Saturday, May 20, 2006


Posted in Generalities, In DC, Korea at 11:59 pm by graceandpoise

This week:

  • I met Don Oberdorfer, author of the definitive guide to all things Korean and geopolitical, a book called The Two Koreas. Apparently even the North Koreans think of it as the definitive guide, as there have been reports of visiting journalists and foreign dignitaries being given copies of the book as gifts from officials in the North Korean government. Closer to home, I have personally heard from more than one source that even the State Department uses this book as the first briefing material for top officials heading to Korea. I know it's the first thing they handed me to prepare for my time there. He definitely has some fascinating stories to share, and I feel privileged to have been able to spend some significant time talking with him.
  • I went for the first time to a jazz place in DC. For those who know this town, it is a marvelously low-key place on Barracks Row called Ellington's. It's a very pleasant place, perfect for those evenings when you just want to relax, have a glass of wine and maybe some peach cobbler, and listen to some good live music. It's a very homey atmosphere, complete with a gal behind the bar who may admonish patrons if they have not eaten enough. I have since been unable to get the song, "My Funny Valentine" out of my head, so I will probably have to break down and download it for my i-pod.
  • I found out from one of my Korean instructors that the wildfire season in Korea is actually during the winter. The rainy season (they actually have a "rainy season!") is in the middle of the summer, and apparently the winter is when everything dries out and becomes good tinder for fires. Sounds like the opposite of how one would ordinarily think it would go, doesn't it? I don't know how I'll like having a cold winter with snow that turns almost instantaneously black from Seoul's pollution and without any rain at all, though. Doesn't sound too fabulous to me.
  • I found out through a friend that the State Department has gained the distinction of being the number three most desirable employer in a recent survey of American undergraduate students. Wow – when I was an undergrad, I wasn't even considering it, and I didn't know anyone who was. It simply wasn't on the radar. My, how quickly things change.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Paper, Scissors, Rock

Posted in Generalities, Travels at 6:07 pm by graceandpoise

I got into a conversation today that led to the conclusion that people everywhere make decisions through the "paper, scissors, rock" game. It's one of the few things I've found so far that Bulgaria, western Europe, the U.S., Turkey, Korea and Japan have in common. Hmm, maybe it's the only thing. The order of the items in the name of the game tend to change, but the idea and the method of play are consistent. Anyway, I realize that there are a few continents left out of that equation, so, knowing quite a few of you are more well-traveled than I am, I thought I would put the new theory out there and see if anyone disagrees with it. The theory is this: in a world where anything beyond a smile and a frown is culturally relative, "paper, scissors, rock" may be part of this ultra-selective pantheon of universally understood things. Admittedly, this whole effort is highly unscientific, but I am kind of hoping someone does disagree with the theory, because if it is true, well, it's kind of daunting to think about. Out of all the things in this world to be universal, why "paper, scissors, rock?"

Monday, April 24, 2006

Oddities of the Day

Posted in Generalities at 11:58 pm by graceandpoise

It's getting late on a Monday evening, and before I officially call it a day I thought I would share a few odd things with you for your amusement:

— I woke up this morning, started my routine of hitting the snooze button on my alarm, fell back asleep after the second time the alarm went off, and soon woke up to realize there was a man hanging outside my 7th floor window with its not-quite-completely-closed blinds. Definitely startling. Turns out the sheet of paper the apartment building slid under the door on Friday and that I noticed on Saturday and decided to read later was about window washers. Maybe I should start reading those things in a more timely manner…

— I realized at some point today that I am jealous of people with dark, straight hair. With this curly blond-ish mess I've got, it's very difficult to make it look really classy, but straight dark hair has this sleekness and richness to it that is always classy and always looks put-together, no matter what. Plus, it looks good in all sorts of cuts and styles. It's really not fair.

