There are a lot of things in my life as a middle school teacher that were unique to that world. For instance, in “regular” life, it is rare that someone comes running up to you wanting you to help someone who has fallen down (okay, probably more likely been pushed down if it was in middle school) and needs help. This might happen once or twice in your entire life, but it was a daily occurrence when I was on playground duty. I always asked “Are there any bones showing?” before getting too close to the scene of the crime, as I don’t deal with gruesome injury well. (If the answer was yes, I quickly told them to go find Mr. E, the fantastic 7th grade teacher who taught next door to me. He was much better equipped to deal with strangely protruding limbs than I was.) Or, it is rare that in daily life I have to question why someone randomly fell out of their seat in the middle of a presentation. (As I type this, I am picturing myself sitting in my weekly section heads’ meeting and having one of the senior officers just tip out of his/her chair for absolutely no reason at all. While it is a hilarious image, it just doesn’t happen, and yet in middle school, this was a weekly, if not daily, incident.) In that “real” world that kids so desperately want to join, I never have to get someone’s hair unjammed from her locker, tell someone to go put the praying mantis back outside where it belongs or wonder who took a bit of the doughnut on my desk (Ethan S., I’m looking at you!)
And while I mourn the loss of these ridiculous moments, because I loved (nearly) every minute of teaching 8th grade, I’ve discovered my current life brings with it its own set of unique happenings that never would have been a part of my Idaho –life. Of course, there is the First Lady introduction from a few weeks ago, but there are also the days like last week when I had to do the check-in of shame because I forgot my badge at home. (I was laughed at by the Marine who checked me in and scoffed at by the one who checked me out. Remember guys, I’m the one who brings you coffee and treats on many mornings!)
As we prepare for our imminent departure from Chengdu though, there has been several other Foreign-Service-real-life-moments pop up. (In case you are marking your calendars, we’ve got six weeks left in the land of pandas.) First of all, we got our housing assignment in Kuala Lumpur, meaning our home for the next two years was determined by the notes we put on a piece of paper and the opinions of a committee in KL. I’m happy to say that I am thrilled with the thought-process of that board, but it is strange to think that just a few bits of information on a single sheet of paper determine where we will reside for two years. I’ve nary a complaint about the beautiful townhouse we will be moving into in July, but I understand how it can be a frustrating process if one doesn’t love their assigned housing. In the States, I would never have given a short survey to a random group of people whom I had never met and asked them to find a house that would make me happy. But, in the Foreign Service, no one blinks an eye at it. (As a matter of fact, some of us send many-a-night with our eyes wide open, not sleeping as we excitedly anticipate housing news.)
The other (seemingly) crazy FS-thing we did this week was buying a car. Yes, you read that right. We bought a car, sight unseen. (Okay, a little sight seen, through a series of emailed photographs.) Last year, when we got our placement in KL, we decided that we definitely wanted a car so that we could get out of town on the weekends, go to the beach, hit up Singapore, etc. With that in mind, a few weeks ago, I started scouring the weekly newsletter from KL, in search of a car that would fit our needs and not break the bank. (Diplomats don’t tend to give great deals on their cars, as they always think they can sell them for what they bought them for. This actually holds pretty true in a lot of places, but it means bargain-shopping for a vehicle takes some patience.) But, last Wednesday, a new car popped up in the Malaysian Monitor that was just what we were looking for: an SUV with good clearance for the crazy rainstorms that hit the city on a regular basis and the less than smooth roads that permeate much of the country outside the city, and that came with a price tag that fit within our discussed budget. Knowing that vehicles like that get snapped up quickly, I sent an email to the owners that very day. After a series of back and forth emails about price, photographs, contracts and money wiring, today we signed the sale agreement and I sent the down payment to the current owners. After less than a week of negotiations, we will have a car waiting for us when we get t Kuala Lumpur this summer. (This should also serve as incentive for friends and family to come visit!!) In the States though, I can’t imagine buying a car 1) in such a short amount of time, 2)with just a few pictures as reference (I did Google the make and model extensively) and 3)with no test drive. My fingers are crossed that this world of “corridor reputation” is a great incentive for people to be upfront and honest in their dealings. (I tend to assume everyone is to begin with, but know that is probably a naïve way to approach the world. I can’t’ image purposefully screwing someone over, so it is hard for me to picture someone else doing the same.) For better or worse though, we will soon be the proud owners of a Nissan X-Trail!
While I no longer have to look the other way when a 6th grader comes to me with a newly lost tooth in his hand, wanting me to “look, it’s so cool!” and I don’t get the pleasure of asking why anyone would think it is a good idea to leave their schoolbag out in the rain all weekend, I do get to play what amounts to a single hand of poker for my housing and roll the dice when it comes to major life purchases.
Foreign Service, you provide a strange life, but never a dull one!