Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dinner at the US Ambassador's Residence

At the end of April, Sara and I flew up to New Zealand's capital of Wellington and stayed with our friend Michelle until our dinner on Tuesday evening. Monday was a holiday and Sara remotely work and I worked from our Wellington office on Tuesday.

During the day before the dinner, I remembered I still needed to get back with the Embassy with the make, model and plate number of the car we were driving. This was to allow us to park on the Ambassador's residential compound.

Dressed up before heading out.
Dressed up in formal wear, we drove off of the busy street in the Lower Hutt part of Wellington and entered the compound passing a red brick wall with only a shiny brass plague showing the street address. We soon stopped at the security point where our ids were checked and the underside of the car checked with mirrors and engine and trunk compartments visually scanned over. Once done the guard cheerfully let us drive on where we passed a large grass lawn with only a US flag at the top of a tall pole in the middle. We were now legally on US territory. At the far end of the lawn was a large colonial house, lit up with exterior lights.

Walking up, we could see the Ambassador and his wife chatting with a few other people in the foyer. We noticed a large abstract painting of President Obama through the window that sat on the wall just behind them. The Ambassador sees us through the window and opens the door where he and his wife, Nancy greeted us with a firm handshake and a cheek air kiss. We were then handed glasses of California red wine - ahhh tastes of home. You don't find California wines in New Zealand much.

We chatted with Ambassador Mark and Nancy and met the other guests that had already arrived including one staff member, Rob, the Public Diplomacy Officer at the embassy and whom we've met before at the 9/11 ceremony last October in Christchurch. While waiting for the other guests Nancy informed us about all the paintings on display and how they are all in loan as part of a Department of State program of show casing original pieces of art. Sara and I walked around looking at the paintings and photos hung around the house. Examples of paintings are an abstract painting of Uncle Sam, one of a bison and one of a box of Circus Animal Cookies. Some of the photos we saw: Ambassador playing one-on-one basketball with President Obama, Ambassador and Bill Clinton, Ambassador and Nancy with Vice President Biden all in mid laugh.

Ambassador Mark is a former Chicago White Sox player and turned to the financial sector afterwards. He was a supporter of the Obama presidential campaign. He is also what is called an "appointed ambassador", this is different from a "career ambassador" where "appointed ambassadors" are directly appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate.  In contrast, "Career Ambassadors" are Foreign Service officers that moved all the way up to position of full ambassador and move from one ambassadorship to another. "Appointed Ambassadors" have to be appointed each time by the US President. This is Ambassador Mark's first ambassadorship.

Dinner was announced, Sara and I walked into the dining room where the large dining table was set up for 14 people. The table was set up with white china with gold rims. The Seal of the US was branded at the top of all the plates, glasses and even tea cups. We found our seats by the names cards that were placed on the table. The cards even had an embossed Seal of the United States above our names. This is the same table and setup where visiting dignitaries ate at.

Besides the Ambassador and Nancy, couples were separated at opposite’s ends of the table and we sat in a boy-girl-boy-girl pattern. To the right of me was, Annie, the wife of an American professor at the University of Canterbury who is also on the US Fulbright Scholarship Board.  To the left was the Ambassador's daughter, Liz. Sara sat between the American professor himself, Trevor and Rob. Some of the other guests were Will, an Eisenhower Fellow whom I've met before as we both were speakers at a Connecting Young Leaders Conference last year in Christchurch, and his wife. The guest of honor was six-time Oscar winner, Richard Talyor and his wife of Weta Workshop. Richard worked on many movies including The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies and most recently designed the Anzac exhibit at Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand for the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC forces landing in Gallipoli (in present-day Turkey), which was the previous weekend and what the annual holiday on Monday was for.

Dinner was quite fun, the conversations ranged from light topics of Nancy sharing embarrassing moments of Ambassador Mark and Liz's addiction to some TV show called the "Game of Thrones" to more sobering topics of the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal (for the recorded was introduced by Nancy and not me).

At the end of dinner, Ambassador Mark brought the kitchen staff out where we were able to praise them for the amazing dinner and then Nancy handed out small parting gifts to us. We mingled a bit before leaving, where the Ambassador saw us off. What an awesome night?!