Oh, Just Sitting in Osaka

Osaka’s skyline rests across the bay from where I currently sit, laid out on a lounge chair in KIX, an international airport with the feel of small, regional airport. Out the window, on the left side of the panoramic view, runs a long bridge, connecting the airport to the city, looking as though it will collide with a huge building that towers over all everything else on the horizon. As I scan to the right, my eye is caught by a large Ferris wheel that sits right on the water, making me think this city might have more personality than first meets the eye through the haze. (Fog? Smog? I’m not sure what is causing the gray out there today, but gloom is definitely the overriding feel.)

I’ve been in this airport since 7AM, which means I’ve roamed its compact hall for six hours now, with at least three more to go. While the sign may say international airport and the planes come and go from international destinations, the concourse speaks a different tale. There are two cafes in the terminal, both small and both serving very little other than coffee and tea. Luckily, I had packed Pop Tarts in my backpack to tide me over, knowing I wouldn’t want much from my plane meals (and not having my favorite travel companion to swap out my entrée for his roll and brownie), so those became breakfast at KIX. Hours later when lunchtime rolled around, I revisited my two café options, finding the afternoon choices limited to hotdog-like meat wrapped in bread or shrimp ramen. Neither of these options was going to hit the spot, so I stepped into the one convenience-type store in the concourse. Stepped in is a bit of a stretch, as the shop was small enough that as my body was inside, my backpack remained outside. Not a lot of room to browse or turn. I quickly grabbed a few things I could recognize, (Pringles, a Coke and a weird little waffle thing), opting not to try the freeze dried tentacles, even though they were quite easily recognizable!

Between these two meals, both of which would make any nutritionist cringe, I did discover a hidden row of lounge chairs, making the perfect place to take a nap. Not far off the beaten path, these plush chairs had little cubbies around the top half, giving the sitter the feel of being in his/her own little pod. I knew I had found my home for a few hours! Pulling my ever-handy travel blanket and pillow out of my backpack, I kicked off my shoes, stashing them under the chair and tucked my bag in the space between the chair and the surrounding cubby and curled up for a mid-morning siesta. When I laid my head down, the closest gate was still occupied by the Malaysian Airlines plane I had come in on. When I finally pried my eyes open two hours later, those red and blue markings had been replaced by the green and red of Eva Airlines. Time passed. Planes moved. I slept.

Now, well-rested and kind of fed, I should be working on my thematic paper for my one of my literature classes. The ideas are all there, bouncing around my head: Tom Bissell, Uzbekistan, Peace Corps, the Aral Sea, the inner journey of a travel writer–bounce, rattle, rumble. The problem is, those ideas are competing for my attention with the planes that keep rolling up and down the runway, the boats trailing through the harbor (Is that a harbor? The ocean? A river? I have no idea what the body of water that lies between the Osaka airport and the city is.) and the strangely hilarious FaceTime conversation of the pre-teen in the next lounge cubby over. (Things I know about my cubby neighbor: She has an American accent. She is on my flight to SFO in a few hours. She is eating a sucker, loudly. I am pretty sure she memorized some list of current slang, using all of it much more liberally than any self-respecting tween should. Occasionally you have to use a full word in a sentence, even if you are talking to your bae and are totes excited to see her.)

If only the cubby around my head provided focus in the same way it shielded me during my earlier siesta…

Bidding on the Brain

Tokyo vs. Tallinn vs. Taipei.

It’s like comparing apples to oranges to grapes, with maybe a few bits of durian thrown in there.  Why would these cities even show up in the same sentence? Because, my friends, pre-bidding season is upon us! Pre-bidding? Oh yes. That part of the year that is consumed with making lists of potential job openings and then making new lists as positions come and go from the projected lists. (In the interest of corridor reputation and general good sense, I’ll refrain from specifically labeling any place as the durian, but it actually plays out as a pretty good simile. Durian, while not the fruit for me, is loved by many Malaysians and even a few Americans. Foreign Service posts can have a similar vibe. A post that many people don’t really care for can end up being the perfect fit and you’d never know it if you didn’t give it that first shot. Your durian post might be my pineapple post!)

One of my favorite things about the Foreign Service is that we are always getting to live in new countries and call new cities home, but there is no magical eight ball that determines the next posting. Rather, at this point in his career, it is all about Thad reaching out to posts he is interested in, lobbying for positions that look intriguing and selling himself as being the fantastic officer that he is. In a lot of ways, this is like job hunting Stateside. He has to put together a resume, collect recommendations and interview with interested posts. Before this, when he was a first and second tour officer, all he had to do was put together a list and then left the rest to fate.

