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September, 2014:

Day of Service

The Consulate closed for the day on September 11, and all employees, both foreign service officers and locally engaged staff, and engaged in various service projects in the city.

I was on the “urban beautification” team, which meant that I picked up trash along the canal. If you know anything about big cities, you can guess that there was a very big beautification potential along the canal.

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Several local people were very curious about a bunch of foreigners picking up trash. More than one photo was taken with a cell phone. One guy offered to notify the media. We all had a good laugh at that offer. We can’t imagine that the local non-free press would report that foreigners were doing selfless service projects.

It’s fair to ask that if we weren’t getting local press coverage, is it worth it to engage in these service projects? I think the answer is yes, for two reasons. First, even though the media wouldn’t report on it, as we were out there working, we interacted with several people. When asked who we were and what we were doing, we simply said that we were US diplomats, and we were trying to make the city looked better. I saw a lot of thumbs-up gestures, and heard some approving comments. We did a lot of direct diplomacy that day. For those of us whose job it is to try to further international understanding and prevent wars, this was a big win.

The second reason why this was a worthwhile activity is that service is an appropriate way to remember the people who were murdered on 9/11. Doing something positive for the public good affirms who Americans are as a people, and exemplifies why diplomats are sent to live in other countries.

Disappointing papaya: a solution

Learning from my disappointing experience, I bought a half papaya this time. More expensive, but I can see exactly how ripe it is!

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I torture my body with over-exertion

A local charity held a fun run today. The Consulate was one of the sponsoring organizations, so several officers participated in the race. the turnout was very good: over 200 people signed up, both from the local and the international communities. The Consulate staff performed very well, too: one of us won first place for the men’s 10K (NOT ME), and one of our marines won the woman’s 10K (again, not me).

Originally, I was going to sign up run the 5K, because that’s the distance that I usually put in on the treadmill. However, one of my (very much younger) fellow officers shamed me into signing up for the 10K.

Last Sunday I ran 10K on the treadmill, just to be sure that I could run that far without throwing up or fainting. Neither of those two things happened, so I felt that I could probably make it through the race.

Before the race: sure, we can smile now. The pain hasn't started yet.

Before: sure, we can smile now. The pain hasn’t started yet.

The race was held in a park that spans the river. Lots of water and green grass and trees, it reminded me of running in the nature preserve and the MSU campus back home. The path was paved, it was good for running.

The pain of the run was typical for a run, but I felt the added pressure of knowing that if I keeled over, it would be in public, and in full view of the entire city of Shenyang (who, I’m sure, were all following my performance with great interest, because, of course, I am the most important person in the world). The threat of public humiliation is an effective, if cruel, motivator. So I kept running, and made it through to the end, with only two “oh crap, I’m going to puke!” moments (false alarms).

As I crossed the finish line, I received a medal. Wow, I thought, did I win? Then I noticed that everyone got a medal, so I guess the significance of the medal is that you didn’t fall down dead somewhere along the trail.

Was the medal worth the pain, dehydration, and sunstroke? Ask me tomorrow!

Was the medal worth the pain, dehydration, and sunstroke? Ask me tomorrow! (The medal reads: “excellent.” I assume that when they designed the medals, they were not thinking that they would have to give one to me)

Not all of us were feeling so good after the race.

Not all of us were feeling so good after the race.

As a reward to myself for not letting my feet kill me, today I get to eat anything that I want.

There’s a story

Something tells me there’s an interesting story behind the name of this children’s clothing store.

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I spout and pontificate in Harbin

The Harbin Daily newspaper put on an informational event on studying abroad in the U.S., and invited speakers from the Consulate to speak. The Public Affairs section sent an officer to talk about higher education in the U.S., and I offered to represent the Consular section to talk about selecting a school and student visas. Foolishly, the newspaper and our P.A. section agreed to invite me.

The editor of the newspaper wanted a photo op. I dominated the conversation as usual.

The editor of the newspaper wanted a photo op. I dominated the conversation, as usual.
The poor guy barely got a word in.

When the public affairs officer was talking, I could barely keep in my seat.

When the public affairs officer was talking, I could barely keep in my seat. I bit my tongue while she presented.

