Saturday, June 23, 2007


Yesterday was the first day of my really comprehensive medical screening, and today I have mostly finished it. It exists to test my availability as it relates to Sunshine's job. It's important to know if our destinations will interfere with any necessary long-term health management, and so these tests are mandatory. Some posts have access to world-class medical facilities. Some have dedicated medical professionals on site. But there are also still places in this world where there is no access to anything better than evacuation in the face of medical emergency, places without access to any sort of pharmacy worth gambling one's faith on. So I have to cover all of the same bases Sunshine does in these things, even though I'm not an actual employee of her company. I know they have our best interests at heart, but it's a grueling process and after being prodded for two days, I'm still not done. For example: it seems I still have to get a chest x-ray. This cannot be handled in the same office because they have no radiology lab there. I was handed a well-mimeographed sheet with likely walk-in x-ray services in the Foggy Bottom area. I have as long as I want to get this done, and Sunshine's employers will, of course, reimburse us for any out-of-pocket expense. Also, since they need to examine the results of my TB test within seventy-two hours of administering it, I will have to return to the doctor's office on Monday. This is apparently a literal thing: Monday, a studied professional will examine the tubercular hole they needled into my arm today. They will note its appearance, and then check a box on a yellow form. Yesterday was a better day for needle stories, however. Please see part two tomorrow.* [Cavin]

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yesterday, after safely navigating the US Special Passport Issuance Office, and my lunch, I took the train to AFI's Silver Theater* for a double-feature. The first was Ichikawa Kon's very compelling film the Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki, 1983),* a melodramatic tale of four orphaned sisters of the distinguished Makioka family, struggling to maintain an antiquated lifestyle in modernizing Japan. Well, its about a lot of things: one sister rues the onus of being eldest while another sister strives to maintain family harmony (by marrying off a third sister, in love with the second’s all-too-obliging husband). The fourth sister is the youngest and the brassiest: she cannot marry before her reluctant elder, though she keeps getting engaged just for attention. The movie includes many wonderful moments of realism within society's strict confines: a pretty obi squeaks annoyingly or a sister graciously picks tea leaves out of her teeth, examples of the surefooted relationship these women have with their breeding. Throughout the movie, these characteristics mount effortlessly to render the intertwined nature of the rich main characters, backed by the seasonal precession of Japanese holidays. I thought the plot complexities untangled themselves rather too conveniently by the film's final Cherry Blossom Festival, but this did not diminish my enjoyment at all. The second movie of the evening was Sang-soo Im's pitch-black and Kubrickian comedy the President's Last Bang (Geuddae geusaramdeul, 2005),* fictionalizing the people and events leading to the October, 1979 assassination of South Korean president Park Chung Hee. The blood-soaked and largely impromptu conspiracy comes to a head during a drunken night in a Korean CIA compound, revealing the quirks and ineptitudes of Korean law enforcement and further demonizing Park's despotic presidency in particular, and the government in general. The bracing stuff is just as interesting as the horrifying humor. [Cavin]

