Visiting the Newest Member of the Smithsonian Family

Sunday was a gorgeous day in our nation’s capital. The sun was shining, a few wispy clouds dotted the skyline and after a week of rain, everyone emerged from their homes to enjoy what might be one of the last 75 degree days of the year. I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the brand new Smithsonian museum in my hand, one that I had signed up for months ago. Tickets to the African-American History and Culture Museum are hot items around the city right now, (there have been reports of ticket scalping to the tune of $200 for *free* tickets!) but with my name on one, it was time to go check out the week-old addition to the Smithsonian family.

Outside was irresistible, so I tied on my Chucks and headed down to the National Mall on foot, less than a two mile walk from our Chinatown apartment. The building itself is a dark copper color, with intricately patterned metal plates over huge glass windows, layered in a tiered fashion. It feels a bit like the building is growing right out of the ground, like the solid trunk of a massive tree. The design is entirely different from anything else on the Mall, making a striking silhouette in among the more traditional white marble-esque buildings around it.

Approaching the building, I was horrified to see a massive line, but as it turns out, the timed ticket entrance was on the other side of the building.  Apparently this is the “front,” which does make sense as it is the side facing the Mall, but I’ve only walked passed it on Constitution, so always thought of it facing that direction. Happily, I was wrong. (I am still not sure what the huge line on the backside was for- maybe folks trying to get walk-in tickets?)  Getting into the building turned out to not be a problem at all (same security as all of the museums- a quick swirl through my backpack with the plastic wand of power), but that wasn’t the end of the lines. I went straight to the main information counter, hoping to get some suggestion as how best to navigate not only the enormous building, but also the masses of humanity who were also there to visit.

Short answer: more lines.

Even with a timed pass, the lower level exhibits dedicated to the history of African-Americans in the United States had a two hour queue. I though the guy at the desk might be a bit hyperbolic, so I went down the escalator, thinking I’d give it a chance.

Nope.

That line was at least two hours long. Snaking, snaking, snaking. It made Disneyland lines look like just a bit of idling.

Since I am DC-based for at least the next year, I decided that I’d save downstairs for my next visit (I’m sure I’ll be back with friends and family members as they come east for a visit), and headed to the top floor to work my way down. Floors three and four are mainly dedicated to culture, which was fascinating. In particular, I loved the exhibits on fashion (clothing, millinery, hair) and the path of African-American literature. The walls are filled with amazing and powerful quotes, and I was particularly impressed with the use of video throughout the museum. (My guess is these will be much more enjoyable once the visitor level evens out a bit. It was hard to stand and watch a fascinating video about natural/straightened hairstyles when I felt like I was blocking the flow of traffic. The constant movement through the displays reminded me a bit of visiting Mao in Beijing or the pandas in San Diego. Keep the line moving!)

I skipped through level two rather quickly, as it is very kid-centric with a lot of hands-on activities and digital explorations, heading back to the main level to hit up the gift shop. I couldn’t let the day pass without sending postcards home to the nieces and nephews.

Again, a line.

Yes, a line for the gift shop.

I had to queue up for about fifteen minutes, as they were letting people in to the store in small batches. Once inside, I got my awesome postcards and lined up (again!) to check out.

Summary of the new African American History and Culture Museum:

Pros: Great exhibits, lots of visually interesting displays, diverse coverage of the African-American experience

Cons: Lines, lines and did I mention, lines?

If you are headed to Washington DC anytime in the near future, go online and get your tickets now. They are doing timed tickets through March, at least, although I imagine and demand goes down, the building will be less crammed, especially if you can visit on a weekday. But, this is a must-see for all; a powerful addition to the National Mall and the Smithsonian family of museums.

 “As Americans, we rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country; who led armies into battle and waged seminal debates in the halls of Congress and the corridors of power. But too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others, who built this nation just as surely, whose humble eloquence, whose calloused hands, whose steady drive helped to create cities, erect industries, build the arsenals of democracy.” –President Barak Obama

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Caldwell Perspective Review:Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

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For generations, immigrants have come to the US to build better lives for themselves and their children, searching for a taste of the American Dream. Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, explores the difficulties that come along with immigration, both on a legal visa-processing level as well as a personal one.

