Tag Archives: united states

Around Los Angeles Pubs

Probably the best part of my stay in LA was my visit to various bars and pubs in the city and Arthur Rhodes is the man who introduced me to the regular lifestyle of LA. The student of UCLA and an aspiring filmmaker (and writer of an article about me in UCLA Asia Media web site) took me to different bars and arranged meetings with his friends. I had a chance to interact with young Americans folks and feel the beauty of Hollywood Hills, thanks to Arthur.

Downtown LA from Beverly Hills
Downtown Los Angeles as seen from Beverly Hills Pic by Wagle

First bar we went to was Barney’s Beanery (established in 1925, the bar, I was told, is Los Angele’s third oldest) in West Hollywood. I went there after spending some time in a coffee shop surfing wireless internet in Arthur’s Apple laptop. That was great. While he was taking me around the city, we were talking about Nepali politics and journalism (and blogging of course) for his Asia Media article. Asia Media’s editor Angliee Shah had introduced me with Arthur when they came to see me in Omni, hotel where I was staying in. Arthur turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. A student of Anthropology in UCLA Arthur wants to get himself involved into the study of politics. He is also working on a documentary project that, he said, will incorporate the conflict of Nepal as well. I can’t forget his efforts to take me around the town in his car which wasn’t in really great condition because, Arthur said, friends ruined the machine while he was away from the country (in Sri Lanka).

So I was talking about Barney’s Beanery. The bar was crowded with young souls and on one table near the entrance gate were Arthur’s friends. All in their mid 20s, they were, I think, the perfect group of American youth I wanted to talk to.

They were drinking beers and talking with each other on every possible topic available.

“Be brutally honest with me,” one boy started talking with me knowing that I was from Nepal, the country of Mount Everest. “Be brutally honest with me, okay? Tell me who really went at the top. Edmund Hilary or Tenzing Norgey?”

God! What a tough question! He was drunk but not to the extent that he didn’t know what he was saying. He knew what he was talking about. So he started looking at me giving me the impression that he was eagerly waiting for my answer. “Well, they both said that they reached at the top together,” I said. “Team effort.”

“Yes, team effort,” he said and took another sip. He seemed to be satisfied with my answer. We talked about a few other things.

Then came another man near where I was seating (they were constantly changing their seats and moving here and there). He was wearing a baseball cap and talking about the game. “Why the World Series is called so?” I asked him. “Are there any countries other than US and Canada that play World Series?”

“Hum,” he said. “This is quite a misnomer actually.” After saying that he plunged into a deep thought.

It was getting late as I had to wake up early in the morning. So we decided to get back to the hotel.

Next evening we went to another pub called Jones and I ordered Margarita Pizza. We were three. Arthur’s friend was with us. She was working as a waitress in a bar near Hollywood Hills and was planning to go to South America soon.

“This is the real LA bar,” said Arthur as I was struggling to hear his voice amidst the loud rock music. “Loud music, dark setting and carefree waitresses!” Yes, it was dark inside and the atmosphere was definitely different than other bars I went to in LA. Hum, waitresses were carefree too. “You see the service is terrible. They don’t care about you,” Arthur said. “All they care about is their dream. The dream of being a Hollywood actress or singer one day. They are here to be a celebrity.” And they think that being waitress is a transitional phase.

By the way, before I forget, I would like to mention about the Ethiopian food that we ate in the afternoon. But I really don’t know Food, a kind of bread and vegetable, was great or the waitress who served the food to us. I could see Arthur trying to flirt with the girl who had left her husband back in Ethiopia. I was too shy to flirt and my shyness must have made Arthur not to go further. Okay, Ethiopian food? Yes, its not Ethiopia but Ethiopian food. Arthur told me how he thought about having Ethiopian food when one of his friends told him about that. “Come on, I thought Ethiopians were undergoing famine!”

