This is us.  The one showing lots of shoulder (in her Chengdu, China Marine Ball ball gown!) is the EFM who writes this blog. The one wearing a tux (James) is the employee who moves her (and their two sons) around all over the world. The red link, below, is how you can get in touch with me...

The time in Chengdu, China

Chengdu: city of fabulous food and beautiful Buddhist monasteries!
Yes, Beijing's Forbidden City (pictured, above) is really pretty and all, but I like Chengdu much better than Beijing!

In Our Same Boat (with State)

  • Beyond the Cornfields
    Brand-new State Department family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Love their two little girls (she just recently had a baby while being posted in Dhaka), horticulture, traveling and adventure!
  • Email From The Embassy
    State Department family formerly in Beijing, China, and recently posted to Amman, Jordan. A trailing spouse, she's also a writer, and frequently publishes articles with major news sources. A very experienced State family, this new post is something like overseas post number six or seven for them.
  • Just US
    A beautiful family of seven - they have arrived at their new post: Jerusalem! They just finished off an unaccompanied tour to Iraq and are very much looking forward to sightseeing around the middle east.
  • Our Life
    State Department family on their second post...Tijuana, Mexico. It's their first overseas assignment and they have two little boys. They love Tijuana so far and post pictures frequently! They also get to enjoy the best of both worlds for they can sneak over the border into San Diego when they want to!
  • The Dinoia Family
    State Department family formerly in California, now in DC for a DC tour. Next, the husband will do a one year unaccompanied tour. A very experienced State family (formerly in Iceland and Caracas) with a blog that has been around quite a while and has great archives. Jen has a sweet heart and a lot to give!
  • The Perlman Update
    State Department family formerly in Chennai, India, who then did a year-long unaccompanied tour in Iraq. They are now on a DC tour and after that will do another unaccompanied tour (Afghanistan). She totally tells it like it is and doesn't sugar-coat what life is really like. Witty, snarky, funny and down-to-earth. Look elsewhere if you want fake. Read if you want REAL.
  • Where in the World Am I?
    State Department family formerly in Bujumbura, Burundi and now in Hyderabad, India. They just had their first baby this summer - a beautiful little girl- (there's a separate blog about this) and she also eats gluten-free (with a separate blog, also).
One of the most intriguing things about Chengdu is that it is a seamless blend of ancient and modern... all together, side by side.

Can't Live Without (non-State)

  • Crass-Pollination: An ER blog
    The best ER nurse blog EVER!
  • Doctor Grumpy in the House
    The best doctor blog EVER!
  • In Which...
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of seven. Her darling daughters are, goshdarnit, probably too young to be hoped for as my future daughters-in-law.
  • The Crib Chick
    My IRL friend, a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mama of five. Hopefully two (Any two! I'm not picky!) of which are my future daughters-in-law.
  • the underwear drawer
    An anesthesiologist who is possibly the most talented & entertaining writer ever. I've read her blog ever since she started medical school. No, don't know her in real life. Wish I did.
  • The Bloggess
    This blog is both hysterically funny and hilariously irreverent. I actually let my 17 year old son read it (who loves it as much as I do!), but wouldn't even CONSIDER letting my 12 year old son read it. Which is about all the description it needs!
The grounds of Chengdu monasteries can be very, very peaceful...even though they are smack dab in the heart of a city of millions of people.


Yes, there are Starbucks in Chengdu! All over the place, in fact. So much so, Starbucks even crafted mugs for Chengdu stores!
Texan bluebonnets. Because I learned during our very first posting (Houston) that there's nothing prettier in the spring than the meadows of Texas.
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We're in the tearing our hair out stage with the car thing too. Taipei is 3 years or younger. Is China the same? Ugh. That makes it even worse. (I thought China was 5.) We are defnitely "drive it until it's dead" people. Not gonna work though. The idea of buying a new or almost new car still makes me cringe. I hope you find a solution that works for your family.

Good luck on the exam! Can't wait to hear how it went. Will be cheering for you!


We have managed to move about with our '02 car for our last two posts. I am not averse to trading up.. when you start having to invest more than it's worth in repairs, it's time, but we've had good luck with cars. Treat them well and they treat us well. We like our truck, it's reliable, it's been with us long enough to become a part of the family! I really am not looking forward to having to give it up. Nor do I want to try to figure out buying a new one! Just because this one is great, doesn't mean the model that is a decade newer will be just as good. We had no idea what to look for with our last purchase either. Fortunately, there are a ton of resources online regarding vehicles now. Reviews and customer reports. Comparison tools, etc. (like: Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds Good luck figuring out what car you need... and even more luck with the language :)

Sara Roy

Good luck! Just remember you kicked the last tests ass!


