Den's Blog Rotating Header Image

Rorschach test?

This picture is outside the French Consulate.  I think the intent is to celebrate the close relationship between France and Vietnam.  But one could also see something else in the pose.

Is it just me?  Are they dancing, or at each other’s throats?

Fire Cloud

The sun got behind a cloud at sunset tonight.  It was a pretty amazing effect.

From my bedroom window.

China is not popular in Vietnam

The government of Vietnam is considering the creation of “special zones” in Vietnam that would give huge concessions to China, including 99-year leases on the land.  The Vietnamese people, for a variety of historical reasons, distrust China, and are opposed to giving Chinese companies this special treatment.

There was a call on social media sites for a large protest to take place today.  This afternoon, a group of protesters marched up the street right in front of my apartment building.

I didn’t even try to count the hundreds of people who marched in the street.

“Letting China rent land in special zones is selling our country. I protest.”

The protest was earnest, but not violent.  It seemed to me to be a peaceful demonstration of opposition to the government’s plan.  The protesters didn’t seem angry, just resolute.  I didn’t feel that there was any danger of it turning violent.

 

I stood in front of my apartment building and took photos and video.  The people who walked by and saw me filming waved and smiled, and several gave me the thumbs-up gesture.  As a foreign diplomat, it would not have been appropriate for me to have given them a big thumbs-up to encourage them to voice their opposition to an unpopular policy.  I certainly should not have expressed my support to these people’s effort to communicate their displeasure to the government.  It was not my place to wave and smile and give them my moral support.

Avocados are in season!

And they’re wonderfully inexpensive in Vietnam. Even better, I was pleasantly surprised to discover they Vietnamese avocados don’t oxidize and turn brown. So you don’t have to eat it immediately after cutting it open. I can slice one up the night before and put it on my salad, and it’s still green the next day.

In my enthusiasm, I bought too many at the grocery store. They were starting to turn towards the end of the week. I couldn’t eat them fast enough. A spoiled avocado is a very sad thing. So I added a way to enjoy them. This morning I made a paleo breakfast: baked eggs in avocado halves. Yum yum!

My beautiful life: baked egg in avocado.

Where, indeed?!

Reason #736 why I love my job

The Indian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City sponsored a performance of Indian classical dance last night.  The consulate invited the consuls general of the various consulates in the city.  Our Consul General had a time conflict, and so another officer got to accept the invitation.  I was the fastest to hit the “reply” button on the email, so I got the honor of representing America.

I know nothing about Indian classical dance (and after seeing the performance, I still don’t), but it doesn’t take expert knowledge of art in order to appreciate it.  I was absolutely stunned by the performance.  The dancing was athletic, but with very intricate and strictly controlled movements and gestures as well.  The dancers used their eyes to express emotions, it was like their eyes were speaking. The costumes were gorgeous, and I was seated close enough to the stage to see everything in detail.

A few of my counterparts from the Indian consulate sat next to me.  After the first act, one leaned over and asked what I thought. For some reason, the dancing made me emotional.  I wanted to jump up and down, and break down and cry, at the same time.  I was literally speechless. “Oh my God,” I managed to squawk out.  I think he smiled.  I hope he knew that that was a good “Oh my God.”  Because it was.

Curtain call. I was so enthralled during the performance that I didn’t even think about taking a photo.

The show was amazing, and it was such a treat to represent my country there.  Before the show started, I met and talked with a number of Indian diplomats, and several members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.  It was also fascinating to witness international relations between two other countries.  The protocol was very similar, the structure of the diplomatic part of the event would be familiar to any American diplomat.  Dignitaries from both countries said nice things about each other’s country, and praised the great relationship between the two nations.  But the content of the remarks was very interesting, too, in what they did and didn’t talk about.  They emphasized cultural exchange, but not some areas that the U.S. emphasizes in our diplomatic work, like education and security.  The nature of the relationship between Vietnam and India is just different from the relationship that we have with Vietnam.

So this was another terrific experience.  Next time I see my boss, I’ll have to thank her for being so busy that I could take her place at the event.  And I’m very grateful to the Indian consulate for being so graciously welcoming at the event,  and for sharing some of their culture.

A TDYer brings embarrassing news

Summer is usually the busy season in consular sections.  Everybody wants a visa.  Students are applying for their student visas to go study in America, and families want to travel to America during their summer vacation.  The volume of visa applicants usually starts to increase in May, then spikes in July, and gets back to “normal” (if there is such a thing) in September.  This means that our work load increases, but our staffing doesn’t change.  So the Department shifts people around between posts, on a temporary basis, to balance the staffing and meet the demand.  Posts that already have a large volume, like Ho Chi Minh City, ask for help from other posts that don’t have the same workload.

When I was in China, the demand for U.S. visas was spiking.  One summer we were interviewing 2-3 times the number of people that we processed when I first arrived at post.  With the same number of permanent staff.  We asked for a lot of temporary duty (TDY) support that year, and we had a number of people come in from other posts to help.  Of course, the requirement was that they spoke Chinese, but luckily we were able to get enough TDYers (that’s a word in the State Department) to meet our demand.

Since that spike, demand in China has gone back down to a reasonable volume (still almost double what it was when I first arrived there in 2014).  So posts in China are able to spare some officers to go to other posts to help with their volume.  Instead of importing TDYers, China can loan out a few people.  I’m actually a little disappointed.  I was hoping to do a short TDY visit back to my old post in China and see my dear friends in the consulate.  But oh well.  Maybe next tour.

Anyway, one of the TDYers in Ho Chi Minh City is now here from Shenyang.  We were catching up the other day, swapping gossip and stories about life in Northeast China.  She says that the local staff all say hello.  That part of the conversation was fun.  Then it got ugly.  She mentioned that the community there is still eating my kidney beans. She said that she personally has a few bags.

OMG.  It’s been two years since I left post.  How can there still be kidney beans?  When will this end?!

Actual Job Title

“YEAST MULTIPLICATION AND PRESERVATION SPECIALIST”

 

Feel the long

This strikes me as slightly off-color.

In Memorial

To mark Memorial Day, flowers by the plaques honoring the five servicemen who died during the attack in the Embassy in 1968, and the last two soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam war. The plaques are on the grounds of the Consulate, the site of our former Embassy.