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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Getting into a Baltic state of mind

Recognize the flag? Yes, it's one of those tricolor European banners, but of which country? Assuming you haven't looked at the URL link above, the answer is: Lithuania. On Friday came the official word from Washington: my next post will be at the embassy in Vilnius (population 540,000), capital of the Republic of Lithuania (population 2.95 million), for a two-year tour that is scheduled to begin in May 2016. What lies ahead is another year here in Shànghăi 上海, followed by seven months or more of Lithuanian study, a language "often said to be the most conservative living Indo-European language, retaining many features of Proto-Indo-European now lost in other Indo-European languages." The mastery of archaic tongues could become my legacy when I retire from the Foreign Service. 

Feelings? Surprised, in that I was fully expecting to remain in Asia for my next tour. The top five choices on my bid list were Tōkyō 東京, Naha 那覇, Seoul (two different positions, at numbers three and four, respectively) and Manila. Had I wagered, I would've put my money on the last one, for reasons of timing and language (as in it's an English-designated post, meaning there would've been no need to return to Washington for language training). Pleasantly surprised, in that Vilnius was at Number Six. Generally speaking, I'm not interested in serving at large embassies outside of East Asia, so the small size of the mission in Lithuania should be a plus. At this stage, I don't know much about the country, other than it's one of the three small Baltic republics, the others being Estonia and Latvia; that those three countries won their independence after the Russian Revolution only to be invaded and absorbed by the U.S.S.R. in 1940, according to the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; that the U.S. never recognized the annexation of these countries as constituent Soviet republics (USA! USA!); and that independence finally returned to Lithuania and its neighbors following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Lithuania is a member of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the World Trade Organization. It's also part of the Visa Waiver Program, so as a Consular official, I'm not sure what exactly why workload is going to be like once I get to Vilnius.

Dinner this evening, at a small (only three tables) Taiwanese restaurant. I didn't think the Jīròufàn  鸡肉饭 (雞肉飯) was that good, but my wife was satisfied with her stinky tofu 臭豆腐. 

In any event, I'm glad to be leaving China. It's not that I don't like living and working in Shanghai. On the contrary, it's a fascinating city, the consulate is a great place to work and both my wife and daughter like it here. However, I don't want to end up as an Old China Hand, with this country becoming the focus of my career. If I'm going to be tied to one particular country, I would like that place to be Japan. Otherwise, I'd prefer to experience living and working in as many continents as possible before I have to leave the State Department, while avoiding returning to Washington unless it's for language training. After all those years living and working first in Taiwan, and now in China, I've tired of  Mandarin-speaking Sino-based cultures. Which is why I'm looking forward to the Baltics, their long winters be damned...
Amber enjoyed her chicken-and-rice bowl, not to mention the fried chicken and milk tea 奶茶

In the time that we have remaining here, I hope to do some more traveling in China. I don't know when I'll be in Taiwan next, but for obvious reasons there is always going to be a connection to the sovereign state renegade province former Japanese colony. But for now I can finally say "再见" to the frustration that has been Mandarin (aka 國語, aka 普通话) and start getting ready for Lithuania and Lithuanian.

In Shanghai, all things Formosan are considered to be cool, like these fried chicken and tea stands. There is also a large Taiwanese expatriate community here, particularly in our area.

Maybe now I can take the first steps to learning how to converse on a primitive level in Taiwanese 臺灣話...

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