Monthly Archives: January 2017

Come Together – Right Now

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I don’t think there has been a better time to be in the heart of DC than this week.

On Friday, classes were cancelled, blockades were set up all over campus and security officers were on nearly every street in town, enforcing order and safety for those attending the inauguration. The wintry cold and rainy weather did not stop residents from all over America from turning up. Among a crowd of Trump supporters, we felt strangely out of sync and grew uncomfortable when the crowds started booing and displayed bouts of anger at other politicians and past presidents.

While the election outcome was fairly controversial, I was very glad to be able to see the inauguration up front, instead of laying on my couch behind a TV screen.

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Post inauguration and after a hearty lunch of ramen (and defrosting our fingers), we walked right into a protest on K Street. Placards, posters and flags were raised high as people marched down the street, and things gradually turned nasty as the police were called in. Lucky for us, we were near the back of the clash but were still ultimately at the receiving end of the tear gas.

Saturday saw one of the largest protests ever in America – the Women’s March. Men and women descended on the mall early in the morning in glorious pink p*ssyhats to stand up for women’s rights. It was also their way of sending a message to the new administration, that they would retaliate if other basic rights such as racial equality and freedom of speech are threatened. And it was not just in DC – sister marches occurred all over the country: New York, Utah and California among many others. What I enjoyed a lot about the march was also the witty and humorous signs made by protestors, written out in colourful language that would not be appropriate here.

Protests were not common back home (they’re actually illegal) and while my eyes and legs were sore from 2 days worth of protests, it will definitely be an experience to remember.

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The events of the weekend has taught me that things don’t always go the way they should. However, joining arms in solidarity and marching towards a common goal regardless of individual differences goes a long way in making a difference. It may not change the outcome of the election, but the craziness and unity exhibited by the thousands at the National Mall certainly swerves it onto a new course: the men, women and children of the world have their eyes on the White House and its new inhabitants.

For now, tension remains high and I’d like to remind everyone to be cautious of their actions and words in public to avoid needless risk and conflict.

Till then!

DC – a place like no other

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My first week of orientation at GW has came to an end and the semester officially commences next week. Last week saw my schedule packed to the brim with numerous orientation activities and the highlights for me were the visit to the US Capitol and the Monuments by Moonlight walk.

The Capitol is home to the United States Congress and sits atop the Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Once inside, we were greeted by wall murals and statues of presidents past. Having being born and bred in Singapore, I was unfamiliar with most of the individuals who were carved in stone (or rather, bronze and white marble). However, hearing names like Jefferson and Lincoln and standing in the same spot where they fought for rights and pushed groundbreaking policies was simply surreal. Our guide was really politically charged and always ready with a joke or a piece of political trivia to inject humour into the tour.

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Besides a journey to the past, we were treated to a glimpse of the future. Preparation works were in place for the impending presidential inauguration in a week and we walked the floors soon to be graced by an incoming president.  If you think structures look great in the day, you’ll be stunned when you see them bathed in moonlight. During the Monuments by Moonlight walking tour, I’ve never felt more fortunate to be in GW because of its accessibility to landmarks like the White House, Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. We covered the entire journey on foot under 2 hours, including stops for monument trivia and breaks along the way. The convenience was simply amazing and I definitely foresee myself taking long walks (or even runs) along this route.

Back at home in Singapore, food is synonymous with culture. Upon arriving in DC, I was pleasantly surprised to find a huge offering of diverse foods. Having landed several days prior to orientation, my roommate took me to several cafes and showed me where to get groceries. We were extremely lucky to get reservations at Founding Farmers for Sunday brunch – the chicken and waffle was simply divine. Along downtown DC and in the Foggy Bottom district, there are many Korean and Mexican food stalls. Food trucks lined the streets in Farragut Square, creating affordable options for students. The GW Campus itself is a foodie’s dream come true and I see my previous resolve to cook regularly crumbling slowly as time passes.

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We ended off orientation week with an NBA game – my very first. Washington Wizards beat the Philly 76-ers 109-93 amidst loud cries and sonorous cheers. While I had some trouble at first following the game and its scoring rules, Wikipedia took care of that in under a minute. Everyone in the stands were cheering and shouting for the Wizards — I followed suit and felt a surge of team pride even though I barely understood the game.

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Well, that’s all for now. It’s time to recharge and get ready for school!

A Moment in History

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When I left Shenkman Hall on Friday the streets were deserted, trucks blocked off roads and helicopters flew overhead. Something out of a post-apocalyptic horror film, the day was not destined to be a day of celebration. We left early to ensure we had a good spot, however, upon arrival we realised how unnecessary it was when we had a clear view extending the length of the National Mall. The majority of GW students did not attend the inauguration out of protest, some went out of curiosity but few went in support. As both an exchange student and history student I was not going to miss the opportunity to witness the inauguration of President Trump.

