Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Capitol Building

After some more program specific information [ also overwhelming. They discussed important information about school, like die Teilnahmebescheinigungen. 0_o .... What?!... oh ya, it is just the certificates of passing a class examination... I think? ] and a quick lunch, we were all bussed to the Capitol Building for a group photo. It was HOT and muggy. I was trying now to get too sweaty since I had a meeting with Congressman Gary Peters my local congressional representative.

Leaving the capital building, I left with another participant, Henry, also from MI, to the representatives offices.

His staffers were extremely nice [Caitlyn, the staffer that guided us, had been in contact with us and arranged are meeting and was very helpful.] Caitlyn actually recieved a blackberry e-mail (EVERYONE in DC is glued to theirs) from the Congressman and she said that his schedual became very tight, so we actually had to run over and meet him at the actual Capital building itself! I was very excited. It was very cool seeing a little more behind the scenes look of the great hectiness of the House of Representatives before a vote (which is timed with lights and buzzers around all the office buildings).

We met Congressman Peters, and we had a few minutes to chat and share where we were from [ I asked if he remembered my brother who was there a week prior as a Bank of America student leader working in Detroit on his DC summit and Congressman Peters said he recognized how we looked similar ].

I also shared appreciation for the congress support in our scholarship opportunity to study abroad. [ and I really just realized now that I have recieved scholarships from both parts of the government with the FUSYE [ Finnish US SENATE youth exchange] and now CBYX [ CONGRESS Bundestag youth exchange] I thought that was cool]. Congressman Peters was very nice, and we were able to get a photo together on the scenic steps of the Capitol building.

After our quick meeting and Congressman Peters returned to his very busy schedule, Caitlyn gave us each passes to see both the House gallery and the Senate Gallery. This is something that I have never done before in DC ( I had actually never been IN the capitol building. )

With our gallery passes we weaved our way through the very interconnected hallways of the Capitol building, in and out of different vestibules. At the speed that we were going, without Caitlyn I would have been lost. The hectic atmosphere within the hallways, escalators and elevators was incredible. Tourists, staffers, politicians and catering staff all scrambling around the building trying to get around. There was a lot of security in the building, and unfortunately I had to check in my back and camera before visiting the gallery, so I do not have pictures any steps of the tour. The part that I wish I could have captured was the middle of the rotunda which was incredible and filled with elaborate paintings and statures of prominent events and figures in American history. Beneath the rotunda room was a room where there were beautiful chandeliers and a star on the floor marking the direct center of the building, and thus a major central point of all of DC built orderly around the national mall.

The other really cool thing that I witnessed was the small staircase and doors that the presidents, most notably Obama just a few months ago, walked through to address the nation and become inaugurated as President of the United States!
The house gallery had even more security checks, and once I was in there was a hearing over food bourne illnesses and laws over packaged foods. The proceedings were orderly and a little mundane, until this one lobbyist came up. I have never seen a person be so passionate about something as seemingly trivial as food packaging. This woman was histrionic to say the least, almost yelling and throughing her hands in the air dramatically comparing the deaths of victims of foodborn illness to the tragedies of 9-11. It was interesting, but I guess that lobbyists have to do that for their livelihoods.

For me, the Senate gallery was even more exciting (for one thing, I found the room itself more grand, even thought it was the same size, but with limited seating, it seemed more exclusive.) Noting the size of the room, I was could only compare it to my trip two summers ago to the Finnish Eduskunta – Finnish Parliament – and how that room was also just as large and grand, but that presided law over a nation of 5.5 million, and our Senate gallery for the entire nation of the U.S. (I actually heard remarks in Finland how small our government buildings, and officials homes, especially the white house really are for what they represent.) For me, watching the vote take place at the Senate Gallery was a star studded event. From my second level balcony seat, looking down I saw Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin chatting away, and then walking in Senator John McCain and John Kerry. It was a very cool thing to witness, and to just think that a year ago, I could have seen Current president Barack Obama or current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there as well. One thing that I found humorous was the casual nature at the time I was in the gallery with all the Senators chatting with each other as a vote was being tabulated. The Vice President assistant pounded her gavel and yelled “Senate is now in session! Please take your conversation outside!!”. The whole experience actually made the elusive Senate a lot more personable.

After the Capital building adventure, I stopped by Conressman John Conyers office from the Detroit area in Michigan, just to see my luck if he was in the office. When walking in, he shuffled by in a rush with a staffer (It was cool to at least see him!) and I signed in with the secretary (who I recognized as the College Dems president at UofM) and left a greeting as one of the Focus:HOPE interns who visited last year. With this scholarship being a congress funded program, it is important that I keep in contact with my local reps to show my appreciation and keep in contact to bring ideas back to Michigan.

By this point in the day I was absolutely exhausted. It was only about 6:30 pm, and if someone gave me a bed, I would have gone to sleep right then and there. However, I had a circulator bus pass given to me from the CBYX group, and I was not going to pass up any free time in one of my favorite places, Washington DC. With the abundance of landmarks, government buildings, diverse people and museums, there is so much to see. The Hirshorn, one of my favorites was already closed, but I visited the Natural History Museum again. I am glad I went because the new ocean life exhibit is now open, which was closed last summer when I was here. It was great! There were life size replicas of whales, and many other great ocean creatures. It is worth visiting along with other exhibits of other animals and precious gems.

For dinner I decided to ride up and check out China town since I usually enjoy stopping at traditional Chinese bakeries for fresh steamed buns.
[ What I ate in Chinatown.... Just kidding. It is a preserved giant squid at the Smithonian Natural History Museum!]
The funny thing thought is that the DC China town is now traditional at all. I ended up reading that it is just the historical district where many immigrant groups including the Chinese would live.
In fact, the only thing Chinese about the main street were a bunch of American businesses that had Chinese translations of the store names. There were some restaurants and I did find what I was looking for, yum, and I was almost ready to head home and crash. I made a final stop and purchased some Reesee’s cups, peanut butter m&m’s, oreos and other European favorites of American candies to kind of break the ice with my host family that I still don’t know much about. Back at the dorm, I packed up, chatted with everyone a bit and was ready for bed. The next day was departure to Germany, whether I was mentally prepared or not.

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