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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?!

Don’t get comfort until you need it.

The city where I served in my first posting was large, but not very international. Western food (beyond McDonald’s) wasn’t very popular there. After too many disappointments, I gave up looking for decent pizza. Tex-Mex was another scarcity. Chinese people tend not to like it, so it’s pretty rare in China. There was one Mexican food place in town. One of my friends said that it was a good idea not to eat at that place too soon after arriving in China, it was better to wait until you had been in China for several months before going there. This was because although it was pretty good, it wasn’t quite the same as in America.

That point was driven home for me yesterday when a group of us went to eat at an American style diner in Ho Chi Minh City. The decor of the place was really good, it felt like a typical small American restaurant. The menu was also full of very familiar options. We were all very impressed, and look forward to our comfort food. I ordered a breakfast entrée, because what’s more comforting than an American breakfast?

The food was not disappointing. My smoked salmon and Swiss cheese scrambled eggs was just what the doctor ordered. All of us were very happy with our food.

Now, to be honest, it wasn’t exactly, 100% the same as American diner food. I think if I had gone to that restaurant right after leaving America, I would have been disappointed, or at least I would have had a very different opinion of the food. However, after having been away from American food for several months, it was a nice taste of home. I will be back.

But maybe not for a few weeks.

By the way, the place is called “The Diner V.” You can Google it.

Finally had a bowl of Pho that I liked

One of the national dishes of Vietnam is “pho.” It’s spelled “phở.” To  pronounce it correctly, start to drop the f-bomb, and leave off the final “k” sound.  Or start to say “full” and leave off the final “ll” sound. It’s a noodle soup, usually with beef or chicken.  It’s very mild.  Vietnamese people see it as comfort food.  I see it as boring.  Usually.

By Codename5281 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23216056

A few days ago, I got a stomach bug that was really debilitating (I was lying in bed all afternoon today with stomach cramps).  This evening I wasn’t really hungry, but I needed to get something in my stomach, so I went out for some pho. It isn’t hard to find pho in Vietnam.  It’s everywhere, from streetside bistros to upscale restaurants.  I chose a middle-of-the-road chain called Pho 24.

Usually I don’t like pho.  It’s so mild that it’s boring.  But this time, it was just what the doctor ordered.  The rice noodles are easy to digest, and the warm broth feels good on an upset tummy. Maybe pho is Vietnam’s answer to chicken soup. If chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, maybe pho is Vietnamese penicillin.

It took me a minute

Until I realized that they mean that it tastes very good.

This is exactly what I need in my life right now.

Cheeky Barista

When baristas at Starbucks ask me for my name so they can write it on my cup, I don’t like to give my real name. It’s a personal quirk. As a small token of rebellion against the system, I give a fake name.

Usually I’m “Phil,” for some reason. Today, though, I decided to be Ed, because I was in a hurry, and I figured that it would be pretty hard to mess up that name.

“My name is Ed,” I said as clearly as I could, thinking to myself, “that should be easy.”

Boy, did I not expect this. Did he think I had a cold?

Truth in advertising

I ordered the “egg-free breakfast with beans.”

Not a single egg in that bowl of beans!

Is it just me?

Or is this butter NSFW?

Magic Hand Wipes in a Japanese Restaurant

After this experience, I may have to move to Japan.

Excellent compromise

I usually enjoy a cup of coffee in the afternoon. But our office holiday party was held in the afternoon this week, at a local micro-brewery.

Coffee vanilla porter bridged the gap perfectly.