Here's what I've learned about FS friendships: if your friends there at post are with State, then there's always a wall.
You can't help it, right? You can't help that there's a wall. Because, really, now, you can only talk about real stuff up to a point. Are you REALLY going to complain about everything that's bugging you? No, you're not. Because, come on, that's tacky. Because maybe what's bugging you is something that your friend's spouse's other friend happens to oversee, or whatever. It's just... tacky. Because everyone knows everyone else and there's no such thing as anonymity in the fakey fakey Everything is wonderful! world that is the fishbowl of the Foreign Service.
So you sort of stick to polite stuff in FS friendships and if you complain to each other, it's only sort of vague. You know?
So then a girlfriend of mine who has been in the FS for time and all eternity shared her secret of overseas survival with me: In order to not lose your mind, you HAVE TO have friends who 1.) live there at your post, but 2.) who are outside of State. People you can actually, really talk to so you don't go insane with all the fake politeness and the Oh, yes, everything is fantastic! garbage that you have to say 99.9% of the time.
My first year here, I didn't have one of those kinds of friends. It sucked.
But now I do.
It was sort of sad, really, how quickly one starved-for-friendship expat wife (moi) can make friends with another starved-for-friendship expat wife. Seriously. Because I met this other lady and we were all: 1.) Wait, you have kids my kids' ages?!, and, more importantly, 2.) OUR HUSBANDS DON'T WORK IN THE SAME PLACE?!?
And right then and there it was ON:
Ah, you guys, there is nothing so wonderful as being able to actually TALK to another human female who is ACTUALLY THERE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU (as in, not just on the phone) and who can therefore understand what you're saying about your city (because she lives as an expat there, too) but also is someone to whom you can say any darned thing you want, because you don't have to be fakey fake with her because she's not State.
Everyone should have at least one friend like this at post. It's a soothing balm to the soul.
So my soul-balm friend and I have been out and about, seeing Chengdu. We went to a Buddhist monastery recently and she took some pics with her iPhone and sent them to me.
Seeing as that I haven't taken any pictures of China for a long time, I wanted to put them up here.
So there you have it.
Non-State girlfriends at post. I HIGHLY recommend them. In addition to the State ones, as well, of course. Those are good, too. Because, seriously - who the heck else will be able to understand bidding and bureaucratic red tape woes?! :)