Good Luck Kolbi.. you will do great on that exam tomorrow! Talk your little head off! :)


Best of luck tomorrow, Kolbi!

Jessica (Lindsey Mae's Blog)

Another option is to wait until you get to Chengdu and buy a car from a departing FSO. That is very common here, and we plan on selling our car here before moving back to DC for training, since our next post also has car-age restrictions and we wont be able to take our 2003 car.

Is there a consulate newsletter where people advertise things for sale? Or can you get into contact with folks who are leaving or ask the CLO if they know anyone who might be selling a car? That could make life a lot easier, because it will be ready for you right when you get there.


Buy a car from someone leaving post if possible. You can usually find an older car that way (ours has been trucking its way across India for over 10 years now!) and you know that it can be repaired locally without too much trouble. We gave our beloved Subaru to Mike's dad so we can still use it when we're home. Is China left-hand side of the road with right-hand drive vehicles? If so there are Japanese car websites that specialize in selling used cars and delivering them to diplomats throughout Asia.


Good luck on the exam. Not that you'll need it, you'll do fine!


My thoughts on the language test, with the following caveat: I've never taken an FSI progress exam, but I've taken five official exams (including one over the telephone many years ago). The format is different, but, at least on the official test, "speaking" is a bit of a misnomer in that you can't do well unless you also understand what is being said to you. Part of the assessment is a conversation - in which it's perfectly legitimate (perhaps even necessary) to ask questions - and you will be asked to translate for the tester on an ongoing basis. For other parts of the assessment, you will be given topics to talk about - it doesn't have to be just talking about yourself.

Second, instead of thinking that you might not qualify for more time - remember that you don't have the threat of not getting to post on time or begging for a language waiver hanging over you (there are a lot of people at FSI that would love to be in that position.) The score is just a number. It's a rough indicator of the ability to which you will be able to use Chinese when you get to post, but the real test will be ... your ability to use Chinese once you get to post.


On the car, having been in the Great Communist Motherland for just over a week now, I can only say that driving in China is frigging scary. And I don't even have a car here- this is based solely on the numerous taxi rides I've taken. Also, public transportation really is inexpensive, as are cabs (like, five bucks or less kind of expensive, usually, and I'm in a city that's pretty spendy, by Chinese standards). That is all.

On the test front, first of all, good luck! Secondly, dude, just make shit up if you can't think of anything to say about yourself. Say the craziest crap you want- have fun with it, even. It's not like the instructors actually care one way or the other about whether you think global warming is real or it's good for the U.S. to be sending jobs to China. Go crazy nuts. Say the most off the wall things you can think of- hell, make it a game to see how much of a "Wait, what?!" reaction you can get from the testers, because as long as what you say is grammatically correct and at least vaguely relevant, you should be good to go.


We had to buy a new car when we went to Kenya and that really bothered me. BUT...after two years we were able to sell the car for the same price that we paid for it!!!
On the exam front, I pray for you to have His peace. Remember that you have come SO far and done SO much in this short time. You can be proud of yourself. Know that you do not need anyone's approval...You already have His and He will pave the way for you to stay in the program IF He desires it and determines that it is useful for His ultimate plan for you and your family. Remember that nothing is a surprise to Him and He is guiding your steps.


Good luck, but you and I both know you will be just fine!


We were just going through the same car dilemma with our upcoming move to Dakar. There is a 5 year restriction, but after contacting the GSO, we found out that we could take our car (which will be 5 years old when we go) but we either have to take it with us when we leave OR we can sell it to another person with duty-free status; which is basically any gov't associated person. We just won't be able to sell it on the open market in Senegal, which is just fine with me. I hope it can go to the next post, wherever that might be. I, too, was beginning to panic over the idea of having to buy a newer car, just to have it rammed by a donkey cart. Granted, this is Africa vs China, but you get the idea.

Hopefully the GSO will be able to provide more specific information on the car and then you can put the issue aside.

Good luck with your test!


We just bought a truck for our tour in Guyana (they said no way to our Prius...nobody to service it and won't really do on the roads in the rainy season...) and it killed me a little too. (My parents were the same way about vehicles!)


