Thursday, August 14, 2008

'MERIKA

Sunflower fields and cute little houses. Bembol Roco still got hair then. He died in the middle of a street and no one seemed to care despite Nora Aunor's pleas for help. This was from a movie I watched a long time ago in Bambang's Reybal Theater. It will be my lasting impression of Amerika: almost paradise where people don't mind.

Everybody in Almaguer wanted to go to Amerika. They too want to build a big house on top of a hill just like Apong Ino. I definitely wanted to and finally meet in person Dick, Jane, Sally and their dog Spot; see the places I've read in "The History of the United States of America"; and eat myself to death with grapes and apples.

But Amerika ain't easy. And I'm realistic enough to know that there's no way especially after 9/11. Besides, life has been good and I have my fair share of travels abroad. So why go?

Some 3 years ago, I received a visit from who I have been told is the Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Manila. He came to asked how it's going during Gen. Jovito "The Butcher" Palparan's reign of terror in Central Luzon. Some days later, I was asked to submit a resume for reference purposes. Never heard from them after that. Last April this year, I was part of a 5-country contingent who went to see another Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and explained to him how US trade policies are hurting other people and violating their human rights. Never heard from him too after that.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the US ambassador to the Philippines herself inviting me to almost a month of visit to Amerika. Why me? I mean, I was not really into the American Dream. But, as my boss told me, being invited to Amerika don't happen everyday. And so off I went for the briefings and visa work, walking the distance to the US Embassy from the nearby Diamond Hotel, amusing myself with the almost paranoid security procedures.

It was almost a 24-hour haul from Manila to Nagoya then Detroit and finally Washington DC. The first image to grab me was the imposing Washington Monument as the taxi crossed the Potomac River on the way to the hotel from the Reagan National Airport. After unpacking, I walked around and amazed myself with the contradiction of elegant Georgian houses and the homeless congregating at the Dupont Circle. I was looking for a place to eat but first day jitters held me back from trying the restaurants. A pizza would do for the moment.


Washington DC is a cosmopolitan city. Everywhere is a babble of different languages. Colonial buildings gracefully intersperse with modern semi-skyscrapers and symbols of history. I walked a lot: to the National Zoo, the Mall, Penn Quarter, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, and around the Foggy Bottom area. I sometimes take the Metro if it's too far or I'm too tired. I have mastered the art of riding the subway 2 years ago in Japan. I got to see BB King perform too. And of course, I did my visita iglesia.




It is, however, a business trip with power meetings. And I had a high walking the corridors of government of the most powerful nation on earth: the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture and its 10 kilometers of hallway, the National Park Services, and the protocol sensitive State Department. "So this is where the policies that hurt us were made" I told myself as we met with the US Trade Representative negotiator and World Bank technocrats. I was trying not to in deference to my host but I can't resist putting my message across. I hope they were listening.


There were many highlights but tops would be the impromptu tour of the US House of Representatives' side of the Capitol. And it was personally conducted for us by the Chief Administrative Officer and a former Miss Rhode Island who now works for the Democratic Speaker of the House. The aura of power is thick in the Speaker's lounge, and suffucating at the session hall where I got to try one of the leather-covered congressmen's seat. We did a couple of non-profit organizations too. The poor kid from Almaguer has certainly arrived.

But frankly, what I needed to learn in this study visit I did in an hour of discussion from a Lebanese-American resource person who expounded on the American individuality and explained in simple but clear terms the American federal system of government, what the the states do, and the local governments. The rest would be a stroll for tangible examples of the American way of life.

There are 19 of us from 19 countries. Security is really tight and our running joke is that every visit to a federal government office is like checking-in at the airport. I was told that Washington DC is in fact among the top ten most violent city in the US in terms of the number of homicides committed every year. But you can't tell. I did not. I liked it a lot. Although I thought it's too sterile and organized for me.




PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):
(1) Tibetan exiles protest at the Dupont Circle during the Olympic Games opening in Beijing.
(2) Playing the music for some coins in a sidewalk.
(3) Jamming up a jazz concert at the National Zoo
(4) Tourists in a new mode of "walking" the streets of Washington DC.
(5) A pedestrian seen from The Caucus Room resturant owned by a Democrat and a Republican lobbyist (the building across the street is the FBI national headquarters).
(6) A tour guide on trike picking up a costumer.
(7) A young man reads one of the various items left at the Vietnam War Memorial that was designed by Maya Ying Lin and dedicated in 1982. However, it was only in 1993 when the engraving of the first 58,159 names of American KIA and MIA was completed. The Vietnam War is said to be the only war lost by the Americans.
(8) Concepcion "Connie" Picciotto has been picketting the White House for world peace since 1981, enduring harrasment from the police and National Park Service, and winning court battles to go on. The Little Giant as she has been called shares the struggle with 2 other world peace advocates --- William Thomas and Norman Mayer. On 8 December 1982, Norman Mayer was shot dead as police ended his 10-hour siege of the Washington Monument.
(9) Designated as the National House of Prayer, the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral was established in 1893 through a charter from the US Congress. Construction started in 1907 and completed only in 1990. It is the second largest cathedral in the US, the fourth tallest structure in Washington DC, and the sixth largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Masses for 3 state funerals were held in the cathedral namely that for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford while another one --- Woodrow Wilson --- is interred there.
(10) The idea of a national was first conveived in 1909. Eleven years later, the cornerstone was laid for what would be known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception or "America's Catholic Church", the largest Catholic church in North America, and the 10th largest in the whole world.
(11) The parish was established in 1794 and the present St. Patrick's church erected between 1872 and 1884 making it the oldest church in Washington DC. The church is actually the 3rd to be built: the first wooden church in 1794, and the second of bricks in 1809.
(12) St. John's church is called as The Church of the Presidents because it has been attended at least once by every US president since it was built in 1816. Its Pew 54 has been designated as the President's Pew for this purpose. The church was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and its nearly 1,000 pounds bell casted by Paul Revere's son.

1 comment:

jun of zerogravity said...

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