aaronmartz.com and annamartz.com

at your service in the diplomatic corps of the United States of America

Saturday, April 29, 2006

First Impressions of Consular Training

Consular Training Materials
I started consular training (also known as "con gen") last week on Monday. As a family member, I can take con gen if there is a position available at post as a consular associate - an assistant to the vice consuls and the consular section in general at an embassy or consulate in general. This is the exact same class that FSOs doing consular tours have to take with the exception of some days when a top secret clearance is required. On those days, I don't accompany the rest of the class and get a day off.

(Fake) Consulate General of the United States
The class has been very interesting so far. In my last job, I was in charge of the federal and private student loan programs at a small private university. It was Department of Education regulations day in and day out - work that many found boring, but I loved it. I've had a job before with a tax lawyer doing research on tax regulations, so I read through a lot of IRS publications. I don't know why I do, but I enjoy stuff like this a lot. Maybe I would have been a good lawyer if I had chosen that path. It's just really interesting to see how this stuff all really works.

Visa Interview Windows 1 and 2
The class is divided up into four different sections: Passports and Nationality, Immigrant Visas, Nonimmigrant Visas, and American Citizen Services. We just took our PPT/NAT exam last week and started IV. It's all so fascinating, and the consular training division really gets into it. There's a jail and a fake consulate complete with interview windows and fingerprint scanners in two of the classrooms.

Consular Class Jail Cell
I recently started carrying my camera everywhere so that I could do a better job of documenting things. I was so excited about the jail and the visa windows that I snuck a couple of pictures after the tour of our area was over. The jail cell has a twin bed and a toilet and even comes with three rats, a bat, and some spiders for effect. No, the toilet doesn't work. You can see a fuzzy brown mouse on the pillow and another on top of the toilet. I took a picture of the third one, but it's a yucky black rubber one, so I didn't bother posting it here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tulips at the NFATC

NFATC Flowers
Red Tulips

These were taken last week. It was such a beautiful day that I wandered around outside taking pictures of the flower beds and the blossoming trees. I don't think plants like this exist in Houston. I recall azalea bushes bloom in Texas around this time of year, but they're nothing compared to the cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, snapdragons, and tulips here in DC.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend began with my favorite Easter treat. I'd never actually thought of making smores with Peeps, but my mother-in-law sent a convenient Peep smores gift pack that gave me everything I needed. The poor things never knew what hit them in the microwave.

Peep Smores: Before
Peep Smores: Before

Aaron and I spent Easter Sunday with some of my family at their place in Burke. My uncle and aunt prepared a long dining table full of Filipino food and desserts. There were a lot of people there that I didn't know, some relatives I hadn't seen in almost twenty years, and even a relative that I'd never met before. She's been living in Amsterdam for the last eight years. Aaron and I plan on crashing at her place when we visit.

Aaron and My Great Uncle Sharing Cigars

The man sitting next to Aaron is my father's uncle. He loves talking to Aaron whenever we're over there; it's so cute. They had some Philippine rum and cigars out on the deck. He was actually one of my mother's economics professors in college, but she and my father didn't meet until much later.

The Virginia Arambulos
From left to right: Tita Yoyi, Tito Hector, Anthony, Maria (kneeling), Angela, Tita Grace, Lola Maming (seated), Tito Ony, HJ, me, Aaron, and Lolo Pili.

After eating and the Easter egg hunt for the younger kids, we went inside for - yes, you guessed it - karaoke. No Filipino party would be complete without it. Yes, people were also dancing. I must have filled up our memory card with all the videos I took.

Filipinos Like Karaoke

No, I did not sing or dance. I'm not crazy enough to do that in front of family. Friends, yes, but only when drinks are involved.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fun with Wagnerian Opera

The Kennedy Center
Das Rheingold war wunderbar!

Aaron and I took the Kennedy Center Shuttle from Foggy Bottom and picked up our tickets at the main box office. We had to be back there at 6:15 for a pre-Das Rheingold lecture, so we had dinner at a place called 600 Restaurant across the street which, incidentally, is in the Watergate Hotel. The place was still empty since we were having dinner kind of early, but the service was great.

600 Restaurant

After dinner, we walked back over to the Opera House and attended the free lecture. I liked it; it wasn't what I was afraid it was going to be, which was a plot summary. The guy actually did a short analysis of Wagner's style and how he applied the theme of the ring throughout the first installment. He played excerpts of the theme from a CD and had us read along with the music.

We got a thirty-minute break between the lecture and the start of the performance, and many people took the opportunity to use the facilities - a good plan before a two-and-a-half-hour opera with no intermission. Aaron and I took some pictures of the outside of the building.

Pillars at the Kennedy Center Entrance

Kennedy Center Flags

<i>Das Rheingold</i>
I have no idea why I'm making that face.

A Kennedy Center Fountain

Kennedy Center Back Patio
You can see the Watergate Hotel from the back patio.

