Thoughts this Friday…

On Wednesday, the HuffPo published this article about trailing spouses.

“Unfortunately, most expat employers, HR people and those in the global mobility industry still see the expat spouse as a throw-back from the 50s; a helpless, pampered, Barbie doll, rather than the highly efficient, intelligent and competent woman of today. The trailing spouse of today needs to be given a voice, as well as an active role, in producing and delivering solutions to what everyone in the global mobility industry agree is their number one challenge; the adaptation and integration of the expat family.”

While this is a topic I am very passionate about (stay tuned for an upcoming article that i wrote!) and I do like to see it being featured on a public forum such as HuffPo, the tone of this article really bugs me. First of all, it assumes all trailing spouses are women, which in itself is the fundamental root of the problem. Next, the article skews to focus on the woman as keeper of the family.

Remember that trailing spouses do include men, and do include those who do not have children. The latter whom not only have to balance the stability of a marriage, but also seek advancement of a legitimate career (lest I continue to fail to remind you) in the shadows of another without the “purpose” of the family. Not to discount the work of those who do have families, of course.

It’s a tough subject.

More than the Average American

triple ribbon The mood’s been pretty somber in this little house of ours, and all around the Foreign Service community. We’ve lost another friend, and this time it hits much closer to home.

Yesterday morning, scrolling down my Facebook page, I saw the same updates that I always do – cats doing funny things, links to old school music videos, an increasing number of kids, and of course, photos of food. I was stopped cold when I saw the caption of a friend/the DiploMan’s close colleague. She had lost a friend in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. A quick assumption was later confirmed – Anne Smedinghoff, killed while on her way to donate books to students in a school in Qalat, was indeed among our wide yet deeply interconnected circle of Foreign Service friends.

Suddenly cats doing funny things, links to old school music videos, an increasing number of kids, and photos of food seemed so trivial.

One day and multiple news accounts later, I’ve read up more about the news and about Anne, who was only 25. Death seems so much more arresting and unimaginable at such an age. Anne was in the DiploMan’s A-100 class, which is sort of like a Freshman-class of sorts when you enter the Foreign service. For six weeks, about 80 U.S. citizens from all walks of life learn not only about how to represent the US government abroad but also about each other. Picture lots of class time, but many more dinners, retreats, weekends, lots of happy hours, and even more congratulatory hugs and happy high-fives when you learn where everyone is going to their first post. Anne was one of the youngest in the class, a fresh-out-of-college graduate. Seeing her picture today, I jog my memory and there is faint recollection of meeting her – a soft-spoken yet strong-willed young woman, perhaps so soft-spoken because she was still an adolescent suddenly thrown into circles of adulthood – our crude jokes, our meticulously curated dinner parties, our already jaded views on our 20’s, our somewhat hopeless view of saving the world, of the government, of the opposite sex, of getting older, of…well, of everything.

Maybe I met her, maybe I didn’t. This blog puts my feelings into words; she may have been someone we all knew, representing so much youth and so much enthusiasm in serving our country overseas:

What I am certain I recognized was the smile, the aura of the under-30 crowd, the disarming ordinariness (as opposed to banality) and eagerness of our newest public servants. That aura seems to me the norm now at Foggy Bottom, and in much of the country, and it’s probably a sign of my age as much as an indication of the lure of Washington itself.

Dinner last night was a little less chatty than usual, and we got up a little earlier this morning than on typical Sunday mornings. I can’t help but worry about my friends overseas, our future posts, and most of all my DiploMan, who is sitting in his chair right now reading the New York Times and jamming to his one of his favorite Spotify stations. We are normal people, doing normal work, maybe moving around a little more than the Average American, taking a few more trips to exotic locations than the Average American, but always acting with our best intentions – like delivering books to new schools in war-ravaged nations.

Read more about the news in the NYTimes here, a statement from Secretary Kerry here, and on one of my favorite FS blogs, here. There’s also a heartbreaking statement from the Smedinghoff family, here. The bomber also claimed the lives of three American soldiers, one other civilians, and three Afghans. None of these killed are any less important than our friend Anne.


In California

voter reg

I’m in California for a week working on a project, but it has ever-so-fortuitously coincided with Election Day. Thankfully too, because my registration up until Monday was not confirmed (there was a bit of confusion since I changed my name this summer). Going to the county registration office on Monday was a bit of a zoo, but so worth it.

California ballot

4 more years!

Newsworthy….for reals, this time.

What a beaut, huh?

I learn something new every day living in China. It’s something that I really appreciate being here. Not only am I surrounded by hyper-intelligent and well-traveled people, but immersing myself in a new culture and new language has taught me many things, big and small. Some days, I learn life lessons, like how I shouldn’t assume people don’t speak English. Other days, I learn things like how to say ‘Canton Tower’ in Chinese, even though I’ve lived in this city for 2 years and probably should have learned how to say it two years ago.

Anyway as you know we’re winding down our time in Guangzhou. So with the pretense of having a bucket list, the DiploMan and I set a date to go atop one of Guangzhou’s biggest tourist attractions.

Two Fridays ago, we went up 110 stories, plus some, up the highest tower in China. Highest tower in the world, up until a few months ago when the Tokyo Sky Tree was completed (mind your semantics- highest tower, not building. Yeah, I thought that was a cheap trick too).

Luckily, we caught a clear night in Guangzhou. We arrived just as the sun set, and caught a beautiful nightscape of Guangzhou all lit up.

Then you know what happened??

the DiploMan proposed. On the highest part of the highest tower, in the city we’ve made our home for the last two years. He got down on one knee and promised me a ring. And asked me to marry him. There’s been a lot of ups and downs here in China, and this was definitely a big up.

I’m not quite sure when I said yes, but I definitely asked, “are you sure” a few times.

He was sure. I was sure. We’re engaged!

china or bust

Shanghai, 1990 and 2010.  photo: Mamie Young
The DiploMan emailed me the picture above a few days ago.  The photo was taken from roughly the same location in Shanghai, twenty years apart.  Unreal.

Coincidentally, Diane Sawyer is covering China’s massive growth and westernization this week on ABC’s World News Tonight.  From one feature story:

…Chinese engineering is speeding ahead in other areas, outdoing American efforts. By the end of next year, a train from Beijing to Shanghai will take just four hours. It will cover a distance equivalent to that between New York and Atlanta, a trip that takes Americans 18 hours…

For more fascinating articles head on over to the ABC World News Tonight website this week.  At the very least, you’ll know what to look for when the Chinese take over the world (lots of McDonalds’).