"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, June 17, 2005

My US Trip (2005)

Day 10 - Marblehead-Salem-Boston

Previously featured:
Flight to Newark, Day 1 - Newark-Princeton
Day 2 - Princeton-Philadelphia
Day 3 - Gettysburg-Lancaster-Ephrata-Alexandria
Day 4 - Alexandria-DC
Day 5 - Westpoint-Hyde Park
Day 6 - Hancock Shaker Village-Hanover
Day 7 - Burlington, Vermont
Day 8 - New Hampshire-Bretton Woods-Portland Head
Day 9 - Portland-Kennebunkport

We started the day by breakfasting at IHOP, where half the staff defied my theory about serving staff at food establishments. On the way there (all of a hop, skip and jump), we noticed a sign advertising an incompetent lifeguard.

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Warning: Lifeguard on duty

Since there was some time before the Salem Witch Museum opened, we drove to Marblehead, traveling on the 495, which had a sign warning of a fine of up to $10,000 for littering (!!!). And you thought Singapore was bad.

While scouring Marblehead for Fort Sewall, we got lost in the labyrinthine network of roads, many of them one way. That the town was badly signposted didn't help. Unable to find the fort, we ended up watching the Memorial Day observance ceremony.

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The ceremony was emblematic of the elevation of nationalism to the status of a secular religion, as well as a conflation of that with conventional religion. Which is fine, unless this secular religion is imposed on those who don't subscribe to it ('You are all soldiers, charged with the sacred task of protecting our country!')

The word 'freedom' was also bandied about repeatedly, as some people are wont to do, without any questioning about whether all the wars the US fought were really about protecting their freedom..

Nonetheless, the ceremony and speech were moving, despite my having no emotional connection to them and (allegedly) being bitter, jaded and cynical. Perhaps it says something about Singapore that such sentiments can be aroused in few; not only do we have few speakers who can spark such fires in the breasts of their audiences, some Founding Myths are more convincing and moving than others, and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is a much more potent rallying call than "stability, (stagnation,) foreign investment and economic growth". Though perhaps the most damning factor is that when you treat people like commodities, they will behave like commodities.

They dressed some people up as Ye Olde Soldiers, complete with muskets, which were fired repeatedly at one point, spooking a dog.

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On the way out of Marblehead, I came across a kids' (emphasis on the plural - there were a lot of them) lemonade stand and after asking for directions, became their first customer of the day. Though from the rate they were drinking their product, I wouldn't be surprised if they had fewer customers than their own numbers. It cost a quarter, but my sister thought it was Minute Maid lemonade.

Drving to Salem, I went to the Salem Witch Museum. It had a 20 minute presentation (voiceover accompanied by static displays) on the Salem witch trials. It wasn't too bad, but the museum on witches in history was pitifully small (recognising this, they called it a 'presentation'). Apparently, the traditional witch was a Celtic midwife/widewoman, and this image was distorted by the Medieval church into the classic popular perception of witches. There was also a display on modern witches, to try to counter (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) the FUD spread about them by other theists (specifically... ahem). The presentation also drew a parallel between witch hysteria and McCarthyism and the gay-bashing that accompanied the start of the AIDS epidemic (hmm, now where have we seen that before?) - according to their familiar, fear + trigger = scapegoat.

On the road to Boston, we found our 3rd Krispy Kreme on the 1 South!

Near MIT there was a bar and grill called "Miracle of Science". Gah.

It was quite late by the time we arrived in Boston, so instead of having lunch we settled for a snack, sharing a meal at Wendy's. How McDonald's survives with other superior fast food chains, I do not know; Wendy's had 6 types of salads and grilled potatoes, and offered a choice of sides in addition to the usual fries: chili, sour cream baked potato or salads. The chicken in the fried fillet was very tender and moist, oddly more so than the grilled chicken fillet, which was dry and limp.

This shop by the road was selling a 6XL shirt which went to my knees - I could have bought it to wear as a nightie.

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A 7-11 at Cambridge had the sign: "Shirt and Shoes required". Wth?

Walking to Harvard, I was passing by a YMCA when I had to use the restroom. Going in, I asked the guy behind the counter where the restroom was. He looked skeptical, and asked me why. I was preparing a lecture about his failure to live up to the YMCA's mission statement ("To put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all"), replete with stern admonishments about the Christian value of charity, but told him that I wanted to use it (what else could I do in a restroom? Shoot myself up with heroin?), and he relented.

