So since I’m a bit short on material and taking a trip the second half of this week, here’s a quick filler with some pics.

Now then, how does one become a Foreign Service officer?  First up is the test, which mostly deals with US history and foreign policy.  I took a practice version two years ago and actually did decently well.  Should you pass the test, you’re then asked to submit a personal narrative to be reviewed by a panel. A panel which looks for, and I quote, “six precepts that are predictors of success in the Foreign Service. These precepts are:

Leadership: innovation, decision making, teamwork, openness to dissent, community service and institution building

Interpersonal Skills: professional standards, persuasion and negotiation, workplace perceptiveness, adaptability, representational skills

Communication Skills: written communication, oral communication, active listening, public outreach, foreign language skill

Management Skills: operational effectiveness, performance management and evaluation, management resources, customer service

Intellectual Skills: information gathering and analysis, critical thinking, active learning, leadership and management training

Substantive Knowledge: Understanding of U.S. history/ government/culture and application in dealing with other cultures. Knowledge or application of career track information that is relevant information.”

Past that phase is the oral assessment, which is government jargon for job interview, medical and security clearances, a suitability review panel which basically assesses your character, and then if you get through aaaaalllllll of that you get placed on the register.  The register (which I hear holds up to 20,000 people) rates you based on your performance up to that point with bonus points awarded for things like veteran status, foreign language proficiency etc.

What initially discouraged me was the fact that being on that list doesn’t mean you necessarily get offered a position.  And if you don’t within 18 months you have to start all over again.  Hence my discouragement.  The folks at the dinner last night were very supportive though so I guess it’s worth a serious attempt.

In other news, the program took us to 道外 (dao wai, lit. outside the railway tracks), an area of Harbin a little north and east of the railway station that was, and still is a heavily working class district.  It’s getting retrofitted into one of the faux-ancient architecture districts that are ubiquitous in China’s cities.

Besides the fact that Harbin never really had that kind of architecture, it’s also sad that it’s coming at the expense of a lot of vintage Russian architecture.  Admittedly it’s in serious need of renovation as you’ll see, but I would like to see them maintain the original ascetic rather than try to make a tourist trap.  These two photos were taken in the same spot, I simply turned 180 degrees.

Bought some tasty mooncakes, took a stroll through the pet market (those very into animal treatment would do well to avoid), chilled on the riverbank to watch some people fish and one of my classmates brave the not yet frigid, but assuredly filthy, waters of the Song Hua River.  Then had a tasty halal dinner (forgot to mention that Dao Wai is home to Harbin’s sole mosque and the majority of its Muslim population).

We’re leaving for Dandong on Wednesday night for Dandong, a city right on the North Korean border that I’ll be happy to share with you when I get back.  In the meantime I’ll leave you with two poems I wrote during orientation and only now just remembered.  Critique welcome as always.


Winter thaws to Summer as the Ice Town melts
An old place revisited calms the heart
Old places, familiar sights, all in all divine
In my room, one wall over, is a dragon*

*My suitemate’s Chinese name is literally “little dragon” (coincidentally also Bruce Lee’s Chinese name , Bruce = little dragon, there you go dad).


Icetown’s got no green
Outside naught but grey
Stay in a nice warm room
When winter wind blows up north


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