Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prawn Fishing

Took a trip to go prawn fishing for dinner the other night.  Fishing for prawn in a lake, river, or sea?  No, fishing for prawn at a restaurant!  A local colleague invited us to join him and some other colleagues to go out to dinner at a restaurant in southwest Bangkok that features a large pool in the center where diners can fish for fresh prawn to add to their meal.

The experience was very different than anything I've tried before and it was very fun.  These prawn had great long claws and after about 2 hours of trying, I managed to catch one.  The restaurant provided the fishing poles and the bait (pieces of chicken heart) to those that liked to fish.

The large pool in the center of the restaurant with anglers/diners on the perimeter.
Our basket filled with our catches!
This is how the prawn are served after cooking.  They were really big!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spirit House Propitiating Ceremony

Attended a spirit house propitiating ceremony at the embassy building.  It was a very interesting ceremony and a good opportunity to learn about Thai culture and some of the traditions practiced in Thailand.  A "spirit house" is a small house that will be found at the entrance of many homes and buildings in Thailand.  This house is to be home for a spirit which will  protect the building or home and provide good fortune.  The "propitiating" ceremony, is a ceremony used to refresh and continue to request favor among the spirits.

The event hosted a brahmin to conduct the ritual and was attended by Ambassador Kristie Kenney, Thai embassy staff, and some US employees.  The ceremony involved a display of fruit and food to the spirit house with incense and prayers by the brahmin.  The Ambassador participated in many of the rituals and all attendees were later invited to place incense and make a wish.

It was a very interesting experience and a great cultural learning opportunity.

The Embassy spirit house.

Arrangement of food and traditional candy.

Ambassador Kenney.

Brahmin performing the prayers for the ceremony.
Assistants to the brahmin.  They played music and helped distribute incense for the ceremony.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Year In

The last week marked the one year anniversary since joining USAID.  In the past year, I already learned an amazing amount about development, USAID, and my work, picked up a decent amount of a new language, and worked almost a month in Thailand.  All along the way, I've met many amazing people. 

Also of significance with the first year anniversary was my first promotion to class 5.  Previously, all USAID Junior Officers came in as class 6 ( I think they allow people to enter now at class 5) regardless of education and experience, whereas in the State Department, new Junior Officers could come in at up to class 4.  A bit of a disparity considering class 5 in State is given just by having a Master degree while USAID requires at least a Master to join.  However, we receive administrative promotions the first two years to get us up to class 4 so long as performance is satisfactory.  Additionally, the promotion comes with a nice bump in salary which will make living in DC (apartments there are anything but inexpensive) until post a bit more comfortable.

I'm looking forward to the next year with moving to post, really developing my Indonesian language and cultural knowledge, and having many more new experiences.

He's drinking a soda!
Oh yeah, while visiting a temple up near the mountains a few hours outside Bangkok, I saw monkeys!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The past month

 Been very busy since departing language training.  Finished Indonesian with my test on a Thursday, ran around the office to complete my annual evaluation, and then departed to Thailand for a rotation in the Regional Development Mission for Asia.

This rotation will last a month and a half a will be a great experience to get to understand the operations of a regional mission as well as just how USAID operates outside of DC.  So far, my impressions have been pretty positive.  The office is pretty friendly and it's interesting having the the added dynamic of the mix of cultures on a daily basis having both US staff and local staff.  It's always interesting to ask people where they've been posted to before, talk to the local staff about Bangkok, and adapt to the new location and people.

However, working here seems like the office environment of any other.  People come to work and go home to families afterward.  Perhaps its the fact of being a fairly large mission in lively city environment.  Before arriving, I had this idea of an environment of a close, tight-knit embassy community where life revolves around the embassy activities and events.  I think that type of environment exists only in the small missions in much more remote locations.  Not that I don't mind the city environment, it's just a very different reality than what I originally thought.  I'm very curious to find out the environment in Jakarta.

It also makes me think I'll want to try an assignment in a small Mission in the future.  I think it would be a very interesting experience.  But then again, it really depends on who your colleagues will be as that will always make or break it.

The work has been interesting.  Different yet similar to that of Washington.  Similar in that contracting and grants pretty much will always abide by the same rules and procedures no matter where you go.  Different in that the awards are smaller, though still not that small, and there is more chance of providing awards to local organizations rather the typical large international NGO's or development companies.  Perhaps it's that the RDMA is regional, but a lot of the tenets of USAID Forward are still difficult to achieve in working closely with local organizations since USAID doesn't really do much in terms of bilateral assistance to Thailand.  Much of the work is support to other Missions or to non-presence countries (places where USAID doesn't have a Mission).  I think the work will be even more different in a bilateral Mission.

The type of work I'm really looking for is to do more of small grants with local organizations.  I want to do the time consuming work of walking new organizations through the US grant process, developing their capabilities as an organization, and really allow the places we work to gain the capabilities to make a difference.  An interesting blog post at AidSpeak speculates about the need for a fundamental rethinking of how international development is performed.  While I really have no idea what the best solution is, I think USAID is really taking the right steps in moving away, at least somewhat, from the large contracts and grants to the biggest players in this field of work that has been done over and over.  I think America's interests can best be achieved through the more focused efforts of development that USAID is working to achieve.

At one of the Bangkok temples.
In the meantime, I'm hoping to get out of Bangkok at least once to one of the many beaches at least one weekend.  Though I'm not really a beach or outdoorsy person, it would be a shame if I came back and said I didn't visit any.  Also, I plan to try some of the many varieties of foods while here.  Bangkok has pretty much every type of cuisine you can imagine.  Malls are filled with restaurants galore.  There's also a "4D" movie experience that I've heard about and hope to find the time to try.

Pork patty with spinach and curry sauce.

More curry!  Omelet over rice in curry sauce with beef.

Fried rice with egg on top.  In Indonesian, it's called nasi goreng dan mata sapi.

Tom yum soup with shrimp.
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