What I was surprised by the most in United States is the overwhelming power of nature. Seoul is an iridescent place with skyscrapers and buildings, and the only remnants of nature I could see were the trees along the pathway. However, United States is a country that doesn’t predate over nature; it coexist with it, as huge as their territory is. This is where I realized that earth is not only for humans to live, but also for other elements in the earth to reside in harmony with the humans.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. “
Last weekend the National Convention center in D.C. housed the Travel and Adventure show. This enormous roll out of literally hundreds of little stores promotes everything from world cruises to how best to hit up individual cities. As an amateur traveler with a passion for going to off the beat ‘n track destinations, I felt like the time bugs bunny got abandoned on Carrot Island. I went nuts. Armenia, Jamaica, Bolivia, Grand Cayman. Grand Cayman? Is that on Mars or Jupiter? I don’t know, but why not. Are you interested in going to Iran, Sir? You bet. In goes another pile of pamphlets. There were live performances of exotic cultural dances that enlivened the senses and awoke curiosity from its slumber. The burritos were muy delicioso.What I enjoyed most was the fact that not one travel store pressured you to sign up to its offers. What’s more, to enter the convention you only had to pay the miserly fee of $11.00. However, small as it is, the payment is necessary for it restricts the exhibitors from being overly zealous in pressuring you to go north to Alaska, or wherever.
I met the author of “1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die”, Patricia Schultz. Schultz’ book is one of the best selling travel books of all time, probably due to the highly persuasive style she adopts. I bet you can’t read a single chapter of her book without contemplating, even momentarily, to drop everything and make your way to the nearest airport. She makes us ordinary folk aware that there are so many exotic tourist destinations just waiting to be explored. A meet and greet moment with Schultz was a highlight of my time at the Travel and Adventure Show. She is a heroine of 21st century travel and gives her patrons a warm fuzzy feeling inside; she makes you feel completely at ease. Whether it be books, calendars, audio or giving live presentations, Schultz’s mark is very stylish and recognizable. Thanks for the opportunity, Patricia.
As I made my way through the labyrinth of travel stores I stumbled across a man standing between a BMW GS motorbike and a van. It sparked my curiosity instantly. “Hi, I’m Alan Karl” he said confidently. I’d never heard of him. He told me some of his story and I was hooked. Alan travelled the world for 3 years on his BMW, visiting 65 countries. He collected recipes, stories and took marvelous pictures along the way. Upon his return he wrote a best seller Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. It is one of those books you reach for when a big storm is coming, the lights go out and your snuggled down in bed listening to the crackle of a wood fire. His story transports you onto the road with him. To the crystal clear salt flats of beautiful Bolivia. To the torrid swamps of Africa. I was not leaving the Convention Centre without a copy of Forks. Where I’m going to store it in my luggage when I hit the road though is another thing…
The emboldening Statue of Liberty, the majestic Empire State Building and some lucky lady delighting in the age old tradition of eating strawberry cheese cake amidst a sea of yellow cabs: this is what so many of us perceive New York to be. This past weekend I set off with two of my friends from Bolivia, Carla and Alison Saavedra, to discover if this were true.
We fulfilled a large amount of the items on our bucket list. Here is a sample of some of them:
See a broad way show: TICK (We saw the Phantom of the Opera, it was spectacular! Tip: look on line if you want to get the best deals. We got fairly good seats for like US$47.00! Normally they are $120.00).
Selfie in times square: TICK (Tip: watch for pickpockets as your eyes are distracted by the flashy lights).
Cucumber sandwiches with Donald Trump in Trump Tower: AVOIDED (Can you blame us? Besides, the old geezer was out of town anyway).
A photo with the Statue of Liberty: TICK (Well, kind of. You see if you take the Staten Island ferry its free, but the downside is that the ferry passes by Liberty Island from quite a distance).
A photo with the ‘Wall Street Bull’ by sculptor Arturo Di Modica: TICK. (This very realistic sculpture is said to represent the testosterone of the American economists and stock brokers. Considering the American economy is 19 trillion dollars in debt I wonder whether a large “I O U” sculpture would be more appropriate?)
Try a New York street vendor’s hot dog: TICK. (Tried it?! After 2 paracetamol, a litre of water and a 30 minute rest in the nearby MET museum, its probably more appropriate to say that I survived the experience… I think the sausage wasn’t cooked properly? Frank Sinatra sang in his famous song New York, New York that, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere”. I wonder if the same applies in a culinary sense?)
Hit up some of New York’s famous art/museums: TICK, TICK and TICK again. ( We visited the Guggenheim Art Gallery; housing the legendary Thannhauser Collection, the Museum of Natural History; where the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ was set, and the Metropolitan Museum. The Guggenheim art gallery prides itself in displaying art with meaning so hidden that even Alan Turing and the experts who decoded the enigma machine during WWII would fail to decipher even the simplest abstract work exhibited. The New York Metropolitan Museum, otherwise known as the MET, was my favorite by far. In one afternoon we were able to peer upon the mystical face of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death mask and then admire the works of the classical artists Renoir, van Gogh and Monet, among others. All this, just for a small donation!)
Have afternoon tea with Big Bird: FAIL. (We couldn’t find it! But can you tell me how? Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Actually, come to think of it, I did see a big bird, hanging upside down in a front window down New York’s famous Canal Street, Chinatown).
