Dim Sum Diaries

Reflections on Foggy Bottom

Fall 1993

It was brisk that morning in Washington, D.C. As I stepped away from the Foggy Bottom metro stop, I paused to survey my surroundings. The street was carpeted with a mixed hue of yellows and reds, marking the arrival of fall. Nattily dressed people hurried purposefully towards their destinations. I nervously gripped the industrial-sized-yet-professional briefcase I impulsively purchased the night before to herald my status as an up-and-coming intern for United States Agency For International Development. I had arrived (figuratively and literally). Almost. I didn't know exactly where I was supposed to go. I knew that USAID was housed in the State Department. I headed toward a group of squat grey buildings that looked promising.

On the way I passed the Health & Human Services building and the infamous Watergate complex. Knowing that Donna Shalala was the HHS Secretary bolstered my confidence. As I approached my objective, I couldn't figure out which building to enter. I later discovered that the State Department sign that is always prominently featured in news reports was helpfully located on the other side of the building. I noticed a guard posted nearby. And he was in a military uniform. Wow! A cute military guard! I was sure he would help me out.

"Erm, can you tell me where the State Department is?" I asked him.

"What was that, ma'am?" he inquired politely.

"The STATE DEPARTMENT," I said a little more loudly.

"I'm not sure what you are asking, ma'am," he stated unhelpfully.

What? Was he dense?

"Uh, never mind then," I said glumly.

"Certainly, ma'am." He nodded and looked away.

Deep sigh. Perhaps he was deliberately being obtuse in order to deter me in case I was a baddie. But that wasn't helping me at the moment. I mean did I really look like a baddie? Communism in Russia had just collapsed! The then labelled Newly Independent States needed my help in focusing the twin streams of 'the development of the rule of law' and 'economic development via privatization' thus promoting the eventual democratization of countries like the Ukraine! I was here to do do my part! Really! I just had to find the right entrance.

I eventually picked a doorway that looked busy and opened the glass door. I walked into a large room blocked by a line of security turn-styles. Mini-flags of many nations lined one wall. It all looked very impressive and indeed it did turn out to be the right way. My vivid memory of that day was one of an idealistic, eager intern gazing at the vast horizon of possibilities open to her, eager to affect some positive change in the world, no matter how infinitesimal.

More to come...