Twenty, Five, and Four

Apparently, late May is a big time for anniversaries in my life, although until about two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized it. (I meant to write this blog last weekend so that it was much more timely, but after finally getting back on the blogging wagon, I had several even older posts that needed written, and am just now getting almost caught up. Well, unless you count that one about our awesome trip to Perth in February that I still haven’t managed to get put together. Chinese New Year, quokkas, nearly dying on an island bike ride. How has it not found a spot on the blog yet? Eeek!)

While May doesn’t contain a wedding anniversary or birthday (for me, at least, although I am guessing there are *many* wedding anniversaries that do fall in the spring-to-summer month), it does have several other significant dates that have recently popped up in my Facebook feed, reminding me that it seems to be a month of transition for our family of two. (What would I do without Facebook reminders? Those memory photos that it puts up? Sometimes I am not even sure where they come from. There is a great possibility that Facebook has hacked my life, now having a far more comprehensive idea of who I am than I do some days. Also, thank you to Facebook for reminding me to wish a happy birthday to people who are absolutely certain that the only reason I know it is their birthday is because my electronics reminded me. Sincerity might take a bit of a hit there.)

But back to anniversaries.

Twenty years ago, in late May, I graduated from high school. It I hard to think about where the last two decades have gone, but pretty easy to look in my passport and see where I have gone over those ensuing years. When I walked across that stage twenty years ago in my hideous yellow graduation gown I knew I was headed to college a few short months. I knew I would be rooming with my best friend and I was certain I was going to major in Spanish and I knew I wanted to study abroad while in college. Even at that early point, I knew I wanted to “go,” but little did I know just how much “going” there would be! (Yes, I know we voted to go boys in blue/girls in yellow because the contrast of the school colors would look nice, but why didn’t we push for blue, ladies? Did the boys really care if they looked washed-out and half dead in all of their graduation photos? Probably not! Keep this in mind future graduates of CHS. Two colors do look awesome marching down the aisle, but think long and hard about who must don the “gold.” Kelsey, I’m looking at you!)

While things didn’t quite turn out the way I just “knew” they would, life’s twists and turns did lead to two other, more recent anniversaries that come up in the same final week of May.

Five years ago it was that exact week that we finished packing up or selling everything we owned as we got ready for a career change for Thad, an unknown professional future for me and a new home/adventure for us both. With bigger items like the cars and lawn mower sold, the house rented out and everything but two suitcases each packed into a storage unit in Hagerstown, Maryland, to the nation’s capital we went. A new apartment, new friends and more new acronyms that I ever thought possible awaited us on the other side of the country. (I’m an EFM in the FS who worked as CLO and then PCSed to KL, another EAP post, with my ELO husband who is headed to INR for his next job. That’s barely the tip of the foreign service acronym iceberg. Madness reigns.)

Initial training, an assignment to Chengdu and months of language training later, it was again that final week of May that saw us making another huge change- our move to western China to take up a first posting with the Foreign Service. We’d spent a decent amount of time in Chengdu when we were Peace Corps volunteers (that’s another anniversary, coming up the end of June- 10 years since we left on that epic outing), so it was less overwhelming than many first tours, but the excitement to finally be on our way was palpable.

It’s crazy to think that Caldwell High School’s class of 1996 will be reunion-ing it up this summer, but even more so to ponder how different life has turned out from what my seventeen-year-old self had imagined. Somewhere in my boxes and boxes of stuff (probably storage boxes) I’ve got a senior year yearbook filled with notes of excitement and relief that high school was coming to an end, but little did I know just how far my wanderings would take me.  Just a year after that, I’d have my first passport, headed to the Dominican Republic and Haiti (Cuba got nixed at the last minute), opening doors to the promise of adventures far beyond the edges of Idaho.

So, happy anniversary 17 year old self, 33 year old self and 34 year old self. Blow out the candles and keep skipping down the sidewalk, looking for endings and new beginnings.

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Singapore, Orson Scott Card, and the Kardashians

Two weeks ago, I had to go to Singapore for some meetings. It turned out to be four meetings over the course of two days, which left me a bit of time here and there to do my thing. With morning and afternoon meetings each day, I was left with weird slots of my day to fill. Time was not sufficient for midday trips to my favorite merlion or to visit the Gardens by the Bay and with a big move headed my way next month, shopping on Orchard Street sounded like a bad idea. (Both in terms of space taken up and credit card balance!)

So, what does a girl do with herself and a bit of free time in the middle of a work day? It’s a pretty easy equation (at least in my world):

Coffee shop + Book = Hours whiled away

Over the course of two days, I found myself at four different cafes, enjoying a wide range of beverages (everything from hot chocolate in the morning to Snapple after lunch). I curled up in a huge over-stuffed love seat, relaxed in a wicker basket-like seat and wiggled until I found a comfortable spot on a metal chair with great people-watching. Knowing that I would probably have these odd bits of downtime between meetings, I planned ahead and brought along an Orson Scott Card book that weighed in at nearly 600 pages, enough to keep me entertained for a few hours. (Sadly, I finished that book as soon as I got to the airport and had to make due with a People  magazine until I made it back home to Kuala Lumpur. At least now I am updated on the ever-so-current Kardashian drama, what’s happening on The Bachelor, a show I’ve never seen, and what Princess Kate wore on her last visit with the commoners.)

Overall, I can’t complain about my two-day mini-vacation. (Half a vacation? Between meetings, it really was relaxing and a nice getaway!) Looking towards Washington DC in the fall, I am going to miss year-round open air restaurants and patios. Informal apartment hunting is underway and I am thinking I am going to have to add a walkable coffee shop to the list of “must haves.” Maybe a bit of cold weather will add just a bit of cozy to that hot chocolate and new release on a Saturday morning.


