Ten Things I Enjoyed In Washington DC

THE HOSPITALITY OF THE TANS

Edwin and Lydia enthusiastically offered to orientate my daughter Elaine to life in Washington DC. They were the most qualified to do so being Singaporeans who have lived and worked there for more than a decade. Lydia has written a useful book about living in America. So my wife and I were relieved to know that Elaine would be in good, wise hands. She stayed with them before we arrived to stay with her in their house (another act of hospitality from the Tans). While we were there, the Tans were in Singapore. They even allowed us to use their cars -which we did!

Lovely and larger suburban home of the Tans

THE MONUMENTS

Fantastic free tour led by informative and humorous guide
Well known Washington Monument in the distance
Vietnam War memorial looks simple but a brilliant work done by a student
But of course THE famous Abraham Lincoln

We went for this free walking tour that gave us interesting information about the monuments. The wonderful thing is that the major monuments are within walking distance of each other. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from this tour about the history, culture and values of America. Fighting for freedom is a top, top value for USA. Quite a few memorials are to the war dead: the second world war, the Vietnam war, the civil war. This country has shed a lot of its children’s blood for freedom in their land and elsewhere. I cannot help but feel beholden to them, even if they did it with “enlightened” national interest. If not for their contribution to the war in the Pacific, Singapore may still be under the Japanese, and I would be speaking Japanese, and eating Japanese food (which may not be too bad), or be second class cheap labour for Japan industry. I had lost two uncles who disappeared during Japanese army occupation of Singapore in the late 1930s, and these are memories that still embitter our older generation against the Japanese military occupation. I am rambling.

ETHIOPIAN FOOD

Elaine brought us out for some Ethiopian food. Washington attracts people from all nations so it is no surprise you can get authentic  Ethiopian food. We enjoyed it because of its similarity with Indian food. I would definitely go for it again and again if I do visit Washington again.

Just loving’ it, and her, of course

THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS

National Air and Space Museum

Its amazing that these museums do not require any entrance fees. They are wonderful large museums with interesting and sometimes spectacular exhibits. A few require payment of an entrance fee. We went to a few of the free ones over a period of two days. They are all within a grid of several square kilometres. We drove to the park and ride, and took the metro to the station nearest to the museum we wanted to go. Very convenient and accessible.

Fascinating art museum
Great for photos as I need t o learn how to enjoy art

VISITING THE WORLD BANK

Lois showing us around World Bank with the End Poverty posters behind us

A friend of Elaine was able to get visitor passes for us so we could have a look at what it would be like for Elaine. Since it was on the way to the museums and her friend was willing to show us around, why not. It looks like a United Nations – employees from different countries working together, security conscious, and bound together by the one common English language. I also discovered they had several buildings all within walking distance of each other.

On the way to the museums we sent her off on her first day of work

WORSHIPPING IN AN ASIAN CHURCH

Worship on Sunday

The church my hosts attended was founded by Asians – Taiwanese and Hong Kong immigrants. So the English service I attended on that wet Sunday was full of people of Chinese descent, both young, the middle aged, and the old. The worship used familiar songs and choruses and the odd hymn, and the sermon was treading carefully around the spiritual gift of tongues. There were quite a few Malaysians and Singaporeans there too. So after the service we went to a huge reception/fellowship hall where we were hosted by the greeters. A pastor of many decades sat beside me and we had a long conversation about work, theology and life experiences. He told me that nowadays the church receives more and more Mainland Chinese converts! This gives the church fresh blood.

By day a florist, by night an artist

After the service, a Singaporean,  Florence, one of the church members, brought us to a mammoth warehouse discount store. We were wowed by this megastore and the prices were also very good but you had to buy bulk. This was fun. This was my quick introduction to the consumer culture of America.

Later we went to Florence’s home and were amazed at the lovely paintings in her newly purchased townhouse home. She is a florist but painting was her hobby and she found it therapeutic. We had a dinner of salad and baked chicken before we headed for home.

APARTMENT HUNTING

Elaine was hunting for an apartment and over several days we went house viewing with her. We saw about seven apartments with her. It was reassuring to see that the surrounding streets looked safe and good. I realised there is a strong rental market (US $1,500 to $2,500 for a studio or one bedroom apartment) in and around DC. Most residents seeking work in DC would begin with renting an apartment or house. After they know that their jobs are stable, and get to know the city better, they may then go on to purchase a house or apartment. Since transience is part of the working scene in DC, rental still trumps buying a property.

MEALS WITH OUR DAUGHTER

Melas at home of the Tans
Greek food at Dupont
American food at a suburban restaurant

We were together for all the meals when we were there and that was a luxury we did not have when she was living in Singapore, what with her work, ministry commitments and her friends. So the time together was precious. All the more sweeter for we knew we would be missing her for some years. This was easily the highlight of the trip.

WALKING

We did a lot of walking. We had no choice. We enjoyed walking anyway. We are hikers. Therefore with proper footwear, walking is a piece of cake for us. We walked the most during our visits to the museums. We also walked a great deal while hunting for apartments and looking at the surrounding neighbourhood.