Visiting A Gay Bar
After Roberto, another gay came to see me all the way from San Francisco. Joe was Roberto’s friend and we were in touch via email for quite some time. The rich hunk who said he was planning to buy a hotel in downtown LA was driving a fancy car equipped with satellite navigation systems in top speed. We went to a bar where gay couples were having fun-filled talks and drinks. That was quite an experience.

Romantic LA

romantic los angeles...a kissing couple

This is in downtown Los Angeles, near MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts) where we saw a couple busy kissing each other. A man was filming the romance in a video camera. (Remember this is downtown LA and Hollywood is not far from here. But we didn’t see anyone directing the couple!) It was around 4:30 PM and we were just returning from Artesia, a town of South Asian majority in south of Los Angeles, observing a town hall meeting. Our presence didn’t seem to pollute the romantic environment. The girl on the left (in khasto) is Maysoon Mohamed Osman, a journalist from Sudan, who couldn’t resist the temptation of watching the romantic couple. And she wasn’t alone, to be honest. That was very new for us and folks tried to tease the lovebirds. But lovebirds were unaffected by any comments passed at them.

Driving in Los Angeles With Roberto In-charge of Wheels

The first day in LA

Within an hour of landing at the Los Angeles Airport, I was in Santa Monica Beach experiencing the cool breeze and cold water. Thank you Roberto! Roberto is my friend whom I met in Kathmandu some 8 years ago. He had come to our house and I had gone to Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini with him. He is a proud gay and lives in between Palm Springs and San Francisco. “I love to live in my house in PS,” he said. “But the health insurance in San Francisco is more reliable and attractive.” That is why, he said, he spends much of the time driving between the two cities. Road is his third home. I mean his car that has a bed, a refrigerator and other household stuffs. “The situation has changed after the September 11,” he said. “It’s very hard to sleep inside the car because of police restriction in parking many places.”

After he picked me up from in front of the Omni Hotel, Roberto headed to the southern part of the Santa Monica beach where I touched the sea water for the first time in my life. I walked around the beach wearing Roberto’s sandals. “Take this,” Roberto picked up a stone from the beach and handed that to me. “This is a souvenir to you.”

Roberto wanted me to go to as many places of the city as possible. He was ready to take me anywhere because he had promised me to take around the city. We went to a Chinese restaurant, filled out bellies and the late night city tour started. We went to Hollywood. Oh…the Kodak Theater (where they distribute the Oscars) was so small that I couldn’t believe I was in front of the building. We went inside a few shops where, Roberto said, celebrities shop. “You don’t believe me?” he said. “Just check the price tags boy.” He was right, the price was for celebrities.

I wanted to go to Gay bars but there was no time. It was already 11 PM and I was damn tired because of the flight and the time change. (LA is three hours ahead of D.C. where I had started my day in early in the morning. To stay awake till 11 PM in LA on that day meant not sleeping till 2 AM in D.C.)

Roberto was also new to the downtown LA and I knew what that meant when we got lost for about half hour while trying to get back to the hotel. The road was like a deep web and if you miss a turning you miss the whole route. Roberto was repeatedly consulting the maps but that wouldn’t work. He asked people on the road and we were like two crazy men doing unwanted adventure on the streets of Los Angeles. (In fact, even people in the city find it difficult to navigate through the downtown web of roads). Finally we found the route and the hotel. The first day in LA was fruitful and quite adventurous as well.

International Travelling: Science of Airports

Another shocking experience to me: the whole science of airports.

This was my first international trip which also meant my first encounter with the international terminal of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. It was no different than that of its domestic counterpart except that there is no immigration section in the latter. When I landed at Bankok’s international airport, my whole impression about the airports got changed. My god, I told myself, how can an airport be so big? I felt like roaming around the terminals (and duty frees shops) whole night ignoring the sleep at a day care center inside the airport. (Kiran Nepal and I did that for hours before we were damn tired of moving..) I think that was another shocking experience to me: the whole science of airports. Checking in, finding the luggage, going through the security check (opening shoes in all American airports) and double security check (at least once in an American airport.) and eating in the restaurants inside the airports. The best part of my journey was being exposed to Airport procedures. I took 11 flights in 24 days (from 1.5 hours to 13 hours long) and at one point I was tired of going through all those security checks.

