First, the low.
The Consular Section carpet is dirty. What to do? Clean it, I guess, but when? How about a Saturday when noone else is here? Good idea. But wait, the cleaners can't just come and go willy-nilly, someone needs to be there. But who? How about Phil? Great idea!
So here I sit on Saturday morning as some of the cleaning staff scrub the carpet and use the wet/dry vac to remove a few years of accumulated dirt and other detritus.
I have, also been away for the better part of a week, and have some work I can accomplish, so I really did volunteer rather than have the greatness of 'carpet cleaner watching' thrust upon me.
This after last night's indignity of having to beg our way through the border on the Thai side after delivering Jon and Rose to the airport in Udorn. Crossing the bridge costs 30 baht (about $0.80 under the currently weak dollar exchange rate). Through immigration and approaching the bridge to pay, I asked Katherine if she, by chance, had any baht. Plenty of dollars and kip, but no, no baht.
So we pulled over and scrounged from the darkest recesses of the car. 4 baht in the ashtray. 1 baht under my seat. 10 baht (SCORE!) under Katherine's seat. Another 10 baht found in the backseat cushion. 25 baht...and no more.
So I slow-rolled up to the guy in the both, adopted my most hangdog expression, rolled down the window and started:
'excuse me sir, but we only have 25 baht. Could we possibly pass?'
He looked at me with a mix of pity and mirth at our predicament.
'or possibly, sir, might you accept kip instead?' (Kip is likely not considered more than colorful paper on the Thai side of the river)
He paused, and I held up our 25 baht for him to verify our sad situation. Finally he smiled and said, fine, give me 20 baht and 4,000 kip (about $1 total. He totally ripped us off).
Now, the high.
Getting to go to Seoul to a conference with 80 or so of my fellow Junior Officer colleagues. It was a good opportunity to reconnect with some people I have met along the way already, and to meet other people that I will certainly be seeing in the corridors of State, FSI, and various embassies around the world as we continue down the path of this Foreign Service thing of ours ('la FS cosa nostra?'). You can see a photo of the group in all its glory here
, provided by the talented and vivacious Girl in the Rain
, a recent arrivee in Seoul.
It was also a chance to hear from some people about EAP (East Asia Pacific) policy developments and professional development. Important things, to be sure, but what I took away from the conference, more than any thoughts about policy and career enhancement, was that there are a lot of terrific people out there around the world doing their best at jobs that are sometimes thankless, and in some cases result in outright hostile responses from 'real patriotic Americans'.
Anyway, it was fun. The photos of the debaucherous goings on in Seoul after dark will have to wait, as I wisely left the camera in my room, and will have to rely on getting pictures from Dawn.
I will say, however, that another important lesson from the conference is that, if after a dinner in Seoul with drinks and a visit to a bar after dinner for drinks you stubbornly refuse to go to a club to get a private Karaoke room, it's best to stick to your guns in the face of the harangues and protestations of Walter Parrs (who I learned really has no business singing Karaoke in the first place) and other various and sundry nogoodniks who provided the relentless peer pressure that eventually wore down my defenses.