SHOPPING

Shopping can be inexpensive in America. There are many good food stuff, household stuff and clothing and shoes that we could buy at good prices. Branded goods at the premium outlets carry shocking price tags. If I were into brands, this is Paradise. However, I  bought sparingly because I am not into branded stuff. If I already have so many watches why should I get a Fossil watch just because it was cheap. If I do not need it, why buy it? Things in America: houses, cars, clothes, supermarket food and household products are inexpensive when compared with Singapore. What hits you between the eyes is the health insurance!!!

Boston: stumbling onto Phillips Brooks

At the beginning of the Freedom Trail, waiting tor the tour guide after having clam chowder for lunch
Posing with the tour guide who was dressed in clothing of Boston past

Freedom Trail

We were in Boston and had gone on a Freedom Trail walking tour. Boston has a rich and significant history. Momentous events took place there and some of the buildings and graves testify to the fundamental way America has been shaped by those events. I loved the tour and would recommend it to anyone.

We then wanted to have fantastic hot chocolate at a popular café near the park where the Freedom trail ended. On the way to the café, I spotted a statue in front of a huge church building. I went nearer to look and saw an interesting thing.

Rt Rev Phillips Brooks

It was a sculpture put up in memory of Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, the famous preacher whose lectures on preaching I had read when I was in seminary. Phillip Brooks gave the “Lyman Beecher Lectureship  on Preaching” at the Divinity School of Yale College. The lectures now seem outdated but he had said some great, classic things about preaching. One of his often quoted sayings was his definition of preaching: “Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.”

Beautiful Trinity Church (Episcopalian)

After tea, we went to take pictures in front of the sculpture. The sculpture was of Phillip Brooks preaching with his hands stretched out to make a point. There is a strange hooded figure behind him, with his hand on Phillip’s shoulder. Clearly the sculptor meant to indicate how Jesus anointed the preaching of Brooks, and how his effectiveness as a preacher depended on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Phillips Brooks and Jesus

Then we went inside the church to have a look. However, we needed to pay to go in and walk among the pews, the volunteers from church had told us. So I said, Forget it. Ping, my daughter in law, told the volunteers that I was a pastor and had read his lectures in seminary when I was young, and would love to be able to go in. That must have moved them to allow us to go in for free. Thus, we sat there inside the church, among the pews, and in silence I prayed for a fresh anointing and that I would give my whole heart to preaching.

The sanctuary was beautiful and awesome

That night I searched for a free download of Brook’s lectures on preaching and downloaded it. The next few days, I would open those pages and read them on my smartphone. I have gone back now to these lectures, but on my iPad so that I could highlight striking sentences and thoughts. God willing I will post these sayings of Brooks once I have finished reading the lectures.

Tam Coc and good food in Hanoi

My vacation has come to an end. Here am I in a cafe writing while we wait for a 6pm flight. The ending of vacation is like the aftertaste of Vietnamese robusta coffee. There is a bit of bitter aftertaste. I now wish the vacation could be extended. But work awaits me, and I preach on Sunday. I have been lifting up my heart to the Lord about the two messages I have to preach. They are embryonic form now, with skeletal thoughts in my mind. They will have to take form tomorrow!

The last few days in Hanoi has been in a single word: wet. One of the things I looked forward to was a Halong Bay overnight cruise. Sadly, it was not to be. On the morning we were about to leave we received notice from the tour company that all boats are not allowed because of a storm of a few days. What a disappointment! This government ban makes me feel secure. No money was lost. And we went for the alternative, Tam Coc or “Halong by the Bay land tour” – haha a stylish way to ease the disappointment I felt. We went for it. The tour agent started at about US$50 and when we told them we are going to explore the city, the price went down to US$35. Well we took it after the price plummeted.

Entrance to the old capital of Vietnam dynasty
Driven by feet of a woman at Tam Coc
Rain dampened the experience but it cooled the air
We went through three tunnel caves

It bus travel for about 2-3 hours before we had a bit of history of two Vietnamese dynasty and the Temples built to ancestor worship the two kings. Then we went on a boat ride that went under three caves and back. It took about an hour and a half of women powered rowing of sampans with their feet. We had scenic views of limestone structures similar to that of Halong Bay, only with light intermittent drizzles. Of the two the more spectacular thing to see was how the women used their feet to row the boats!

Elaine on the bike

The intermittent rain did not stop us from taking a bicycle ride around the rice fields and farms with the limestone hills and mountains as a backdrop. I must admit the idea of riding my Brompton around this area flashed across my mind. Who knows?

We had some fabulous food on the extra day we had since our Halong Bay tour was cancelled. Great atmosphere and egg coffee in Hanoi Social Club; great pizza at Pizza 4P’s, a chain of profitable pizza restaurants started by a Japanese entrepreneur and featured in an article in the New York Times; and famous street pho, and local meal called Bun Cha. Guess that was a food tour. Thanks to TripAdvisor and Elaine Chee and her Friend, Joelene’s recommendations.

Outside Hanoi Social club in an area full of interesting cafes
Inside the Hanoi Social Club cafe
Egg coffee recommended by Nephew Paul – like drinking melted chocolate with coffee flavour
Surprisingly Great pizza in Hanoi Pizza 4P’s chain
Street food on the last night in Hanoi – a popular street stall
Bun Cha – rice vercimelli, pork stew, salads, fried meat spring roll. Shiok!

It was wonderful to travel with our daughter as she will be heading overseas to work. We had an estimated 24 leisurely meals together, rooming together for seven nights, and that is a lot of conversation, laughter and love. This was a good idea. A memorable trip.