In New York’s JFK airport, I was pushed to the double security check section where a white woman was standing with her family. It didn’t take more than a minute for the security man to clear me from the desk. As I was heading towards the boarding area, the woman approached me and asked, “Do you also carry a foreign passport?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

“Hum..that’s why they sent us for double security check. I too carry an European passport.”

Her daughter was standing on her side but I had no time to chat with the ladies as I was getting late to catch my flight to Detroit.

While landing at Los Angeles airport, still in the sky, I saw another flying plane. That was my first experience and that was terrific. We have very thin air traffic in Nepal and in a busy sky near LA airport that was normal: to spot a flying plane from another. To my utter surprise, I saw the same scene in Nepal too after returning from the U.S. I was returning from Dhangadi and I saw another twin otter flying on my side (somewhere above Dhading). That was terrific too.

And in Tokyo, while returning, I faced similar circumstance of being double checked by security guards. I hurriedly reached at the boarding point; about 15 minutes ahead of the schedule. Knowing that I had some time, I went to the rest room, came back and started waiting for the flight. People started boarding into the flight for Bangkok and I decided to go at last because there was no meaning of standing in the queue. I showed the boarding pass and as I was about the move towards the plane, a female security guard invited me for the check up. “Excuse me sir,” she said. “Can I see your passport?”

“Of course,” I replied. “You can see everything that you want to see.”

And she did just that. She started looking into my bags (one that had my laptop and the other that was full of newspapers). It was really irritating. I was wondering what the hell made her suspicious toward me. I wasn’t dressing up properly, I concluded. I was wearing a not-so-clean UWB t-shirt along with a rugged trouser. I was tired and pale. I didn’t look like a decent business traveler. But I hardly care about my dress up and look. I was wearing formals even in so called formal meetings and conferences in the US. I wasn’t wearing tie and my t-shirt grabbed the attention in the conclave and other meetings as well. That was a good form of advertisement of UWB and creating awareness about Nepali democracy among the international audiences as well. At least 15 people wanted to buy the t-shirt including some editors but I told them that the garment wasn’t for sale at the moment.

Okay, coming back to Naruta (Tokyo) airport. Even if I wasn’t dressing well, I wasn’t a security threat for sure. But the woman even ‘requested’ me to take off my shoes so that, I guess, she could inspect my socks. And she got more than what she wanted to see. I had a hole in my right sock and toe was out. “Oh..,” she said in an embarrassing tone. And I said to myself “But you deserve to see this, don’t you?”

That was the moment of satisfaction for me.

McDonald’s and the Big Pizza

Everything is big in America except a few things.

Eating Pizza in Washington D.C.
Journalists having pizza in a Washington D.C. pub.

I wanted to have a burger in the McDonald’s. And I did that in Washington D.C. That was fun really. But I realized that the same wasn’t a fashionable thing in the US, at least not among those whom I met in my trip. “Burger at McDonald’s?” everyone would frown at me. “Boy, I never go there and you never go there again.” Poor in America are overweight than richer ones. That’s another irony in the country. Obesity is a huge problem, I had known but seeing very very fat people walking around was quite an experience. You see all kinds of people. As Lara would tell me in New York at the end of my visit, “you shouldn’t be surprised if you hear people talking in 10 different languages here in New York’s train compartment.”

Back to D.C. We were all new to the city and knew very little about the places to dine. We went up to George Town area of the city to have something for dinner. Rhino Bar and Pump house on 3295 M Street, North West turned out to be our destination for the evening. Apart from South Asians, folks from Arabic speaking group were also in the team. We decided to have pizza. (Again there was a surprise. The medium sized pizza turned out to be bigger than the big pizza that we have in Kathmandu. Well, not only in Kathmandu but in all other cities represented in the group. We started sharing the pizzas as we knew it wasn’t possible to finish alone. I will be writing more about this at the end of this article.)

