Sunday, June 4, 2023

A Weekend Celebrating Beauty, Truth, Goodness, and Love

We had an amazing weekend in Pennsylvania celebrating the wedding of my dear friend W from college and her now-husband P! We drove up from Virginia and made a whole weekend of it. P's family is from India, and they incorporated beautiful Indian traditions into the welcome party on Friday night. We joined other guests in wearing Indian dress, including baby S. We stayed just long enough to see the bride and groom exchange garlands, which signifies their acceptance of and respect for each other. S was exhausted from the drive up, so unfortunately we had to leave to put him to bed before we could enjoy the amazing Indian dinner. (This was one of the many reasons we regretted not booking a room at the main hotel where so many events were held.)

We got settled into our hotel eventually after a bit of a wild goose chase for a pack 'n play after (to our shock) our hotel's receptionist said they did not have the pack 'n play we requested months in advance available. It's a long story, but we were ultimately able to buy a pack 'n play at a local Target and request reimbursement. Otherwise, the room was great and I couldn't wait to catch up on some sleep.

The next day, we knew we had a full morning before the wedding festivities started so I planned an excursion for us to Valley Forge National Historical Park. Valley Forge was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778 during the American Revolutionary War. The park blew me away, and one could easily spend a whole day there in weather as lovely as we had. There were trails where folks were walking, jogging, biking, and pushing strollers. There were areas with scenic views and picnic tables. There was a range of fascinating history and a mix of recreations and original materials.

You can learn more about the history of Valley Forge on the National Park Service website. In recent years, it seems like the park service has really taken some time to research and share the stories of more marginalized people whose experiences didn't feature prominently in most of the mythos around Valley Forge in the public consciousness over the years. Now you can learn more about the women, Black people, and Indigenous people at Valley Forge. We also stopped by the newest monument: one dedicated to Patriots of African Descent by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a historically African American service sorority. I learned a lot on this visit, and I appreciate the ongoing effort to expand our understanding of our history and its legacy today.

After that, we returned to the hotel so S could nap and we could get ready for the main event. Once we were ready, we dropped S off with a complimentary nanny service graciously provided by our friends and arrived for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception at Philander Chase Knox Estate. Originally built in the late 1700s, the Estate once served as the summer home of Philander Chase Knox, former U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator. Even President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed in the house! I wish I had taken more pictures at the wedding because everything - from the venue to the decorations to the flowers - was stunning. My friend W has impeccable taste and class, and it showed in every detail.

There was just the right mix of hilarious anecdotes and tearjerker moments in the ceremony and reception that made me grateful I wore my waterproof mascara. We also loved the thoughtful seating arrangements that put us at a table with fascinating conversation partners with passions ranging from fighting cybercrime to studying macroeconomics to running a think tank to diagnosing foot conditions. It was a fabulous group and an unforgettable evening. Unfortunately, we didn't last too long after the cake cutting, knowing we needed to pick up S from the nannies and take him home. Our sweet boy was so tired he fell asleep before we even got there but let us transfer him to our hotel without an issue. It was our first time leaving someone to watch him with other kids, so we had been a little unsure of how he would handle it. To our relief, the nannies assured us he played wonderfully with the older kids there and they had all had great fun trying to teach him how to high-five.

Sunday morning, we joined our friends for a farewell breakfast and were amazed at their alertness given the party had apparently continued long after we turned in until about 3am! It was so meaningful to spend such a special time with friends. One of the toughest things about the Foreign Service is that we're usually overseas and have to miss so many of these important occasions and milestones. I'm so glad we could be here for this one, and we can't wait to host W and P (and any of the many other friends we met this weekend and invited) in Dubai!

Friday, May 19, 2023

After-Work Events Galore

Whether we're overseas or in Washington, DC, Foreign Service folks have plenty of opportunities to attend after-work events. Sometimes these are required, sometimes they are purely for fun, but many of them fall somewhere in between. The event might be optional but it's a good opportunity to network, build contacts, and pursue professional development. So although you don't have to go out every single night, there are personal and professional advantages to putting yourself out there (and on the flip side there are costs for skipping too frequently).