Georgetown in the Distance
You can also see Georgetown off in the distance.

JFK Citation
The opera itself was thrilling. I tend not to like operas done with modern sets and costumes, but I loved what they did with Fasolt and Fafner. At the end of the performance, the general director came out to say a few words - Plácido Domingo! I was four rows away from him - so close I could see the wrinkles in his face. I actually saw him before he came out. Aaron and I were at the very end of the row on the right, so I saw him standing with a microphone behind the curtain as everyone took their bows. He announced that Heinz Fricke, the conductor, was celebrating his 60th year as a conductor. He was given a bouquet of flowers by someone offstage and said a few words before the curtain came down again.

Every time I go to the symphony or the opera, I start to miss music again - almost makes me want to join a community orchestra when we get to Bern...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ich kann Deutsch sprechen - according to the State Department

After seven weeks of accelerated German, the State Department has bestowed a 2/1+ upon me, and I am ecstatic. My French score was a 3+/3 (speaking/reading), and that's a pretty good score for a non-native speaker. Now I just need to get past that pesky Foreign Service Oral Assessment...

After today, though, I'm a little more nervous about testing in Italian, Chinese, and Tagalog. When I took the French exam, I wasn't the least bit nervous during the exam. I was pretty relaxed for such an important exam. I went in pretty confident. Today, however, I knew exactly what I didn't know, and I was really limited in what I could say. I chose to speak about national ID cards because it was the only word of the five English topics that I knew how to say in German. It was pretty badly constructed and not at all sophisticated or insightful, but hey - seven weeks of German isn't much.

My Italian, however, hasn't seen the light of day since I graduated college; neither has my Chinese. I can read Italian just fine, and I could probably squeeze out a 1+ both reading and speaking, but I can't imagine how I could make stuff up in Chinese or Tagalog. I really regret not keeping up with my languages, but really, how could I have done it? Most people don't have the patience to wait for me as I stumble through a sentence or try to formulate an idea, unless he or she is a teacher. I didn't run into Chinese or Italian teachers often after college, so such was the fate of my skills in both. My Tagalog is pretty abysmal, but it's probably on par with my Chinese. I've only ever spoken in Chinese or Italian with teachers, so I have no idea how my ability will come out in the "real world" of the exam.

Part of me thinks that I shouldn't worry about it; even if I make a total fool of myself and get a 1/1 (or worse), at least I can the scores on the books. In the event that I'm hired by the Department (inshallah), I can say that I have five official foreign language scores on my record. That could greatly improve the chances of State hiring me if I get on the waiting list.

My pride is getting in the way, though. I don't want the testers to walk out of there thinking they wasted their time with someone who thought she could speak (insert a language here). My experience has been that all the instructors at FSI are very patient, understanding, and kind, but I can't help shake the feeling that they cringe inwardly each time a student makes strings of mistakes during an official exam.

I wish I had taken my college language textbooks with me here instead of letting them live in the storage facility until this summer. I could have been reviewing all this time!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm 25!

The Foreign Service Written Exam went well. I really think I did a good job and that I've got a shot at another oral assessment. There's one in Houston this year, so if I don't make it this time I can tell myself it was a little vacation to visit my in-laws. I'll get the results in July.

Aaron and I had lunch at Gordon Biersch. I hadn't eaten anything all morning (we only got one fifteen-minute break for the whole six-hour exam), so I wanted a burger, fries, and a beer. We ran into Taly and David, who were on their way to the Apple Store to buy treats for David's new video iPod. They had some drinks with us before their movie.

After lunch, we picked up Aaron's altered pants a Banana Republic and then we picked up my birthday present - a green Coach Signature carryall.

Chairman Meow, Guinness, and Coach

Coach Bag in Another Coach Bag


Present Opened

I also got a pink Ralph Lauren bathrobe from my mom. Good thing, too, because my threadbare purple bathrobe (from middle school) is in storage and I've had to deal with it being unavailable. I also got a copy of Hide This French Book, a Black and Decker Cordless Scrubber, and a gift certificate to the Kennedy Center from my in-laws. My mother-in-law and I have an agreement: if Der Ring des Nibelungen is ever performed in its entirety by anyone, we will absolutely go see it - all fifteen hours. Aaron and I have front orchestra tickets to Das Rheingold for Friday.

After a few hours of lazing around at home, we went to La Madeleine for my birthday treats: ein Stück Sachertorte and a caramel cream puff.


Caramel Cream Puff

Thanks to everyone for all the phone calls and e-mails. I was kind of sad that I couldn't have a big birthday party like I did for my twenty-third and twenty-fourth birthdays, but my day turned out great.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Foreign Service Written Exam (and Tonkatsu Sauce)

Morgen ist mein fünfundzwanzigste Geburtstag, but more on that, appropriately enough, tomorrow.

