Life for the Potters in Bangkok has gotten significantly less interesting now that the more interesting, more creative, prettier, sweeter member of the duo has returned back to the States. Now it’s just me. But, just as Garfunkel kept it going (I assume) even after Simon bolted, so too will I keep providing updates on my summer in Thailand, although without the velvety voice and perplexing Bozo hair.
So, maybe inevitably, I turn to my work. Don’t leave for the exits yet.
My rotation to the U.S. Embassy here was what brought us to Bangkok in the first place, and it’ll keep me busy until I return next month. It’s the second of two rotations required by my fellowship program, and it’s been a great experience. I’m considered a Civil Service Officer back home, which essentially means DC-based, but for three months I’ve had the opportunity to live the life of a Foreign Service Officer, the country’s diplomatic corps working in embassies and consulates across the world.
My workload has been diverse. I’ve written speeches, presentations, and have gotten to work on a few projects relevant to my portfolio back in DC, which is wonderful because, you know, it’s government being efficient and how often does that happen?
I’ve met a number of biggish wigs in the Thai government, along with a host of European and Asian ambassadors to Thailand. I got to attend a meeting of the UN’s Asian regional branch on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian accession to various UN organs. Not surprisingly, little was decided. At a separate UN-sponsored meeting on Burmese ethnic minorities, I nearly created a minor international incident when, while the table bemoaned Burma’s continuing use of the death penalty, I (being the only representative from a country that still has the death penalty on the books) got up to go to the bathroom.
Some might remember the politically-motivated riots that shook Bangkok back in 2010 in which over 90 people died. The conflict was predominantly between the two largest Thai political parties, colloquially known as the “red shirts” (mostly rural, lower class, huge supporters of former Prime Minister in exile Thaksin Shinawatra) and the “yellow shirts” (pro monarch, elites, urban dwelling). I had the chance to attend a red shirt rally early on in my rotation. Thousands attended, clogging the streets beyond their usual congestion.
In contrast to my DC commute, my trip to work in the morning here is nearly pleasant. It takes me 10-15 minutes of walking down some side sois, past the Dutch Embassy and its colorful bovines, before I’m at the U.S. Embassy.
When I arrive, I get to stroll through this:
The embassy is the United States’ fourth largest (after Baghdad, Kabul, and I believe either Beijing or Guangzhou). Compared to the Harry S. Truman Building (State’s headquarters), however, it’s practically quaint. The situation changes somewhat out the front door. PSAs run continuously inside the embassy warning workers against crossing the street on foot. People have died and the traffic is of constant concern.
A couple times a week, sometime between 4:30 and 5:30, a few locally-employed staff (LES) stand outside at the Embassy’s pool, located just out the front door. They pitch slices of enriched bread into the water and, if you’re lucky, you can spot the veritable zoo that lives in the water. Koi fish, guppies, a catfish, and a hog-nosed turtle all spring up from the depths to eat. The fish are so accustomed to the handouts that if you lean over the edge, they spot your shadow and start gathering.
By far the coolest residents of the grounds, though, are two monitor lizards. The LESes probably have cutesy Thai names for them, but I just refer to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2. Thing 2 is huge, bordering on komodo dragon proportions. The two are entirely safe and far more bashful than threatening, but occasionally, I stumble across them on the road through the grounds. They don’t run away immediately and instead remain a threatening moment longer than you’d expect, as though you’re really putting them out by walking near them. An interspecies game of chicken ensues in which the human invariably wins. Then, the Things scatter off, usually back into the water where they joy-swim with their sine-curve stroke looking, like the rest of the embassy menagerie, for a bit of that American, Wonder Bread largesse.