Monday, March 22, 2021

When the Show Must Go On

I am tired, y'all. Last week, I had a lot going on. First, I worked on the first foreign trip of our newest Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. (It was a very different experience from working on the visit of former Secretary Rex Tillerson in Kenya, for many reasons.) Official visits have a lot in common, but so far each I've worked on is different in at least some ways depending on the preferences of the principals, the communication and work styles of the advance staff (i.e., the people who come a little ahead of the high-level officials to make sure everything is ready), and the post.

This time, I did work similar to when I was a press site officer for the FLOTUS visit in my last tour. Secretary Blinken had two TV interviews, both filmed at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence (what we call the CMR, which stands for Chief of Mission Residence). In Seoul, this residence actually has a special name: Habib House, named after former U.S. Ambassador Philip C. Habib. It was a stunning building, with a dazzling mix of American and Korean architecture and design influences. You can watch the final products on KBS here and SBS here.

I also compiled press clips, summaries of the news coverage that happened before, during, and after the trip. Press clips help the Secretary's team and other key offices like that of the Department spokesperson stay on top of the latest breaking news and tweak talking points or prepare briefing materials. Thankfully, I worked with an amazing local staff team, because I only had 10-20 minutes to clear (i.e., read, format, and finalize) and send each set of press clips!

It would have only been a happy exhaustion if there hadn't been such terrible news from back home in the United States. Like many Asian Americans, I have watched reports of increasing anti-Asian racism and violence at home and abroad with trepidation. The mass shooting in Atlanta was heartbreaking and shook those of Asian descent and their allies and friends around the world. In South Korea, #StopAsianHate and #AsiansAreHuman began trending on social media (called SNS here for social networking service) that day. Soon after, Secretary Blinken, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and many others provided official comments and statements.

Asian Americans are an underrepresented minority in the Foreign Service, but I'm grateful that we have communities like the Asian Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies Employee Affinity Group and elsewhere to connect. My favorite remarks, shared by another Foreign Service friend, were the ones given by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Commemorative Meeting for the International Day for the Elimination of Discrimination. I urge every reader of this blog to read her remarks in full here.

I'm working on organizing some events at work and virtually at home to process the recent surge in anti-Asian sentiment. But when things get hard, it's also important to take care of yourself. One of the best things I did once the Secretary had left (what we call "wheels up") and I had some time on the weekend was go for an hours-long walk with M. We walked through Antique Street in Itaewon and found a beautiful forest path in Eungbong Park and enjoyed an array of blooming magnolias, and just being in nature and getting some fresh air helped me reset. So to all the readers out there who are struggling: I see you and I mourn with you. And sometimes, enduring and thriving and finding the strength to go on is the most powerful response to hatred there is.

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