I actually kind of like that style of bidding, partially because I get to be more involved. (I’m not going to say that I am bossy, but I do like to have a hand in what is going on. This might be one reason I adored being CLO in Chengdu. I may not have had a lot of power, but I did get to be a part of a gazillion different activities and committees at the consulate. I loved that job!) The last time we bid, coming out of Chengdu, we put together of a list of thirty posts he was interested in. We ranked them in order of our interest and then sent it off to do CDO- career development officer- in Washington DC and then waited. And waited. And waited. But after what felt like a lifetime, he got the email saying he’d spend the next two years in Kuala Lumpur, which was #17 on our original list. (Initially, this was a shock, as I had been betting on something in the top ten and had done little to no research on anything beyond that.)  Being able to just rank our preferences and sit back and wait was great. Once the list was turned in, there was no stress of lobbying, but rather just a test of patience, and at least on the surface, I can fake patience. (Inside, my brain is overtaken by swarms of lightning bugs, but that is a different matter altogether!)

This time around though, I’ll be sidelined from the process, as it is all about the officer working the system to find a position that is a good fit. But, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had discussions about options we love and those we are less excited by. While there may not be an official list that I can help create, I definitely have thoughts on where I’d like to see us end up!

So, it seems, does my oldest niece, who already has designs to come spend a summer wherever we land. (She’ll be a freshman this year, so probably old enough to do just that, provided she can convince her mom to buy her a plane ticket to spend a month on a new continent! She might need to start saving her babysitting money now.) With her hopes for future travel (which, of course, I fully support!) in mind, her uncle sent her a long list of possibilities and told her to get back to him with her top ten. Now, in the Foreign Service, all posts are listed by city, not country, so I’m sure this little bit of homework stretched her geography skills a bit and had her Googling like mad! After perusing the list for a few days, here is what she came back with, in order of preference:

1.Casablanca, Morocco

2.Rangoon, Myanmar

3.London, England


5.Nassau, Bahamas

6.Tallinn, Estonia

7.Minsk, Belarus

8.New Dehli, India

9.Guangzhou, China

  1. Vilinius, Lithuania

Interesting choices! While I’m not ready to reveal our top choices right now, I do have to say a few of these look promising to me too, but there are also a couple there that would definitely not make my top ten for a variety of reasons. Some people run towards durian. Some run away from it.

It is always exciting to look at lists of possible future postings and there are very few places that I would really dread going. Flipping open an atlas and tracing the outlines of new countries with a finger, figuring out a new travel radius and researching potential new homes is at the heart of why I left my teaching job to become a “trailing spouse” (don’t get me started on that nomenclature) in this crazy Foreign Service lifestyle. The question is, where we be “homebase” for my next round of sidewalk searching? Only time will tell…

You Too Can Search for Sidewalk Endings!

Do you ever read this blog and wish you could live/travel to different cities abroad? (The adjectives for these cities include all of the follow, depending in the day/my mood: strange, exciting, frustrating, fascination, wonderful, tiring…the list could go on and on!)  The Foreign Service is currently advertisting OMS openings. (Office Management Specialist)  Here’s your chance to join the Foreign Service and search for your own sidewalk endings!!

Below is an excerpt from the job listing. Be sure to check out                                                  http://careers.state.gov/work/opportunities/vacancy-announcements/oms for full information!

Office Management Specialist

United States Department of State
An Equal Opportunity Employer

Position Title: Foreign Service Office Management Specialist – Administrative Assistant
Open Period: 06/17/2015 — 07/07/2015
Series/Grade: FP – 0318 07
Salary: $35,014 – $51,419
Promotion Potential: FP-03
Hiring Agency: U.S. Department of State
Duty Locations: MANY Vacancies throughout the World
For More Info: HR/REE/BEX-EVAL, OMSVacancyInfo@state.gov

Who May Apply

All potential applicants are strongly urged to read this entire Vacancy Announcement to ensure that they meet all of the requirements for this position before applying.

Applicants must be American citizens and at least 20 years old to apply. They must be at least 21 years of age to be appointed. By law, all career candidates must be appointed to the Foreign Service prior to the month in which they reach age 60.

Duration Appointment

Permanent after being tenured in the Foreign Service by the Tenure Boards.

Grade and Starting Salary Range: FP-07, $35,014 – $51,419


The U.S. Department of State is the lead foreign affairs agency formulating and implementing the President’s foreign policy and representing U.S. interests throughout the world. Foreign Service Office Management Specialists (Administrative Assistants) serve at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide as well as a few domestic locations. Assignments can vary from working in a Political or Economic Section in one mission to working in the Management or Security Section in another. Future assignments can lead to the Executive Office and the position of Office Manager to an Ambassador overseas or to a high-ranking official in Washington, D.C. Whatever the position or nature of duties, Office Management Specialists will have a rich opportunity to make valuable contributions to their country while leading professionally and personally fulfilling lives.

