Exploring US soil

31 May 2011 - 09:21
By Razia Pillay

Info overload, interesting sights and surreal moments in America - thanks to the US Department of State

If life had given me some sort of warning that I would be in the United States of America, I tell you, I would have been much more prepared for it. What started of as a 'Direct Message' to my Twitter inbox, took on a shape of possible hope that I may be one of the finalists of the International Visitor Leadership Programme to discuss "Media in the 21st Century", sponsored by the US government. After much anticipation, it finally became a reality that I would embark on a journey of a lifetime. Three weeks followed of non-stop interviews, meetings and information overload. But in between it all, we had some time to explore the US soil.

A short insight into the four cities we've been to:

- We flew to Washington DC and stayed there for the first few days. Even though our program was jam packed, we had still managed to make time to check out the incredible business-like but at the same time, quite laid back city. One thing we all noticed and agreed on, was that American food was just not that great and one should try and stay away from it. On the upside, the architecture of the government buldings like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the Obelisk, Union Building etc. marvelled me with the amount of thought that was put into building it and the fact that I was there - in front of the White House!.. I soon forgot about the notion of going back to the hotel and puking out the greasy, over fried, almost stale food. Two things you should do, when you're in DC is hang out at Busboys and Poets. Great vibe and great books - and make your way to the Newseum.

Washington DC is the capital of the United States founded in 1790 with a population of roughly 601,000 people.

- Next stop, Manhattan, New York - the beating heart of the western world, where the streets at night are just as busy as during the day. A tight schedule in New York left us with just a few hours at night to explore the city and force excessive intake of caffeine to stay awake long enough to make the most of the free hours we insisted on stealing, even long after the Wall Street workaholics went to bed. New York's interesting summer chills and some-what depressing rain didn't stop us from taking a short walk down to Times Square to experience the visual over-load and among other things, left reeling after an actual Broadway show. We even managed to talk the IVLP programmers into getting us tickets to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Three days didn't cut it though. We felt robbed of the New York experience, but nevertherless, the thought of getting to San Francisco eased the pain.

- San Francisco, California.

The city of craziness and awesomeness, all at the same time. Rolling hills in the city centre, interesting architecture and people you bother to give a second look because, well, you just don't see interesting people like that every day. In Rosebank, yes, but in general, no. Of course, once you explore the the heart of SF, you get to see the rich history, the murals on every wall, the vintage clothing shops, the tattoo and piercing parlours, the hippies and the yuppies - but best of all - we had real dinner, with a great American family, who welcomed us with open arms, given us their time and made us feel like part of their family. And one interesting fact we learned as soon as we got there,  was that Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer the governer of California. He said "I won't be baack".San Francisco is the financial, cultural, and transportation centre of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of more than 7.4 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland.

- St Petersburg, Florida. Ohhhh yesss.

The warm climate, the fantastic beaches, and the chilled lifestyle. We visited the Dali museum, a museum that was built to showcase the paintings of a surrealist Spanish painter. A talented painter indeed. Thereafter, treated ourselves to a trip to St Pete's Beach. White sand and warm, tropical waters. We rounded the trip with a baseball game. Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians. Our first live baseball game... what an experience!

St. Petersburg (often shortened to St. Pete) is a city long known as a vacation destination for both American and foreign tourists. Population, roughly 248,000 people.

General things I've noticed about the United States of America:

• America has great things to see, but South Africa, I believe is richer in landscapes, culture, and variety of good food

• Americans have a great life, but in general, there seems to be a great disproportion of wealth. There's as much homeless on the streets, as there are fancy cars on the roads

• American road infrastructure is bad. They apparently don't have the budget for that. South Africans have done a great job with our roads compared to theirs

• American food comes in large portions if you love greasy, fatty foods, and at the same time - American food comes in very small portions if you love healthy, nutritious foods.

• Not all Americans are fat.

• America loves doing business with SA, and thinks that our country is definitely worth investing in, and trading with.

• America is big on going green. Almost everything is recyclable - seemingly even those quarters (American coins).. they just keep coming back. But seriously, we could learn a thing or two from them about saving the environment

• American telecommunication is not so much more advanced than us. We have the same technology, we just have less people accessing it.

• American people are great! They love to help out, they make you feel welcome, and they love sharing a smile or two.

• There's no car chases, no bank robberies, and no monsters tearing up the cities. America is safe.

Also read: A case study: American Media and what it means for us South Africans