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Monday, November 19, 2007

U.S. holiday - Washington D.C.

Woke up at 7:30am, washed up, changed, packed bag so as not to leave anything lying around, then went for breakfast. Bought $2 breakfast ticket from counter, then went to kitchen/dining area on second floor. Gave ticket to a older-middle-aged African American woman who looked "burned out" from her job. Kept repeating to everyone to "take everything that you need, because it'll cost ya another $2 to take any more food later". I helped myself to a bagel, a bowl of unsweetened corn flakes, fruit cocktail, a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea. One Caucasian guy (from somewhere in Europe) tried to return to the food area to take more, but was shooed out by the lady.

Left for Old Post Office at 9am. Arrived earlier than expected, so waited inside away from the cold till 9:45am. Then went out to find the orange D.C. Party Shuttle Tour bus waiting outside. Boarded and met Dion, the tour guide, and Miller, the driver. Dion mentioned that he had been to Singapore while serving with the Marines. Mentioned Clarke Quay and Clifford Pier.

Tour started at 10am. 14 of us in total: a family of four, an old couple with their grandson, two Filipino women, a Swedish woman, and three college-aged American girls.

First stop: Capitol. Got off to take pictures in front of lawn. Dion felt that it was more worth it to tour the Capitol than White House, also because no permission from State Representative/embassy is required.

Then drove to Jefferson Memorial. Along the way, Dion pointed out some key federal buildings. He also kept going on and on about how he felt that Jefferson was the smartest American ever, which was nothing to belittle considering all of his academic and professional achievements. Cherry blossoms outside the memorial were a gift from Japan, because a First Lady (forgot whom) enjoyed seeing them.

While going to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dion mentioned how the bed of the Potomac River was dredged up to fill in the swampland to become what is now the National Mall and the surrounding areas.

FDR had actually asked for a small memorial, the size of his desk. He got it: it's placed outside the National Archives. But for all that he had done, in addition to being the only President to serve four terms, the country built a larger memorial for him. There were three different kinds of water flowing through it, to symbolise his involvement in water projects before becoming President. Memorial consists of four "rooms", one for each term. Walls include some of his memorable speeches.

Next stop was Korean War Memorial. Consists of 19 statues of soldiers trekking through a "padi" field (made of some small shrubs). Their blank gazes are supposed to reflect the emptiness of war. Reflecting wall behind them resulted in 38 soldiers, signifying 38th Parallel. One wall included the line: "Freedom is not free".

While driving to Lincoln Memorial, Dion pointed out a worksite, which is the future memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. It is in line with Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, to indicate the three greatest speakers of each century. He later mentioned another symbolism in the city: Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and White House form a cross, with Washington Monument in centre.

At Lincoln Memorial, saw the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Inside memorial, saw huge plaques bearing two of Lincoln's most memorable speeches.

After that, went to Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Designed by a college student. Two wings of the "V" memorial point to Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, pointing to previous wars. Dion pointed out how to read the names on the wall. Saw some flowers and gifts left at the wall, even from school children. Saw statues of three 19-year-old soldiers, indicating average age of Vietnam soldier. Also saw statue of four nurses, as tribute to women who served in the war.

World War 2 Memorial was next stop, purposely placed between Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial to symbolise the three deadliest wars of each century, in terms of lives lost.

We were then driven to Pentagon City for lunch at 1pm. I ate a baked potato from a stall at food court, then browsed some of the stores. Took note to return later, if I had time. Quite convenient too since subway station was just outside.

Next stop was Air Force Memorial Foundation. It's on a hill, so had great view of the city.

After that, went to Iwo Jima Memorial for the Marines. Along the way, passed by Arlington Cemetery. It's scheduled to run out of space within the next 20 years or so. It belonged to Washington's descendant, but she lost it during Civil War because she supported Confederates. Union buried their dead there, considered disrespectful towards Washington. After Civil War, it was turned into national cemetery.

We were then taken on half-hour ride through "embassy row", where almost all of the embassies are located. Those with gates belong to "nosy" countries. Then went to Lafayette Park, where people are allowed to demonstrate freely. Current protest was against nuclear weapons, which had been going on for years. As long as a person is at the site, police can't remove it.

Walked through the park to outside of White House. Took requisite pictures. That marked end of the tour at 3pm. Returned to Old Post Office. I then went to National Portrait Gallery, since that had exhibits that were closest to American history. Didn't keep bag in locker because I had to pay, only after I was reminded by security guard, then realised that the quarter was refundable. Spent most of my time looking at American origins and a large exhibition on U.S. Presidents.

Left at 5pm to return to Pentagon City. Browsed at Border's, thinking of buying PostSecret book, but in the end I decided not to. Went back to Fashion Centre for dinner, ate Popeye's fried chicken at food court. Then bought two iPhones from Apple Store above.

Thought of watching a movie at E Street Cinema, but next movie was at 9:35pm, decided not to since I felt tired. Returned to hostel, found that two previous roommates had left, another two roommates had moved in. Packed, bathed, then slept at 11pm.

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