The books protagonist Jende Jonga is a native of Cameroon, a country he left behind in hopes of realizing the wealth and success he saw portrayed on American television programs. It doesn’t take long in the United States to realize that not everyone lives in a mansion nor has a butler to do his bidding. As a matter of fact, Jende takes on the opposing role in those scenarios: he becomes a personal driver for a wealthy New York bank executive.  Stress from Jende’s long work hours is compounded by his questionable visa status, one that becomes fuzzier with each passing day.

Behold the Dreamers protagonist is set is stark relief with Clark Edwards, the man for whom he works. Clark is a high powered Wall Street boss with a house in the city and one in the Hamptons. There is little money can’t buy for the Edwards family. Until, the financial world falls apart, leaving Clark reeling and Jende without a job.

The exploration of love and family, race and immigration, and the relentless pursuit of the American Dream are at the heart of Imbolo Mbue’s  Behold the Dreamers, a novel that allows readers to step into the lives of characters from drastically different ends of the economic spectrum and contemplate the paths created by virtue of birthplace, as well as personal choices.

“You think I don’t want to remain in America, too? You think I came to America so that I can leave? I work as a servant to people, driving them all over, the whole day, sometimes the whole week, answering yes sir, yes madam, bowing down even to a little child. For what, Neni? … For you, for me. Because I want us to say in America! But if America says they don’t want us in their country, you think I’m going to keep on begging them for the rest of my life?…Never. Not for one day…”

-Behold the Dreamers  by Imbolo Mbue

Changes Coming to a Blog Near You

I’ve been hinting at some blog changes recently, and it is finally getting close to time to put them into place. With my move back Stateside for the next year or two (actual length of the DC stay should be determined by early November), the travel part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk will be a bit quieter. There will still be occasional posts (hopefully one soon about my trip today to the new Smithsonian African-American History and Culture museum and definitely one next week about my first-ever trip to New York City), but it is hard to maintain a SE Asia travel itinerary out of Washington DC. (No Air Asia hub? How can I fly to Singapore for a $23?) So, while travel posts will still come as I am able to indulge, I don’t want this blog to wither away, meaning that much of its focus for the next bit is going to focus on my other love: books and literature. I already have regular book postings, and these will continue. I plan to see out my 2016 Book Challenge (although, I must admit it is getting more challenging as the calendar progresses) and will still repost my regular book review that I submit to The Caldwell Perspective once it is published by the paper each month.

Status quo then, you are thinking? So far, nothing here is new or exciting. (Well, other than then awesome new format!)

But wait!

You see, here is the brain-struggle I’ve been having lately. I read. A lot. And I would like to include more of those book on In Search of the End of the Sidewalk, but the reality is that when I read two to three books a week, I am just not going to write one to two page reviews detailing each one. Laziness? Maybe. But more than that, I am always too excited to get on to the next book in my queue!

Solution: Card Catalog Reviews!

This idea came about after hours of brainstorming and then a few short minutes of inspiration with a fellow blogger and friend. It has taken a bit of time to pull together, as I needed some new low-tech equipment to make it happen, but soon you’ll be privy to several new book reviews each week!

Short. Sweet. To the point.

A card catalog card gives me space for about 125 words. It will be a flash review of what I’m reading and whether I say “run to the library now!” or “eh, maybe wait for the next review.”

I’m excited to get these new reviews up and running on the blog. My adorable new-to-me typewriter is settled on the table and ready to roll, my pile of library-grade cards stacked in a neat pile next to it and now it is time to forge ahead with a new chapter at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. Look for the first Card Catalog Review to hit the site in the next few days. (They will commence just as soon as I finish with the visual updates on the blog. No need for an introduction there, as if you are reading this, you’ve seen the huge change from a vertical feed to a horizontal one. I’m loving the new “bookshelf” look, but I know it will take us all a bit of time to get used to navigating the new format. Stick with me. I promise you will soon love it as much as I do!)

Until then, thanks for coming along for the ride, and hopefully you will find a great book to read, or maybe one to avoid, but always continue searching sidewalks.

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