Strategic breakfast

For over half my life, my diet has been heavily influenced by Taiwanese eating habits. That means eating a lot of fresh, leafy greens. Even when living in the US, we kept up the practice of eating a lot of vegetables. Sometimes that meant we had some interesting new combinations. One does not typically think about inside of stirfried broccoli with your spaghetti, for example. But even with interesting combinations like that, we felt that we were eating healthy. And I think we were.

Here in the northeast of China, things are different. I’ve only been here a few months, so maybe I just am not yet familiar enough with the local diet, but it seems that vegetables, especially fresh vegetables, play a much smaller role in the diet of the local people. Eating the amount of fresh vegetables that I have been accustomed to has been a challenge.

An effort to get as many vegetables as I can, I have begun to alter my eating habits. For example, the breakfast buffet in the hotel where I live has Western and Chinese options. The Chinese options include some sautéed vegetables. So, instead of enjoying a bowl of cornflakes in the morning, I have taken to eating a Chinese style breakfast, complete with vegetables.

My wife will be proud of me. Am I right, honey?


Wait until winter

Part of the menu on the wall of the Korean bibimbap place near the Consulate. The item is a fried pork chop with rice. The handwritten addition reads: “SOLD OUT!! We will make it in the winter.”

That had better be some great-tasting pork chop. Now I can’t wait until winter so I can try it.


Lie to me

People lie to me every day. During visa interviews, I hear unbelievable stories from people. “I make $100,000 dollars a year. Here’s the deed to my 5,000 square foot house. I am the General Manager of my company.” All lies from the broke farmer who lives in a small brick hut in the country.

Intellectually, I know that people lie all the time, not only at the visa window. I also know that when the applicants tell lies, they don’t feel that they are lying to me personally. I know that I shouldn’t be bothered by the lies. However, I’m a human being, and emotions are part of being human.

Sometimes when I adjudicate a case, I feel like there are two devils sitting on each shoulder: Anger and Empathy. Each of these devils try to influence my decision.

When I detect a lie, Anger jabs me in the face with his little pitchfork. “This jerk is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, cheat the system, get something that he isn’t entitled to!” Deny that rascal a visa! Deny! Deny!” he shouts in my ear. Jab jab jab.

From the other shoulder, at the same time, Empathy pats my nose with affection. “This person is lying, but he’s a person and he lives a really tough life. He just wants go to America to improve his life. He knows that if he tells the truth, he probably won’t get the chance to pursue that dream. He is willing to leave his home country in order to try to get a better life. He’s willing to lie to get it. His current life is so bad that he’s willing to try to lie his way out of it. That’s pretty sad. Give him a visa, it’s the least you can do.” Stroke stroke stroke.

Unlike in the devil and angel, cartoons, where you’re supposed to kick out the devil and do what the angel tells you to do, in this scenario, you’re supposed to listen to both of them, then make an adjudication based on the applicant’s qualifications, not on how you feel about his situation. Simple, right? Wrong.

A hard part of this job is not to let emotions, either anger or empathy, get in the way of doing my job. Sometimes it’s tough to get past the emotions and do my job the way it should be done. I think that’s why the government has people doing this job. A robot or a computer program could never take just enough of the applicant’s situation into account. It takes a human being, who has emotions, but knows when to trust them and when to ignore them, to make the right decision.