Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sunset 2011

The year began in an auspicious fashion, dancing in the revelry of the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan.  In search of a visa that would take me to the inverted pyramid that is India, I was smack in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.   The New Year's day revelry came and went, and I was on my way to Bangkok by way of ferry to Surat Thani and night bus into Bangkok.  I arrived to Bangkok in the early hours of the morn and found my way to the farangbang ghetto that is Koh San Road.  Bangkok let me do a lil Thai gastrodiplomacy, as I lived on yellow curry, red bull, papaya salad and pad thai.  I felt the presence of my Nanny from years past as I got my Shivisa for my bday.  

From Bangkok

I got out Bangkok's brawl and on to the old imperial capital Ayutthaya for some crumbled stupas and safron-wrapped buddhas.

From Ayutthaya
I  returned and ended the extension of my Tradewinds chapter, and I headed on to the massive subcontinent.  I arrived in the late of night, to cold weather I scarcely expected.  The maruti sped out of the airport, and a Hindi high-pitched song welcomed my return to India.

I arrived to Delhi to work with INDIA Future of Change to push Indian public diplomacy in new directions.  I stayed in under the auspices of one Venkat, a friend and a mensch with little compare.   And I ate delicious curries, spicy chilies and sweet almond paste squares with their silver sliver still on.  

While in India, I went on barefoot pilgrimages that brought me close to the face the Muse and her truths.  I visited sprawling literature festivals in cities of pink.  I hobnobbed with the Indian high class over polo, and I ate street food with the street (shaved too).  I bathed in holy lakes, and dipped my toes in holy rivers.  And I watched a holy victory in the cricket world cup, and danced on car rooftops in the center of Delhi.

India changed me, and my gastrodiplomacy habits as well, as I became a vegetarian- something that has remained with me a year on.  India I love with little compare.  It is a full onslaught, but it is brimming with such warmth and excitement that it is without equal.

From Rishikesh

But all dreams need to end, and I left Hindustan to return to Ihla Formosa.  My return to Taiwan proved in some ways more meaningful and fulfilling in the short spell than the entire previous chapter.  I got to see the mark I left on the little island.  And I garnered what seemed to be some truths that I have been trying, in fits and starts, to implement since I returned.

I returned to the PNW, to stay with my little sister in the Emerald City.  That proved a tad tricky, and I cut my stay short and returned to bounce around my former haunts in Lalaland.

That proved to be a wonderful time of seeing a world that was once mine, but no longer.  I played the Phantom of Annenberg, and stopped in to witness graduations.  

From Lalaland, I returned to fair Washington.  My return proved a tad tricky as well.  I bounced around the city, networking and building a network.  This worked to varying degrees.  I found a bit of what I was looking for not to exist, so I worked on making alternative arrangements.  Things that started off well, trickled to a slow pace and I descended into limbo.  

Limbo proved difficult as I found myself occupying a world not my own.  I saved a pound of gold, but it cost a pound of flesh from my own psyche.  But the stint in suburbia had its own rewards such as spending a lot of quality time with family, and I put things in place to help me move forward.  I started a new job that practically had my name written on it.  I began as Director of Communications for American Voices, and hit the ground running on our projects of cultural diplomacy.  And I have a few things in the works that have longer-term designs in focus.  

While it started off in an immaculate fashion, 2011 did not prove to be as exciting as some of the years passed.  If you asked me where I would be at the end of 2011, I can't say I expected to be living in DC.  I can't say yet if I am happy with this, but I am happier at present, and willing to give some more time and patience to see if  But 2011 did seem to offer some steps forward, and I guess that is positive as well.  2012 starts off as a year of process and also some potential.

I will conclude the year with a poem I purchased at the poem store upon my return to Seattle, to America.  The words still resonate with me today:

Sudden end to verse, sudden
end to the roads we travel,
the dust kicked up, the thread
unraveled.  There is a bell,
it is brass, it sounds
as long as the verses last,
but the echo carries on;
line to line, page to page,
further along.  Hushed figure
on the road.  Retreating,
but not gone.

-M. Clark
Poem Store
April, 2011

Let Poland be Poland

Former VOA Associate Director for Central Programming Ted Lipien has a nice piece in his blog on Let Poland be Poland, and he quotes my work on the program.  He even writes about it in Polish below the English.  What a multilingual week I am having. First it was Dutch, now Polish.  Dzięki, Ted!