The Foreign Service is more than a job – it’s a career. As a member of a diplomatic team, you will not only help to accomplish the mission of the Department of State, but also will be a representative of your country to the people of other nations. A Foreign Service career involves uncommon commitments and occasional hardships, as well as unique rewards and opportunities. A decision to enter this career should be based on extraordinary motivation and a firm dedication to public service.

Many overseas posts are in small or remote countries where harsh climates, health hazards, and other discomforts exist and where American-style amenities and the latest in technological advances often are unavailable. Personal security frequently becomes an area of concern in countries where there is political unrest or terrorist activity. However, careers in the Foreign Service offer special rewards, including the pride and satisfaction of representing the United States and protecting U.S. interests abroad.

The Foreign Service strives to maintain diversity in the representation of gender, geographic region, race and ethnicity within its work force.

Key Requirements

All applicants, in order to be considered for selection, must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Be at least 20 years old to apply and at least 21 years of age to be appointed. By law (Foreign Service Act of 1980), all career candidates (except for preference-eligible veterans)** must be appointed to the Foreign Service prior to the month in which they reach age 60.
  • Be available for worldwide service.
  • Be able to obtain a Top Secret Security Clearance.
  • Be able to obtain an appropriate medical clearance for Foreign Service work.
  • Obtain a Suitability Clearance, based on a review of the candidate’s record for conduct in accordance with suitability standards defined in Chapter 3 of the Foreign Affairs Manual. For more details see http://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/specialist/selection-processor http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/fam

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on My TBR List For Summer 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on My TBR List For Summer 2015

(Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish)


When I was teaching middle school, summer was my time to catch up on “adult” books, as August through May was pretty much dedicated to keeping up with new young adult books and reading recommendations from my students. (I never would have picked up the Percy Jackson series had the entire set not been put on my desk by a student, telling me I NEEDED to read these! He was right. They were great!) Then, for a few years, there was no need for “summer reading” lists, as summer reading was no different from my winter reading. It was just one, ever-growing “to be read” list. But, now that I am back in school, taking credits all summer long, this year’s summer reading list isn’t filled with the latest Gone Girl-esque thriller or Hollywood blockbuster pre-read; my list is pretty much all school-related. That’s not a bad thing though! It must means my summer reading list is filled with travel literature, which is a perfect fit for the summer, school or no school!

So what am I reading this summer? This!

An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul   – Raised in the Caribbean and educated in Britain, but of Indian ancestry, Naipaul documents his first trip to India in this travel narrative that focuses on both the physical  travel and the cultural distinctions of this unique nation.

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia  by Tom Bissell-  This is both a travel narrative and a history lesson about Uzbekistan. Bissell was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan, but left the service after seven months, due to personal reasons. Years later, he goes back to the country where he struggled so much to see it in a new light and to report on the ecological disaster that has surrounded the Aral Sea.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume- Judy Blume’s books were a huge part of my childhood, so I can’t wait to have a few free days to read her newest publication. I will definitely be getting to this one before the summer is over. “In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.” (Amazon summary)

Looking for Lovedu: Days and Nights in Africa by Ann Jones-  This one is the travel story of Ann Jones and a photographer who set out to travel Africa, from one coast to the other. (I ordered this a month ago and it has not arrived due to shipping issues. It is killing me that it hasn’t arrived yet!)

Nothing to Declare: Memories of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris– This travel memoir follows Morris’ move to a small Mexican town and her travels throughout Mexico and Central America.

Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century by James Clifford- “In this collage of essays, meditations, poems, and travel reports, Clifford takes travel and its difficult companion, translation, as openings into a complex modernity. He contemplates a world ever more connected yet not homogeneous, a global history proceeding from the fraught legacies of exploration, colonization, capitalist expansion, immigration, labor mobility, and tourism.” (Amazon summary)

The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers by Eric Hansen- “Eric Hansen survives a cyclone on a boat off the Australian coast, cradles a dying man in Calcutta, and drinks mind-altering kava in Vanuatu. He helps a widower search for his wife’s wedding ring amid plane-crash wreckage in Borneo and accompanies topless dancers on a bird-watching expedition in California. From the Maldives to Sacramento, from Cannes to Washington Heights, Eric Hansen has a way of getting himself into the most sacred ceremonies and the most candid conversations.” (Amazon summary)

Travel Writing: The Self and the World by Casey Blanton– This one is an academic book which survey’s     the development of the travel writing genre from early writings through more modern ones. It probably isn’t going to be on many people’s summer reading lists, but I am hoping it is a great foundation for future research.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman- I started reading this book in early April, before all of my school books showed up. I only got through the first two short stories before I dove into my coursework, but I can’t stop thinking about this book! It is sitting on my nightstand and I look at it daily with longing! I can’t wait to sneak it in at the end of the summer when I am between terms!