Tomorrow is also the day that I take the Foreign Service Written Exam for the fourth year in a row. Since Aaron is already a member of the diplomatic corps as a consular officer, I've decided to change my career track to public diplomacy. I think it would be a good fit for me since I'm relatively outgoing and like social gatherings. I also wanted the career track that would allow most use of foreign languages in a variety of settings. I'm not too concerned about it (or at least I'm trying not be be) since I've taken it before. I speak six languages - English, French, German, Italian, Tagalog, and Mandarin Chinese - and I would love to be able to use a foreign language in such a capacity in my professional life.

My colleagues in German training had a birthday card signed for me when I walked into our room late this morning. It was okay that I was late, though, since I walked in with mustard and homemade pretzels that Aaron made for my birthday. My German instructor even gave me a present - a bottle of Bulldog Tonkatsu Sauce. I was lamenting (in German) how this particular brand of tonkatsu sauce was difficult to find in Houston, even with the huge Asian population there. I was so desperate for it that had my mother mail me several bottles from Los Angeles. I happened to mention that we were almost out of it, and my instructor suddenly got interested. »Können Sie das buchstabieren, bitte?« I spelled it for her, never wondering why she wanted to know. I opened the present from her today when I got home, and it was a bottle of Bulldog! Lecker, lecker, lecker. When I was asked what I was doing tomorrow, I answered: »Morgen mache ich um 8 Uhr die Außministeriumsprüfung.« So now everyone's crossing their fingers for me.

I can't believe I'm turning 25 tomorrow and celebrating it by waking up at 5 AM to take an exam. It's going to be great. :)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Peak of the Cherry Blossoms

Aaron and I got up at the crack of dawn and were at the Tidal Basin by 8:00 AM. I was surprised to see a lot of people there at that hour, but the Metro ride to Smithsonian was very reasonable - our car was relatively empty. It was overcast and even rainy for a while, but it didn't spoil it for us. The cherry blossoms were magnificent.

pretty yellow flower

inside view of flower

There was a small garden near the main grounds that was swarming with nature photographers and amateurs like me snapping pictures of the non-cherry blossom flowers.

I was in an artsy mood, so I played around with the custom color settings a bit to select what colors would be photographed. Not too bad for an untrained beginner, right?

Pink Highlights on Black and White I

Pink Highlights on Black and White II

I tried to select the pink from the blossoms, but it was kind of hard due to the lightness of the shade. Some of my pictures came out as black and white (which was still cool, but not the effect I wanted). I think the ones in green turned out a little better.

Green Highlights on Black and White I

Green Highlights on Black and White II

I was surprised that people in such numbers could cooperate and not shove each other around the edge of the Tidal Basin. It was hard to not be nervous as I balanced myself precariously on the edge of the concrete while praying that the crowd wouldn't push me in the water. I have no idea how deep that water is - and no, I can't swim, so I was extra careful.

Blossoms over the Water


Looking Up into the Branches

It took us about two hours to do the walk from Smithsonian Metro to all the way around the Tidal Basin and back. The sun came out as soon as we completed our circle. It wasn't a total loss as the flowers were beautiful without the sun, but the sun helped bring out the vibrancy in the blossoms.

Washington Monument over the Cherry Blossoms

The last time we were at the Tidal Basin, we stopped by the Jefferson Memorial. This time we visited the FDR Memorial. I was skeptical, but there was definitely a giant dog statue there.

FDR and His Dog

My favorite part of the memorial was this citation.

We passed by the US Department of Agriculture on the way back to the Metro stop. Aaron pretended he didn't know me while I took this picture of the flag whipping in the breeze. I just had to take it, though. How can I better honor and thank the women and men that provide me with delicious, high-quality meat products every day? Now that's Grade A photography! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Flag at the USDA

I was proud of myself and my little Canon SD400 Powershot. I think some of my pictures were pretty good. Sure, I'm no professional, but I think I was having a good photography day.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Filipino Food

In honor of Christine's first tour as a diplomat in Manila, Aaron and I went over to Christine and Terry's house for some drinks and Filipino food purchased at the Manila Oriental Mart on Leesburg Pike. Sarap!

Siopao and Lumpiang Shanghai

For our first course, kumain kami nang siopao at lumpiang shanghai. Lumpiang shanghai are Filipino eggrolls and siopao are steamed buns with beef or pork cooked with oyster sauce. They disappeared in minutes along with our vodka gimlets. Next came the main course.

Pork Mechado, Adobong Pusit, and Beef Kaldereta

Terry lit some candles and dimmed the lights after she set the table. From the left, we have pork mechado, adobong pusit (squid), beef kaldereta, and tons of rice. I was in heaven - Filipino food and real flatware and dishes! I miss my china and crystal; sadly, everything we own is currently packed away in the State Department's storage facility. We will be reunited again this summer after we get to Bern.

Another View of the Table

I miss Filipino food. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother's amazing culinary skills, so I suppose it's my own fault that I can't eat it often enough.