Friday, December 30, 2011

White Blank Pages

On the last working day of the year, I am forever reminded of the scene from Buenos Aires of the pages of old day planners ripped out and thrown out the windows of office buildings across the city.  The pages fluttered down like leaves on the breeze, or white butterflies gently riding the wind.  

Make Chai, Not War

In one of the more original PD ventures, the State Dept is sending an Indian-American comedy troupe to India for some comedic public diplomacy.  The Make Chai, Not War tour is set to kick off in January and will visit a number of Indian cities.  State's spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated:
"The reason we decided to support this tour is because, among the things that they are known for is their talk about religious tolerance, about the importance of breaking down prejudices and about the positive experiences they had growing up as Indian-Americans in the United States."
I love the idea.  I wonder if State ever considered sending the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour on pd rounds as well.

It kinda reminds me of the movie "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"

(which, admittedly, I never saw)

PS: There is another Muslim comedy tour, "The Muslims are coming" that has been touring through the heartland of America doing some great comedic outreach to explain the Muslim community.  Nice find, JB.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Santorum Surge

While Santorum might be Latin for "anus," I am pleased to see that my political perceptions are spot on.  Over the summer, I called both the rise of Gingrich (and his expected fall too) and the rise of Santorum as my dark horse in the Republican race (at least in Iowa). So it appears that Santorum has picked up some "big mo" in Iowa.  That frothy mix of a politician has whined enough about his lack of coverage, that perhaps Iowans felt sorry for that louse.

No Shabbat this week in Samoa

There is a fascinating case of a disappearing friday in Samoa this week.  Samoa is officially moving to the other side of the international date line, and will be losing Friday December 30, 2011.  No one will be born or die on this day, it will simply not exist.  Curios to know how this affects shabbat.

Operation: Eat Our Food

I was interviewed today about gastrodiplomacy by DePers, a major Dutch newspaper.  Specifically, about Indonesian gastrodiplomacy to Holland. That is a fascinating case of the colony returning to influence the former colonial master.  To be sure, Indonesia has had a major effect on Dutch cuisine (see under: peanut sauce for frittes).  I am wondering if my op-ed in the Jakarta Globe had a little effect on the Indonesian decision to embark on gastrodiplomacy.  Anywho, here is the DePeers article thrown through the google translator (note, def not a perfect translation, but my Dutch is no good):

Operation: Eat Our Food
by Camile Driessen
Forget mysterious conversations embassies. Culinary Diplomacy is the new way to power. Countries are investing tens of millions in their own restaurants abroad.

After ping-pong and panda diplomacy is the newest form of influence from Asia. It's called gourmet or culinary diplomacy and is used by more and more countries. Yesterday announced the new Indonesian ambassador in The Hague to put in a lot of culinary diplomacy in Europe. Netherlands is the base for the Indonesian operations. The aim is to promote Indonesian culture and the economy a boost. Hearts and Minds rendang and gado gado win. Nice idea, but the Indonesians are not the first.

"Thailand has started," says "gastronomist" Paul Rockower the phenomenon studied and regularly publishes on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. The Thai government introduced in 2002, the Global Programme to the number of Thai restaurants abroad to raise considerably. The aim was to make Thai food more popular, attracting more tourists and subtle relationships with other countries to strengthen. "The Thai campaign has so far been most successful, the kitchen has gone from exotic to mainstream and has given a boost tourism," observes Rockower.
Soft power
Culinary diplomacy used by countries to increase their soft power. That is to influence others through attraction rather than coercion. The cultural dominance of the U.S. through Hollywood is an example. Measuring political power in international relations often depends on hard power (military influence) and soft power (including economic, diplomatic and cultural influence). The idea is that countries seeking the right mix of soft and hard power to their power in the world to expand.

Culinary diplomacy is used by countries to create sympathy for their culture and act as a special mark on the map. "This leads to such successful nation branding to increase your soft power," says Rockower.

Meanwhile, many countries with its own culinary diplomacy unofficial nicknames like Kimchi diplomacy (South Korea) and Dim Sum Diplomacy (Taiwan). Even Peru is trying its brand around the local cuisine to be built under the title "Cocina Peruana para todo el mundo, Guinea-diplomacy so.

But the most ambitious countries in the Far East. South Korea began in 2009, the "Korean Cuisine to the World 'campaign aims at showing the number of Korean restaurants abroad to have quadrupled by 2017 to 40,000. It attracts tens of millions of dollars.

