he is there (three to four years). He does not presume to fully immerse himself in the culture, because when he must leave, he will not experience the culture or total immersion again.

He talked about the unexpected experiences he has had in China, such as riding in a DiDi and talking with the driver.

Peleg said his Chinese is not that good, but sometimes he finds a driver who speaks a little English, and that is how he really understands what life is like. Peleg said he hopes to stay in China for three more years.