Monthly Archives: December 2013

Final Confessions of a psuedo-Colonial

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I technically began writing my last blog post as I was finishing my last philosophy essay – there was something about looking inwards while writing the essay that forced me to think about my last blog post. I pondered what would be my defining last words on this small space I was honoured to contribute to. I wondered whether I should give a summary of my stay here – but I realised I was not capable of summarising an entire magical wonderful semester into one post. I also realised I should do justice to the emotions I feel as I leave GWU, my home for the past few months. And so, inspired by St. Augustine, the Christian philosopher who I was reviewing for the past final month, here are my humble confessions.

In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.

I begin with expressing highest of gratitude to Him who gave me the strength and health and who aligned my life such that I was destined to visit The George Washington University, located in the capital of the most powerful nation in the material world.

I would also like to express the highest of gratitude to my parents who are the premise of my existence and my education both at home and here in D.C.

I would extend further gratitude to The George Washington University, specifically the Office of Study Abroad, for selecting me among many to be part of this exchange programme.

The best of gratitude and heartfelt regards to the friends I have made here who made me feel at home – my colonial brothers and sisters. I am ultimately grateful for every single cupcake trip, every study session in the library, every moment we shared. It was hard saying goodbye to all you wonderful beings.

I regret to say that I find myself unable to adequately fulfil the intention of my exchange visit. I am unable to say that I have learned everything there is to learn here. There is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that could not have been imparted on me even with the amount of time I had here.

What I am able to say is that I have learned was I was destined to have learned.

I learned from the Americans the culture of greeting each other: sometimes it is just a “Hey, how are you doing?”, and other times it involved talking about our families and their state of health and being. It is something I will bring back to my home, a place so efficient that greetings rob us of precious time, resulting in opportunities lost. No, GWU and America in general has opened my eyes to the humanity of existence which I shall attempt to impart on my fellow countrymen when I return.

I learned from GWU the theories and philosophies relevant to my studies. I learned US Foreign Policy in the very place that will produce policy makers. I also learned the problems or race and ethnicity in education, in the very place where history was made with the Civil Rights Movement. I ascended up Mt. Vernon to learn the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and Saint Augustine – to name a few – separate from the main campus and the world in general, in a space where I was able to look upwards into the world of Forms and inwards into the internal subjective experiences. Out of an amazing university, in just a semester, I have developed myself academically and intellectually, challenged by bright minds of students from American and from all over the world. The culture of speaking up and loud here disciplined myself to think fast, speak clearly and analyse arguments with a sharp and critical mind faster.

I learned from the memorials and museums, the depth of Western and human (in general) history. I learned the emotional and physical costs of war and its repercussions, even if we attempt to be as just as possible.

I learned from my fellow exchange students the meaning of friendship, even if just for a small moment in our lives.

How do I say goodbye to something that is still part of me? It remains a mystery to me. I will always look back at my blog posts and my photos – posted and un-posted. There is an Arabic jahili poem which gives me a clue to the sorrow I feel leaving D.C.

أَمُـرُّ عَلَـى الدِّيَـارِ دِيَـارِ لَيْلَــى أُقَبِّــلُ ذَا الجـِدَارَا وَذَا الجــِدَارَا

وَمَـا حُـبُّ الدِّيَـارِ شَغَفْـنَ قَلْبِـي ولَكِـنْ حُـبُّ مَنْ سَكَـنَ الدِّيَـارَا

Its meaning:

I passed the house of Layla and I kissed the walls
But it is not the love of the walls that enrapture my heart, It is but the love of the one that stays in those walls

I do not miss the walls of the Gelman library, I do not miss the statues and monuments, I do not miss my lecture theatres and my books. What I miss are the people who were part of my life here, the school, my lecturers and friends:

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During my last “party” in D.C., I played “secret santa” and exchanged gifts with friends from all over the world. I am very grateful for the gift I received and the whole experience of the farewell party. I can only be hopeful that we will see each other again. Those who share the same academic interests as me will definitely keep in touch with me to continue or discussions and debates. Those who don’t, we will still keep in touch, out of the value and meaning of our friendship.

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I wish all of you all the best in your future endeavours. Goodbye D.C.and GWU, may we meet again.

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Written while catching a flight home!

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Winter is here

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Well, it has been here for quite some time already, what with the temperatures nearing zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). I’ve gotten used to the temperature as well as the conversion between Celsius and Fahrenheit, making for good weather small talk. I fear, when I return to all-year-round 80 Fahrenheit Singapore, I am really going to miss this freezing winter. It’s not just the temperature that I’ve fascinated about. It’s also the snow, thanks to an ice storm. Snow in DC is not that pretty, according to the few whiny locals I’ve talked to thanks to my new mastery of the Fahrenheit. Driving is dangerous and streets get slippery with slush. Yet, despite the many inconveniences, this snow-virgin appreciates the experience, even if this winter was more uncomfortable than magical.

8 Snow

It didn’t stop me from getting out and scavenging for food, although I very much prefer the dry warmth of the heated buildings.

7 Snow

Most of the snow melted away after a few hours.

Regardless, I had some memorable experiences over the weekend, even without the snow.

Burger 7

burger7

This is a burger franchise located out of the DC area we are familiar with. There is one in courthouse, a few stops away on the metro. Of course, it is halal, but it is also awesome. You can see the kitchen and the entire preparatory process while you wait for your order – they give you pagers that buzz to notify you it is done. We had the usual Burger 7 specials on the menu – doused with the special Burger 7 sauce. This burger chain makes for a good meal, regardless of the weather. Did I also mention it is cheap?