Men, women and children donned t-shirts and hats all hoping to ‘make America great again’, with complete faith that Trump was the man that was going to achieve this ‘greatness’. I had never met a Trump supporter in the flesh and suddenly I was surrounded by thousands of them. Observing the election campaign from a distance I could not comprehend how Donald Trump managed to become President. Coming to the US I hoped to gain some insight into this and the inauguration provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

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I was aware of the stereotype of a Trump supporter but believed it to be a caricature created by the media and not representative of 46% of voters. The first man I encountered was a man in his 60s with tattoos on his forehead and neck, handing out flyers on how simple it is to be saved. One of the most extreme in the crowd, his main concerns were abortion and Israel. He believed that CNN and NBC are lying to the public and the only genuine source of information is Fox News. Stereotypes aside the man proved to be genuinely friendly and polite towards me.
As an exchange student in America, I feel extremely welcomed by students, staff and strangers. In a country so historically diverse and inclusive the events of the past year have been disturbing. Listening to Trump’s inaugural address with my fellow exchange students it was concerning to see how his presidency will affect us. As Britons, Australians and Koreans we were automatically excluded from Trump’s ‘America first’ narrative. The atmosphere at the inauguration was a celebration, however, it was not a constructive one. The crowd booed as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Obama arrived on stage. They booed when Chuck Schumer mentioned the exceptional quality of all Americans, including those of different sexual orientation or gender identity.

The contrast between the inauguration and the Women’s March could not have been greater. The march may have been in response to the election result but people marched not because of Trump but in spite of him. The streets were jammed pack with nasty women and bad hombre’s protesting for their rights as women and Americans. The atmosphere was not filled with negativity towards immigration, LGBTQ or planned parenthood but rather positivity over the resilience of the American people. A sense of unification filled the air as hundreds of thousands of people march down Independence Avenue and towards the White House chanting ‘this is what democracy looks like’ and ‘love trumps hate’.

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I am extremely fortunate to not just observe the events of this weekend but participate in them. Being a part of history with so many others both in the US and over the globe is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The inauguration and the Women’s March provided me with a greater understanding of the election and the contrast between the two events highlights the challenges of the next four years. The Women’s March gives me with the hope that whatever Trump tries to achieve he will have to face the fight of the American people.

Orientation 2017

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At the end of the first week in DC I finally feel settled into my life at GWU. Orientation week has been non-stop logistics, legalities and most importantly fun! Between the GW staff and the orientation leaders we were truly looked after. It was a very different experience than my previous introduction to King’s. Back home the emphasis is on independence and you quickly learn to fend for yourself. At GW all the exchange students were embraced as fellow colonials and we had our own sense of community as we figured out DC together.

It is always within the first week in a new country where you experience the biggest culture shocks. Although the US and the UK share a common history and culture, there are certain subtle differences which take some adjusting to. As a Londoner, eye contact is not something that I am familiar with. When walking the streets of DC people often look you directly in the eye and smile. Strangers on the metro, in coffee shops or restaurants, converse with you beyond the minimum level of service required. Initially, it threw me as in London people generally abide by the rule of if you don’t bother someone they won’t bother you. Americans, in general, are that friendly. They actively engage in conversation which typically begins with ‘how are you?’ and finish with ‘have a nice day’. The action may remain the same but the experience is overall a more positive one.

One of my biggest curiosities in coming to DC which I share with so many others is that of the upcoming presidency. The response to election in DC is not what I initially expected. In a district so overwhelmingly democratic I was under the impression that there would be a sense of mourning over the outcome. There are objections to the personal and political policies of Trump; however, the general energy feels optimistic. The American people have faith in their political system and accept the outcome of the vote despite the multitude of reasons not to. My understanding of the election may change over the next six months as I explore DC and America may react differently over the next four years.

DC has so much to offer beyond politics. Over the course of this week, I have explored the city through the medium of food. Every American classic you can dream of from burgers, fries, tater tots, pretzels and milkshakes in gigantic portions big enough for two. DC is a diverse city and if you are craving something different there are plenty of amazing Indian, Japanese and Italian restaurants. On my first night here we headed to Barcelona Wine Bar, a Spanish tapas restaurant on 14th street which had the best Patatas Bravas. I highly recommend going and make sure you try the Spicy Eggplant Caponata and Jamón & Manchego Croquetas.

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Alongside eating my way through the city we had the opportunity to burn off the calories with some ice skating at Washington Harbor. I hadn’t ice skated since I was a little kid and was desperately hoping it was just like riding a bike. Luckily enough it was and I left unscathed with no bruises or broken bones. The finale of orientation was a Washington Wizards game against the Philadelphia 76ers. I know next to nothing about basketball but it was one of the best experiences. Three hours of whooping and booing as the Wizards won 109 to 93. Big sporting events are the epitome of American culture and between the remote control blimps, cheerleaders and junk food it did not disappoint.

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My first week in DC has been a whirlwind but I have had the most amazing time meeting students from all over the globe and can’t wait to see what the next six months has in store.