Looking back at Fall Quarter Senior Year, it was definitely the most academically tiring and difficult quarter I have had so far. I was taking classes mostly to fulfill requirements and I was on the tail end of most of my extracurricular responsibilities. I had committed this senior year to unabashed traveling,recognizing that I am probably not going have this much access to the American continents in a while to come. The past few months saw me visit some great parts of the US, out of which I feel like I have gained a deeper but still incomplete appreciation of a cross-section of this country.
D.C. was the number one recommended area to visit by all my friends. ‘You really haven’t seen the US till you see DC.’
I don’t think you can ever say you’ve seen the US till you’ve seen almost every major region given its diversity, but DC encapsulates most of the US’s history and political climate. Half my trip was visiting the major monuments and museums, and the other half was hanging out with friends and checking out Georgetown.
Now I’ve been to many iconic sights in the world, including the Great Wall and the London Tower, but the White House has by far been one of the few attractions I actually have always wanted to see in person. It’s surreal how so many people get emotional knowing that whoever occupies the House has such a large effect on their lives. This is literally where the most powerful person in the world lives. Security doesn’t let you in unless you request a tour from your Congress representative (or in my case, from the Embassy) so I didn’t get to see the interior, but the moment of reflection outside the House was profound enough for me.
I spent the rest of the day walking the National Mall, which is a strip of monuments starting at Capitol Hill and ending at the Lincoln Memorial. Right at the center is the Washington Monument. The Monument doesn’t waver in intimidating you as you approach it, which in some ways is pretty reflective of the US. It’s large and phallic and is meant to remember George Washington, the first US President. I had some divided feelings about it. I was initially excited to see the Monument, given how iconic it is. But the more I heard actual Americans’ views on it, I realized the Monument strikes different sentiments to different people. Ironically, it sits right next to the recently opened and critically acclaimed Museum of African American History, which has a distinctive style from the marble and granite look of old American monuments, and my Uber Driver told me how some of his White passengers had expressed their annoyance of how the new Museum disrupted the feel of the Monument. My immediate reaction was to remark how that was probably the intent and how it helps to provide a draw away from what traditional history has represented to many citizens and an alternative look at their celebrated history. Yep, I had all these thoughts just at this monument.
The rest of the Mall has its moments. A lot of it is about War and a lot of it is about sacrifice. I cringed every time I saw someone taking a cheesy selfie next to any of these. Perhaps having served in the Army helped, but I felt troubled that so many people had to die for these grandiose monuments to be built. It would be sad if what people took away from this was that the architectural or aesthetic aspects of these monuments were photo-worthy rather than that people had died for their current way of life. That question haunts me to this day – will I die for Singapore? And it should, it’s not a question anyone should answer blindly. This grim memorial of the Korean War definitely reminded me of that.
I took a lot more pictures and they’re in my album but I really felt like I walked away from the Mall with a different feel than most tourists there. I came to get some good photos, but I left with a heavy heart and a reminder of the role I play in peace and war.
The eastern part of the Mall has most of the Smithsonian Museums which are amazing publicly accessible museums that celebrate one of the things I think the US does well – to search for knowledge and to discover. The architecture of most of these buildings by themselves are fascinating but the interiors are filled with boundless sources of information and exhibits.
The Newseum isn’t a Smithsonian Museum but it definitely sits on my list of favorite museums in the world. (My favorite is the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.) This museum takes you on a journey of the history of the Press in the US and how the four Freedoms have played a huge role in shaping American history. I absolutely loved the variety of exhibits and the thoughtfulness that went into sharing how so many lives have been affected by the press. I guess that becomes even more relevant now with the rise of uncredible news sources and their impacts on how people see their worlds.
All in all, the Mall was definitely a day’s worth of exploring (possibly two if you want to visit multiple museums). I would encourage people to go with a reflective mood to really get the most out of it. A lot can be trivialized easily but I really took a lot away from the walk up and down the strip.
20 minutes away from downtown D.C. is Georgetown. Now Georgetown is beautiful. I honestly would want to retire here if I was to retire in the US (probably won’t happen). It’s a quaint neighborhood with a European charm and a good number of recreational options. As expected, Georgetown is heavily White. There’s a SoulCycle that’s packed and multiple high-brow brand stores on the central street, but it’s become almost fun watching this way of life being insulated from the rest of the world and even closer home, to D.C. I would definitely recommend coming here for brunch and a walk down the Promenade.
Georgetown University also sits nearby and its architecture is Neo-Medieval, with gargoyles and steeples. It was quite the delight walking around their main campus and seeing the building.
D.C. isn’t really known for its food, but as you probably know, I’m a big foodie and see food as a lens to understand culture and history. So here’s the food section.
The only D.C. local specialty is the half-smoke. I find it kind of weird how such a distinctive city hadn’t formed its own local cuisine, but in some ways I get it too, because D.C. only recently became a livable city. Tons of young people live here now as a way to climb up the political ladder, and in another 20 years we may hear of DC local dishes, but for now only the half-smoke holds a spot. The half-smoke is essentially a chili-dog, except the dog is smoked instead of grilled/steamed which adds a spicy kick to the dog. I enjoyed it, but definitely think it’s not that much of a deal. Ben’s Chili Bowl is apparently where the original is made, and where Obama has gone to, so I went there for this.
Not so much of a local dish as much as it is a regional dish are the oysters. I went to the Old Ebbitt Grill which is the oldest restaurant in DC and where a lot of high brow political dinners happen apparently. I went for the famous Happy Hour Oyster special where everything is half off, and sat at the Oyster Bar and became friends with the bartender over an extended time. Greenspeake oysters join the choir of other regionally sourced oysters to provide a good range of options. I simply enjoyed pretending to be bougie for a while.
Finally, going back to Georgetown, go for the cupcakes. I went to Georgetown Cupcakes and waited in line for an hour but honestly, there’s a decent number of other cupcake stores in town that are just as phenomenal. These were pretty great. If you don’t know, Georgetown Cupcakes is the store that had a whole TV Show made after them and became famous as a result.
On a side note, nightlife in DC is a thing. There are whole bar districts and club districts that are packed and I patronized a couple of them. Like I said previously, DC may be run by old people but the city is populated by youths and you see that clearly at night. I loved it.
All in all, my short weekend in DC was an absolute blast. Elyssa, my dear friend, was such a blessing and hosted me for the weekend and I’m ever so grateful. I definitely think I can make one more weekend trip out of DC, to see some of the other museums (the African American History one especially), to check out more of the bars and to take a trip out to nearby Baltimore where I have more friends studying. DC, you were fun, and I’m glad I got this opportunity to walk down your streets.