Monday, May 27, 2013

Wrapping Up DC- Part 2

Wrapping Up DC- Part 2

So, the Cherry Blossom Festival was beautiful. I'm grateful to have seen the entire area be covered in the pink blossoms. Truly glorious!  But, Passport DC was by far our favorite city wide event this year, better than New Years in Old Town, better than a lot of them. I hope someone from Passport DC event group reads this post because I really can't say enough about it. We love love loved it!

Passport DC is a huge bash! Many of the foreign embassies located in DC open their doors, host tours, offer tasty treats and invite guests to participate in various artistic/cultural moments. Not all countries participate (but they should) and not all countries do a great job of it. The embassies who understand the value of public diplomacy go all out- it's obvious they are excited to have the opportunity for positive exposure.

Passport DC seems like was designed for people like us- culturally curious, diplos and just all around "embassy people". It was great to see many people being excited and involved.

It is interesting, we really could get a sense of each country by our interactions with the people working the events, in very general terms- of course. For example, the way people from a particular culture answer questions that are asked can tell you a lot. I was reminded of an important cultural difference when I asked someone in one of the embassies, "Excuse me, where is your restroom?" I noticed her body language changed dramatically. The young lady looked straight down and whispered an answer. I could tell she was essentially saying "no" but her answer started with the words "yes". She replied, "Yes, there are guest restrooms outside- at another location- very close to here". It struck me immediately that the young lady had somehow side stepped the word "no". This is a common situation in many cultures. There are places around the world where being asked a direct question puts one on the spot and it is unpleasant to be put on the spot. To have said "we don't have a guest bathroom" would have caused them to feel/look bad. So, in this case, she said "yes" and then explained that they did not have a restroom for guests without ever crossing the "no" bridge. It was like I had asked one question and she had answered a completely different one.  This was one of those suddenly "self-aware" moments when I felt like a big clumsy American who needs better manners, and yet my question was so benign that it took me half a second to recognize what I had done. I could tell she was miserable with my direct eye contact and thank goodness somehow I resisted the temptation to say, "Ok, where? Do you mean a port-a-potty or at a store?" but I did not say it. It was obvious that my initial question (asking where the restrooms are) had struck the young lady like a dart being thrown from across the room. I realize now that I should have asked her in the same indirect manner that we practiced in my Bahasa Indonesia classes. Oh yes! I should have known. Sean and I both struggled quite a bit learning how to ask a question or even reply to a question "indirectly". Most Asian countries prefer this style of communication.  The American "yes/no" question style is a bit harsh in comparison. In countries with "no" issues you should try to approach your inquiry in a way as to exclude any person or institution from any blame. See- I should  have asked, "Did a bathroom for guests find itself inside of this building?" Come to think of it, her answer would have actually made more sense if I had asked for a restroom in this "indirect" manner. Lol!
But- yes- other than nearly peeing our pants before figuring out that "outside, another building, close to here" actually meant about five blocks away (at Paradise Pizza) we thoroughly loved our day at Passport DC.

Our first embassy was the Indonesian Embassy- of course. It was the most beautiful of all of the embassies we toured. I loved chatting with local embassy staff there- I am really looking forward to living among Indonesian people. They are warm, sincere and very gentle hearted people. I genuinely like them and enjoyed talking to them.

From there we went to:Japan - They had the best displays (real humanoid robots) and made the most of this diplomatic opportunity. As you can see security was tight and the line was long but it was worth it (that's right, THIS many people and no restrooms).
The Japanese Embassy did the most to impress guests and if I were voting I would say they win!

 Ethiopian Embassy- We love Ethiopia and have many Ethiopian friends, that is why it saddens me to say that this was our least favorite of all of our embassy tours- which was heartbreaking considering how much we love and respect Ethiopia. The only time anyone spoke to us was outside where they were selling goods. This embassy SOLD hot coffee for $5 a cup (really???) when most other embassies offered small samples to guests. Frankly, my feelings were hurt for my Ethiopian born son. Not a single person spoke to him, asked him his name or showed him any form of inclusion or community.

 Bangladesh Embassy- Active, beautiful colors and interesting music. A little like an over priced market. I can't find a picture... sad because it was beautiful and interesting inside.

 Malaysian Embassy - The best food by far! We enjoyed the music, the displays and the awesome FOOD!

 Ghana - We seemed to have missed the fun but people were friendly and warm to us. By the time we got there everyone was winding down but but we got to meet a king, King Peggy. I bought the book of her amazing journey to accept the title handed down to her. She was very approachable and I could tell she was fun. A movie about her story is coming out next year starring Queen Latifah.

Pakistan- We loved the Heal Not Hate mini bus. The vibe there was quite nice and we are so glad we made it in before the event had ended. This embassy was our last stop.

I have to admit none of these photos were mine. I had taken amazing photos and for some reason they are GONE. I'll find them and replace these fine photos with ones that I actually took. Thank you to the people who took and uploaded these photos.

Toilet notes**  Everyone planning to join Passport DC needs to be prepared to go a long time between bathroom breaks- my only serious complaint about the whole thing.

