Monday, May 24, 2010

Visit to Washington

Last week we spent 5 days in the capital. We stayed in a new hotel about 26 miles from the city, located in Sterling Virginia. The smallish hotel was near the Dulles airport. At that time, I did not know who the airport was named after– Allan Foster Dulles – the former CIA chief or his brother John Foster Dulles – the former Secretary of State. Due to the proximity of the CIA head quarters in nearby Langley Virginia, I originally thought that it would be the former CIA chief. But in fact, it was named after the former Secretary of State, dedicated by President John Kennedy in the 1960s.

Washington is one of the premier cities in the world. It reminds one of Paris and actually designed by a French man. But it also reminds me of Beijing with the large open spaces for the public but with more greenery especially in the Mall. I guess both governments intended it to be citizen’s spaces, where the general public would gather and express themselves.  In fact, most famous pictures of Washington are the Civil Rights and the Vietnam Veteran’s protest gathering in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s all about people protesting about the current government policies. Similarly, Tiananmen Square in Beijing is also the site of people’s protest although this one ended in bloodshed and repression.

Interestingly, Washington have memorials for slain leaders specifically Lincoln memorial and somber JFK tombstones in Arlington cemetery. There are no memorials for slain leaders in Beijing only of the people in Tiananmen Square. I wonder what this means. I guess one would say the one country has the ability to kills its leaders – a fact often mentioned by Mikhail Gorbachev in his day.  What does it mean when one can infer that Communist countries have societies that do not harm its leaders as compared to Democratic countries? Perhaps Democratic societies provide fewer bodyguards to their leaders or that they can freely meet with the people as compared to Communist ones.

But I digress. Washington has great museums that are free. These are world class museums that display priceless works or arts. I like the museum of art especially the East wing designed by I.M.Pei. But I still think it pales with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles though the works of arts in Washington are outstanding. There were masterpieces from Boticelli, El Greco, Rembrandt, Degas and many others that I did not expect to see here. Usually I would only see these works from art books. It is a liberating to see these great works for free. I guess it is the egalitarian power of the democracy that makes this possible. In fact, I don’t think the great museums in Paris are free. 

I never had a chance to drive in the streets of Washington as both my sons were at the wheel. It gave me a better view of surrounding scenes. I particularly liked driving through Georgetown, Du Pont Circle, around the White House and of course the Mall. I remember the view of the city atop Arlington, sitting in the porch of Arlington House. The drive back home through the Virginia countryside was also a nice experience. I understood for the first time what it feels like to be here after reading about it in the pages of novels or history books or watching scenes in movies. There is a majestic feeling walking in the streets, a feeling of power and history and greatness, especially when looking at the memorials of great men who died for their ideals. Somehow I also get a feeling of martial tendencies and of war and conquest and discipline that is also frightening.

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