As an architect, the writer has a chance to travel to many famous cities in the world, from Eastern to Western. On such journeys, many unspoken emotions and inspirations bloomed in his heart, ones that excited this very architect
The most intelligent place in the world!
From a modern airport in Denver City, Colorado, I flew to Washington to fulfill an invitation of Man, a close friend of mine when I studied in Hue’s Nguyen Tri Phuong School. Man has lived in America for a long time, he studied mechanical engineering but ended up working for United States Patent and Trademark Office. Man took me back to his small apartment near the center of a city in Virginia. It was a city of administration and power.
With 350,000 people working for the federal government and many employees of the national companies, Washington perhaps is the most “intelligent” city in the world. Each year, Washington attracts 10 million visitors for travelling, diplomacy with a series of international conferences on all short of international problems. Planning the city known as the center of power of all America was certainly not an easy task for the architects back then. From the Capitol, which is marked as the number one central building, there start 4 roads East, West, South, North dividing the city into 4 sections: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast. The White House, about 2.5 kilometers away from the Capitol, is the place where the Presidents after the time of Washington live and work.
The Capitol was built on Capitol Hill, from which one can see all over the city. In the main hall, there hang Washington’s portrait, statues of Liberty and goddess of victory on the sides, the dome is decorated with paintings from the time of Italian renaissance. Right here, every four years, the new President must perform his inauguration. We made a joked on the fact that the President performs his inauguration between the two goddess’ statues makes Americans afraid of their wives. Sitting on the porch steps looking out, I can see The Washington Monument from afar, trees on sides, beautiful scenery of sunset. Travellers, Americans, all kinds of age and gender, gathering around the lake, sitting, lying, singing, talking, reading right in the building’s compound like this is a place so familiar to them, not a scary and powerful administrative agency.
The strange paradoxes
There is a strange paradox. Such a beautiful, rich and powerful city is filled with “victims of Planning”. A city planned with too many conveniences, making Americans lazier every day. It is recorded that up to two third Americans have excessed body weight! What will happen further into the future? An American of automation and computerization will drive people crazy with their own loneliness or draw them closer together?
A city with more technology means that it is more humanitarian? It seems that perfection is not yet happiness and such truth is bothering America. Ironically, Americans have been struggling to claim all the knowledge in the world to build up the skyscrapers; they strangled their bodies and minds to build up a token of power. But with time, they started to feel troubled and suffocated by the very protection and security they created. Everything has its price. Everything too tall must fall tumbling down. And now, Washington is asking its government for more public transportations, they want to walk, walk and walk… to loss their weight.
City of trees, lakes, sculpture, architecture, painting, music and literature? The peacefulness of god’s creation or the peacefulness of modern life, a life in the 21st century humanity’s wildest dreams? Looking from the outside: yes, Washington is exactly that!
After eating a fast meal of noodle in an afternoon, Man took me to see his uncle, who I met and whose house I lived in while I studied in Hue. His family has came to America for 10 years. This 10 years to him, is a time of extreme hard work. He had to work for two, three shifts to raise four kids. His wife passed away pretty soon for she could not adapt to this advancing society. He stayed single ever since, taking care of his kids until they’ve grown success.
Now, he lives alone by himself in a nursing home. Man’s Uncle only hopes to return to Vietnam to spend his last days… That is also the wish of many old Vietnamese I have seen in America. They miss their homeland! They ask me for hours of the streets with dreamlike hawkers, Duy Tan Street (Pham Ngoc Thach), Turtle Lake, Dong Khoi Street,… with small stalls on the sidewalks, a sense of the past.
Last night in Washington, we gathered in Man’s house, roasting dried squids in a suburb garden, enjoying some glass of wine. The atmosphere was warm and quiet. Washington night, with cold and faint winds, we stayed silence, dripping in our very personal thoughts. Every time I came to part with a city in a faraway country, I feel this sadness inside of my heart, wondering if I will ever have a chance to comeback. America feels so distanced to me, its advances, power, richness and the lonely lives of my fellow aged Vietnamese here… Lost, and sadness, those are my feelings for the last night in Washington after a month wandering America…