in which Sasha and I host a martini-themed party, I receive a pleasant reminder of a past life, and continue to explore the grand world of diplomacy. In the opposite order.
This summer has been, somewhat paradoxically, one of the busiest and one of the emptiest periods of my life. Working more than full time takes up most of my energy, and, partly for lack of better alternatives and partly for the fact that my sister signed me up to run a half-marathon 36 hours after I get back into the US, most of my free time has gone to running, which, while not unpleasant, doesn’t exactly lead to much reporting. In State department speak, there’s just not a cable for that. And goodness knows, at the US Embassy Astana, if there’s no cable (or at least an official-informal), it definitely didn’t happen. Decidedly the most eventful moment of the past week or so was the party Sasha and I hosted in honor of her fast-approaching departure (Tuesday), at which point I take over the 3 bedroom apartment entirely and I will live alone for literally the first time in my life.
Sasha had it in her head that she wanted to do martinis for her going away present, and a little reconnaissance established that we would be best off doing that at home. And thus, the glasses, vodka, and vermouth were purchased (and a bottle of gin that I insisted upon, in a move that would make my ex-boyfriend proud–seriously, if I am going to have a martini, please, let’s make it with gin–though, after the requisite martini, I switched to gin and tonic). The invitations were sent out, the food was prepared. What was originally going to be a small gathering spiraled somewhat out of control into a function that included much of the embassy, including our number one and two, the Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission. Which meant we were very much feeling the pressure of pulling everything off nicely. I think our 3 empty bottles of vodka (and other assorted goodies), and the fact that when I gave up and went to sleep at 3:30, speak to our general success with the endeavor.
But the week was filled with other small adventures. The Ambassador hosted a reception for our economic officers (part of my section), which always makes for a slightly-awkward-but-pleasant evening of networking and small talk with foreign diplomats. And thus, I dutifully attended and enjoyed a pleasant evening in the Ambassador’s well-cultivated garden. On a related note, I might mention an uninvited guest whose presence has been tolerated with a touch of irony. Ahem.
My particular success was in getting an invitation for lunch with a Korean diplomat, who wanted to introduce me to his Embassy’s two summer interns. Which was followed up with on Friday, the day of the party. And goodness knows I don’t turn down a free lunch. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was immediately transferred into another world.
Ah, yes, Korea House restaurant. That retains the same name (transliterated from the English, not translated into Korean) in Korean. Which hinted at the awkwardness that might transpire inside.
The staff, ethnic Koreans who have lived in Kazakhstan for generations (many of whom came under forced resettlement programs during WWII), speak no Korean, and there was something surreal about the way that the Korean diplomat, with very limited Russian, was practically unable to communicate with the staff and relied on his Russian-speaking intern to clarify several things. But I managed to impress with my superior chopstick skills (the metal ones used in Korea are tricky) and my adventurous eating (does it count as adventurous if I knew everything I was eating?). The two interns were nice, if somewhat soft-spoken and unsure of their English. And I was quite excited to be enjoying a nice bowl of bi-bim-bap.
All-in-all, a pleasant week. And I have much to look forward to in the next couple weeks, with two business trips to the South (to Shymkent/Turkestan, then Almaty), and potentially a trek out to Karaganda. And then I shall have a bit more to talk about.