I was at Virginia Commonwealth University for a collaborative project. Everybody was so accepting, helpful and friendly that I was in a constant culture-shock.
The 2-week experience was in sharp contrast to my brief visit to Chicago the previous year, where airport and immigration staff were downright abusive. In fact, they jeered at me for having a Malaysian passport. Chicago Airport was the only airport where I had no one to turn to for help.
We were there for the Monte Carlo 2005 conference. Since it was going to be a conference hotel, I requested for a room on high floors so that I could enjoy nice views out of the window. Request granted, only to find that all the surrounding buildings were at least as high! Additionally, my room overlooked a car park! Oh well, I should have expected so -- that wasn't my first visit to that part of the world anyway.
Tennessee Aquarium, however, did not fail to impress us with seahorses and sea dragons which I have yet to come across, not even in encyclopaedia or on stamps. And of course, we found Nemo. But be careful -- some of the flora and fauna were fake!
And oh yes I took advantage of the dollar-to-pound exchange by ordering a book from www.amazon.com rather than www.amazon.co.uk. Fortunate enough, the book arrived hours before I was due to fly home.
Washington DC is atypical of an American city:
We stayed in Omni Shoreham, the conference hotel. As promised on their website, the windows could indeed be open. I tested this on entering the room, but couldn't shut the window after opening!
Do hotel rating systems take into account dirty dishes from room service? At Omni Shoreham, corridors outside the rooms were dotted with dirty dishes, almost indefinitely. I rang both the reception and the room service, requesting for the aftermath to be cleared. It didn't work; I didn't order for a second room service.
The visit to Washington gave me the first encounter with Ethiopians, although I did not have the chance to try an Ethiopian restaurant. I managed to distinguish Ethiopians from Sudanese by their crucifixes/crosses. It was a delightful encounter because I only knew Ethiopia by:
I came home and told my friend about the deer. He said I was hallucinating.
As I was taking my final random stroll around the area before saying goodbye to DC, I came across 'Cathedral Avenue'. Although I started off thinking perhaps I could feel my way to the zoo, I decided to target Cathedral Avenue instead. At the junction, two opposing turns led to Cathedral Avenue. So which leads to the Cathedral? An interesting bet, naturally turned out to be bad. But it did give me a grand tour through the autumn woods on a beautiful autumn morning. I started heading back for the opposite turn, hoping to find an obvious structure of a cathedral. I walked on and on; no sign. And then, oh wow, I could see the awesome structure -- unmistakably the cathedral. From there I went closer and closer, and ended up in the cathedral itself. The handsome structure did turned out to be the cathedral indeed. However, as I walked closer and closer, its beauty faded with every step I took. It was better admired far than near. Oh well. Another over-polished site -- just like the basilica.
This is a gambling hub but not as bad as I thought; or rather, not as bad as I had been warned against. The surrounding snow-capped mountains were pretty. Grand Sierra Resort was safe; I came downstairs in the middle of the night to find food. Food was cheap; there was a wide range from budget up to fine-dining. The Alaskan halibut was delicious. Before the trip I wondered why should the American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting be held at a casino resort. The answer jumped at me the instant I arrived. The resort was comprehensive: eating, shopping outlets, cinema, hair saloon, and all sorts. I did have a haircut - not by that saloon, but by my long-lost school-mate whom I visited on transit via San Francisco before returning to Guildford!
I spent enough number of days there to pick up the characteristic scent of the hotel. Yet I could not work out whether it was a fragrance (positive) or an odour (negative). It wasn't neutral either. Probably that sort of a mixture when one tries to overcome an odour by applying perfumes. On the last night of my stay I understood, as fellow guests walked down the corridor with a dog.
Being the happy Smithsonian customer that I am, I was hoping to get a lifelong supply of Smithsonian T-shirts. It was disappointing that I couldn't find a Smithsonian shop in any of the three airports I flew via: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Reno. The Smithsonian T-shirt which I acquired during the trip to Washington last year was smashing in design, quality and cutting.