As they waited for pizzas to come, folks started cracking jokes and talking with each other. A black young couple (teen) was seated on the table on the right of my side. I was occasionally throwing glances at them but wasn’t sure what exactly to do.

I was restless. Don’t know why but I was wandering and there not sitting on the table waiting for pizzas to come. I went outside, just to get a glimpse of the evening Georgetown.

journalists eating pizza in washington d.c.

A boy was standing at the gate of the pub checking the identity cards of people who wished to enter inside. He was young and didn’t seem like doing the job for long. I decided to talk with the gatekeeper. This was part of my mission to interact with as many people, general Americans, as possible in those three weeks. I wasn’t there to listen to tireless lectures from so called experts on immigration policy, democracy and journalism. I was there to learn how an American on the street thinks and feels. Continue reading

Being Rich, for the Moment. Thank You American Taxpayers

April 3 was the day to be rich, really rich in a sense. We went to the office of Delphi International Program of World Learning, agency that was administering the IV program. It’s weird that I actually forget how many hundred dollars bill I received that day from Delphi. (Well, the money actually belonged to the US State Department. Or to the American taxpayers to whom I must be thankful.) I think 45. In the form of travel cheques. Boy, it took me more than 10 minutes to sign on those pieces of paper. That was my first introduction with the world of travel cheques. While I was nervously (and carefully) signing on those papers, Anna Karkovska McGlew, the Program Associate, was constantly warning us in non-American accent not to carry all the cheques and the purchase agreement form together. In fact, that was printed in the PAF itself. “Even if you lost these cheques,” she said. “That piece of paper will help you claim the money. So put that separately.”

Folks were patiently listening to her. No one wanted to take a chance. After all, you don’t always carry 45 hundred dollars in a single pocket. It was really an irony that I was carrying that money (biggest sum I have ever carried in my life so far) and walking around the city of D.C. as if I was a broke. I mean there was no fear of loosing the money. They were really equal to paper for us because we had to spend that entire sum inside the States. (That wasn’t compulsory but the situation no different than that. We were staying in a hotel that would cost about two hundred dollars per night.) That money was for our hotel and daily food expenses based on a complex math of American government’s per dime allowance system. (I am always poor at math.) And that’s a good idea because that really helps the visitor to understand American society and its science of consumerism if they get to know how to pay money to whom.

Dinesh Wagle smiles in Santa Monica Beach...a self portrait via camera

Dinesh Wagle smiles in Santa Monica Beach…a self portrait by camera

Like many other friends in the group, I kept the money in a safety deposit box of the hotel later in the evening. But while I was in Los Angeles, I carried money (now reduced to somewhere around three thousand dollars after paying to Omni Hotel in LA) in my pocket all the time along with my passport. (That is why I was carrying my jacket all the time, folks!).

Did I mention an irony above? The other irony was that I was staying in hotels that would cost me more money than I would (at least in my case) earn in a month back in home. I wasn’t the only one facing such similar situation. After all, overwhelming majority of us (129 journalists from 105 countries) were from third world societies. When Josh of Afghanistan explained about this irony in the international conclave on the last day of our visit, people appreciated that with applaud.

We were trying to save as much money as possible from those 48 hundred dollars. (I wanted to buy a laptop computer- actually this laptop in which I am writing now). One easiest way to save the money was to share the hotel room. We tried to double up the rooms but we were disappointed most of the times. They wouldn’t allow us to share the bed citing different reasons like, the hotel would say that the State Department wouldn’t permit sharing or they can’t let us do that because a single room was booked for a person. I shared the room with Kiran Nepal for three nights. Boys were joking why just share the room between two, but do the same among 10 so that we can save more money! That was a crazy idea and we cracked all kind of jokes regarding that money and doubling up rooms. May be jokes were worth more than 5 thousand dollars! I think there were two folks one from Bangladesh and the other from Pakistan who didn’t want to share rooms.