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling-  Technically, this is not a summer read, as it does not come out until mid-September, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I loved her first book and am thrilled she is publishing a second. This one comes out September 15. I will have a review on September 16! This one may fall last on my alphabetical list, but it is easily the one I am most excited for!

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July in June

Long time, no blog! Well, at least not a travel/KL-related blog. I’ve been great about Wordless Wednesdays, as it is pretty easy to pull a photo from our cache and pop it up while I eat my Cheerios on Wednesday mornings. (Those Cheerios are like gold, so I set my alarm early enough that I can leisurely enjoy them while perusing blogs or People.com first thing in the morning. I usually ship my cereal in from Amazon, which while not always as cheap as you can get it at Albertson’s, is much cheaper than the $8-10 a box they would cost here in Malaysia. And don’t judge my People.com fixes. I am sure to his the news sites as well and I do spend much of my free time writing papers about contemporary travel writing, so I get a few guilty pleasures when it comes to my internet browsing. People, Lamebook, Yahoo comments…you know, all the classy stuff.) I’ve also put up several Top Ten Tuesdays over the last few months, so blogging is happening, just not always travel blogging.

Anyway, I could give you a laundry list of excuses why it has been a month since I’ve written anything travel-y: I went temporarily blind in my left eye; I am working on a second graduate degree; I work full time at the US embassy; blah, blah, blah. But they would just be excuses since we’ve also watched ten seasons of Friends on Netflix this year, I rarely let a Saturday get past me without taking at least a brief nap and I have time to make cookies for the office on a semi-regular basis. It boils down to two things: 1) we’ve not been out of town much recently, other than the recent, unplanned/unwanted trip to Singapore and 2) laziness.

Probably more #2 than #1, as we have definitely been busy.

Lately, life has been all about the 4th of July. That’s right. It is just passed the middle of June and not only have we thought about Independence Day, but we have celebrated it. Twice.

Since Ramadan falls pretty early this year (tomorrow is the first day and it goes until mid-July), embassies in Muslim countries have to work our holiday around the fast. A big party just isn’t much of a party when your guests aren’t eating or drinking. So, rather than throw a drink-free, food-free party close to the actual 4th of July, Kuala Lumpur opts to do it ahead of time. We had a huge event at the Marriott Hotel in KL last Tuesday night and then a smaller, more intimate event in Penang just a few days ago.

For the KL event, I was assigned to be on the decorations committee, which meant many meetings ahead of time, but then a lot of supervisory work on the day of the event. While it took a bit of coaxing to get the hotel to bring our vision to life, in the end the red, white and blue bonanza that is Independence Day looked great! There was tons of food (most of which I didn’t eat, as I’m just weird about food other people make), a great band and lots of patriotic pizazz. The evening of the event, I didn’t get to see the actual ceremony with the presentation of the colors or the ambassador’s speech, as I was on check-in duty at the front door all evening, but judging from the smiles on the guests as they headed home, it was definitely a success.

This is the first year KL has done a second event, this one in Penang. (I think the Ross family brings the second 4th of July event with us. When we were in Chengdu, the first year we were there was the first year they had held a second event as well. Maybe we just look like party-planning folk!) Penang is a great island off the northwest coast of Malaysia. It has an amazing art scene and a totally different vibe from Kuala Lumpur. (Click here to read my post about when I went there on vacation last fall.) The party there was smaller, but maybe better. Without hundreds and hundreds of guests, it was easier to actually spend time chatting with folks and the whole thing just felt a little more relaxed. Once again, I missed the color guard and remarks, as I was checking people in at the front desk (somehow that ended up being my gig all-around this year!), but I did get a chance to wander through later in the evening and it was great! Again, red, white and blue ruled the night, with numerous flags flying. It’s funny that for a bunch of people who have chosen to live mostly outside the US, you probably won’t find a more patriotic group. Foreign Service officers took their jobs to do just that- to serve their country and they are mighty proud of it!

So now, it is just mid-June and I’ve already celebrated the 4th of July twice. Looking at the calendar, I’ve got two more celebrations to go: one with the embassy community on the afternoon of the day I fly out for the US and then the *real* one on July 4 when I am home in Idaho. I hear that one is going to entail homemade ice cream and sparklers, so not a bad way to round out the quad-fecta (it’s like a trifecta, but with four!) of Independence Day parties.
Happy birthday, America (X4)!!

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