Taiwan also nice hammering on the road. The main goal is to people the difference between China and Taiwain clarify and to shake off the image that only LCD monitors and other electronic junk out of the country.

Taiwan set up including a culinary think tank and flying chefs the world over that as many culinary competitions to win. As Taiwanese restaurants are concerned is used for maximum exposure. These should mainly foreign malls and airports open.

Of course, even China is not behind. Plenty of Chinese restaurants you think. Here, but not in Latin America. Hence, the Chinese government in collaboration with business and restaurant owners is working to make Chinese food to promote. So they sent this year, including five of the country's best chefs to Chile to sixty emigrant Chinese chefs to train. A similar program exists in Costa Rica.
ChangJie Dong of China's State Council this year was clear about the goal: "The Chinese cuisine, with its eye-catching colors, irresistible fragrance and rich taste, can help the Chinese culture spread abroad." This is useful if you are strategic economic and political interests trying to build.
Pyongyang restaurant
South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, that they have any success with their international diplomatic offensives have given the kitchen even understand. They have also written a neighboring country which inspired an impressive kitchen is not exactly the first thing on your mind. North Korea is doing well now because of culinary diplomacy and is busy rolling out the state Pyongyang chain restaurants. Offices are now in Dubai including, Cambodia, Bangkok, China, Laos and Indonesia.
Nice surprise: Amsterdam is the next fortress. There is already a Dutch website to open restaurant in Chinatown. Which promises traditional North Korean songs and dishes such as hot stone and hot noodles. "For people who have ever visited North Korea will feel like a return to Korea."

Subaltern Gazan Break

The Bridge

I have been saying for a little while that the most important relationship in the 21st century is that of India and China, and making sure they stay on amiable terms.  Singapore gets this, and continues to play the bridge between the two titans of Asia.  I have a feeling this will become a niche for Singapore, and an avenue for Singaporean public diplomacy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monte Pleasant

In Taipei, I battled cockroaches; in Delhi, it was mice. I will triumph over the biohazard that is my kitchen.  I will need to exert a little soft power to keep the kitchen clean, but I think I can manage.

So in short, I am settling in nicely to my new environs.  I was not doing well in limbo.  The pound of gold saved was costing me a pound of flesh out of my dignity, and I was getting depressed morose.  I thought perhaps the rainy day perhaps portended that I made an ill-advised and rash call to get myself out of limbo, but the giant arco-iris that followed the rains made me think that providence might indeed approve.  This was a silly arc, stretching up and down in perfect form as if a pot o' gold awaited in U street and in Piney Branch.  The setting skies blazed pink and gold.

The new place has potential if I can fix up some of the lackluster things like the toxic kitchen.  While I was expecting to work in the living room during the day, apparently another roomie has already staked his claim.  So it goes.  My room is spacious, and I have a nice bay window to constitute my corner office view.  This is the first room I felt comfortable working in, and I can always escape the barrio outside.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mi Barrio

Now that I am out of limbo, I am back to my favorite hobby: blogging about what I occupies my time and my stomach. But I'll get there.

I made a tour of the barrio today, doing some grocery shopping in my little Korean-owned latin grocery.  All sorts of fun products like salvadorean cheeses and creams, loroco and nopales.  Nice to get cheap produce again, although as I am finding, DC is f'ing expensive- I think it is more expensive than LA.

Anyway, I wandered around Columbia Heights, and down 16th street to Meridian Hill (Malcolm X Park).  I didn't realize that Meridian Hill referred to its location as a prime meridian point.  I walked down to U St, then made my way back up.  As I had been walking down, I passed by the Swiss Embassy, and noticed that it was home to the Cuban interest section aka the Cuban Embassy.  This being DC, on my way back, there was a rally taking place outside.  The protesters were out to show their support for Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for having the temerity to bring internet equipment to la isla.   For crimes against the Castro state, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison.  He was expected to be released in the amnesty wave of 2,900 prisoners let go ahead of the papal visit, but unfortunately was not on the rolls.  There was a nice size protest outside chanting "Free Alan," and I ran into some old family friends, the Ackmans, who have a bit of a personal connection to the case as they know the family well.

