A couple of weeks ago I visited eight countries without even leaving D.C. , by participating in the annual embassy tour. (I’m told that technically you’re on the soil of an embassy’s country when you’re on their property.)
Within the span of probably a couple of miles, a friend and I visited Indonesia, the Bahamas, Korea, Japan, Venezuela, Croatia, Haiti and Australia.
Our first stop was Indonesia, with an embassy formerly the palatial home of some industrialist or other member of the moneyed class in the early 1900s, complete with beautiful woodwork, chandeliers and a grand staircase. We walked around the large rooms open to the public for this event and admired some of the textiles, a lion barong (hairy, mirrored lion spirit from one of the islands of Bali) and a replica of an ornate Buddhist temple. We took a handful of shrimp-favored chips for the walk to the Bahamas, just a few buildings down Massachusetts Ave.
A much smaller place, just like the nation, the embassy had displays of straw baskets and dolls and in the courtyard staff and volunteers served conch fritters, which are the meat inside a conch shell fried in a light batter, and “sky juice,” a drink made of coconut water, sweetened condensed milk and gin (yes, at 10:30 in the morning, and it was pretty good).
We next went to Korea, and my friend and I got our picture taken with a woman in a kimono before voting on computers set up around one room for Jeju Island to be named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. (You could vote for seven natural wonders, so I also voted for the Amazon, Angel Falls, Bay of Fundy, Galapagos, Great Barrier Reef and Milford Sound. ) Jeju used to have a volcano, and there’s a very green-topped crater still left at the tip of the island. We also saw displays of artwork, traditional dinner sets and a calligraphy plate for a press for printing their traditional alphabet. Our hosts there sent us home with packaged cookies (made of sweet rice) and candies.
From there we went to Japan, which had displays of dolls in traditional dress that families put out on March 3rd each year (I don’t know why) and a display for Children’s Day, which is May 5th. The most interesting part, though, is they showed us some new robot devices scientists there made that help people walk who had spinal cord injuries and never thought they’d walk again . It was really amazing!
Then we went to Venezuela, where there were photographs of the many different kinds of people who live there and a display of fun wooden toys. Some girls were teaching how to do some Afro-Caribbean dance-party dances and I even tried one, but it was really hard — you had to swivel your hips a lot and I’m not good at doing that. We had a cheese pastry there and a dark-colored drink that looked like cider but it tasted quite different, made of sugar cane and lemon.
In Croatia, we saw photos of the beautiful beaches there and I got a red necklace. And then next door, we visited Haiti, where they were showcasing some of the rebuilding efforts and soliciting help for them. They served tiny chicken pastries and a rum punch (that I didn’t try).
Our last stop was at Australia, where a man from an aboriginal tribe clothed in a loincloth and ceremonial paint played the didgeridoo. We got to touch a skink, which is a large lizard, and sampled wine, cheeses, lamb and a nut-and-fruit bar.
At each stop we had our program book stamped with the seal of the country, so I have a nice collection. With dozens of embassies participating, I’ll visit new ones each year and end up with quite the stamp collection.