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September, 2018:

Thanks for the humiliation assistance

Two separate parts of my life collided in a very unfortunate way today.  Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, the combination is neither delicious nor very cool.  It was pretty embarrassing, in fact.  Read on, please:

One of my things is to take a photo of me sitting in pretentious chairs.  With a pretentious expression on my face. Lucky for me, pretentious chairs are everywhere in Asia.  Unlucky for you, I like to post them on Facebook for fun.  Like this one from last year:

Unlike most times, I’m actually trying to look ridiculous here.

It’s just a stupid thing that I do for fun.  Ha ha.

OK, that’s thing number one.  On to thing number two.

Today I got invited to join a press conference. A grant program that the Consulate supports had a kickof event.  It’s a good program, training young people on entrepreneurship skills.  I represented the U.S. Government at the event.  I delivered brief remarks in Vietnamese, which impressed the participants.  I’m pretty sure I looked and sounded ridiculous, but that’s not any different from any other day in my life.

My famous coked-up look.  Would you buy a car from this guy? Me, neither.

Then the event turned into a talk show, where we discussed issues related to startups. As a diplomat, of course I am an expert in business, angel investors, and sales pitches.  Not.

My famous “thumb on chin” thoughtful pose. Man, am I ever learning lessons in self-awareness on this job.

It was fun for me, probably painful for everyone else.  But they got their revenge.  And I paid a stiff price for being a smart-alack.

The organizing group created a promotional poster to publicize the press conference.  They needed a photo of me for their promotional poster.  But they didn’t ask me for a photo, for some reason.  Instead, they went online and searched for a photo of me.

Are you starting to guess where this story is going?

Yup, sure enough, they managed to find a photo that totally captures my essence.  It was the most awesome photo that they could have found.  Then they posted the graphic on their website and Facebook page:

Can you spot the awesome-looking person in the picture?

Words fail me.

As always, my humiliation is your entertainment.

Well, that sucks

Nothing like a house fire to ruin your day.

I took these from my hotel window this evening in Hanoi. I happened to have my camera, so I could zoom in and see the source of the smoke.

Looking for the best of the best

My own Fulbright experience several years ago led me to my current job in the State Department. The Foreign Service officers who I worked with when I was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan impressed me, and got me thinking that the Foreign Service could be a career for me, too.

Now I’m in the Foreign Service, and involved in the Fulbright program from the other side. Every year we select a few bright graduate students from Vietnam to get a Master’s degree in the United States. I’m on the selection committee that interviews the finalists for the scholarship program.

We reviewed the paper applications, and are now interviewing the final round of candidates. It’s been an inspiring experience so far. The people that we’ve talked to are bright, have done some amazing things already in their lives, and look to the United States as the place that can help them go to the next level.

In my work in Vietnam, I have interacted with many people who have benefited from the Fulbright scholarship. After they earned their graduate degrees in the United States, they returned to Vietnam, and are now helping to build their country. They brought back skills and knowledge in various fields, ranging from journalism to public policy. The Fulbright program is a tremendously effective foreign policy tool. We are educating and training the future leaders of countries all over the world, sharing our values, and helping countries develop so that they can become contributing members of the international community.

I am proud to be involved in the process that will select the next group of international students to the United States. I’m also inspired by their enthusiasm, energy, and dreams for their future. Even though I have 100 unread emails waiting for me back in the office every day after interviewing, I’m happy to put in the extra time to catch up with my regular work, knowing that I have been doing something so worthwhile.

Drinking for my Country

During A-100 (the 6-week diplomatic bootcamp in DC) they told us about the concept of “eating for your country.” Sometimes, they told us, we would be thrown into situations where we would be invited to partake of some local delicacy that, to put it mildly, would not be our first choice at a dinner buffet. Nevertheless, they said, it was necessary to put on a smile and pretend to enjoy it. This is what they called: “eating for your country. “

The other day, I was helping out at a reception that the Consulate was hosting, and I was asked to help out with some questionable wine. I work for the State Department, not a five-star restaurant. We do not have a wine cellar. We serve wine that has been donated to us from importers, and not all of it is very fresh. Apparently, some of our selections of wine that we have on-hand for receptions was getting a little old. Now, I’m no expert on wine, but I do know a thing or two about it. One of the things that I know about wine is that it comes in white and red (impressed yet?). One of the other things that I know is that if the cork crumbles into powder as you pull it out of the bottle, that’s a sign that the wine is past its prime.

I drank this for my country.

As the staff was laying out the wine, one of my coworkers asked: “does anyone know anything about wine?”

Why, yes, I volunteered. I fancy myself a bit of an expert on wine. For example, I offered, some of it is white, and some of it is red. You can imagine my great surprise that this bit of information was not the information that my coworker needed. I apparently was not being helpful. What they needed to know was how to tell if a bottle of wine had turned or not. That problem stumped me. The only way that we could think of was to taste-test it. Since I was the smarty pants who volunteered his expert help, I got the honor of tasting the wine for freshness. My coworker, being a smart person, found that action to be more helpful. And I, not willing to back down from my bold claim of being some sort of wine expert, found myself hoisted by my own petard.

The next 15 minutes or so was spent with me tasting samples from several bottles of wine. My biggest takeaway from the experience was that it does not take a great expert in wine to tell if a bottle of wine has turned. You can pretty much tell with a tiny sip. Here’s the secret: if it tastes like wine, it’s probably OK. But if it tastes bad, not at all wine-like, but rather tastes something like a rotting log that someone picked up off the ground in a forest, then it’s not likely to be very good. And unlucky for me, more than one bottle in our selection for the evening fit into the latter category. To make my work even more unpleasant, none of the serving staff had taken sommelier training, and did not prepare a little silver bowl for me to spit out the wine after I had tasted it, so I had to swallow it.

When wine turns, it doesn’t taste very good, but the alcohol content does not dissipate. So yesh, I got drunk on bad wine. It felt like college all over again.

Once again, I made an idiot of myself. Just in time for the guests to arrive. That was one more victory in my stellar diplomatic career.

National Day

Yesterday was Vietnam’s national day. Last night I went to the roof of my apartment building and used my new camera to take a few photos of the fireworks.