After joining the rally for a bit, I returned to Mt. Pleasant to hang in Heller's Bakery- a MP landmark, and munch a delicious flaky cherry turnover.  The afternoon involved more wandering, down to Adams Morgan and back up to the local pupusaria for dinner.  O' pupusas, how you pupus so good.  I scarfed down some delicious loroco and frijol-filled gooey cheese masas messes that are pupusas.  The accordion on the jukebox and the spanish in the air made me feel like I was on the road again, back down in Salvador or some other former adventure.  

Leaving Limbo

From Mount Pleasant, the tree branches framed the cathedral on the hill.  Dead, desiccated branch spires wove around the cathedral's masts in a perfect frame.  Don Pablo Quijote hath finally broken free from his suburban shackles and left limbo; I have a new residence in DC, in the Mt. Pleasant barrio.  Luv my new Salvadorean neighbors.

The return to La Mancha lingered on far longer than was expected.  Poor Alfonso Quijano was feeling hemmed in as if his adventures had been flights of fancy.  But a change of scenery should do this knight errant well.  It's interesting that I have finally brought something into fruition that I once thought I wanted; now, I have the capacity to fully judge that thought to see if it was just a nice idea at a different place and time, or is a real bona fide thought.  Or perhaps the Christmas notion to that thought: it doesn't matter where you are, you can find the kingdom of heaven everywhere.

Friday, December 23, 2011


"Words that are not backed up by life lose their weight, which means that words can be silenced in two ways: either you ascribe such weight to them that no one dares utter them aloud, or you take away any weight they might have, and they turn into air.  The final effect in each case is silence: the silence of the half-mad man who is constantly writing appeals to world authorities while everyone ignores him; and the silence of the Orwellian citizen."
-Vaclav Havel

When I was studying in Prague, I had the opportunity to see Havel.  It was right after the 9/11 attacks, at the Forum2k summit.  Amid a bevy of Nobel prize winners and other leading global luminaries, Havel's presence still loomed large.  Despite his diminutive stature, he carried the tremendous weight and soft power of moral authority.  I remember distinctly watching Havel, Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel slip away together to chat.  I was the only one besides their security to see the three men disappear, and I sighed at the thought of being a fly on the wall in that room.

Havel was among the few bohemian leaders who remained rooted to the world we inhabit.  It will be quite a while until a man like him graces us again.

Hanukkah in Kerala

PRI has an interesting story on the vanishing Jews of Kerala

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ba'al Zichronot

The title meaning "master of memories."

Don Pablo Quijote made the mistake of wandering through the basement of old lives, and found some amazing remnants of former adventures.  A bottle filled with the brackish water from the Cape of Good Hope; a film canister filled with the sands of the Sahara; a mortar and pestle for caiparinhas from Carnival.  One should always be careful when descending into the murky recesses of memory.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The King of Albania

O' the house of Zogu.  I giggle every time I read about King Zog.  The WSJ has a story about succession in Albania's royal family.

NK-NJ BBQ Diplomacy

The NYTimes has an interview with the unofficial North Korean rep in New Jersey on the death of Kim Jong-Il, a fellow who owns a bbq joint often frequented by North Korean diplomats.  Gastrodiplomacy at its finest.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mexico: not under siege....

The Washington Post travel section has a great article on Mexico and perceptions vs. realities of safety related to the tourism industry:

“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”
Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t. “The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”
For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime.
Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).

Friday, December 16, 2011

All-American Bigotry

I posted a while back about the show All-American Muslim, a reality show about Muslim-American life in Dearborn, Michigan.  I loved the concept, and thought it would make for great public diplomacy.

Well, the agents of intolerance balked at portraying Muslims as anything less than radical jihadis, so they unleashed their own jihad at advertisers who were associated with the program.  Lowe's and other advertisers subsequently backed away in a particularly feckless fashion.

 Jon Stewart's response to this mess was priceless .

The funny thing about all this controversy is that it becomes more instructive of the nature of the American Radical Right and their own jihadist tendencies than anything about American Muslims.

In the end, I was reminded of the project My Fellow American, and the importance of such a project to show that Muslim-Americans are a vital part of the American mosaic.  

A death in the family

I was saddened to see that Christopher Hitchens passed away.  I had a tremendous amount of respect for his brilliance and eloquence.  My friend Daron posted this piece by Hitchens, I thought it was one of his more poignant: A Death in the Family

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

American Music Abroad Vid

The Educational and Cultural Bureau of the U.S. State Dept just put out an excellent video on the American Music Abroad program.