So at the end of my trip, after buying this laptop, I still had a few hundred dollars (travel cheques) in my pocket. But that was possible because many of my friends (in the US) paid for my food and I stayed in a house of my friend in New Jersey. Plus, I didn’t have to spend money while I was in New York.

Cherry Blossom Festival In Washington D.C.

Cherry Blossom Festival. Wagle under Cherry tree

Wagle under Cherry tree: Ha ha.. in fact, I feel so uneasy to pose for camera. I want shots to be natural. But this was the moment when there was no alternate options, I guess. Pic by Kiran Nepal

“The first week of April is the best time to be in Washington D.C.,” American ambassador James F. Moriarty had told us in Kathmandu prior to our departure to his country. He was giving us his views of America in his office. “You will see blossoming cherries. That’s beautiful.” He was correct; D.C. with blossoming Cherries was beautiful indeed. These cherry trees were gifted by the Japanese government immediately after the World War II.

Cherry Blossom Festival. Wagle under Cherry tree
Cherry Blossom Festival. Wagle under Cherry tree

There was a festival- Cherry Blossom Festival- being organized. People were thronged into the area to see the attractive trees. Bands were playing live music and people were trying to have group photos. That was a tourist season in D.C. and we also benefited from that situation. The hotel where we were staying, Lincoln Suites, wanted more guests to accommodate in the hotel. So the hotel requested its guests to share the room if they wanted. We happily did that for a night and saved at least two hundred bucks.

Live music in cherry blossom festival
A band plays live music just in front of Jefferson Memorial. Pic by DW

Touring Washington D.C. With Chelsea Strange

The guide was more interesting then the destinations.

Reporters with Chelsea Strange

Clockwise from left (back row): Kaustubh Bhalchandra Kulkarni aka KK, (India), Shaiq Hussain (Pakistan), Mohammad Yousuf (Afghanistan), Namini Nimilamalee Wijedasa (Sri Lanka), Zainab Ibrahim (Sri Lanka), Kiran Nepal (Nepal), Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra (India), Wahidullah Amani (Afghanistan), Chelsea Strange and Kishalaya Bhattacharjee (India). Another gentleman behind Zainab is Sayed Sabir Saeed Shah (Pakistan). Pic by Dinesh Wagle

The schedule was that we, the South Asians, would be touring the city in afternoon (April 2). Some of us decided to utilize the morning and the first half of the afternoon going around the downtown on our own. We went up to places like Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial. Three Afghans, a Pakistani and two Nepalese in the city of Washington D.C. meant six folks totally new to the town, a totally different town than those of their respective home countries. At one point, I found myself running with the group while crossing the road ignoring the traffic light. “In our Afghanistan,” Josh Shahryar of Kabul Weekly who led the race on the street declared proudly. “We don’t have many traffic lights in the cities. We simply cross the streets as and when we want.” Shaiq Hussain, the Pakistani guy, instantly agreed. How could I disagree? Traffic in Kathmandu is a big mess and we have the ‘liberty’ of crossing the streets from any point at any time we prefer to.

Tourists taking photos in front of lincoln memorial
Tourists taking photo in front of Lincoln Memorial. Pic by DW

So we all agreed with Josh and used our Third World Freedom to cross the streets of Washington D.C. Thank God (all Hindu and Muslim and Christian Gods included), cars didn’t hit us. After all, we all were from the region called Third World with more or less similar background and improvised social situation. I have seen many villagers from remote places like Jumla walking for first time on the streets of Kathmandu. They are awed by the magnitude of Kathmandu compared to their village. They behave strangely and we can see innocence in that strangeness. We were the Jumlees in D.C.

tourists taking pic in war memorial
Tourists taking photo in War Memorial Pic by DW

Main attraction of the tour in the afternoon was, not the Monument or the Capitol Hill for sure, the GUIDE. A beautiful student of George Washington University, Chelsea Strange, was working as a part timer for a company that was hired by the organization that was organizing the tour on behalf of the State Department. As I said, that was her part time job. She has big dreams.

