Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

US Trip (Summary)

Okay. So I'm getting a little lazy. It'll take too long to do a day by day summary of my trip. And my pictures are taking a little longer to upload cuz I lost my handphone cable. Shucks...

But being in the USA was a real eye opener. Especially cuz I got to see quite a few aspects of the States. The busy New York streets, a slightly more laid back San Fran and the small town Porterville, CA.

I liked New York. It was the most like S'pore in the terms of the crowds, the way that everyone is too busy to notice a bride and groom taking the subway after their wedding (this shall be explained when my pics are uploaded) and the way that the city never sleeps. But as one of my sister's friend pointed out, that is just Manhattan. The other parts of the city like Harlem and Brooklyn are actually quite different places. And as we drove over the Williamsburg bridge into Brooklyn, I totally understood. Graffiti on the walls, dilapidated buildings, just reminders that the city is not just split by the waterways that run through the city, but also by the income disparity that marks its own boundaries.

My sister's wedding was a really sweet affair. Attended by just close friends and family (in a pub no less), it was intimate not overboard like many large scale invite-everyone-that-we-have-ever-met-in-our-lifetime weddings. Totally unrehearsed and rather informal. My step dad had the honour of walking my sis down the aisle to her waiting fiance, again another impromptu addition to the wedding programme. The open bar helped to liven up the reception and the food was fantastic.

The morning after the wedding, we had to pack up and get to the airport by 6am to catch our flight to San Fran. In San Francisco, yet another reminder that the US is a rich country. But behind the statistics, the high economic output of the country, is the reality that while the rich are RICH (read as stinking-bloody rich), the poor are also very poor. On the bus back to the apartment we were staying at in San Fran, I saw a cluster of, not one but many, homeless people taking refuge in the back alley behind the Asian Museum of Art just opposite City Hall. Bear in mind that this is in the evening and temperatures are beginning to fall. Even with a coat on, you could feel the difference in the air and the wind made it worse. These people have threadbare coats and newspapers to keep them warm while everyone else has comforters and heaters.

I'm not being idealistic and saying that the government has to come in and clothe all of them, give them nice houses and feed them. But it is quite remarkable that in the Land of Plenty, these people have been left behind. Makes you wonder what their stories are. Do they have families? Did they once have everything that we have? And more importantly, how did they end up sleeping on the streets? Problems should be solved at the root and the root cause is thus the key. Most of all, I think these people do not have means to generate stable incomes which is what prevents them from buying houses and basic utilities. This is no fault of anyone except market forces.

Unfortunately, in creating and maintaining a growing economy, there are consequences that cannot always be avoided. For instance, in imposing a minimum wage, the artificially set wage levels create a difference in labour demanded and labour supplied. So instead of reaching equilibrium, there is a shortfall in the labour demanded. But enough of that. My views on American society can wait for another time.

The sights in San Fran was really something else. It is a much more laid back city compared to New York so you didn't really feel the need to rush anyway. We went to see Lombard St, i.e. the crookedest street in the world, The Golden Gate bridge, the USS Pampanito which is one of the few seaworthy submarines left from WWII and Alcatraz island. Basically all the touristy stuff.

After we dropped my aunt off in Belmont for her weekend meetings with her company bosses there, we took the 5 hr drive down to my bro-in-law's (Adan) hometown of Porterville, which is abt 200mi south of San Fran. It's not exactly a small town like that you would see in "Population 436" (awful movie by the way), but it is much smaller than the town giant cities we were in before that. The town's only cinema is pretty much all the entertainment that you're gonna get. The main thing that got to me was the amount of open land that they have. Even when I was in Lembang in Indonesia, you didn't see open spaces like this. In Malaysia and Indonesia, most of the land is hilly so you don't see the full expanse of the land. But in California, the land is flat and goes on and on. You have not see the horizon until you see it in CA. There are some hills and a lake that we visited in Porterville but still the horizon was more than a distant line separating land and sky. It was where land disappeared.

After a Saturday BBQ at Adan's parents place and a Sunday visit to the lake and river in Sequoia National Park, we made the 200 mile journey back to San Fran to catch our plane back to Taipei and eventually back to S'pore.

So ended my American adventure. But in about a month's time, I'll be off again to London. So there'll be more posts to come. Stay Tuned....