In contrast to Princeton, with its pretentiously neo-Oxbridge architecture, Harvard was simple and unassuming for the most part (at least from the parts I saw).

Construction was going on at one of the Boston metro stations, so travel was disrupted and shuttle buses bridged the gap between stations. Consequently, I had no time to check out MIT, or most of the Freedom Trail. And as I was re-entering the subway system at the Park Street station, after an interminable bus ride (at least 20 minutes just to travel the equivalent of 2 metro stops), I was handed a 'personal' invitation (bah) to join the Christ Cult by some woman.

They had amphibious duck tours in Boston, as well as one other city that I'd been to previously (perhaps Portland), but they weren't as impressive as the ones in Singapore: the one here is painted yellow (as opposed to purple or some other funny colour), and has a more duck-like shape.

I then travelled to the Charleston Navy Yard, home of the USS Constitution, the 'World's Oldest Commissioned Warship'. The damn thing's been renovated so many times, I doubt any of the original timber is left inside. Which makes you wonder why they keep it afloat (probably just so they can lay claim to the aforementioned title - since it and the other ship in there are still commissioned, the place is technically still a military installation, which makes no sense). Perhaps to make up for the lack of internationalism in US foreign policy, it was festooned with the flags of many nations, making it look quite hideous. Furthermore, by the time I got there (thanks to the disruption in metro service), its deck was closed, so I could only look at it from afar.

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The thing that pissed me off the most, however, was that I'd thought it was an ironclad, thanks to its nickname ('Old Ironsides'). Even with my diminished state of erudition, I should have realised that it was half a century too early. Oh well.

There was also the USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer.

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How come we don't get such amusing safety signs?

In the gift shop they sold The Journal of the War of 1812, which was in its 9th year - how do they find enough stuff to keep publishing new issues?!

Journeying from the naval yard to the subway station, I followed the Freedom Trail most of the way (I'd taken another route there, and gotten lost for a short time), so as I followed it I was singing, partially to distract myself from the pain in my feet, "Follow follow follow follow follow the yellow brick road! We're off to see the Wizard - the Wonderful Wizard of Oz!"

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I'd tried looking for ticketed events in Boston on Memorial Day Monday, but the only thing on was a lousy baseball game - Boston Red Sox vs Baltimore Orioles, so I joined my brother in law for dinner with his friends at the Border Cafe, which served Cajun/Tex-Mex food. It was like Molly's in Hanover, but a lot more noisy, if that were possible. And unique among all the restaurants we visited, at least half the serving staff were male.

The Harvard co-op chain claimed in a sign that it was world-famous. Bah.

On the way back to Tewksbury, we took some night shots. Despite his pretentions and classes, my brother-in-law was unable to take a decent night shot, so I had to do the honours.

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At the motel, there was a list of attractions and the distances to said joints. For example: "Boston - 80 miles". The attractions were listed in decreasing order of distance, till the final entry was: "Applebees Restaurant - Across parking lot". That would make a great Mastercard-style ripoff. I wanted to get a copy of that brochure the night before our departure to scan in, but was counseled to wait for the next morning. Unfortunately, the reception wasn't open when we left, so not only did we not return our keys (encoded keycards, so it wasn't much loss to Motel 6), I didn't get my brochure!

Sister's food diary: "Day 10 : Breakfast at IHOP - pancakes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, sourdough beef sandwich. Snack at Wendy's near MIT - grilled and spicy chicken sandwich. Dinner at Tex-Mex-Cajun restaurant near Harvard. Popcorn crayfish, Cajun mozzarella sticks, Cajun catfish, shrimp quesadillas, seafood enchiladas."

My sister was making dismissive noises when watching Pretty Woman the previous night. I wonder if she does that when she reads her smut novels.

The disadvantage of tipping is that only the waitress serving your table will pay attention to you. However, since they want their tip, they'll be sure to give you at least a minimum standard of service (come to think of it, that may be the real reason why service in America is so much better than in Singapore). In fact, they might even stand for it if you snap your fingers to summon them (another one of my many fantasies - but first I've to learn how to snap my fingers). And you can be sure the service charge won't be appropriated by the despicable management.

Cellular service providers in the US are so helpful, offering service to auto-update your phone's time/date. Why don't we have that here?!
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