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I have a new job

I am a Foreign Service “generalist.”  We are expected to work in any of the several kinds of position in the State Department.  There are five “cones” of work.  In my first tour, I did Consular work.  During my first year in Vietnam, I was a Consular officer again for one year.  Now in my second year, I have switched to being a Public Diplomacy officer.

When I applied to work in the State Department, I opted Public Diplomacy as my cone of choice.  The Public Affairs Section is the public face of the Department.  It interfaces with the media (both traditional and new media), and manages all the cultural and educational programs that embassies and consulates perform.  During my year as a Fulbright scholar, I worked with Foreign Service officers in the Public Affairs section in country.  They impressed me so much that I started to think about the Foreign Service as a new career direction.  And now, here I am.

I’ve been in the new job for three weeks already.  My main portfolio is the press and social media.  I oversee our Facebook presence.  Something like 37% of the Vietnamese people are on Facebook, meaning that there is a serious conversation happening on that platform, and we want to participate in it.  I am also involved in writing statements for the press on issues as they come up.  I meet with visitors and help arrange interviews with the press.  It’s more press work than I had expected, but I also get to do a lot of educational and cultural work, too.

This is the first time that I’ve worked “in cone.”  I really enjoy Consular work.  But the reason that I joined the Foreign Service was to do Public Diplomacy work, and I’m thrilled to finally be doing the kind of work that I signed up for.  We have a great team of hard-working locally-engaged staff.  It’s going to be another interesting and eventful year.

There’s a story behind this one.

Quick question:

How do you say “copyright infringement” in Vietnamese?

I sampled the local cuisine

Last weekend a group of us went to Dong Thap (Đồng Tháp) province.  The Consulate’s locally-engaged staff organization arranged for us to volunteer at a summer camp for at-risk teenagers.  It was a lot of fun, I got to interact with some young people, and help out with an NGO’s work to prevent human trafficking.

A team of us did a workshop on “soft skills,” which is a buzzword in Vietnam lately.  Schools here focus on academics, but don’t teach life skills like teamwork, communication, interpersonal skills, and professionalism.  The workshop we did combined English practice and communication skills.  Essentially, we played games.  Even though we were playing a game, I explained to the kids that in order to succeed in the game, they had to listen to what each other were saying, and strategize their own communication.  Yes, OK, we played “20 questions.”  Stop judging me.  It was relevant.  Shut up; it was, too.

We also got to do a little culinary exploration.  When I told some of my coworkers that I was going to Dong Thap, they smiled and nodded knowingly.  They asked if I knew anything about the local cuisine.  Of course I didn’t, because I’m an ignorant foreigner who doesn’t know the intricacies of Vietnamese culture.  That seemed to amuse people even more.

So the night after we finished the workshops, we all went to a local beer garden for dinner.  We got a lot of the usual goodies, beer with ice cubes (you get used to it), and then, a big plate of the local cuisine.

Yup, I ate rat.

And unfortunately, it was delicious.

Haha hihi

Kids’ helmets for sale on the street.

No arguments from me here.

At a coffee shop in Dong Thap Province:

Topped it

Question: what’s better than an avocado smoothie?

Answer: a homemade avocado and banana smoothie!

Thanks, Vietnam!

Guacamole Brownies

I read somewhere that you can substitute avocado for butter in baking recipes. Of course, that point is often moot.  Pound for pound, butter is a lot cheaper than avocados. But not in Vietnam, which grows a lot of avocados but which has to import all of its butter. Butter is about 25% more expensive here than in America, and avocados here are about 1/4 the price that they are in America.

I can’t believe it’s not butter!

I “needed” to make brownies, and I was out of butter, and I had avocados, and I was feeling adventurous (and too lazy to go buy some butter), so it was experiment time!

For your information, 1/2 avocado = 1/2 cup.

Once I mixed the avocado into the melted chocolate, you couldn’t see any green at all.

Looks normal…

The batter was stiffer than when I use butter. And pretty sticky. It was hard to spread the batter in the pan.

The batter would not pour out.

The batter also didn’t rise as much when they baked, so the brownies are a little flat and dense. But they taste just as great!

A little flat. But just as tasty!

I call this a successful experiment.  A little tweaking and it will be perfect next time.  Maybe next time I’ll add a third egg and more baking powder to add some liquid and leavening.  I “have” to try this again, because I “have” to perfect the recipe.  Right? Right!

They have everything pretty much covered here.

Pretty amazing color last night.

We don’t get many stunningly pretty sunsets in Ho Chi Minh City for some reason. But last night’s sunset was pretty amazing.