dinesh wagle in front of capitol hill
Wagle in front of Capitol Hill Pic by Kiran Nepal

The 20-year-old girl (I think I correctly remember her age) aspires to be an actress in future. She told me that she will start working for a TV series in the next few months. I was more interested in knowing about Chelsea than what she was supposed to tell us about the city. Characters and persons do matter to me while knowing about the place and a new society. Clad in white shirt and tight black trouser, Chelsea was getting attention of the folks in the group as if she was a star already. Well, she was a star! Guys wanted to have a group photo with the girl in the center! Well, not all guys, but many of us.

Wagle Jefferson Memorial
Wagle in Jefferson Memorial Pic by Kiran Nepal

Chelsea Strange wasn’t really a strange person for folks in the team. They soon knew that she had a boyfriend. When I told them that Chelsea had a boyfriend, some became a bit disappointed. I asked Chelsea about her personal life like where was she living and who was in family. Some interpreted that as flirting but, to be honest, my intention was to know more about the American girl who was working and studying and dreaming of being famous. After all, a reporter needed information about, about everyone including the guide. “Living in D.C. is a challenging thing,” she said. “You need to earn money. That is why I do spend some of my time doing things like this. I really enjoy doing this.”

dinesh wagle in lincoln memorial
Wagle (front) inside Lincoln Memorial. Three folks standing just below the Lincoln statue are (from left) Josh, Amani and Yousuf. Pic by Kiran Nepal

dinesh wagle in front of lincoln memorial

Wagle in front of Lincoln Memorial while trying to have a self photo with the camera set to self timer

Her skill of explaining things, especially the architecture and symbolic aspect of the city of D.C., was impressive. But was I least interested in such ‘guided tour’ with touristy explanations because I could find such information anywhere in the Internet. We were not looking for American history and info about the city. Someone brought out a brilliant idea. I think the person was Josh but I am not completely sure. We wanted to go the poor neighborhood of Washington D.C.!

South Asian Journalists in in Washington D.C
South Asian Journalists in War Memorial, Washington D.C Pic by DW

We the people from the Third World wanted to see the poverty of the First World. So the guided tour was shortened and Chelsea took us to a nearby residential area dominated by blacks. In fact, the driver, a black man, was in charge of this new and unexpected tour because taking tourists to poor neighborhood wasn’t really the job of Chelsea. (No, someone told us, its better that you don’t venture out of the bus because they might loot you.) After hearing this warning Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra, an Indian working for Associated Press in New Delhi, became emotional and started comparing the poverty between OUR world and THEIR world. I don’t have his exact quote here but he was saying something like this: our poor don’t go on looting and misbehaving others but here it’s different. That was a nice observation and I agreed with him.

dinesh wagle with washington monument on background

Wagle with Washington Monument on the background. Pic by Kiran Nepal

As we roamed around the neighborhood, we immediately realized that even poor in America are better off than their counterparts in our region. “I thought we were coming to the poor neighborhood,” someone in our group said. (Again it was Josh, I think.) “But I see good houses everywhere!”

Wagle in War Memorial
Wagle in War Memorial

By the end of the tour when folks realized that Chelsea won’t be coming with us the next day, disappointment ruled. But not for long time though! Again I was together with Chelsea as I was going to see the offices of the Washington Post and she was also going via the same route. She took me near the office building. Boys kept me teasing for this part for at least a week.

“Dinesh, jara bata to bhaiya,” I still remember Shaiq Hussein, the Pakistani, saying. “Tune kaisa pataya oos chhokri ko.” [Dinesh, will you tell me brother how did you impress that girl?] Just a quick note on Shaiq. He was a bit shy and reserved guy with whom I befriended very well. A light hearted many with great sense of humor; I had great time with him cracking jokes on almost everything.

Now the end note on Chelsea. To be honest with everyone in the group, there was no such thing like impressing or trying to impress the girl. I never thought about impressing and Chelsea, I knew, was more worried about her next day than being impressed by me.