Exchange Prom

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I really want to thank the few fellow exchange students who organized this event for the rest of us, and the Office for thinking of having this as part of the program. It has been such a long time since the exchange orientation and we’ve been hanging out in small pockets, but we never got to see everyone. There was good food, drinks and photo booths to take pictures. A kind soul even said, “we were really so concerned about the food being halal first, we forgot to check for vegetarians”. Of course, the vegetarians were not left out, but such kind words…

My roommates and I took the above picture at one of the photobooths. We took one in the beginning of the semester at the Lincoln memorial and here we are, still friends, still without a roommate agreement. We pushed the boundaries of civilized co-existence and we made it. Just a few more weeks and I’ll miss living together with them in our relatively neat apartment.

BB&T, GW versus Maryland

The few of us have really became huge fans of GW basketball who have been doing well themselves. We got the (free) tickets to their BB&T game against Maryland at the Verizon.

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4 Draw

It was a really close match. We (yes we, because all of us were cheering along so the crowd was part of it, right?) held a lead until the very last moment when Maryland caught up. The Colonial Army kept strong and cheered the team onwards and within the last 8 seconds, the team scored 2 points to take the lead and win the game. We wanted to rush down the stands to congratulate the team on the floor but the event staff prevented us from even reaching out a hand to catch a high-5.

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I’ll remember this truly American scoreline for years – this was a basketball game straight out of a pro-GW movie.

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We caught ourselves a Maryland fan on the metro back to talk “competitive basketball” with.

That’s it for now, all the best for your finals! Yes, finals! I’m coming home soon…

New Dynasty

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New Dynasty

Thanks to a little trouble with my phone’s memory device and a frustrating day of terrible wifi connection, this photo is all I can salvage.

The New Dynasty Chinese Restaurant is at 2020 P Street, NW and is a small, cozy Chinese restaurant that doesn’t just sell “Chinese” food; it also has a range of Southeast Asian “hawker” dishes such as Pad Thai and Indonesian Beef Fried Rice. It is an 18 minute walk away and a personal weekly destination, usually with Reza or Shiying or both. Students with a valid Student  ID, such as our GWorld card, will be able to get a discount and a free drink or soup of the day. Reza prefers the Chicken Corn Soup while Shiying and I favor the Hot and Sour Soup.

To most of you, this restaurant would probably not be significant enough for a blog post. However, New Dynasty is a very significant part of my DC experience.

To start off, the food is good for Southeast Asian standards. We don’t fuss about how amazing the food may be. We’re hungry, the food is edible, it satisfies our taste, the quality and quantity is consistent and it is cheap. Coming from the food-heaven-island of Singapore, I’ll give it a 7.5. Some of you will give it a lower rating because we come from different backgrounds.

The first time I wanted to visit New Dynasty, I was with my dad. We were new to DC so we didn’t venture enough to have visited this place. We usually ate at Mehran’s which was clearly halal. New Dynasty is Halal, but the reviews on Zabihah were not updated and did not reflect a solid Halal vibe. My dad was suspicious. Also, he had to leave and we didn’t have time.

I finally visited New Dynasty the week after orientation after Friday prayers at the Islamic Center, before we discovered alternative venues for Friday prayers much closer to Ivory Tower. I was with Reza at that time. We did not order the student meal because we were not aware of the deal. It was still an affordable $7, and it was the first time we had non-fish protein. Reza had kung pao chicken and I had beef with broccoli.

I remember how I was so thankful for the meal; almost close to tears. I was still new to DC and we had a hard time with getting Halal food. A week ago with my dad, sometimes we only had bread and bananas. This was way before we had any Muslim friends to chauffeur us to Halal eating places. (Even if we did, it wouldn’t be as cheap as this). I was on a budget. This was good food. In addition, the food reminded me of home.

Ever since that first visit, we have been bringing friends to this place. Some became regulars, like Shiying. Some follow us occasionally like my roommates and the other Singaporeans. It’s not “great” food, so it doesn’t appeal to everyone. We often visit after a trip to Safeway or Dupont Circle.

Each visit, the dining area will have guests from Malaysia or Indonesia – diplomats, military personnel, officials, people from the embassy. Each time, we will be introduced to new guests (we are the most frequent customers now). I would smoothly speak Bahasa to the Indonesians, and a formal version of Malay to the Malaysians. Sometimes I will sneak some Arabic into conversations with the waiter who speaks Arabic. Other times, I will just listen and try to understand what Arabic-speakers (from all over the world) using different dialects say. There are rare times where I even hear Italian, a language I picked up here in DC after a simple conversation with the barber I managed to sustain for 5 seconds, with words I learned from a game, perked my interest. Other than the Exchange Student Orientation, this is the most “international” place I have been to as a participant-observant – partly because it is so near the embassies.

It’s not a pretty place. It’s not a 5 star restaurant. Yet, it resonates with me. It’s my favourite place to eat because I see myself in the ambiance. I am not “from here”, I am simple and appreciate simplicity and, like the owner of New Dynasty, I like to speak to people using their respective native languages even if I am terrible at it.

Do visit, if you have the time. You might like it. They deliver as well.

At the moment, emotionally, it is hardly comfortable to miss home and have exams and papers due. It occupies my mind. To add, I am anticipating missing DC and my friends here as well. I am torn between wanting to go home and yearning to stay just a bit longer. I see the wisdom of only needing to pass my classes. I’m really grateful to only have a few final exams at the moment.