Sorry, I can’t make the FSOT… I broke my toe. Yeah…. that’s the ticket!

Well, dear readers, I signed up for the FSOT again, which was administered on February 5th at the Embassy in Jakarta.  Did I actually sit for the exam?  If you guessed “no”, then you win a prize.

See, I had the tickets booked, a couch lined up to crash on, and had been studying up on the areas I was weakest in on the three practice tests I took.  I had even begun packing for the overnight in Jakarta!  So, enter Monday morning, and I’m hosting an early-morning Super Bowl coffee and donuts party in my capacity as CLO.  7:30 a.m. rolls around, and the game isn’t terribly interesting, so I tell my son to put his shoes on for the walk to school.  I am walking behind him to get my shoes, and he stops short in front of me.  This being me we’re talking about, so of course I stub my left pinky toe on his heel, hear an audible “pop”, and immediately feel excruciating pain in my left foot.  Great.

I asked my housekeeper to walk him to school, and I load up on Aleve and put my foot up to watch the rest of the game, hoping it’s only a sprain or some other minor injury.  Fast-forward to that night, and my toe is still throbbing like hell, is getting pretty discolored, but there’s no real swelling.  I try to get some sleep, but every time I move my leg, a wave of pain washes over me.  I want to barf each time, it’s so bad.  I reach for one of my hoarded painkillers from my shoulder surgery, and finally fall asleep.

The next morning, I wake up, and there’s no improvement.  I figure, what the heck, I’ll drag out the crutches, throw my stuff into a backpack, ditch the idea of bringing back Commissary goods, and go take the test.  I try to get out of bed, and again with the pain.  My wife looks at me and suggests I postpone the test.  I think for a few, and agree with her, as I’ll definitely NOT be at my best.  I decide to go back to sleep for a little while, and then go to the Emergency Room for x-rays.  Sure enough, the first bone in my little toe is snapped clean in half, diagonally from the top right to the lower left.  It’s a pretty nasty break, actually.  But, since it’s a toe, all they can do is “buddy tape” it to the next toe.  Great… now I get to limp around without even a cast to score any sympathy points.

I met with the RMO the next morning, who coincidentally happened to be in Surabaya, and we agreed that the course of treatment was the right one.  I’ll have another set of films taken in 4 weeks to see how the healing is progressing, but luckily the fracture wasn’t too badly displaced.  If those x-rays don’t show much improvement, it’s probably off to Singapore for some screws to be put in.  I’ve decided, however, that with a six year-old kid and two dogs constantly running around the house, I’m going to use an air-cast that I borrowed, just to protect my toe from accidental kicks, steppings-on, and such.

Looking at the whole scenario now, my taking the FSOT now in either June or October will actually work out better, timing-wise, if I just so happen to be invited to Orals.  This past administration would have probably involved me having to fly back to the States alone again to take the Orals in D.C.  With a later test date, there’s a greater possibility of the dates syncing up with either our departure from Post or a greater possibility of being able to sync up as a tandem if I’m somehow invited into an A-100.

So, while my excuse sounds bogus, I have the x-rays to prove it!  Honest!

Merry New Year!

Another two months without a peep from this blog…. seems to be the norm nowadays.  That doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening, it just means that I’m too damn unmotivated to write anything of substance.  Let’s recap the last 2 months, shall we?

1)  Halloween: Son went as a ninja.  There were two Trick-or-Treat events… one for school on Halloween, the other on Friday night, so no bedtimes were really enforced.  We had the only (albeit melted) American candy in the neighborhood, so our house was popular.  I also loaded a cooler full of Bintang and ice, so the adults got some “treats” as well.  We turned it into a block party.  Hoo-ray.

2)  Thanksgiving: For the first time in about as far back as I can remember, we went out to eat for Thanksgiving.  The Sheraton in Surabaya had a Thanksgiving dinner, and while it didn’t match my usual feasts in flavor explosions or variety, I didn’t have to do any dishes.  Hoo-ray.

3)  Early R&R: I went back to the States for a whirlwind tour of the West Coast, with the ultimate reason being that I took the orals for a DSS Special Agent position.  Out of 12,000 candidates, I made it to the orals (~500 total interviewed), but didn’t make it through them.  Looking back on this, it’s better for me, my family, and my wife’s career that it worked out this way.  Boo and hoo-ray.

4)  Christmas: Son had a blast.  He also got a lot of cool s**t.  We now need to cull some of his older toys clandestinely so we’re not over weight on our pack-out.  Ho-ho-ho!

5)  New Year’s Eve: My boyhood dream was realized in about $150 worth of fireworks.  The kids were thrilled, no one lost any limbs, and the adults got sufficiently sauced on duty-free Veuve Clicquot in $50 per stem champagne glasses.  Classy.

6)  We discovered an AMAZING Italian restaurant here in Surabaya today thanks to Son’s principal at school.  A Genoese chef, fabulous Northern Italian cuisine, and Neapolitan pizza.  Everything was delicious, and four of us ate (with a bottle of wine) for about $100.  I see many a return trip there in our future.  Ciao!

2014 is shaping up to be good… We’re furiously attacking the “expected openings” lists and strategizing to find our next post.  Lobbying starts in February, and bidding in early Summer.  EAP, NEA, AF (northern), and WHA are all in the cards.

Merry New Year to all, and I hope this post finds everyone well.


I’m still here! I promise!!

Yes, dear readers, it’s been another 7 weeks without a blog post from me.  Thing is, every time I think about this blog, I cringe.  I know I’m neglecting it, I know I should post something, but I just can’t seem to actually sit down and write anything meaningful.

What’s been going on these last seven weeks, you ask?  A whole lot of stuff, actually.

Our HHE arrived!


Yes, that was our garage for a while.  172 boxes were vomited into our lives at 8:45 p.m. on a Friday night.  We’ve managed to unpack a lot of stuff, and are currently culling our belongings once again.  Note to new or prospective FS families: get rid of as much stuff as you can now, or use each pack-out or pack-in to assess what you actually need and get rid of the rest.  172 boxes was a bit extreme.  We are allotted 7,200 lbs., but I think we can live with more like 4,000 lbs.

The question of “stuff” in the Foreign Service is a hard one.  On one hand, you want to have a sense of continuity from post to post, and as American consumers, “stuff” usually serves that need pretty well.  It’s nice to have your own things follow you around the world, because let’s face it: Welcome Kit living sucks.  On the other hand, when you unpack your dozens and dozens of boxes, you realize just how wrapped up in your “stuff” you are.  I found things that I packed from the D.R. that I didn’t even remember I had, nor did I miss them.  In the “yard sale” pile they went.  Who needs three separate sets of dinnerware?  Apparently we do, ‘coz that’s what I found while unpacking.  “Yard sale” pile.  Check.

If it were just my wife and me, I think we could live with a lot less.  I need my kitchen gear (which I apparently have an obscene amount of, judging by the overflow of it into the service quarters), my music and media, surfboards, fishing poles, clothes, and important documents.  That’s about it.  My wife has her own set of needs, and I think (with the exception of the kitchen gear) we could easily live with 1,500 lbs. of “stuff.”  Throw a child into the mix, and you get bogged down with toys, toys, and more toys.  Son is refusing to throw away or give away so many toys that he played with when he was 10 months old, and hasn’t since.  Somehow, since they’re newly arrived, they’re indispensable.  So we’re going with the “If you get rid of these toys, you’ll make room for all the new toys you want” line.  It’s working, but only a little.  Good thing I have 20 months until our next pack-out.

We made a giant fort out of the boxes:

Box FortYou want to talk about sheer awesomeness? Give the neighborhood kids 75 or so boxes to build something with, and sit back and watch.  The fort lasted two weeks, served as a S.W.A.T. practice area (with the big kids), a castle, a secret clubhouse, and about 20 other things.  Eventually the fun had to end, and I called the Consulate to come remove the boxes.  The neighborhood kids still haven’t forgiven me.

My KettlePizza for my Weber grill is awesome:


Still working out the temperature issues for the stone on the bottom, but I can cook a New York-style pie in about 3 minutes right now.  A little more tinkering, and I’ll be able to make brick-oven–quality Neapolitan pies in my front yard.  PIZZA!  I’ll be blogging about this on The Expat Chef soon, so keep an eye out.

I’m now the CLO Coordinator Designate… so work has officially started.  I’m just waiting on my clearance stuff to wrap up, and hopefully I’ll get that done soon.  I haven’t done much CLO’ing, as APEC is taking up pretty much every resource here in Indonesia.  My wife is there for 2 weeks, and I’m here in Surabaya holding up the fort.  We have a nice little getaway planned for after that, so don’t feel too sorry for me.  Hopefully the USG shutdown resolves itself by then so we don’t have to take unpaid leave or cancel.

I was going to take the FSO test once again, but since it’s all APEC, all the time, Embassy Jakarta isn’t offering the test this October.  My options were Manila, Ho Chi Minh, or Taipei.  As much as I wanted to go and take the test, having the wife away made that an impossibility.  Hopefully, the FSOT will be offered in February, or I’ll just have to wait until June.

I have also applied for a position with DS.  I passed the online assessment for the Special Agent hiring process and submitted my materials.  I’m crossing my fingers on that one… I would really love to get that job.  Plus it’s my only opportunity to apply, as I’ll be reaching the maximum age for appointment in about 9 months.  My wife fully supports me in the decision, but my immediate family is a little more skeptical.  Something about danger, potential separation, being there for my son, and other circumstances that we face on a daily basis anyways.  It was a little disconcerting to hear that I should “put my life and career on hold and raise my son.”  Apparently, that’s what we trailing spouses should do, in the eyes of some.  Too bad that cohort comprises members of my family.

Otherwise, Surabaya continues to be great.  We made it through Ramadan, got a Commissary order (woo-hoo!), and Son seems to really like school.  I like our neighborhood, the kids Son plays with, and the relatively insular life we live in our development.  It’s a nice change from the fortress-style living we had in the D.R. where even walking the dogs around the block could prove dangerous.

I’ll be back to a more regular blog schedule soon… With our upcoming trips, my clearance and the DS application process, I’m sure I’ll have something to say (hopefully something positive).  Until then, dear readers, mahalo.

White knuckles…

So, dear readers… where did we leave off last time?  Waiting for UAB and HHE, interviewing for the CLO position, and saying what a nice place this is.


1)  WE GOT OUR UAB!!!!!!  Son was so excited, since 60% of it was his toys.  I was excited since some of my kitchen stuff arrived.  Wife was excited, since the other part of her wardrobe arrived.  We all had our priorities.  I also got word that HHE should be in Surabaya this week, but since it’s just past Idul Fitri, the soonest we’ll see it is August 19.  Not horrible, but I seriously can’t freakin’ wait to have my stuff again.

2)  I’m the new CLO in Surabaya!  Well, pending the wonderful process known as e-QIP and the ensuing background investigation.  Hopefully this process will take less time than my last go-round.  At least my e-QIP was easier this time… the system actually remembered my old info!  How’s that for modern technology?

I’m slightly more upbeat about this position than I was about the last one.  First, it’s more up my alley, professionally speaking.  Second, it’s part-time, and the hours are extremely flexible.  Third, I’m definitely at the point where I’m starting to stagnate.  I haven’t really worked in a regular(-ish) job in almost 2 years.  No schedule, no motivation, no nothing.  While I abhor schedules with every ounce of my being, I also secretly crave them in order to be happy.  Yes, I’ve been working on that conundrum for years… making a few psychotherapists wealthier in the process.

3)  I took my first day-trip outside of Surabaya, and from it I derived the title to this post.  We drove down south to Kebun Raya Purwodadi, a couple of clicks north of Malang.  This was my first driving adventure in SE Asia, and man was it an adventure.  The roads leading there are jam-packed with cars, trucks, motorcycles, horse-drawn buggies, and every other method of transportation known to man.  On the way down, I was following an Indonesian driver and literally spent 90 minutes white-knuckling the steering wheel, dodging the myriad obstacles in my path and trying desperately to maintain pace with the lead car and not get lost.  Now, I’m a pretty good driver, but factor in a tiny, 1.6L car, a right-hand-drive country, and a swarm of completely insane motorcyclists, and you have a pretty nerve-wracking experience for even the best of drivers.

Needless to say, we survived the trek, and you can find pictures here.  It’s a really pretty place, but the mosquitoes were out of control.  We headed back at about 3 p.m., stopping for a late lunch in the foothills of some gorgeous mountains.  At around 4:30, while my friends were showing no signs of leaving, I decided to hit the road in order to make it back to Surabaya before dark (sunset is at roughly 5:50 p.m.).  I loaded my address into Waze (it actually works here), and set off into some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen.  At one particular junction (the one after which I knew exactly where I was, natch) there was 12 kilometers of bumper-to-bumper traffic, all due to everyone starting to pull off the road in search of their meal for the buka puasa, or breaking of the fast for the day.  Those 12 km. took me well over an hour to drive, with every inch of it packed with a vehicle.  Dios mío.

4)  I’m hitting the end of my honeymoon period with post.  I haven’t really gotten to the culture shock point, but I also think it’s too early in the game for things to be getting to me this much.  A lot has to do with the fact that I’m not a stay-at-home dad by nature.  The flip side to this is that I really don’t know what I am.  Am I a perfect trailing spouse?  Maybe, since I tend to get bored in a place after a couple of years.  I also am happy that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life in Connecticut, but that’s another get-rich-quick scheme for one of my psychotherapists. 

But the truth is, I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.  The luxury of being a trailing spouse in the Foreign Service is that I don’t really have to decide that, since one particular career path is not guaranteed from post to post.  If I find I’m an awesome CLO, I’m not guaranteed that position in our next post.  Nor the post after that.  EFM employment is hit-or-miss, and almost impossible to make a career out of.  Add to that the lack of bi-lateral work agreements in some places, security concerns in others, and you pretty much have a patchwork, willy-nilly smattering of jobs (not careers, mind you) that you accumulate over the years, with no rhyme or reason to them.  Is being a security escort in San Salvador going to help me in later life?  Will taking fingerprints as a Consular Assistant in Gabon be a good resume bullet point?  Will being the OMS for the RSO in Cairo lead to a happy career in later life?  Survey says…. Hell No!

So this said, what am I going to do?  Wife suggested taking the FSOT this round (October?), and I may actually do it this time.  I mean, why not?  Being a tandem is hard sometimes, but having two steady, decent incomes is better than having one-point-whatever.  I think I’ll still go for the Management cone, as GSO seems to be one of the jobs in which a surly bastard like myself could actually excel.  So let’s see how this round goes, shall we?

Overall, I’m still liking Surabaya.  Indonesia is a wonderful country with lots of opportunity for travel, friendly people, and unbelievable scenery.  We’re excited for the opportunity to travel once APEC ends (damn VIP visits and endless advance planning), and I’m excited for the prospect of actually working again.  Life trudges on, and we’ve got some landmark events on the horizon (Son starts Kindergarten next week and my Dad turns 70 in 4 days).  Hopefully I’ll hear something on my clearance in the next several weeks and be able to start working (at least on an interim clearance) in the next few weeks.  I’m also getting involved in the community, Son’s school, and some of the Consulate’s events.  Go me.

Until next time, Mahalo.

5 weeks in…

I’m sitting here in my lovely, empty house wondering when my stuff is going to arrive.  We were told UAB is in Surabaya (woot!) and was slated to be delivered this week (double woot!), but needed final customs/port clearance to be released and delivered.  And, guess what… It’s Ramadan.  Soooo, maybe I’ll see UAB after Idul Fitri?  Hmm.

HHE from both the D.R. and D.C. are in-country (woot! again), but need to get to Surabaya, be cleared through customs and/or port processes, released, and delivered.  Again, it’s Ramadan, and I’m less hopeful that we’ll be in the projected time-frame (early August) for delivery.  Indeed.

Regardless, I’m pretty happy here.  We’ve already been to Bali (Wife needed to do a little work at the Consular Agency there), and while I was underwhelmed overall, it really is a beautiful place.  For me, there was too much traffic, too many people, and too much trash.  It reminded me a bit of the D.R. in that the natives seemed indifferent to just tossing the empty whatever into the street or onto the beach, and of course the tourists followed suit (or maybe vice versa… maybe the tourists started the littering epidemic and the Balinese just gave up on trying to keep things clean… saya tidak tahu).  I think my trips to Bali will be to the north of the island (less crowded, cleaner, quieter), or to the touristy areas for surfing only (there are FANTASTIC waves there that I’m dying to get out on).

Next week we head to Jakarta for a few days (consultations), and I’m interested to see how the other 99 percent lives.  By that, I mean the poor souls who are at the Embassy there (Jakarta is notoriously busy, dirty, and crowded).  It’ll be great to see some of our colleagues from D.C. training, but I’m sure after 3-4 days I’ll be anxious to get back to the relative quiet of Surabaya.  We’ll have Commissary privileges there (awesome… I’ll be bringing an extra suitcase just for that), and I’ll get to see a lot of the places we learned about in language training.

On another note, I’m interviewing for the CLO position here at post… wish me luck!  Since it’s a really small post, and I basically have done the work before at the university level, I’m hopeful, but rather than jinx myself, maybe I’ll be blogging again soon with good news about it?  It’s a part-time position, so maybe I’ll be able to augment those hours with another part-time position and feel like a productive member of society again.  Insha’Allah, I guess.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy the great food here, pleasant weather, and our beautiful neighborhood and house.  Once we get some of our stuff, I’ll try to post some pictures of our domicile (interior only, natch).  We’re also trying to figure out what to do with our backyard… I wanted a Balinese garden setting, but that may just be a little too expensive.  Now we’re thinking of a large-ish water wall with a seating area and some nice tropical plants and flowers.  Something relaxing, something eye pleasing, and something personal.  Luckily we have a really accommodating landlord who has more or less given us the green light to personalize the space as we see fit (up to and including a pool if we want!).

Off to write a quick post on some of the delicious Indonesian food we’ve eaten thus far on The Expat Chef… Check over there for updates!


International Roaming and the Foreign Service: Or How I Learned to Not Be Stupid and Pay in Advance

In my last post, I cursorily addressed a big issue for those of us who travel overseas to new posts: what happens when you have no way of communicating except for your US-based cell phone and you have an emergency back home?

We were faced with just this dilemma upon arriving in Indonesia: at 1:00 a.m. our time, we had a major pet-shipping logistics breakdown at IAD, and needed to solve it instantly.  We had no internet at our house, no nearby open WiFi networks, and a useless home phone (they had changed the international dialing codes recently, and didn’t tell anyone the new ones).  I was forced to use my US-based smartphone with AT&T to use the internet and make calls from Indonesia to the U.S.  All-in-all, I used about 65 MB of data (2-minute Skype call, email, and some Facebook messaging), and received one 1-minute international roaming call.  At pay-per-use (PPU) figures of $0.0195 per kilobyte, I used 66,308 KB (64.75 MB), adding up to $1,293.00 in accrued international data charges.  “Holy crap!” is right, though the words that came out of my mouth when I saw this were a little more NC-17–oriented.

Looking at that same page on the AT&T site, you’ll see that they have several options for overseas usage.  The have international options for voice, SMS, and data.  $30 gets you 15 minutes of roaming in Indonesia (compared to $2.50/min. PPU) or 120 MB of data.  Even the highest tier of $120 for 100 minutes or 800 MB is still less than 10 percent of what I paid at PPU rates.

This being said, I think next time we PCS overseas, I’ll take advantage of the international roaming plans for any contingencies that arise (and arise they do, believe me).  I’ll happily pay $30, $60, or even $120 on top of my bill as insurance that I’ll never have to see a wireless bill that has four figures instead of three.  We couldn’t suspend our accounts until we reached post (luckily I wasn’t that forward-thinking, and didn’t fax our orders until we arrived at post), so I at least had access to SOME form of communication.  However, after the data usage ate through $1,300, AT&T helpfully suspended my account to “avoid significant overages” and I was left with a brick in my hands instead of a smartphone.  I wonder what their threshold for “significant overages” is?  $1,000, $5,000, even $10,000?  With my phone now “bricked,” I had to call the duty officer here at post to go use her internet connection at 1:30 a.m. to complete the Skype call I was cut off from and get our dogs on the plane.

This isn’t a unique situation to just AT&T.  A quick glance at Sprint ($0.019 per KB), T-Mobile ($10 or $15 per MB), and Verizon ($0.02 per KB) all show similarly ridiculous PPU rates.  Only AT&T, Sprint and Verizon offer international roaming packages… so sorry, T-Mobile users, you’re up a creek without a paddle (but good news! you’ll only pay about 75% of what AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon charge for PPU).

So, are you PCS’ing soon?  Do you have a tight, logistics-heavy schedule for departure?  Are you shipping pets or anything that could be delayed or made impossible by the slightest hiccup?  Are you worried about dealing with contingencies in the U.S. from abroad if when they happen?  Think carefully about it, and then just get an international voice and data roaming plan for a month.  The $60, $120, or even $240 you spend on this “insurance” will only be a very small fraction of the actual cost if you need to use PPU while overseas.

Finally… Indonesia!!

Greetings from Indonesia, dear readers!  We made it!  After a 3-leg, nearly 40-hour journey, we arrived in Surabaya last Wednesday evening.  And, survey says… we love it!

Our journey was not without hiccups, mind you… Late on 31 May, we received an email from our pet shipper here in Indonesia that they needed the air waybill (AWB) amended in a certain way.  After a maelstrom of emails, pages, phone calls, etc. over the weekend, we still didn’t have it correct by the time we were wheels-up from DCA on 3 June @ 10 a.m.  Luckily, we had a 4-hour layover in NYC before the 16-hour leg to Hong Kong.  Once we landed, I frantically checked my email and thankfully found the AWB waiting for me.  I bounced it off our shippers here (who signed off on it by the time we hit Hong Kong), and thought we were good to go.  HA!!

The dogs were slated to fly out late afternoon from IAD on 5 June.  We had arranged for a handler to transport the dogs from their boarding facility to IAD, and for a friend to act as shipper for us (basically show up at IAD and sign a piece of paper).  They arrived at the airport at 1 p.m. for a 6 p.m. flight, and ran into trouble.  The counter agent for KLM decided that the crates we were using were “too small” for our dogs, and that we needed to get bigger ones.  Mind you, the dogs had flown TO and FROM the D.R. in these crates on Delta Cargo and Continental Cargo, respectively.  My agent and friend dashed to the nearest PetSmart and purchased a Series 700 “Giant” crate for my Lab (this crate is usually reserved for St. Bernards, Mastiffs, and Newfies, i.e. freakin’ huge dogs), and used the Series 500 (X-Large) for the Beagle (made for Labs, Golden Retrievers, Rotties, etc.) so the dogs could fly.

I was up late due to jet-lag (1 a.m. local time), and had a bad feeling about the dogs.  I quickly checked my email and Facebook for updates on the dogs, and saw the messages about the issues at the airport.  Lacking any method of communication other than my US cell phone, I frantically made a Skype call (seeing as I couldn’t dial internationally from either my home phone or my cell due to the codes changing 2 days prior to our arrival) to check in.  64 MB of international data later, I still had no solution as the call was quickly cut off by AT&T in order to “prevent high costs,” and I was forced to call my wife’s new boss (also duty officer) at 1:30 a.m. in order to use her internet for a Skype call.

Ugh.  Needless to say, the dogs did get on the plane, but the cost went up by over $1,000 due to the new dimensions of the crates.  Our potential import duty (if the Embassy couldn’t get the exemption letter in on time… which they hadn’t been able to do yet) was also set to go up by over $700, effectively doubling it.  With the dogs en route, we pushed hard on the Embassy and our handler here in Indonesia to get the duty exemption prepared in time, however, 6 June was a national holiday (Ascension of the Prophet Mohammed).  As of COB 7 June, we still had no letter and the dogs were on the ground in Jakarta.  Our handler had to front the import duty to GOI, and we had to hope for GOI to accept the letter on Monday, 8 June and refund the duty.

On Monday morning, we finally got some good news… GOI had accepted the exemption letter and refunded the duty.  The dogs were released in the afternoon, and arrived to us healthy and happy on Tuesday.  We’re now in the middle of filing a complaint with KLM/Air France Cargo w/r/t the decision of the counter agent and the necessity of changing crates.  I’m also looking into filing a formal complaint against the booking agent we used in the U.S. (OHL International——DO NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES use these guys… they SUCK), as over the course of the 10 weeks we were in contact, they waited until the last second (literally) to book the dogs despite constant promises that everything was all set, avoided and ignored emails and phone calls from me in the last week leading up to shipping, and basically made my life a f*cking nightmare of stress and anger for the last 2-plus weeks.

Yesterday, I got a notice for my final bill from AT&T (we did the military suspension thing… they required we fax our orders with PII and SBU info redacted, but it was almost instantly approved), and decided to take a look.  Imagine my horror when I saw an amount due of $1,475!!  64 MB of international data apparently costs $1,283 as pay-per-use, whereas, had I been able to see into the future and anticipate the shit-show that awaited us upon arrival in Indonesia, I could have paid $30 for 120 MB of global data, $60 for 250 MB, or $90 for 500 MB.  Note to fellow FS families… if your US provider provides this service, GET IT.  I will never again travel without it… $90 is well worth the ability to communicate in case of an emergency, and is a hell of a lot better than $1,300.  I’m working with AT&T to address this, and may have played the “serving our country” card, “loyal customers for over 8 years” card, as well as the “in order to avoid potential delays in the shipping of and possibility of harm to our beloved dogs” card in my email.  They seem receptive thus far… however, we’ll have to wait to see an updated bill to confirm just how big their hearts actually are.

So, there you have it… our “great adventure” in Indonesia thus far.  Our house is gorgeous, our street is quiet and pretty safe, and my son can walk to school, literally.  The entrance to the school campus is right across the street from our house.  We’re still waiting for our stuff (and will be for some time, from what I gather), but have been able to piece things together from the local market, the Welcome Kit, and Amazon.  Son misses his toys, but he made an instant friend in our neighbors’ son, who is also 5 and will be in his Kindergarten class come August.

Ahh, the life of a Foreign Service family abroad….  Mahalo.

The Foreign Service Nightmare: Traveling with Pets

Anyone with a furry companion in the Foreign Service knows that the title to this blog post is NOT hyperbole.  Traveling to post with pets can be one of the most stressful, excruciatingly frustrating, and downright awful experiences one can have in the FS.  I really, truly mean that, from the bottom of my heart.

We are flying in early June to our next post: Surabaya, Indonesia.  Fly America act has a couple of restrictions on us, as do contracted routes.  We had a couple of options for routes that might let us take the dogs as accompanied baggage: Korea and Japan.  We were foolishly hopeful.  Enter airline and country restrictions.

Korea will not allow any pets over 75 lbs. (pet plus crate) to transit their country.  Since my Lab is 80 lbs. on a particularly trim day, that wasn’t going to happen.  His crate weighs 24 lbs, so he’d have to lose 29 pounds in roughly 1.5 months.  Not gonna happen.  There goes option 1.

After much leg-work by my wife, we were able to find some flights through Narita (Tokyo) that looked promising, all on United and ANA (codeshares).  The timings were OK with temperature embargoes, but we were faced with an overnight layover in Narita, and neither United nor ANA had overnight accommodations for pets.  We’d have to import the dogs into Japan for a period of less than 18 hours.  I called the Japanese embassy here in D.C. and spoke with the agricultural attaché who very politely informed me of the impossibility of this, since while we would meet all of the entry requirements, we’d have had to apply for an importation permit 6 months prior to arrival after jumping through numerous hoops.  Hence, the earliest our pets would be able to transit Japan on this route would be October, a full 4 months after we arrive.

So then I did some frantic Googling about PCSing with pets, both through the military and with State.  After many different search terms, I came up with an interesting site:  I read through the pages, looking for the information I needed.  Sure enough, there was a link on the left side that said “State Department” and that page had a link to one of the FSO blogs I read, The Diplomatic Mama.  She had shipped a cat directly through Qatar Air cargo to Bangladesh, without a “Pet Relocation Service!”  WTF?

I called Jerry over at Action Pet Express, we chatted for a bit, and he asked me to email him some information so he could put out some feelers on prices/routes.  As it turned out, the only option was KLM (our preference), and he put me in touch with a broker to work out the details.  While I’m paying a small broker fee just to book the tickets (~$200), it’s still costing me a hell of a lot less than Club Pet International (State’s “preferred” shipper) or even All Pet Travel (the ones we used last time to the D.R.).

Jerry also clued me in on a little factoid that I’m sure will be helpful:  the DOD Diagnostics Lab at Fort Sam Houston does the rabies titer test for ALL USG employees.  The only quid pro quo at the moment is that the EU and Korea don’t accept their results.  The cost is $55 per sample, plus shipping.  Overnighting through UPS for me ran $75 for both samples (you can 2nd-day air it with a Cold-Pak and a cheap, soft-side cooler).  Together, I got both dogs done for $90 less than it would have been for ONE dog through our vet.  Keep this in mind when you need a titer test for your dogs or even yourself.  Overall, Jerry was a pleasure to speak with, a fountain of knowledge, and gave me all of this advice and access to his connections gratis.  Thanks Jerry!

Basically, despite the efforts of State, AFSA, and AAFSW, PCSing with pets is still a nightmare.  The airlines say they’re trying to help, but they still make interlining (an important term to know if you’re codesharing) a giant PITA.  With a large majority of posts only accessible via foreign carriers (especially in Asia and Africa), this presents a huge problem for FSOs and their families.  If you’re flying on United or American on the first leg (which you usually do), you can almost forget about getting anyone to interline your pets.  Both airlines tell you to check with the codeshare carriers, and the codeshare carriers tell you to check with American or United.  It’s an infinite loop.  If you’re flying to Asia or Europe, start planning your pets’ routes and researching the requirements the second you get your assignment.  I’m not kidding.  Had we been aware of Japan’s 6-months quarantine in country of origin after the first rabies titer test, we’d have gotten that shizz done waaaaaay on back in October and transited Narita with the dogs in tow as excess baggage and not be paying $2,200 for cargo fares.

Ahh, dogs.  Almost as annoying/expensive as having a car in the Foreign Service.

I Love That Dirty Water….

…And I hate what happened in my home away from home yesterday.

In case you’ve been living under a rock or lack access to modern media formats, two explosive devices detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring some 200 others.  This hits particularly close to home for me, even more so than the Sandy Hook shootings which occurred no more than 25 miles from many of my relatives’ houses.

See, I used to go to the Marathon every year.  I used to get as close to the finish line as possible.  I know that Marathon Sports in front of which the first device exploded.  I’ve watched the marathon from that exact spot, I’ve walked that corridor hundreds of times, Marathon Day or any other day.  If I still lived in Boston, there’d have been a good chance that my wife, son, and I would have been there.  And knowing me, we’d have been very near the finish line because there’s nothing cooler than screaming out encouragement to hundreds of completely insane strangers who have just completed one of the craziest of physical feats (Seriously, 26.2 miles?  I’d be dead after 6).

The three dead and 200 injured luckily didn’t include anyone I know.  I have plenty of friends still in Boston, and through whatever higher power, none of them were there.  The runners I know either finished before the blasts or weren’t allowed near the site after the blasts.  For me, everything worked out.  For some other families, everything went wrong.