Monday, December 12, 2011


A few years ago, when I was trekking from LA to Panama, I stumbled across the Flor De Cana protests in Managua, Nicaragua led by workers suffering from chronic renal kidney failure. That led me to contact with La Isla Foundation, which fights on behalf of the workers and families affected.  La Isla Foundation has done a wonderful job bringing the workers' plight to global attention, including helping get out stories on I-Watch News, and on PRI's The World.  Keep up the good fight, La Isla Foundation!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cultural Diplomacy Idol

Think you have what it takes to be a Cultural Diplomacy Rock Star? Apply for the new American Music Abroad program.  Yes, we have officially announced the call for applications.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Life can be kind of funny. About a week after I started my present job, I got a letter from the UN inviting me to take a test for its Young Professionals Program in the area of public information. If you had asked me what I wanted to do after I got my Master's, my standard answer was "to work for the UN."  Here was my chance to do public diplomacy for the UN; yet here I am invited to take a test to allow me into the UN and I am not taking it.

 It was a hard decision, but I decided ultimately it wasn't where I saw as the direction my career path leading. The job would have kept me tied to the practitioner's side of public diplomacy, whereas I think my future is more on the academic side.  Meanwhile, if I got the job, it would have some serious effects on my present project and future plans.  Furthermore, I have had some recent glimpses with hulking bureaucracy, and I don't think I want to tangle with one as massive as the UN.

I had decided I wasn't going to take the test, but was vacillating back-and-forth about the decision. Here I was presented with an opportunity to accomplish something I previously thought that I wanted, only to watch it pass by from afar. I just kept wondering if I would regret not taking the test, as I always find that I regret more the things I didn't do than the things I did.

Ultimately, I did enough homework into the background of the test and found out it was really for an entry-level position. Thanks UN, but I am not starting at the bottom of your byzantine labyrinth, I will just have find another way into the halls of Turtle Bay.

 PS: The title of the blog comes from the Ben Gurion's famous dismissal of the international body. After a one-sided resolution, Ben Gurion reportedly said "um-shmoom." "Um" is the pronunciation of the UN in hebew, "shmoom" means "nothing."

PPS: I have a funny story about my friend Beth Meshel storming the UNGA for anyone interested.

"We're not a country of snake charmers"

The Indian newspaper Mid-Day has a great profile of INDIA Future of Change and its nationbranding efforts, under an immaculate headline.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dog Bites Car

Paul Krugman has a phenomenal op-ed on what ails the Republican presidential nominees, what ails Republican voters, and perhaps what ails the Republic: send in the clueless.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

I am not SPAM

So I have been having a somewhat unsuccessful search for a place to live. I had been using Craig's List to find a new abode, and was having little luck. I must have sent 60 emails, and I couldn't figure out why I was getting so few responses. Until I found out that I was using a word in my reply that was a major flag word: "advert." On top of my somewhat varied background (living in India, Taiwan; working w/ Iraq, Afghanistan, etc), I was apparently tripping major spam filters. So that explains why no one was replying to my earnest attempts at finding a dwelling.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Down the Nile

Still early to tell, but the elections in Egypt were worrisome. The 40 percent for the Muslim Bros, I expected and could handle but the other 25 percent for the Salafis is troubling. We shall see who ends up in government and outside. The Muslim Brotherhood has been walking a cautious line and distancing themselves from the Salafis. If the MB can consolidate with the liberals, things might be ok. But naysayers may have been right about the titanic effects of the fall of Mubarak on Egypt and the region.

And then he gave him some silver candlesticks

An amazing story about what we live by.

Collaborative Power

Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter of  Princeton has a fascinating article on theoretical and practical notions collaborative power:
I will call it collaborative power and define it as the power of many to do together what no one can do alone. Consider the power of water. Each drop is harmless; enough drops together create a tsunami that can level a landscape.
Collaborative power can take many forms. The first is mobilization; to exercise collaborative power through not a command but a call to action. The second form is connection. In contrast to the relational power method of narrowing and controlling a specific set of choices, collaborative power is exercised by broadening access to the circle of power and connecting as many people to one another and to a common purpose as possible. A third form (many more dimensions of collaborative power will likely emerge) is adaptation. Instead of seeking to structure the preferences of others, those who would exercise collaborative power must be demonstrably willing to shift their own views enough to enter into meaningful dialogue with others. The first step toward persuading others is often an evident and sincere willingness to be persuaded yourself.