August 31, 2005 (Wednesday)
Still in Washington
I just had lunch in this Thai restaurant nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House and the Washington University after I attended the daily news briefing at the State Department.
The State Department spokesman talked about the tragedy in Iraq where more than 600 people were killed in a stampede. He also talked about the Constitution in Iraq which is the subject of debate there and some other issues, foremost of which is the Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and nearby areas.
Journalists asked questions. What is familiar, however, is that after the briefing everybody just went to the spokesman and chatted with him. It’s like in the Philippines.
The briefing was scheduled at 12:30 but journalists started pouring in around 12:45. The briefing started around one o’clock with the spokesman reading two short statements then the most senior journalist, who is seated on the rightmost seat on the front row, started asking questions. The others followed with questions on the same issue. Then the veteran journalist again asked another question on another issue and the other journalists followed it up. It continued until around four or five issues then it was a free for all with journalists raising their hands for questions. The veteran journalist then said thank you and the lights were dimmed and the microphones turned off and the journalists went around the podium to chat with the spokesman for backgrounders or off the record information.
Before the press briefing, I had a chat with the officials of the East Asia section of the State Department, the guys in charge of policies in the Philippines and other neighboring East Asian states. We talked about the Philippine situation, the Arroyo government, terrorism and places in the county.
Earlier in the day I visited Freedom House and had a conversation with them about the Philippine media situation, the killings of journalists and training of journalists in the Philippines. They also briefed me on their projects and I had the chance to visit the Journalists Memorial where all journalists who were killed are listed on a glass panel. As expected, Filipinos are among the most number of journalists killed.
I was happy to learn that there are at least three Filipinos working at Freedom House. I promised to keep in touch and update them of the situation in the Philippines when I get home.
Last night, I had dinner with James Mitchell, a writer who works with the Meridian, and his Japanese girlfriend. We had chicken and a lot of stories. Mitchell’s brother married a Filipino that’s why he’s familiar with Filipinos and even said he’s familiar with some songs on the Asin CD collection I gave him because he heard it from the relative of his sister in law. I also gave him a tubao as a gift from the Philippines.
Tonight I will watch a movie with Alan, my guide, who I learned just now, is Jewish. We will watch The Gardener, a movie based on John Le Carre’s novel of the same title.
I have been learning a lot from this trip. I learned that the White House is not that huge and is just a two storey mansion, that the chamber of the House of Representatives is much, much smaller than what we have in the Philippines, that there are also ghost stories in the House and that the cameras on the House’s chamber are only focused on the Speaker’s podium so that the people will not know that the seats are always empty during House sessions and that lawmakers only go there to vote.
Americans are very friendly people. You just stand on a street corner holding a map and somebody will approach you and ask you how he or she can help. I also learned that it has become a pastime for people in Washington to protest on anything and most are willing to take up any cause, that many Americans really don’t like their government and that they are also fed up with politics.
I’ll try to look for a post office this afternoon to mail some stuff back home so that I will not be lugging them around the country. Alan and I are leaving for New York tomorrow via Amtrak. I look forward to another experience. It is just unfortunate that I don’t have a good camera to bring along because there are many things that I want to take pictures of. I was not even able to bring my camera to the State Department so I just used my cell phone for a picture on the State Department podium.
Memories are best stored in the mind, however, than interpreted through words or pictures. There’s no substitute to the real thing. This applies on the most mundane things and the most essential things in life. How I wish that my loved ones are with me to share this experience.