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December, 2014:

I’m not nearly as interesting as I’d like to be

In the cell phone store today:

Cell phone store guy: you look like an artist or something. What do you do?

Me: ( trying to be low-key about it) well, I’m actually,… a diplomat.

(I prepare myself for the gushing “oh gosh, that must be so interesting! What an exciting career!”)

Cell phone store guy: (sounding a little disappointed that I’m not an artist or something) oh.

Wonderful Anonymity

I enjoy living in Asia, but my white face, big nose and facial hair make me stand out. I’m used to getting stared at in China, and it doesn’t bother me anymore, but the knowledge that someone is probably always looking at me can be inconvenient. If my nose itches, for example, can I safely scratch it without some stranger thinking that I’m picking my nose? When I have to buy toilet paper, will people notice what brand I buy and speculate about my hygiene habits? How much will people read into the fact that I buy this brand of cola instead of that brand? It gets a little tedious.

Back in the U.S., though, I blend right in. My wife and I went grocery shopping the other day, and the only reason that we received some second glances was probably because we were talking to each other in Chinese. I selected my fresh blueberries, browsed the wine selection, loaded my purchases into the car, and didn’t get stared at once. Bliss!

How celebrities and public figures deal with the lack of privacy every day is a mystery to me. If I couldn’t enjoy a little anonymity in the U.S., I’d probably go crazy.

Home for the holidays

One of the benefits of serving overseas is R&R. The purpose of R&R is to ease the stress of living in a foreign country. I am currently taking an R&R.

The benefit isn’t very big. The benefit really only consists of a plane ticket to a specific R&R location. For people serving in China, the location is Sydney, Australia. I chose to go home instead. I have to use my vacation time to cover time away from the office. Luckily for me, there are several holidays within the two weeks that I am on vacation.

So I am home for Christmas. Being back together with my family is a wonderful feeling.

My to-do list for this time back in America largely consists of food that I want to eat. My wife made her marvelous lasagne for my first dinner home. We’re off to a great start.

Chinese birthday cakes

We celebrated birthdays for everyone in the section who had a birthday this month. Chinese birthday cakes are really spectacular.

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Preparing to travel

Crossing the Pacific ocean in an airplane is a time-consuming journey. I’ve made the trip too many times to count, but every time I prepare to get on an airplane for 12 hours, I have to make a big list of things to bring on the plane to help get me through the trip: food, books, movies, etc. Smart phones are a wonderful invention: they can carry a lot of things to keep you amused while sitting in a tin can flying a mile above the ocean.

On Saturday morning, I will get on an airplane and travel east back to America. It has been seven months since I left for China, and I am really looking forward to the trip. It will be very nice to spend Christmas at home with my family.

I have fully charged my Kindle, packed my iPhone with TV shows and movies, and bought a lot of snacks to eat on the plane. With luck, the trip will be uneventful. I may even be able to sleep on the plane.

I’m looking forward to seeing everybody back home.

Discouragement and Encouagement

The other day, I was feeling very discouraged about my Chinese. I felt that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I wasn’t improving. I have been learning Chinese for 27 years, and felt like my language skills were nowhere near where I wanted them to be. Disheartening, depressing, discouraging, take your pick of words to describe my frustration.

But then a coworker lent me a local news magazine, and I was thrilled to find that I could read it without having to look up more than a few words. I noticed many words that I had learned since starting language lessons here in China. I realized that I was actually learning a lot.

So what was the cause of my discouragement? If I was actually improving, why did I feel like I wasn’t? I wondered about this for several days, then I had an epiphany: it was because my notebook was full.

I usually carry a Moleskine notebook to write down new words and phrases in Chinese. However, I bought another notebook a few months ago, and recently used it up. I leafed through it to review what I had written down over the last few months, and was surprised at how many words I didn’t remember. Maybe that is what triggered the feeling that I wasn’t making progress? I was writing down words, then immediately forgetting them?

Well, my new notebook is a Moleskine, and I see now what my problem is. The Moleskine has many more pages than that other notebook. If I don’t review the notebook until I fill it up, and my notebook has so many pages in it that it takes me six months to fill it, then by the time I review the notebook, enough time will have passed that I actually will have made more progress by the time I review it.

The lesson that I learned from this experience is: use notebooks with more pages.

Here’s the notebook that I use. I’ve been using these notebooks for almost ten years, and I love love love them. I will never be unfaithful to them again!

Disclaimer: If you click that link, and subsequently buy the product, I will get a tiny kickback. It’s a way of trying to subsidize the cost of this blog without obnoxious ads.

I can’t believe they let me do this

The Consulate was invited by a local language school to give a talk about the new visa validity. I got to go. The school specializes in preparing students to go to the U.S. for school. There was a lot of interest in the process of applying for a visa, and in the new 10-year tourist visa validity.

We were trained for this kind of venue: there was a live audience, and my talk was being video recorded. Thanks to the training, I managed to control my dancing feet, and stay behind the podium (most of the time).

It was a lot of fun to talk with people, and to field their questions. I love talking. As usual, after it was over, I was so pumped up that I had to walk home.

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Finishing up my Christmas shopping

Stocking stuffers

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Adorable Engrish

A 16-year-old visa applicant, wanting to confirm that his visa was approved:

“I am accessible to America?”

Purple Santa

This is part of the Christmas decorations in the lobby of the building that I live in.

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Does a purple Santa do it for you? Yeah, me neither.