Monday, December 31, 2007

Hot Asian Girl on Girly-Man Action

Vanessa and I bought our Japanese teacher a Christmas present: a calendar of her favorite Korean actor Bae Yong Joon -- affectionately known as "Yon-sama" to his Japanese fan-base, primarily 50 year old housewives. I delivered it to her before the start of my last lesson. Sensei let out a slight gasp when she saw the calendar's cover, becoming uncharacteristically subdued. "May... may I open it?" I nodded consent. She reverently turned back the pages, fingering the images in a way that was slightly unwholesome. "Have you seen 'Winter Sonata'?" she asked tremulously, referring to one of his most popular TV dramas. She had paused over an image of Yon-sama wearing a suit with an exaggerated cinched waist, holding his necktie up to his lips. The next page showed him in the same suit, but with a more whimsical look, one hand to his ear, tie removed, straggles of hair pulled over one shoulder. "Actually, I saw it in America," I told her, replacing the term 'actually' in my mind with 'sadly'. Vanessa had protested this calendar purchase as being somehow insulting to females everywhere. "Just look at that! He's a woman!" And looking at it now closer, it was rather difficult to detect any stirrings of testosterone beneath the little glasses and lipstick. The cinched waist was clearly meant to accentuate the androgeny, and was rather effective in achieving that goal.

"Katie, you don't like this type, do you?" "Well..." I hated to insult Sensei -- she had actually been on special Yon-sama tours to Korea, and this calendar certainly wasn't the first Yon-sama product for her to own -- but I really don't think I could have come up with any plausible white lie at that point. "He's a little... girly for my taste. What is it you find so attractive about him?" "Yon-sama just seems so kind, so fair." She was allowing herself a few more moments of idol worship before putting the calendar away. "I think he'd be fair even to an old woman like me."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


We had a small toy drive for Christmas, and I was surprised to be asked to go along to the orphanage to help with the distribution. After making a presentation of the toys (in which I was alternately addressed as the GSO's "friend" and "wife," I don't think they ever grasped that I was working at the consulate), we stayed to play.

Japanese children are rather brutally honest. Or at least, brutally inquisitive. I patiently explained to one six year old boy with a very well developed mustache that, yes, one could travel from the United States to Japan without stopping anywhere, but not by train. "Say this is the Earth..." I picked up a soccer ball and pointed to a black pentagon. "This is Japan." And to a pentagon on the opposite side. "This is the United States. So you can fly from here to here, direct flight. But you have to fly, because trains don't go across the ocean." "Yeah, but don't you have to change somewhere?" This was clearly of high concern to him; he furrowed his brow in an impressive display of youthful pensiveness. "No, you don't have to change, but it takes a long time. I've done it lots." "Show me again." I picked up the ball again and got closer to him. "See, this is Japan..."

"Older Sister, why do you have blue eyes?" I actually hadn't been expecting this question; the orphanage is run by foreign nuns, and they have regular visits by US soldiers. This couldn't have been the first time he'd seen blue eyes. I started to say that my father also had blue eyes, but then thought that maybe parents weren't a good topic to bring up at an orphanage. So I settled with, "I was born like this." He didn't seem very satisfied. "Why do you have brown eyes?" I asked. He leveled the same at me and shrugged. "Because I'm a normal person."

This sounded so reasonable, yet somehow so damning. It certainly didn't leave much room for argument. I was struggling to formulate a diplomatic response ("I might not be 'normal', but I am a person."..?), when he broke into a huge grin. "Wanna play 'ogre-up-high'? You're it!" Every child within earshot shrieked and raced for the 'up-high' safe zone of the playground slide while he danced away, just out of arm's reach. As the ogre, I chased him about until it was time to go.

I couldn't stop thinking about this interaction for the longest time. I still haven't come up with a good reply.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ah, the Internet

A friend just wrote to let me know that this blog was quoted on an immigration lawyer's website forum. Part of me is highly amused. I can't wait for my next applicant to show up at the window with a box of chocolates and a sympathetic expression, saying "Now, I understand from speaking with my lawyer that this job is sometimes draining, but I hope I can still get my visa by tomorrow. Why, yes, I've already bought tickets despite extensive warnings on your website not to do so before the visa is in my hands... but weren't those warnings just expressions of your inner frustration? I feel your pain."

While it may be hard to believe, my everyday ups and downs don't actually have any bearing on US law, or on the mechanisms of physically producing visas. And that's as it should be.

Just something to keep in mind, no matter whose blog you're reading.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Three days into my return from Hong Kong, and I'm still hacking. China's oil demand hangs rather (too) palpably in the air; my lungs feel as if I've been sucking on the business end of a hairdryer, and not one of those fancy models with the 'ions' either. I can't imagine what it's like just over the border. Funny that a communist country would display the worst effects of rampant capitalism.

Still, the city itself is fun. I think Vanessa put it best: "It's like one big Chinatown." If Japan and Vietnam had a baby... it would be Hong Kong. The best part? By far, the food. That and, "Vanessa, do you hear that sound?" (cue the muffled click-click-click of tile on tile -- something akin to a nest full of angry bakelite hornets) "That's mah jongg!" I think I was actually a little teary eyed for a bit there. Right up until I tried to sneak a picture of the players. No, they weren't so into that.

In addition to a lot of dim sum, I also ate this:

Blue (non-berry) food might be a first for me.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Facebook is a man-eating jungle waiting to suck out your soul

Wow. I had no idea there was an internet application that could take up more time than a blog.

I've spent the past hour tagging unattractive photos of myself from my sister's page, and trying to get the space under the "In a Relationship with..." drop down box to read "no one -- but I just bought David Lynch's 'Wild at Heart' soundtrack, so that's sure to change at any moment." No joy.

If I don't get Christmas cards sent out this year, it'll all be Mark Zuckerburg's fault.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Managing Up

Yesterday we had a retirement party for our longest serving NIV FSN*: this marked the end of a 32 year, 7 month, and 17 day career. She told me her earliest memory of working at the consulate was fingerprinting Vietnamese refugees in order to register them after the war. She remembers the CG back when he had my job, on his first tour. I was born sometime in between those two events.

"All if it was fun, all of it was enjoyable. Who knows, Katie -- maybe you'll have a 30 year career, too." Hmm. Perhaps. I'm not sure that I want to try and imagine myself at that age. "How do you feel?" I asked her. "Are you sad?" She smiled slyly. "This morning I woke up when it was still dark, got on the train with all the crowd... I'll never have to do that again."

Earlier in the week the DCM happened to come down from the embassy and did a walk-through of the consulate. He asked her how many FSOs she'd trained during her 30 plus years. Dozens, I would think. I have a lot of respect for the FSNs, putting up with all of us while we come and go. It must be hard to always know more than your boss, to have to re-learn management styles every two to three years, and to suffer through all the transitions and upgrades and 'bright ideas'. It makes any sort of FSO managerial role a tricky one. You need to be the one in charge, but you can't be stupid about it. I was thinking about it the morning of the party, while proctoring the FS Written Exam. I remember taking it myself in London, and being so utterly clueless about what the job would entail at the time. I'm still pretty clueless about a lot of it. I tried to picture the test takers working in our office; I tried to picture how the FSNs would feel about having one as a boss. Back at my desk, an email from the management section arrived, reminding me to turn in some forms so that they can get started on planning my transfer.

I hope I'm doing a good job here. And I hope I do a better job next time.

We're hiring to fill an FSN position, if anyone's interested.

*This is the second FSN to quit the NIV section on my watch; probably something I did.