Parent notes** Passport DC doesn't strike me as a kid loving event. Not that they aren't welcome because they are. I just don't think most kids will like this event unless they are old enough to be interested in other cultures, languages, and can handling standing in a long line and/or walking a good bit. Our nine year old was right on the edge of his tolerance level and he's fairly mature for his age. I think he liked it but he was over it a lot sooner than we were.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ending Phase 1: Savoring DC and Falls Church, NOVA

Wrapping Up DC- Part 1

We are definitely starting to feel that familiar feeling- the temporary mindset that kicks in when you are on the count down to leave a place. Sean and I will start thinking, "we should have steak tonight because we may not have the chance to eat it again for a long time", or tacos, a falafel or BBQ. We start trying to imagine what we will miss once we are gone. I still find it amazing that I live in the DC area and have had too many trips to the museums to count and have gotten to know a few of the neighborhoods around town.

Savoring DC and Falls Church/NOVA-

This is what a Cherry Blossom Tree looks like in full bloom. Glorious!

Cherry Festival 2013

Due to a winter that seemed like it was being managed by an indecisive administrator with ADD, the wise old DC Cherry Blossom trees held off and waited for Winter and Spring to finally stop their feuding and get their act straight.  Finally, about April 10th (give or take a day) the blossoms hit their "peak" and it was more beautiful than I had expected. I would go far as to say that it was Breath Taking! This DC event should be on everyone's bucket list if you appreciate flowers or if want to experience the thrill of having pink petals rain down on you. This is a such a neat and beautiful thing to experience. If only the timing were easy to predict- that's the thing.

Here are few pics:

Cherry Blossom Petals storm. Notice the pink piles down the street.

 The Cherry Blossom Festival is a big deal around here and the entire thing is mingled with many Japanese cultural events. The same day we went to see the blossoms we also went to the Japanese Street Festival which I can't say was much fun because it was SO CROWDED and maybe a little weird but the people watching was pretty unbelievable.
 I've never felt so boring and old in all my life.

I can say that the Cherry Blossom Festival is amazing and very much worth the waiting (and that includes the line for the porta-potty).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Unga Bunga

Photo courtesy of Laura Kramka Petrie

Happy news! I have completed the fast course for Bahasa Indonesia at FSI. I loved it and admitting that automatically guarantees me a seat at the inner circle of the high order nerd club. 

Lilac bush. Photo courtesy of Terri Dunggan Schwartzbeck.
I am perfectly happy with that because Sean and I plan to make extraordinary use of our new language even after we leave Jakarta. We look forward to buying a car and being able to talk in front of the sales person without giving away our bottom line or which of us is the easy mark. 

Photo courtesy of Mary-Catherine Dennehy.
Lupines in the White Mountainsin New Hampshire.   

We have already practiced these skills while complaining about something one of our kids has done using our Bahasa Indonesia - while the kid is in the room. So far so good...

Aren't purple flowers lovely?

Iris. Photo by Gregg Shipman Photography

I've mentioned this before but initially Bahasa Indonesia sounded something like alien creatures talking in the cantina of the first Star Wars movie. In fact, I found a blog that makes me think I'm on to George Lucas and the Bahasa Indonesia thing. Very interesting~ deserves a little more research I'd say!

Mountain Laurel.
Photo by Ginger Sipes Young

Some of the words are funny sounding- they just are. There have been times when I have had to turn my head as I tried to stifle a giggle or hide my amusement, such as the day our exercise was to add the word "dong" as an added emphasis (no real meaning). I know it's juvenile but I was dog tired and everything had become funny. I'm pretty sure anyone would have laughed if they had to say "Ya dong" to answer a question when they were so tired that it seemed that the ceiling tiles had started to dance. I "mostly" maintained my dignity, mostly... 

Photo of a lavender rose by Joseph Crabtree
Bahasa Indonesia's pronunciation is not difficult at all.  For the most part the vowels are all long vowels, except for the vowel "a" it is an "ah" sound, such as the word "soft". Basically, it sounds the same as the Spanish alphabet minus a few letters here and there. 

Here is one of the words that had me hiding my face: 

"Kakak" (kahk-kahk) means older sibling. Here is a picture of my Kakak!

Kakak saya, Robin.

Here comes the grammar lesson:
"Orang putih" (or-ahng ...the ang part sounds the same as in the word long) Orang means person  and (pooh-tee) putih means the color white. 

This noun phrase has an opposite word order from English so it translates literally as "person white". Ex. Robin is an Orang Putih.

  "Sepupu sepupu baik" (seh-pooh-pooh 2x's) sepupu means cousin and (buy-eek) baik means good person, well made or of good character/quality. Again, note the word order. In Bahasa Indonesia you are literally saying cousins good.

The beautiful young ladies in this photo are my kids' sepupu sepupu baik (to make something plural you say it twice). Hope and Zoe are sepupu sepupu baik!

 Sepupu Hope, Kakak Robin and Sepupu Zoe! 

Words that would otherwise have made me either cringe or giggle now have meaning.  And that is how language training goes- 

Photo by Kaye Kohler

So, recently, while explaining some of my favorite Indonesian words to a friend I had a sudden realization that I now know what  "Ungu bunga" means! That's right, (oon-gooh) ungu= purple  (boon-gah) bunga= flower.  Who knew? Ungu bunga means Purple flower! Over the years we somehow must flipped the word order, it should actually be "bunga ungu".

And, there you have it. If you ever find yourself outwitted in crowd of know-it-alls you just might be able to impress the dong out of them by telling them what ungu bunga means!

Here is a test: please watch and translate this Bugs Bunny cartoon: