Monday, April 06, 2015

TDY to DC

While I went TDY to post frequently during my last assignment in Washington, D.C., this week is the first time I'll be going TDY to D.C. from post. Which effectively means that I'll be visiting all the places in the US that don't exist in Jeddah...during Easter weekend and the Cherry Blossom festival. Think it might be a little crowded?
Cherry Blossoms and blue sky
To put things in context, living overseas means that certain things simply aren't available on the local economy, and those that are carry a hefty import surcharge. I think a box of Cheerios is ~$8. So I came back with a list and intended to start shopping on what turned out to be Easter Sunday. Oddly, Easter Sunday in Arlington, VA somewhat reminded me of shopping in Jeddah, with one key difference: In Jeddah, ALL the stores close for hours every day for prayer. But in Arlington, even on Easter Sunday, at least 50% of the stores were open (even though some of them did have reduced hours). I don't think I would have considered that convenient before living in Saudi Arabia, but what a difference a few months makes. Anyways, here's the haul of some pretty mundane stuff:
This is what a Foreign Service Easter basket looks like
Glad I packed an extra duffle bag to carry all of this home. And I still had to ship some of it back to Saudi Arabia. 

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Here's what I got in D.C. that we can't get (for a reasonable price) in Jeddah:
  • Chipotle - and even if you did, they wouldn't carry the carnitas burrito
  • CVS ($250 in sunscreen for the kids and other stuff)
  • General Tso's at a Chinese restaurant
  • A good haircut - best one I've had in DC at Willy's Barber Shop
  • A decent massage (at Bye Bye Stress) ... only $48 for 60 min + 20 extra min free!
  • Trader Joe's (organic peanut butter, organic jelly, Lara bars)
  • Harris Teeter (white whole wheat flour, french press ground decaf coffee)
While shopping in Harris Teeter, I realized that Paul Simon's "Call me Al" was playing on the store's speaker system. It struck me as particularly relevant now that I am a "foreign man, he is surrounded by sounds...". I'm not sure if I have mentioned it before, but there is rarely music in Saudi stores.

As for why I'm actually in D.C., it was for some Foreign Service Construction Engineer training. But coming back to D.C. also made me remember how living aboard abroad has accustomed me to non-native English speakers making occasional errors (I also recognize that this is far better than if I attempted the same feat in their native language). That said, it still makes me laugh when native speakers make the same mistakes in the States. For example: I stopped into Starbucks for a morning snack, and this is what the baristas put on my order...
My name is Greg, and I'm a "Tall Greek" & "B Greek" 
I'll pardon your appearance, but not your spelling of 'Envioronment'
My discovery was that 'discoverey' is not a word.

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Ok, so I've covered the stuff I got and why I was there. But there were other errands I had to run too.
  • Update my military records, which required me to show up in person for a new ID
  • Renew my State Department ID, which I was unable to do because I didn't have the right form signed by my supervisor. 
  • Get my pants hemmed. It really was easier to bring them back to the US than to find a good tailor in Jeddah. I'm sure they exist, it's just taxing to find them.
  • Get a Zipcar card to finish my shopping list at the places I couldn't reach on public transit.
  • Get to a chiropractor. Again, this was mostly for the convenience of not having to find a guy in Jeddah and getting to the office between prayer time closures.
After my training ended, I went into D.C. proper to see the Cherry Blossom festival. I timed it so that I would arrive just after the Cherry Blossom parade that shuts down the city, but could still check out the main festival area around lunch time. It was so crowded and the food vendor lines were so long that I decided to skip it and check out the National Archives exhibit on alcohol and politics that I saw advertised in the Metro. That line too was really long, due in part from the parade goers simply taking a step back from the parade route to start a new line for the Archives. So I skipped that, too, and went back to get my bags and head to the airport.
Alcohol in politics exhibit poster
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