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Vietnam

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.

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.

Book of Condolences

So there’s a protocol for this, too, I learned this week.

We set up a table in the American Center, where members of the public can sign the book of condolence.

As we received the news of John McCain’s death, we began preparing for condolences.  It’s human nature for people to want to pay their respects, and we were not surprised that so many Vietnamese people were saddened by Senator McCain’s death.  He is remembered here in Vietnam as a soldier turned statesman, who worked hard to normalize relations with the United States.  They are especially impressed by the fact that he was treated so harshly as a POW here, and yet put aside his personal pain in the interest of a greater good.  He was the embodiment of their country’s resolve to overcome the painful past and work toward a better future.

There is a specific State Department protocol for a book of condolences.  We set up a signing station in our American Center, and publicized times for the public to come in and sign.

 

Local government officials also came in to sign, and that was covered by the local press.

The pages of the condolence book will be sent to Washington, D.C. and added to the international collection from our embassies and consulates around the world.

Flowers have been coming in all week.

Flowers are from private citizens as well as the government.

Regardless of whether one agrees with his political party’s policies and agenda, his reputation as a man who put country first is universally admirable.  The Vietnamese people held him in great regard.  All the press coverage here, and social media, wrote moving eulogies.  Even the social media trolls on our Facebook page were silent.  It seems that Vietnam is unified in its respect for John McCain.

Strangely Hypnotic

So this was going on in the taxi yesterday.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.

 

Rainy season

The rainy season in Vietnam stretches from about May to about November. Since it’s late August now, it means we’re smack dab in the middle of the rainy season. Which means that it can rain at any time. Yesterday we got three downpours during the day.

Rainy season is a great time to work inside.

A nice musical perk

I went to Hanoi last week for a work trip.  As I’ve said many times, business travel is not vacation travel.  After I returned to Ho Chi Minh City, several people asked me “How was Hanoi?”  “I don’t know,” I replied.  “All I can tell you is how the airport, hotel, and embassy were.  I didn’t get to do anything in Hanoi.”

Although that isn’t totally true.  I had a nice dinner with a co-worker.  And I got a wonderful unexpected benefit.  On Friday evening, in the hotel that I was staying at, a young lady performed on a traditional Vietnamese instrument, and that instrument happens to be almost identical to one of my favorite traditional Chinese instruments.

So I got a little treat.  After several stressful days, it was relaxing to sit and listen to the beautiful music.  It almost felt like a vacation.

Almost.

Yes, that’s exactly what you think it is.

On my way to the airport the other day, I passed this pair of travelers. On the highway.

“Jesus is my seatbelt.”

What could go wrong?

When the most common mode of transportation is the motor scooter, that’s the only vehicle that some people have. And sometimes you have to transport things that really should be transported in a truck. But you don’t have a truck, so you make due with what you have.