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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