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Goodbye to an Old Pal

This poor blog has been sorely neglected over the last handful of weeks. As I look back, I don’t have a great excuse, other than a bit of laziness, but I think I am going to blame it on my recent laptop conversion. Late last year, my trusty pink Vaio laptop began to fail. I would be working away on a project and suddenly I would hear a small popping sound and then everything would go black. Nothing. No power. No charge. Everything not saved, gone. (This was right as I was working on my graduate thesis, so I quickly became an obsessive saver, as little is more painful than having pages upon pages of ideas disappear. Yes, they were still rattling around in my head, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to recreate that perfect sentence that you cobble together, reconstruct and then rework one more time.)

With my faithful laptop looking at an imminent demise, back in late February I finally broke down and bought a new one. I was really hoping to make the current machine last until summer when I would be home in the US to do some in-person shopping, but once it started to blink out three or four times a day, I knew the end was near. A DNR had been issued.

Not wanting to buy local, but also not wanting to buy online without seeing the product, it was time to do a little KL recon. (I am a stickler for a good keyboard. I want something with a bit of a click to it. I adore the sound of typing and want just the right background noise as I write away for this blog and other projects.) Looking at computers in Kuala Lumpur means a trip to Low Yat, possibly my least favorite shopping area in town. It very much reminds me of the computer city buildings in Chengdu- large edifices crammed full of legitimate brand name stores, flanked by less than reputable kiosks and shops selling anything with a battery or electrical connection. The whole place makes me both claustrophobic (something I am not) and uneasy. Am I going to get ripped off? Pickpocketed? Shived? All seem like possibilities.

One quiet Sunday afternoon, Thad and I made the trip to Low Yat where the main test of the day was keyboard clickiness. Once I determined that Hewlett-Packard machines, as whole, had the best sound, it was time to go home and narrow down my options. In the stores (“stores”?) I did see a few other brands of a 360-degree style that I really liked and the internet quickly told me that HP not only has this style, but it was highly ranked among its peers. I love the laptop/tablet combo idea.

Horrified by the price of laptops in general (I really thought they had gone down more than they had over the last five years), I finally settled on the HP Spectre, realized it was pretty much a set price at all stores, so made my purchase. Knowing that it had to be shipped to Kuala Lumpur through the diplomatic pouch, the fact that the Spectre had a built in battery was a huge selling point, as that fits within the regulations of pouch mail. Before buying, I even checked with the embassy mail room staff, who assured me that shipping with an installed lithium battery should be no problem.

Apparently, it was a problem.

As I excitedly watched the shipping progress from Best Buy to the pouch facility, I was horrified one morning to see that the box had been rejected by the pouch and returned to the warehouse. Best Buy refunded my credit card, but what I really wanted was my new computer. Ol’ Trusty was on life support and the prognosis wasn’t good.

Back to the internet I went, reordering the exact same item, but this time shipping it to my brother in Idaho, who then had to rebox it and ship it again (there’s an extra $30) with a customs label indicating that the battery had been removed. Ugh. (The second round of shipping did mean that when it finally came, treats from home and drawings from the niece and nephew were bonus gifts.) Two weeks estimated shipping time on the original purchase ended up being over six weeks, with the new laptop arriving just days after I left KL for a three-week stint at Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.

Now, I’m in the painful process of converting from the dying, cracked, pink laptop to the shiny, new, black and bronze beauty. But, the changeover is fraught. All of my life is on that other machine. It knows my links. It knows my passwords. It has Word. It has everything.

Plus, I feel a strange loyalty to it. (I tend to be loyal to a fault. I remember as a kid feeling guilty when I switched from regularly listening to my parents’ favorite oldies radio station to the current pop station. Strange loyalties, I tell you.)

Last night, I finally downloaded Word onto this new machine, so the replacement process is nearly complete. I am not sure what will become of the old machine as we face packing out in just a few short weeks, but I’m hoping by July to be fully dependent on this fancy new table/laptop, as it is much small and much lighter, a huge benefit as a summer of travel is headed our way. It is time to say goodbye to my old pal, my trusty buddy who has traveled all over Asia and back to American multiple times. It served me well, adding years of postings to my blog, sticking out a graduate degree in literature and giving me hours of wasted time on internet pic-dump sites.

The transition means it is time to get back to regular blogging; no more excuses. Blogs and Wordless Wednesdays are headed your way. Be prepared.

KL Consular Team Hard at Work

US embassy helps out the needy

The Star, April 7, 2016

By Teoh Xiu Jong


KUALA LUMPUR: The US Embassy here is among the busiest foreign missions in the country, yet it does not hesitate to lend a hand whenever help is needed.

This was proven yet again yesterday when 18 members of its consular section literally got their hands dirty, preparing hot meals for the less fortunate who frequent Carl’s Kitchen in Jalan Gereja.

Deputy consul-general Thad Ross said Carl’s Kitchen was chosen because it had also helped Americans who needed assistance here.

“Many people do not know that Malaysia has such a place for the unfortunate. There are many people who need a meal, so our ability to help feels wonderful,” he said.

The team raised RM1,400 and brought food items worth RM600. All 18 took turns to prepare the food.

Senior consular assistant Rachel Leow, 51, said the experience reminded her of how fortunate she was.

“I have a family who cares for me, have a roof above my head and I can enjoy meals prepared by my parents,” she said.

Consul-general Jessica Norris, who led the team, said: “We decided to step out of our comfort zone to help. We like how open Carl’s Kitchen is to everyone, serving the community on a routine schedule,” she added.

Neglected by her children, Wong, 72, was among the many who dropped by for a free meal.

“I did not take good care of myself when I was younger because I wanted to give the best to my children.

“But now that my children have grown up, they have neglected me,” she lamented, adding that her children did not even visit her these days.