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Vietnam

Actual Job Title: April 20

“Chief of Child Department”

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.

No, you can’t.

Sometimes pollution is pretty

The air pollution index was high today. While it probably isn’t good for your lungs, it made the view from the American Center look nice.

It’s student season again

Over 150 people came to hear me blather on.

 

Vietnamese version of my talk

 

I love to talk.  And I love talking with students.  They’re idealistic and full of dreams and their futures are full of promise.  I love hearing about their big plans for their future.  So I love student season.  That’s the time of year students decide on which school to attend in America, and to prepare to apply for their student visas.  To prepare for the upcoming rush, we do a lot of outreach.

This weekend I had two opportunities to diplomat about applying for a student visa. There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths about getting a visa.  A lot of students think that the visa interview is the hardest part of studying abroad.  Our outreach is intended to give them accurate information.  I try to tell them that this should be the easiest step in the process.  They usually don’t believe me, though.

On Friday night, I helped to staff the Consulate’s booth at a big study abroad fair in a downtown hotel.  I was scheduled to be there for an hour.  I stayed almost two hours.  I had a lot of great conversations, and heard about a lot students’ plans.  Afterwards, I had to go back to the office, and I wound up working there for another two hours, before the energy wore down enough to go home.

On Saturday I returned to give a formal presentation to students and parents.  There were over 150 people in the audience.  They asked really good questions that showed that they are already knowledgeable about the process and the regulations.

Talking with people about America, especially about studying in America, is one of my favorite parts of this job.

Trying to dispel the myths about getting a visa.

Any guesses?

I’m stumped.

221 pages of pain

I finished reading my second book in Vietnamese today. It was, without a doubt, the hardest book I have ever read.  With the exception of classical Chinese, maybe. It took over four months to get through this skinny little book that only has only 221 pages.

Even the name of the book is confusing.

The book is a collection of essays, social criticism of modern Vietnam. The author has a PhD from a University in Austria, and is clearly very, very educated. He returned to Vietnam after living abroad for many years, and writes essays about his impressions of Vietnamese society.  My teacher says he publishes online.  Probably because the newspapers (they’re all state-owned here, and very un-free) would never publish his stuff.

All of these notes, and I still can barely understand what I’m reading.

As I was reading, I had to look up a lot of words that I didn’t know. It was not unusual for me to have to look up 20 or 30 different words on every page. It would take me about an hour to read one short essay.

We’ve been going over the essays in my one-on-one Vietnamese class. My teacher, who has the patience of a saint, explains the author’s prose, and the events that the author writes about. It’s a great way to learn, and I did learn a lot from the book, but it was also a very humbling experience. If you want to feel stupid, try reading something way above your reading level in a foreign language.

Time change, but not for everyone.

Not everyone in the world just lost an hour of sleep.

Nice dress

The traditional Ao Dai (Áo Dài, pronounced “ow- yahy” in the south, “ow-zahy” in the north) is a beautiful, form-fitting outfit shirt, paired with loose pants. One of my locally-engaged staff member colleagues says she hates wearing them because they are too tight. Someone once observed that they “cover everything and hide nothing.”  Just now I witnessed a little wardrobe trick that shows how one person gets hers tight enough.

Nice dress. How’s you get it to fit so well?

 

“Easy. A little help from my reliable friend…

 

…Miss Binder Clip.”

I got to diplomat in Chinese

The U.S. Consulate recently held a small reception for the diplomats who work in the Chinese consulate.  Several officers at post speak Chinese, and we were recruited to be part of the reception team. The evening was definitely work, not play. It was what we call a “representational event,” meaning that it was a party, but our job was to be the host, not a guest.

Still, it was a fun evening.  I like to schmooze. Plus, my Chinese is much better than my Vietnamese, and diplomatting in a language that I’m comfortable in felt great.  Plus we had a nice meal, al fresco, overlooking the beautiful Ho Chi Minh City skyline.

My job usually isn’t elegant and glamorous,. but sometimes I get a small perk.