I could tell the audience was dreading the time when I would start speaking.

I could tell the audience was dreading the time when I would start speaking.

Droning on and on.

Droning on and on.

The funny thing was, the audience didn’t seem to notice how boring I was, and the P.A. officer must have been napping, because she made up some lie about how well my presentation was received. Obviously, she didn’t pay attention. The newspaper editor was also very polite and told a whopper about how the audience enjoyed the Q&A part of the presentation. Even though nobody walked out during my presentation, I could tell that they couldn’t wait for me to leave. They clapped and clapped as we walked out of the hall, I’m sure it was because they were relieved that they could finally go home.

It was a total disaster. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to inflict myself onto people.

 

Great air quality today

Couldn’t ask for better!

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Great weather for a bike ride down by the river.

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Evening in Harbin

The night before our big presentation.

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(Not) a great idea

“Let’s take away the delicious chocolate from a Kit-Kat, and replace it with a paste made from green tea. Customers will love it!”

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Nice Labor Day Hike

The CLO (community liaison officer) organized a Labor Day outing to the National Forest Park in Shenyang. Because it wasn’t a Chinese holiday, there were very, very few people in the park. We mostly had the whole park to ourselves.

The park contains several mountains, including the highest point in Shenyang, appropriately called the “top peak of Shenyang.”

The weather was perfect, the air was clean, and there were no city noises.

Walking up to the highest point in Shenyang

Walking up to the highest point in Shenyang

Proof that I went on the hike

Proof that I went on the hike

The peak is 441 meters above sea level, the highest point in Shenyang.

The peak is 441 meters above sea level, the highest point in Shenyang.

Panorama from the peak

Panorama from the peak

On the trail

On the trail

Nice rock formations, and I don't mean my flabby abs.

Nice rock formations, and I don’t mean my flabby abs.

This part of the climb was a little dicey

This part of the climb was a little dicey

Another stopping point, the Southern Gate. According to legend, it lines up with the old northern gate of Shenyang.

Another stopping point, the Southern Gate. According to legend, it lines up with the old northern gate of Shenyang.

The first and last legs of the trail were on the main road in the park.

The first and last legs of the trail were on the main road in the park.

Now that Labor Day is behind us, I guess summer is officially over. The weather is still hot, though, and the leaves don’t show any sign of changing color. I will enjoy this weather while it lasts, and try to remember it when winter hits.

 

The disappointing papaya

I, like all sane human beings, love papayas. They are expensive in the US, relatively cheaper in Taiwan, and I thought that they were unavailable in northeast China.

So I was delighted to see them in the grocery store.

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Fruit and vegetables are sold by weight. The way it works is that you choose your produce, then bring it to a weighing station.

I picked out a nice papaya and got in line. Of course, the woman that was in front of me was buying one of everything, so I had to wait a long time. But no worries. I anticipated eating my delicious papaya while I waited for the grocery store employee to weigh and label everything in the woman’s cart.

Finally it was my turn. I handed my precious papaya to the person at the weighing station. She looked at it, then looked at me with an expression like I had handed her a cow turd. She rolled her eyes and said: “This is the weigh station for vegetables. The fruit weighing station is over there!”

So, even though “over there” was five steps from where we were standing, the machine “over there” looked exactly like the one over here, and there was no one waiting in line behind me, I was kicked out of that weigh station and banished to “over there” with my cow turd papaya.

But that’s OK, I told myself. A little inconvenience and grocery story bureaucracy is a fair price to pay for a delicious papaya.

The fruit weighing lady didn’t give me any grief about my papaya, she just weighed it and slapped a price tag on it: ¥7.23, or $1.20.

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The only thing better than delicious papaya is delicious and cheap papaya!

Took it home, washed it, and cut it open. Looked like a great papaya!

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Scooped out the seeds, grabbed a spoon, and started to eat my delicious papaya.

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My delicious but not completely ripe papaya.

The layer of ripe papaya was about 1/2 inch deep, then it was hard, bitter, unripe papaya flesh.

So I ate the part that I could, and comforted myself that I probably got $1.20 worth of papaya enjoyment out of the experience.