Inside The Washington D.C. Strip Bar

But I was sooo shy!

I was a bit disappointed on the first day in Washington D.C. I had expected tall buildings, skyscrapers, in the city. No, they were not there and I soon realized the secret. The law of the city bars anyone making a building taller than the Washington monument which is 555ft/169m tall.

But the very first night in D.C. was beyond my expectation. It was a surprise night, I conclude. We had arrived in the city at around 7 PM (April 1) and by 10 PM I found myself in a strip bar where naked girls were happily dancing turn by turn in front of a crowd overwhelmingly dominated by men. A friend of mine in D.C., a Nepali who is in a similar profession like mine, was kind enough to take me (and another friend) in the bar. That was a surprise for me. We had told our friend to take us to any interesting place in D.C. and there we were. Right in front of the girls.

Wagle in Santa Monica Beach

OUTSIDE the bar: DW in Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles Pic by Shaiq Hussain

Yes, the passport was needed but not for immigration or anything like that. They just wanted to make sure that I was 18 years or older. We met a group of boys and girls at the gate who were getting out of the place. We let them get out and entered. “Thanks,” a boy from the group said. “Enjoy the night.” Within the first minute of entering inside the club, I found myself in an uneasy position. Initially, I was shocked to see naked girls but I tried myself very hard not to reveal that expression. I wanted to act like a normal boy. Folks were enjoying but the place wasn’t really interesting and entertaining for me. Wait, I am not being idealistic here. I mean I can be a naughty boy but it didn’t take me much time to realize that the place wasn’t for me. My friends ordered beer for themselves where as I got a bottle of non-alcoholic drink. (I don’t smoke and drink alcohol for some strange reasons that are unknown to me.)

After about 10 minutes of watching people entertained by the girls stripping in front of them, I really felt like getting out of the place. The music was loud and I had to scream at my friends to make my voice heard. “Let’s go out,” I said to my friend who was seated on my side. Then he passed my message to our friend who actually took us there. “It’s not entertaining for me.” They wanted to finish the drink (I couldn’t even drink the liquid, that wasn’t tasty too). We kept watching the dance.

“But thank you very much for brining me here,” I continued after getting out of the place and walking on the cool street of downtown D.C. “At least I got a chance to see a strip bar. Even if I didn’t like it, it was necessary for me to see and have the experience of being inside it. And I appreciate those girls and the customers. But this is not a place to visit twice and I will not come here again.” And I never went back. I will not go back.

(Oh…by the way, let me quickly clarify that this Strip Bar visit wasn’t part of my official program IVLP which was organized by the US State Department in collaboration with different Universities. It was personal visit, I should say, about which the Department folks weren’t aware of, I think. So what? The program was also about the cultural exchange!)

As we were approaching the hotel, I again thanked my friend for taking me there. My point was that the girls were too naked. There was action, as a copycat song created by MTV India is saying while I am typing these lines (June 1st), but emotion was lacking! (Action toh hey… per emotion nahin) There was no eroticism, there was no feeling whatsoever. It is not that I don’t like girls. I like but what’s the attraction when you see the whole thing at once and there is nothing hidden inside. Girls were naked, plain and simple, and they dancing like a machine or an automated robot programmed for certain sequences. The only piece of cloth, if I can use such term in this sentence, that they were wearing was a small elastic rope tied on their lower thigh. Why? This is interesting.

The ‘connoisseurs’ of strip dance would go near the girl on the stage and, after watching her for about a minute (or two) from very near (about 20 cm, I guess), they would insert a dollar bill in that elastic rope. Good thing about the dace and the show was that the ‘connoisseurs’ didn’t touch the girls and the girls were damn happy to serve their customers. So the whole show, it appeared, was professionally managed and well executed! After finishing the show (one dance sequence lasted for about 7 minutes, I think), the girl would start serving food (mainly drinks) and collect tips from the people on the tables. One big girl came to our table asking if we wanted additional drinks. I don’t know how much my friend tipped the girl but I was even afraid to see at her face directly.

