My first trip abroad, 16 years ago

16 03 2008

In early February, I was back to Washington, DC, after 16+ years. Washington was the first city I’ve been to outside Brazil. I was just starting my working career, and was sent to King of Prussia in Pennsylvania for a course on hierarchical databases, taking a Pan Am (!) flight from São Paulo to New York’s JFK and then a regional flight to Philadelphia. Pan Am actually closed operations a few months after I came back from that trip (yeah, writing the last couple of sentences just made me feel like three hundred years old). The place I was staying at does not count exactly as an urban centre, as it can be seen here; that’s why Washington takes the dubious honour of being my first.

I still wonder how I managed to end up in the right place. Back then, my proficiency in the English language was somewhere between Tarzan’s and Cheeta‘s.

I remember that I had to take a bus to get to the American Airlines terminal at JFK and couldn’t understand a word of what the bus driver was saying. Luckily, I saw a guy in the bus with a boarding pass for the same flight as mine and just followed him.

When I landed in Philly, I called the shuttle that was supposed to take me to the hotel. The conversation went more or less like this:

Me: “Hello? I need a shuttle to take me to the Holiday Inn in King of Prussia.”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.”
Me: “Errr. Sorry, what did you say?”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.”
Me: “Can you please repeat that once more?”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.” (well, at least he did repeat himself)

[uncomfortable silence on both sides]

The guy on the other side (speaking very slowly): “L-I-S-T-E-N!… W-H-A-T… C-O-L-O-R… I-S… Y-O-U-R… S-H-I-R-T?”
Me (relieved for finally understanding something): “My shirt? Err… Dark blue. Why?”
The guy on the other side: “D-O-N’-T… M-O-V-E!… I’-L-L… F-I-N-D… Y-O-U!”

And so he did! He found me and took me safely to the hotel!

Once in the hotel, I could barely go through the check-in routine, to the point a Korean person was brought in to help with the translation – which didn’t help at all, since the only word I know in Korean is “kimchi”. Things started working when they finally found somebody who could speak Spanish and understand my Portuñol.

There was not a lot to do in King of Prussia. I tried to walk to the mall nearby and was lucky to not have been hit by a car. Definitely not a place for pedestrians. So, when the course was over, boredom trumped fear and I decided to take a train to DC.

Spending three days in Washington was the best decision I made in that trip. Great city, excellent museums, good transportation system, a fantastic zoo, landmarks made familiar by tens of TV shows and movies. That’s when I started thinking seriously about spending a few years abroad.

Being back to the city in February made me feel good. This time around, I did not have much time to enjoy the city. With just a few hours to spare, I just walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and visited the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Here are some pics:

Washington, DC - CapitolWashington, DC - FBI BuildingWashington, DC - Canadian Embassy
Capitol, FBI and Canadian Embassy

Washington, DC - Somewhere along Pennsylvania Ave NWWashington, DC - National Gallery of Art - East Building
Somewhere along Penn Ave NW and National Gallery of Art (East Building)

Washington, DC - Calder at National Gallery of ArtWashington, DC - Old Post Office
Calder @ NGA and Old Post Office

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Busy times

16 03 2008

I haven’t blogged here for a month and a half now, so it’s time to catch up. Nothing better to kill a readership (even if that means 2 or 3 people) than abandoning your own blog for such a long time. I’ve been traveling for most of my time since January, and decided that it’s better to “write less, blog more”, but have not been very successful following my own mantra so far. This is the first of these short posts, and I’ll be writing quite a few of them in the next little while, covering some of the things I’ve been doing and thinking over the last month and a half. Stay tuned, both of you reading this blog.