A moment of self-affirmation I’ve felt the rare need to share: When a Chinese person starts a conversation with you in good, but rusty English, and you respond in Chinese and they switch over in an instant without batting an eyelash. Interesting too when in this case the woman was able to guess that I was American (as opposed to Russian, Australian, or some sort of Western European) on account of how fast I spoke. Funny, that.
Also a sudden weird feeling that 14 months isn’t going to be enough time here, that, I’ll want to stay. Cross that bridge when we come to it I suppose.
The most exciting and unexpected thing had dinner with the U.S. Consular General! Now that they have some Chinese Fulbright alumni in the Northeast, they decided to do a welcome reception for them and those of us doing the language training here in Harbin. So we had lunch with some folks from the Institute of International Education (IIE, the technically nongovernmental organization that runs most of the U.S. government’s abroad programs, including the Boren program), which was quite delicious. Then that night we had a slightly more formal meal with them, the Chinese alumni, the Consular General, and some other consulate staff from Shenyang (formerly Mukden, capital of Liaoning which is one of the adjacent Northeastern provinces). The CG talked a lot about his experience and kind of led a discussion of what brought us all to China, what we thought of the program, what the Chinese alumni thought of their time in the states etc. Very fun. One woman who had been teaching Chinese in Minnesota I think said her most memorable moment was visiting an Amish family and learning about how they live and their beliefs. Which was pretty cool as my grandfather was born Amish (for those that don’t know), and I still have memories of visiting my great grandmother on the farm in Indiana’s Amish country.
For my readers who are unaware or just unclear, particularly my Chinese ones if you’re still there 何楠, the Amish are a sect of Christianity that began as a group of mostly Swiss Anabaptists who split from the main movement to follow Jakob Amman to North America. They don’t like modern technology much, try to follow a life as close to God as they can, and have a diet that seems to consist entirely of fat and processed carbs sometimes.
On the subject of food, coming back to the dinner, holy crap was it lavish. We went to a banquet hall in the area of Harbin around the TV tower known as “Corruption Boulevard.” I knew from my last time here that it’s an area filled with extremely extravagant restaurants of every kind, and formerly got most of its business from government officials. With government efforts to cut down on wasteful spending though, both sanctioned and that funded by corruption, this area has apparently fallen on harder times. Didn’t seem to hurt where we were though. Huge entry hall, a private room close to the size of my house, and some pretty good food. Deep-fried lotus root stuffed with pork and shrimp, wonderfully tasty 菠菜 (bo cai, bwo tsai, Chinese spinach/broccoli), great dumplings, it goes on. I of course had too much to eat, and may have made a couple of social gaffes, but still made some great contacts.
All three of the foreign service officers encouraged us to apply to the service, and dispelled somewhat my fears about the selection process. So with those contacts and their encouragement I may have a chance as being an FSO, and have kind of taken that former dream off the back burner. Might take the test while I’m here in China (they do it at the embassy in Beijing, and sometimes at various consulates). The reason I had dropped the ambition was that I was under the impression the odds were incredibly slim, and my very qualified friend Luke didn’t make it past the second round (don’t worry, he’s doing quite fine at grad school at Georgetown), but now I figure it’s worth a shot again. It’ll take care of my obligation to the US government, and I’ll get to move to a new country every 2-3 years, which is kind of what my life has been like for the last six so why stop now? There’s another one for later posts, the process of becoming a Foreign Service Officer.
Made contact with HIT’s local LGBTQ student group, so going to be taking part in whatever activities they have planned. Mostly cookie baking apparently. Wouldn’t call it super huge advocacy, but I dig it. And pictures! Have a gay day everybody.
P.S. On a sadder note, I couldn’t be there for John’s memorial today, so I’m re-posting this commemorative poem. I would like to say as well that I think Dos Equis would have found him a strong contender for most interesting, most sardonic, and most enjoyable man in the world. Rest easy John, miss and love you.
Goodbye to the Fisherman
Bad news came at dawn, as sudden and shocking as lightning
I learned with sorrow that the fisherman had left riding a crane*
I can still hear his words, still feel his embrace.
I just wish I had the chance for a goodbye drink.
*(classical Chinese euphemism for the death of a wise and virtuous individual)