Well, you can say that was a real taste of cultural shock that I was experienced within hours of landing in Washington D.C.

When I told about my strip bar visit to some people, including two American girls, they were kind of shocked. No, boys weren’t shocked. They wanted me to take them there. “What?” a girl responded. “Are you saying that you went to the strip bar?” Yes, she couldn’t believe. And continue asking: “Who took you there?” Hum, a million dollar question, I told myself.

International Visitors Leadership Program. What I Did in the United States

And an overview of what I did in the trip

The program is called ‘International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP)’ that, according to a description provided by the State Department which hosts it, “seeks to build mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through carefully designed professional visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.” There are many specialized programs under the IVLP banner. Let me complete the introduction of IVLP. “These visits reflect the visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the U.S. government,” states the same description paper.

“Each year over 4,500 IVLP participants from all over the world are selected by U.S. embassies to travel to the U.S. to meet and confer with their professional [American] counterparts. Over 225 current and former heads of government and state and many other distinguished world leaders in the public an private sectors have participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program [that was] launched in 1940.” So, does this means I have the chance to become the head of government (or even the State by then, who knows) in future? Just kidding..

I mentioned earlier that there are specialized programs under IVLP banner. I was invited to take part in an IVLP project entitled “Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists” which was administered by Delphi International Program of World Learning, a private sector company that works with the U.S. Department of State, from April 3-21, 2006. “This is what is called public-private sector partnership,” said someone associated with the State Department on the relationship with Delphi. “We create the plan and objectives of the program and they organize it on our behalf.”

Indeed, that was a wonderful example of the public private partnership: state funding some parts of the program and where as the private sector contributing the state’s goal by organizing programs. Universities organized seminars and discussions (in our case, the University of Southern California) and newspapers welcomed visiting reporters in their offices. (In my case LA Daily News in Los Angeles). Those meetings and seminars were interactive and revealing. Especially our visit to the newspapers office and press of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (in Milwaukee) were very informative.

What were the objectives of the program? The Department of State, states the same program paper, has outlined the following specific objectives of the project:

1. Examine the rights and responsibilities of a free press in a democracy;

2. Observe operational practices, standards and institutions of the media in the U.S.;

3. Gain insight into the social, economic and political structures of the U.S.; and

4. Participate in academic seminars and a professional development symposium highlighting current trends and challenges in the media profession.

There were 129 journalists from 105 countries. They were divided into several groups like South Asian, South East Asian, English Speaking African, Arabic Speaking African (I am not sure about the last one but there were others like Arabic Speaking Europeans etc.) I think there were about 8 such groups (who cares about the number of groups by the way) and they were assigned to different cities separately or combined. For instance, the South Asian, South East Asian and English Speaking Africans went to Los Angeles and participated in seminars and discussions organized by the Annenberg School of Communication in University of Southern California. At times they were divided into smaller groups.

We also visited offices of different media organizations (job shadowing which I did for Los Angeles Daily News in San Fernando Valley). After spending a week in LA, the South Asians went to Wisconsin (Milwaukee and Madison) where as others went to other different cities.

We visited mosque and church in the city of Milwaukee where Harley Davidson is headquartered. We visited the Municipal office and interacted with officials. We visited the state capitol in Madison and talked to two senate members from Democratic and Republican parties. We also visited private house where a wonderful group of musicians organized a live show for us.

All groups came together in Washington D.C. in 21st April to take part in an international symposium organized by the Aspen Institute. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice also addressed the meeting and responded queries filed by journalists on behalf of each group. Indian journalist on behalf of South Asia asked a question about the then political situation in Nepal.

On a critical note, I think, they could have let us stay in less expensive hotels (or university facilities) so that we could have made our stay more interactive. To be honest, informal meetings that I did on my personal capacity were more fruitful and interesting than some of the formal programs and schedules. It would be even better if the organizers let the visitors spend more time on their own.