Well, I've been in the Washington, D.C. area for over a week now, and what a busy time it's been! My orientation for the Foreign Service has been overwhelming at times, and there are still roughly five more weeks to go before it ends. I'm not allowed to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say there are a lot of processes that I'm going to have to get used to, not to mention a dizzying array of acronyms (welcome to the federal government!). Still, I've managed to survive the first week, and I'm sure I'll get through the following ones as well.
I'm currently living in Falls Church, Virginia at a complex that can be best described as a combination apartment and hotel. I'm living in a two-bedroom unit, though without Amber and Pamela around, it feels very lonely (not to worry, daughter and spouse will join me here on the 8th of June). There's a fitness center, tennis courts, a swimming pool (which just opened this past weekend), a dry cleaners and even a convenience store on site. All of this isn't cheap, but my stay here is being paid for courtesy of the U.S. government, in a case of your tax dollars at work (if you're an American, anyway). Don't worry, taxpayers, I won't trash the place. Here's the view from my balcony:
The apartment complex is located in an upscale neighborhood. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of shopping or dining nearby, with the exception of Eden Center, a shopping complex that serves the large Vietnamese community in the area. There's a Safeway supermarket about a 15-minute walk away, which isn't a problem for me, but will no doubt be a serious impediment for my wife when she gets here. As a result, I'm looking into a long-term car rental for the time we're here, so that Pamela will be able to get around while I'm at work.
About a ten-minute walk away in the opposite direction of Safeway is the East Falls Church metro station. The Washington, D.C. area has an excellent rapid transit system, and the stop for the State Department, Foggy Bottom-GWU, is only 15 minutes by train (we even have a free shuttle bus running from the apartment complex to East Falls Church station). However, most of the time I'm at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA, which is the State Department's primary training facility. There are shuttle buses going back and forth between where I'm staying and FSI.
As I mentioned, this part of Falls Church is very suburban. So much so that yesterday when I took a six-mile (ten kilometers) round-trip walk around the area, I saw nothing but houses, with the exception of one small shopping plaza that contained a pharmacy and a 7-Eleven. There are a lot of nice houses to be seen while walking around, a testament to the overall affluence of the Northern Virginia area. Many of the homes are made of brick, which comes as somewhat of a surprise to this transplanted Californian:
It may not be easy getting around without a car, but there are a number of parks nearby, along with biking and running trails:
There's also plenty of bird-life to be seen:
In Northern Virginia, horses are at the top of the pecking order:
Behind my apartment complex is the Oakwood Cemetery. Many of the gravestones date back to the 19th century:
This day is Memorial Day, which is why I didn't have to go into FSI today. I can't remember the last time I was in the States for this holiday. There's a lot of talk being made in the media over the weekend about "remembering those who sacrificed their lives so that we can be free". While it's important to honor those who died fighting for their country, I wish some attention would be given to the circumstances in which so many had their lives ended prematurely. Certainly, the 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who were killed in a needlessly prolonged civil war) should not have died in a war not worth fighting, and the same arguments can be made today over our insane and wasteful (in terms of both money and lives) involvements in the fighting going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. The grave of Corporal Winterbottom, killed by an IED in Iraq, sadly brings home the futility of it all:
RIP, Corporal. I support our troops, which I why I wish they could come home now, bodies intact and not in caskets, to be with their families and out of harm's way.