Recently, I've had the opportunity to attend a lot of after-work events that cut across these categories. I'll highlight three of them here. First, I attended a cocktail dinner for the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, of which I'm a member. It was not a command performance by any means, but I'm so glad I attended because I connected with some of my favorite colleagues, met new folks from other organizations outside of the State Department with fresh perspectives on Asian American advocacy that energized me, and even gained a new mentor and sponsor who's taken me under her wing. It was also very empowering to see the broad range of senior-level support from State Department officials, including phenomenal Asian American representation, at the event.

Just a couple of days later, I attended the Global Good Fund annual gala with my sister who was visiting from out of town. My friend L gifted me a ticket since he was unable to go, and my sister and I split the cost of a second ticket. The charity event drew an amazing crowd of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists and featured a guest of honor who is a pioneer in sustainable fashion, Autumn Adeigbo. We were blown away by the brilliant and innovative entrepreneurs from around the world whose projects save and transform countless lives. It was a special night, and I was thrilled to support the great work the Global Good Fund does.

The following week, I took a night with just M so we could go on a date at the relatively new Capital One Hall. We saw Cosmic Cycles, a special performance by the National Philharmonic of Henry Dehlinger-composed music inspired by our explorations of outer space and set to a selection of images, videos, illustrations, and data visualizations of Earth and the universe. (I especially loved the section on Earth, which you can watch online.) It was such a cool collaboration between NASA, the private sector, and the artists.

These events come at a cost that I don't want to diminish: these past few weeks, I've had less time with baby S, less time for my hobbies like reading (and writing blog posts), and less sleep than I like. A really important aspect of a successful career in any high-intensity field like diplomacy, though, is rigorous prioritization and time management. My two cents are that even if you haven't been great about defining your priorities and setting boundaries in the past, it's never too late to start. Some weeks you may have a lot of after-work events, and others you may need to cut back and say no more often to save your energy for the next wave. I loved all the events I attended recently, but I'm looking forward to a bit of rest and quality time with my family that I only get when I'm home.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Four Days in Hawaii

Yes, you read the title of this post right: we flew to Hawaii for just four days! We spent almost as much time transiting from Washington, DC to Honolulu and back as we did on the ground. We were visiting my grandmother, my last living grandparent, who retired there with my late grandfather ages ago. She had not had a chance to visit us and meet baby S, so we went to see her instead. It was so precious to see my grandmother with S, her only great-grandchild.

For the record, traveling with a one-year-old is a lot tougher than traveling with a five-month-old (as we did when we PCS'd from Seoul). Newborns and infants sleep most of the flight, but toddlers are squirmy and antsy and awake longer to cry. They also eat more food, so the logistics of feeding them are more complicated than making sure you have whatever you need for milk or formula.

All that being said, S handled the travel like a champ. I was especially scared about the damage to our sleep schedule given the long flights and time zone changes, but those were much less painful than I feared. We adjusted well and were able to visit my grandma every morning we were in Hawaii and hang out for hours before heading back to the hotel for a nap. It was a pretty intense language immersion for me, as my grandma speaks Korean and Japanese but not English. I did a lot of interpreting and translating while I visited, but it took intense focus and attention to keep up with my impressive grandma.

We stayed in a boutique hotel in Waikiki that was perfectly convenient. When we weren't hanging out with my grandma, we went for long walks together as a family and explored a few nearby restaurants. Our favorite was an all-you-can-eat Japanese barbecue restaurant, where we definitely got our money's worth. I also picked up a souvenir box of Honolulu Cookie Company cookies - my favorite treat from Hawaii that I personally like more than the Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts others might find more classic.

Shockingly, I did not have a single minute to spend on the beach itself or in the ocean. The one day we had a little bit of time to go after visiting grandma - our last - it was pouring rain and I decided to pass. We barely made it to the edge of the sand in the gloomy weather before we had to run back, ducking under awnings to keep the stroller dry.

Not one to give up, I found a brunch spot we could visit early right before we had to leave for the airport that had a beautiful view of the ocean. Our breakfast was delightful, and I got to at least feel the ocean breeze and see the crashing waves before we had to say goodbye to Honolulu.

I hope that's not our last visit to Hawaii, because every time I go I fall in love with it again. It's easy for me to see why my grandparents chose to retire there. Although this trip was short, I'm so glad we made it.