— I learned this evening that Hasbro is developing a new, updated version of the board game Monopoly. Apparently they want to include landmarks from a variety of American cities in this new version, and they want people to vote for their favorites in each of 22 cities. A pleasant surprise: they've actually included 7 cities in that group that are in the western United States (I'm counting Honolulu among these). An unpleasant surprise: among the Seattle choices is supposed to be Pioneer Square, but the "representative" photo they intend to put in the game is not of Pioneer Square at all, but of the Space Needle and a couple of skyscrapers. So are we meant to vote for Pioneer Square or for the Space Needle & Downtown? (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Seattle geography, Pioneer Square is the old part of the city, boasting only a single skyscraper at a diminutive 42 stories tall.) Honestly, Hasbro, get it straight! Personally, though, I avoided the whole question – nothing is as fundamental to Seattle as Puget Sound. At any rate, this might be an interesting diversion for homesick Foreign Service types too, so go ahead and vote, everyone!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Honorary Guy

Posted in Generalities, In DC at 10:38 pm by graceandpoise

Today I spent the majority of the day hanging out with a new group of friends. I met them through the whole friend-of-a-friend thing, and they invited me to join them for a picnic, barbecue and other madness in DC’s Rock Creek Park today. Telling myself this is great because I need to get out of the house more anyway, I made a quick salad (it’s simply beyond me to plan ahead for anything these days), grabbed a bottle of wine, and headed out to Northwest DC.

This group of recent DC transplants is composed of six guys and one other girl. Topics of conversation, when they were not of the usual DC type (think politics, international affairs, etcetera), were often of the sort one might expect from a good-sized group of male twenty-somethings. Every so often, someone would start to say something, then look over at Ann or me and think better of it. Then, inevitably, someone else would say, “She’s a guy, it’s okay,” and the conversation would continue in its original vein. I’m a guy. Wow, I didn’t even have to go through surgery! And to think I thought the whole “honorary male” thing was just a rumor about allowances made for powerful or professional women in certain middle eastern countries…

It was a really good afternoon, I have to say. A rarity lately, there was very little of that dense intellectual stuff going on, and it was just a regular gathering of a group of people hanging out with people they like and enjoying a nice day outside. We cooked, ate, threw ice at one another, drank beers and Pepsis, mocked each other and ourselves, cooked and ate some more, and played ultimate frisbee. The latter was only stopped when one of our number was injured and we all decided not to tempt fate. It was actually my first time playing ultimate frisbee, and let me tell you, I ache. I suspect I’ll truly be loving life when the real aching sets in tomorrow. Small price to pay for a day away from it all.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Latest Journey

Posted in Travels at 1:45 am by graceandpoise

It's late at night and I just got back from a wonderful trip to visit my brother in Vegas. No, I didn't do any gambling, but I had a great time. There will be more later, but consider this a little taste of what's to come.

Recipe for a great, gambling-free trip to Vegas and the surrounding area: Take one vehicle and a couple of family members (including some gas money) and head out across Hoover Dam to Arizona. Go down Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona and wander through some shops. Head out of Sedona, enjoying views of some stunning rock formations along the way, to a Native American cliff dwelling known as Montezuma's Castle. From there, head into Prescott to spend the night at the very well-appointed vacation home of a friend or colleague. The next day, head out of Prescott, up and back down the very steep and winding road that is highway 89A to the little mining town of Jerome, perched rather precariously on the side of a steep hill. In Jerome, wander in and out of several shops featuring the work of local artisans, being sure to talk to some shopkeepers and learn some of the local lore. Upon leaving Jerome, make a bee-line for the Grand Canyon's south rim. The entrance fee to the national park is worth it. If you can, try to be there during a thunderstorm and sit on the edge of the canyon enjoying a little bit of rain and the endless echoes of the thunder reverberating through the canyon. If you have all sorts of time or are able to spend the night, hike down at least partway and enjoy a picnic. Otherwise, get back in your vehicle, drive back out the road you came in on, and head back toward Hoover Dam and on to Vegas. The next day, pamper yourself in Vegas (or better yet, let someone else pamper you). Sleep in, go to a spa and enjoy a massage, a facial, a haircut, and of course some time in the hot tub and sauna. In the evening, go to a show at one of the big casinos on the Strip, then head out to a late dinner at one of Vegas' top-notch restaurants. And whatever you do, at the end of this fabulous trip, don't try to fly through Chicago when they're having thunderstorms and all sorts of delays at O'Hare.

Effusive thanks to my brother and his girlfriend for hosting me and treating me to a really great vacation. Also to my mom for once again patiently putting up with my brother and I acting like siblings.

Later this week: some photos to inspire you to create your own wonderful trip to the great American Southwest.