OK. So, I managed to accomplish the majority of the things on the to do list. But does that mean that I have really experienced the city? No. Not at all. Taking a photo with the Statue of Liberty or eating cheese cake in Time’s Square doesn’t make one anymore acquainted with New York than does thinking you know the intricacies of a 1000 page book’s plot by scanning its back blurb. To know a city one has to live there. One has to interact with the people. After all, it is the people that are the soul of a city and not the empty edifices of its surrounds. The highlights of my time in New York were none of the above. The real highlights were the brief and momentary interactions I shared with everyday, metro riding New Yorker’s. A glance. A smirk. A G’day. A simple time of small talk with a hotel clerk about the poor weather. Sharing a joke with a homeless man who was singing desperately outside the Guggenheim, as the fluffy white snow drifted carelessly down his neck, a neck that probably hadn’t laid on a soft pillow since Ronald Reagan was President. Having the hairs of my neck stand on end upon hearing how Justin our hostel attendant’s father just happened not to make it to his office the morning of 9/11.
Shouted lunch by a kind family of Bolivian first generation Americans in an Ecuadorian restaurant in Queens whilst listening to how the father, Lucho, slowly made his way to the top. Attending a non-denominational church service in central Brooklyn with a room full of strangers that felt like long lost family. This was New York for me.
Even though I am a Korean by nationality, I’ve spent a huge portion of my life in Japan. Therefore, I’ve always missed Japan, its atmosphere, its people and … its FOOD. That’s the reason that I was desperate looking for good donburi places when attending college in Korea, and even though some places were decent enough, they weren’t fully satisfactory. Since Korea is renowned for its food culture and its ability to mimic foods of diverse countries, I thought they were the best Japanese food I could have in a foreign country.
But, I was wrong.
Right before I went to bed on Wednesday, my friend texted me and asked me whether I like Japanese food. I answered yes, and she told me she knew a great donburi place in D.C.. Despite the fact that she has lived in D.C. for more than 7 years, I was a bit suspicious because I’ve never tried any sort of Japanese food since my arrival here.
We met after class on Thursday in front of Gelman Library, and caught an Uber. We got off near Alex Morgan, where the streets looked so marvelous and Beverly Hills-like (where I’ve never been but I’m just guessing). The donburi place was pretty small, and the seats were full of people. However, we luckily got to get a seat within less than 10 minutes.
The restaurant was unique in that we paid for it beforehand. I picked Salmon Donburi without any hesitation.
I was astonished by their swiftness in processing orders! The donburi was in front of me within 3 minutes after my order.
Starving since 10AM in the morning, I couldn’t wait to enjoy the meal. My trembling chopsticks carefully took a hold of a piece of fresh salmon. Right before it went into my mouth, my friend stopped me and told me that I should comply to the ‘real way’ of eating donburi. According to her, I was supposed to plaster a bit of wasabi on the salmon piece, dip it into soy sauce for a second and then take a bite of it. She was right. The donburi tasted so good I can’t find a word to describe it.
Not only was the donburi incomparable to those I had in Korea, but it was also actually better than the ones I had in Japan. I really didn’t want to admit it, but it was just the way it was. The salmon was so fresh I couldn’t feel any greasiness (the phenomenon that often happens when eating too much salmon), and the sauce on the donburi matched both he salmon and the rice well.
It was surely the best meal I had in D.C. so far. So glad I took another step to mastering Washington D.C. attractions !
I have remarked earlier that my next destination would be Georgetown cupcakes, and I got to have this accomplished in a relatively short period of time. An upperclassman of mine from Yonsei University also came to Washington D.C. for an exchange student, and we decided to meet up and have a good lunch together. I was wandering around Georgetown while I was waiting for her to come, and found Georgetown cupcakes. There weren’t much people because it was pretty early, and I thought this was a chance for me to get some cupcakes.
Last Friday evening the George Washington University’s Marvin Centre theatre became the location of a cultural crossroads. On one side of the highway of life was the audience from the Western world. We brought to the table first world problems such as, “what color should my new BMW be?” and “why is Apple taking so long to release iPhone 10?” Facing us on the other side of the civilization juncture was the Bokamoso Youth choir from Winterweldt, South Africa. “Ubuntu”-meaning the interconnectedness at the heart of our humanity- is the word the organization uses to summarize itself. It is a very apt description.
It was a sobering experience for the Western world contingent. We observed the spectacle before our eyes with great curiosity. Narratives illustrating the challenges facing Africa’s youth today prompted the realization that our first world problems are insignificant. The effectiveness of the message was exacerbated by skillful dance and harmonious song. We were made aware of some of the prevalent issues facing African youth today. Topics explored included the treatment of immigrants, poverty, gender inequality, high unemployment and the complex balancing of traditional rites of passage with modern life.
The US creative team behind the music composition, screenplay and dance choreography are to be highly, highly commended. The delicate interplay between humor and tragedy, perceived realities and cold fact, had the audience at times in fits of laughter, at times in quiet reflection. Such artistic mastery can rarely be experienced for an entrance cost of just US $10.00.
I particularly enjoyed the performance because I had briefly interacted with some Bokamoso members when they came to a GWU University Singers’ rehearsal earlier that week. They taught us the African spiritual ‘The music of the LORD’. Our voices in collective harmony spoke of the power of unity. We left the bleak confine of the Phillips rehearsal studio basement with an avid aspiration to save humanity from itself by spreading the power of unity through song. Ubuntu!
You can learn more about this excellent organization here: http://www.bokamosoyouth.org/