I’m not really that cynical, but baking does wonders for my social life. Since discovering the baking shop (see previous blog entry) I’ve brought baked goods to a couple social events, sent Diplowife to work with cookies a couple times, given baked goods as going-away presents to departing friends (catching the eye of the Consul General in the process, I might add), and greeted new arrivals with homemade bread.
I was pretty stressed out when we got to post, partly because the consulate Easter potluck was right around the corner and I volunteered to bring a carrot cake. I forgot the fact that A) I didn’t have any cake tins, B) I didn’t have any baking spices or leavening ingredients, C) I had no cream cheese and carrot cake without cream cheese frosting is a sad thing indeed. I picked up most of those things at the baking shop and made a terrific carrot cake, if I do say so myself, for the Easter party. Crisis averted! Plus, the cake impressed the Consul General’s wife, which is basically like being friends with Wonder Woman.
I like making cookies, but having them in the house doesn’t help us stay in shape, so I usually send about half the batch to the Consulate via Diplowife. That’s a sneaky way for her to make friends at work, because people tend to assume the wife does the baking in the family. That’s OK with me, she’s almost as introverted as I am, so I’m happy to help. But then people will eventually find out it was me, and my reputation as a competent baker (haha) will continue to develop. That reputation pays off in a big way. Once people found out I’m into baking, free ingredients started showing up at my door, mostly from people leaving post. I’ve acquired bags of spices, flour, sugar, even a giant bottle of homemade vanilla extract!
Another strategy occurred to me when a friend mentioned she loves cheesecake and can’t find it here. She was due to transfer back to DC in a few weeks, so I made her a cheesecake, which she brought to the office to share. One of the people she shared it with was the CG himself, who told his wife about it (further cementing my reputation) and she now wants me to come to their home to teach their chef how to bake. Since then, I’ve made a couple other treats for friends on their way out of Shenyang. I haven’t experienced moving away from a foreign post, so I can only assume it’s very stressful, and having a favorite pie or batch of cookies around must be nice.
Conversely, arriving at post is a big pile of stress, especially if your social sponsor isn’t any good at their job. That’s what happened to some friends of ours who arrived here a month after we did. Their social sponsor did next to nothing for them (and their two little kids) and Diplowife and I were appalled. I figured a fresh loaf of bread would be a nice thing to have when you arrive at a new post, so I’ve been baking bread for new people since then. It’s a good excuse to come by their home and introduce myself, and let them know they’re free to ask me about the area, places to shop, etc. We had good social sponsors, but clearly not everybody is so lucky, so hopefully I can help out in those situations.
Shenyang is a relatively small post, so I doubt I can make treats for every new officer and every departing officer when we get posted to a big embassy. But those posts (I’m told) aren’t very closely-knit anyway, and I doubt I’ll have much impact there. But in Shenyang, everybody is in everybody’s business, and it’s totally doable to welcome people and say goodbye properly. Maybe it’ll catch on at other posts, but adapted to whatever is lacking there. China’s baked goods are pretty bad, so my work here is cut out for me. But what’s hard to find in Africa or South America? We shall see.