I'm almost done with our car-less posting in Cairo, and I can tell you about not having a car for two years. We didn't get one because of the same reasons, and we've been okay. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, there is a metro, and I have a reliable driver I use. On an everyday basis, having no car is no problem - I don't have to drive, I don't have to park, I don't have to worry.

BUT, when it comes to trying to leave town, or get around anywhere somewhere out of town, I HATE not having a car. Sure, I can call my driver, but every time we hire him to take us to the beach I think of how he costs almost as much as the hotel room. And I've definitely done a lot fewer things than I would have with a car. At this point I'm counting down the months until I have a car again (we bought a car - a SUV [horror] - for our next post).

So, my advice? Buy a car. I'm American, and I like my freedom. You may hate the initial outlay, but the freedom will DEFINITELY be worth it.


I would wait until you get to China. While buying a car in China can seem daunting, it's pretty common in expat communities to shuffle vehicles around -- when I lived overseas, I bought a vehicle from someone leaving the country. That way you can get more information when you get there, such as, how much and will I really need it? If you try to make this decision now you will torture yourself and no matter what you decide it will all look very different from over there.

Maybe you can buy a car from someone in FS shipping out, maybe from someone from the expat community, or maybe your neighbor will announce they are giving you their car (this has happened to friends of mine). It sounds like the practical, economical part of you is resisting purchasing a new car to ship halfway around the world for a whopping 20 months of driving, and I would heed that instinct.

Something else: cars are made for the country where they are sold, so American cars can either a) stand out like a giant sore thumb, saying "Rob me! Rob me!" or b) be almost impossible to maneuver on narrower-than-here streets. There is an advantage to buying a Chinese car in China.

Or a scooter. Or a bicycle with a cart for hauling people and stuff behind you.

The best way to enjoy a country is to live like the people there. That's my two cents.


I -loved- not having a vehicle and the hassle and all in Ukraine when we were their in the early 00s. But, like Ashley warned, you don't have the same freedom or ability to explore the countryside.

That said, I'm not doing a lot of exploring here WITH a vehicle, but. . . freedom! Yes! I drive from the house to the embassy and back again and am THANKFUL to not have to take a taxi!

And, if we end up in Ukraine again (as is likely), I am TOTALLY going to get a vehicle. A bit nervous about parking and dealing with snow, but excited about driving around the city and outside of town. . .

I can totally see you lvoing the city and public transport in China, though.


Hi there,
This post has been included in the (late) May 20 edition of the Weekly State Department Blog Round Up. Thanks for your submission!


I definitely second what people have been saying about buying a car at post if you're not certain now. The car I owned in Dhaka is the only car I've ever owned. I bought it sight unseen before I arrived from someone leaving the Embassy, and it was the best decision ever, though risky--that way I had it right away, no waiting, no dealing with importing one. GSO did all the paperwork to transfer it from the previous owner to me. And I sold it for almost as much as I paid for it.

But we don't plan to have a car in China--since cars with diplomatic plates aren't allowed to go a certain distance outside the city, it doesn't give you freedom to explore on the weekends, and I've heard urban driving and worse, parking in China is not fun.


Cars... It does seem like such a big decision. But in the the grand scheme of things it is one of the smaller choices to make. The experience and route of choice is different for any country you go to. China sounds ccomplicated only because you need to decide if you even really need a car at all. In Macedonia we chose to buy a new car from a dealership. Moving to Kenya meant opposite side of the road and 4-wheel drive needed. We ordered from an on- line company in Japan. My friends Laurie & Alexandra (who I see also commented...hi girls!) did it differently. For us it was important to have no "Nairobi Miles" on the odometer. It's like dog years to a car.

The bottom line is that a car (in this lifestyle) is less like a pet and more like household help. Beloved & serviceable, but not going with you to your next post.


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James loves me. And our sons. And his job. But not having his picture taken. In 2011 he finished up over a year and half of training, and in the fall of 2011 we got to our first overseas post - Chengdu, China!
Mao says hi! Because Chengdu is one of the only cities in China with a Mao statue.
Flowers are like friends. Each one is unique. Each one is beautiful. They brighten up everything around them. And you can never have too many. 

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2012 is the Year of the Dragon, y'all! Talk about the ultimate in good luck! This kinda party only comes around once every twelve years!
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Colorful! (Inside a Chengdu ancient Buddhist monastery.)
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