One week in TV land

I have given up looking for my luggage. It’s been a toil. I cleaned up my room yesterday, shifted some heavyass wood furniture because I believe that the state of the place you live in reflects your state of mind (at least it always happens in the movies and it seems to work for me). I have come to accept that I will buy everything I need in the USA all over again but I need to be thrifty because the everything will come out of my own pocket. The claims will only come about 12 weeks later, that is nearing the end of my exchange here. And the hard part about coming to terms with all these is telling your loved ones back home about this, telling them you’re still gotta stay here to brave through the winter although almost everything you need here went missing and wanting them to support you on this decision.

The last couple of days include having to attend seminars on the school’s honor code, even had a test on that, and other orientation talks. I went to the library yesterday to check out the faculty publications and browsed through an interesting book about the challenges of democracy. You can read abit about it here. It defied the stereotype I have of American publications in the field of liberal arts. It questioned the long-held belief of the democratic system in the U.S.: “let the people have their voices“. The concept of democracy promulgates the idea of equality, making everyone at equals making their voice heard. Because of this, an elite, authoritarian (?) government is often frowned upon. Democracy isn’t just everybody given a vote to cast during the elections. If everyone and anyone could have a voice, this means alternative voices such as civil society and the Opposition ought to be given the opportunity to contend in a democratic sociopolitical environment.

However, while everyone can have a voice in a democratic system, it doesn’t always mean that a competent government will be voted in. While the rationale is that the people decide what’s best for them (i.e. for a competent party to manage the State), alot of times other variables affect how people vote during the elections. One of the solutions that I remembered from the book to improve the workings of a democratic system, so: (1) everyone can have a voice; (2) everyone knows their voice (so as to vote for a capable government), is to increase political participation and educate the public although the second aspect can be tuned in a bias manner. This actually contradicts what I used to believe in: once we have a competent government that is able to provide for our everyday needs, we should be satisfied/grateful and not ask for a political voice, rights or whatsoever and once we open up the arena to allow people to voice a different or/and controversial opinion and influence the rest, we’re doomed! But this particular solution to increase the public interest in political affairs of the country and their participation => making them aware of and interested to contribute to their state politics, hits two birds with one stone: democratic system can produce competent governments through the voice of the people.

Now back to reality. The school brought us downtown today. It’s my first time outside school. I asked my OA about the term “downtown” and later learnt that it is synonymous to East Asia’s “Central Business District (CBD)”. I took the school shuttle on my own for the first time to the Target store. I went to specific categories in the store to pick up my necessities and checked out two hours later. The clothes, pants and undergarments costed about 123 USD although I did most shopping in the discounted items area. When the bus came (as I wished hard that it’ll come on time in the place I waited at) to pick me up, I was thinking that I could do anything now and I’d feel safe to hop onto any other shuttle another day to explore the rest of Richmond, Virginia.

It was difficult to blend in with the rest in the shuttle to downtown and hold onto conversations that will go beyond name, country, why you’d chosen UR, major(s) and adapting to the U.S. culture but I know I’d tried hard. My heart skipped a beat whenever I am in a crowd of people or that they’re approaching my direction. But it always helps to fake courage till you make the courage out of these situations. Should I say ‘hi’? Should I comment on that something I’d eavesdropped from their very loud conversation? On this second point, I learnt that it may be quite possible to become part of the conversations you were not in at the start just by eavesdropping and then commenting on something relevant.

It is still surreal to think I am here. America is just as you see it on the television at home. I want to take photographs of everything, of their parking ticket machines, public buses, newspaper booths, billboards, sunsets, Ruby Tuesday diners… Today I’d seen the first beggar sitting on a bench along the street on the shuttle back to school, with a cardboard written “Broke, hungry, cancer survivor…” and something along the lines of him appreciating some help from strangers. Every time I eat at the dining hall in school, I get surprised by the food I’d never seen/heard before in my life and that I could never fathom. Gyros? Hushpuppies? And trays of strange gravies. Every meal, I eat something I thought I knew what it was but turns out to be something else I still don’t know. At times I eat strange combinations of food like having minced spinach, oreo cheesecake and iced tea for lunch. I do miss hearing the familiar accent of English all around me in Singapore. I also have the tendency to compare everything here to back home, just because I haven’t been to many places and the few places I’d been to become points of comparison to my default living situation.

Lessons commence next week. It’s both exciting to learn about new perspectives from Wild Wild West and nerve-wreaking at the same time because I am not sure what is expected here. We will all learn, to be OK.

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