What kind of cowardice would drive someone to blow up hundreds of people who are wildly cheering on and encouraging thousands of perfect strangers to push just a little harder and cross that finish line?  Who would think that blowing up IEDs at a Marathon would send any kind of message other than the fact that the perpetrator is a sub-human psychopath with no regard for the collective community and mass showing of good will that is a Marathon’s cheering section?  Seriously, what the f*ck?

I’m too mad and too heartbroken to try to place blame, but I do know that the 24-hour news culture has something to do with it.  Just like Aurora, CO, Sandy Hook, CT, the VA Tech shootings, the DC snipers, and even Columbine, this incident will be the center of the media universe until the next big tragedy comes along (or worse, until we are desensitized enough that we don’t care anymore).  If it wasn’t an international or domestic terror group trying to “make a point” (And what point would that be?  Running 26 miles sucks and is really hard?) or trying to chip away a little more at our sense of security and freedom, and it was some disgruntled individual or individuals, don’t you think that maybe the media coverage they are getting could have in some way influenced their decision to carry out this horrific act of senseless violence?

But here’s the thing: this event didn’t scare us.  Bostonians are tough bastards, and rather than tuck their tails and run and hide, hundreds of first responders and spectators rushed TOWARDS the explosions and helped to care for the wounded, helped to provide access to the ambulances by tearing down the fences and barriers and clearing the debris without regard for the potential of other blasts.  Doctors and nurses who had JUST RUN 26.2 MILES ran straight to the medical tents and began triage and treatment of the wounded.  No water, no rest, no nothing.  Just instinct, adrenaline, and good will.

So f*ck you, whoever did this.  I hope you’re caught, prosecuted, and never again see the light of day.  And guess what, YOU DIDN’T WIN.  We won.  Boston won.  The American People won.  While we lost lives and limbs, we showed the world that there still is hope for humanity and American society.  We banded together and helped our fellow man, woman, and child.  Just like we do every time something this horrific happens.

I’ve never been prouder of Boston.

Language Training Redux

Well, dear readers, I now have an excuse for not updating this blog as often as I should: bahasa Indonesia!  Yep, I’m back in language training.  The same language training that damn near killed me last time around.  I’m happy to report it’s going better this time.  Something about my head being in a different place, I guess.

I’m enrolled in the FAST course at FSI, a survival-skills language course of sorts.  It’ll give me a basic knowledge of Indonesian, with the capacity to communicate on the most basic level.  It’s an 8-week course, and I’m lucky to be in a class of mostly EFMs.  I’m strongly considering extending that training by 4-6 weeks, as there’s only one FSO who is receiving the full 24 weeks of instruction, and my extending won’t be a burden on the department’s already-strained resources.

Thus far, I’m picking up and retaining things a lot better.  I can form simple sentences, am beginning to understand the roots and affixations (and their purposes and meanings), and more or less get the structure of the language and its syntax.  I also think that I’ve at least picked up some words from my wife and the constant drone of Indonesian TV in the background (my wife watches it all the time) at least has me recognizing some words and getting a feel for the cadence.  I also found some open-source language materials and texts, so I will be using those to further my learning.

In other news, I may actually start working in a kitchen soon.  I’ve been in discussion with a local chef who runs a teaching-oriented restaurant and culinary workshop.  He’s looking for some help in the kitchen both for dinner services and for the cooking workshops.  He’s been impressed enough with my chops (literally, heh) after seeing me work in 2 cooking classes here at Oakwood, that he’s considering offering me some hours.  Sa-weet.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this one, as I feel it’s a real foot-in-the-door opportunity for me.  I have always wanted to work in a commercial kitchen, and this is as good a chance as any.

My shoulder is now about 75 percent healed/rehabilitated.  Well, it’s 100 percent healed, but I’m only at about 75 percent mobility and strength.  Most of the deep surgical pain has ceased, the infection seems to have cleared up, and I’m really only left with the muscle pain that comes with trying to regain my full range of motion.  My only setbacks have been when I pull or aggravate something in the joint, but these are just a few minutes of pain and my confidence level with my left arm has soared recently.  I’m pretty much fully capable of everyday activities again, pain-free, and working to get back to sports.  I’d really like to be able to swim and surf in Indonesia, and possibly get back into golf and tennis.  A healthy left shoulder will be helpful in all of these things.

So there’s the update.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us before our June departure.  The dog shipping thing is a long, expensive, and painful process, but that’s another post altogether.  Let’s just say that if you’re thinking about a career as a diplomat, you should really reconsider your stance on pets if you have them.  While they’re part of the family and a good source of continuity between moves throughout their lifespans, they’re damn expensive and complicated to move around with you.