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Yesterday, I put off required passport-related red tape because I hadn't been feeling well the night before. I'm much better now, thanks. I took the Metro to the only place I could think of advertising instant passport photos: a camera store located conveniently beside Karma Bar, where we'd had mojitos shortly after I was supposed to have done this stuff yesterday. The little studio area I was shown into was tricked-out with complex flashes, a friendly photographer, and a real camera instead of the Polaroid double-lens Passport brand contraption that makes everyone look like a raw, cyanotic carnie. I am pretty sure he took the best passport photos ever. I am very impressed. Having performed this basic service for many years myself, I was under the impression that photos like these--peachy skin tones, white whites, identifiable eye color--were unobtainable in regulation two-by-two on government ID documents. Fresh from this elation, I walked down 19th Street to the Passport office, where I discovered I didn't have to stand in any of the four lines snaking down the street from the doors. I wanted a "special issuance" passport, and that office was upstairs and through security. I've been referring to my government document as an "official passport" in this Update just to remain vague; but today I learned there's a specific type of passport graded "Official", and I was certainly not there for one of those, though the Official people's parallel line was smaller than mine. I filled out all the necessary forms while waiting, and by the time the special issuer, behind her bulletproof glass, was helping me, the waiting room had dwindled to a milling few. The remaining process was painless, and twenty minutes of red tape later, I was sitting down to lunch at Karma. [Cavin]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Sometime around two this morning I started coughing and sneezing. My nose started running. I'd gotten a scratchy-throat feeling early Sunday, but that had gone away. By the time I went to bed, after four, I was in misery. I tossed and turned and was certainly still awake after seven thirty. Today's plans had included waking early (for me) and heading down 19th Street to get passport pictures taken. I also was hoping to start the ball rolling on the paperwork, too. Time was of the essence, though: the special issuance office closes at four thirty. With a walk, a Metro ride, a photo shoot, and possibly a line, I figured I should get started sometime around noon. Then I slept through early (for me). I also slept through noon; I almost slept through afternoon, too, and felt crappy when I did get up. If there is one thing I wanted to avoid, it was five years of an official passport portraying me as a pallid and unshaven baggy-eyed red-nosed thug. So I cancelled all of those plans, skipping right to the part of my calendar where I was to meet Sunshine for dinner and mojitos at Karma before seeing Kon Satoshi's Paprika (or in Japanese: Papurika, 2006)* at the E Street Cinema.* Paprika is an animated film very much in the spirit of other recent paranoid Phillip K. Dickian near-future armchair-psych fictions--only without robots. In this, brilliant mental health authorities have engineered a device to allow psychologists to record and edit the dreams of patients, allowing greater analytical access. Of course, things go wrong when several units are stolen. The movie is sinister and baroquely beautiful to the point where I became frustrated whenever it wasted precious surreal dream time on the nearly throwaway thriller narrative. [Cavin]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Sad news first: the wonderful little grocery store that was the Eden Center-piece has gone out-of-business after twenty-three years. Today, when we passed by, the windows were all plastered over with Vietnamese newspaper inserts. Why? Did the store get run out of the Asian grocery market by competitors? Did the owners reach retirement age and opt to simplify their lives? The handwritten cardstock signs shed no explanatory light, only thanking the community in Vietnamese and English for decades of patronage. I feel guilty for having only entered the store twice. The first time it was jammed full of food and wine, canned tropical juices, pepper and fish sauces, tea, and kitchenware. I identified plenty of things I'd planned to return for later. The other time I was there the shelves were bare, as they were obviously set on selling out. We bought two boxes of black tea because I was offered the second one free. Now the store is gone. The happy news is that we had a great meal at Four Sisters (which Sunshine has taken to calling by its Vietnamese name, Huong Que, which means I never know where she is talking about, anymore). I had a large bowl of chive soup and some crispy spring rolls. The way Sunshine has been instructed to eat spring rolls: first, pinch off a leaf or two of the provided basil and mint sprigs; then wrap them, with the fried roll, in one of the provided lettuce leaves. Dunk this green tube into the fish sauce (another thing Sunshine always says in Vietnamese now: nước mắm) and dine. The idea of further wrapping these things had never occurred to me, possibly because as an American, I expect green leaves on any plate without a salad to be purely ornamental. [Cavin]

Monday, June 18, 2007


I had an excellent idea, especially for a lazy weekend like the one we're currently having. Yesterday and today have been dedicated to hanging out, watching TV, and doing whatever work we do on our computers. We haven't left the house at all (yesterday, for example, we ordered delivery Italian from Pine's Pizza instead of going out). My idea was to take a long walk after dinner. Sunshine chipped-in with suggestions about where we might take it, and we settled on exploring the little park downhill from our complex. We'd planned on eating Lebanese food this weekend, so today was the deadline for that, too. Right before leaving I finally put some shoes on this weekend. I have two pairs in the dining room for easy access: a pair of walking shoes and a pair of going-to-the-restaurant shoes. I selected the latter because there was already a pair of socks stuck in them. Then we drove down the road and ate a fantastic meal at Lebanese Taverna,* in the little village of roadside shopping near the local public library branch. I had the sumac-and-gin cocktail I like, an Oasis, and for the first time tried a bowl of their shorba addas, a greens-and-vinegar soup--now an instant staple. I must admit: the whole time we were eating, my feet were really, really comfortable. After dinner, Sunshine showed me a good place to park at the park, and we wandered along a four-mile segment of bike trail along a system of eleven interconnected Virginia state parks.* It was really lovely and green, and a super nice night for a pleasant hour-long amble through a pretty area. Still, by the end, my little restaurant loafers--worn as slippers: loose without laces--were rubbing holes in the bottoms of my feet. [Cavin]

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Man, we're having a lazy weekend. I'm supposed to be out having all sorts of interesting experiences to relate, but what I'm actually doing is watching season four of the Sopranos* on DVD. That's because we've just wrapped up season five of the Shield,* DVDs purchased last weekend while we were ostensibly computer shopping. Since these shows are still ongoing as of press time, I'll not talk about them too much (especially since I'm the one very much behind on the current product because I almost always wait for the DVD release to watch anything anymore). But the Sopranos seems to find no limit to my high regard, and I like each character and episode even more with each additional Soprano I come into contact with. The Shield is holy crap awesome too, and seeks a similarly inexhaustible supply of my shocked credulity. Plus, the Shield manages the very nadir of an evil, but compellingly charismatic, protagonist with a panache that seems implausible: I can't believe that I find myself actually pulling for this bastard episode after episode. I'm scandalized, actually, to be made into a contact villain by the allegiances this show prompts me to bear. This latest season (for me) marks another minor story arc which spreads like a malignancy from the final three Kid Rock charged minutes of the very first episode, a construction that tightens the idea of seasonal arc television into a taut apotheosis. Season seven will begin, if it has not already, with the stakes at their highest, the dwindling characters painted into an equally dwindling corner. Ah, television. Regulating any personal headway to the penultimate sentence here, but I've managed to upload another few pictures from our increasingly distant New York field trip. Perhaps they benefit from the acuity of hindsight? [Cavin]