I've finally completed one of the more "zesty" targets in my "to-do list" to the United States: visiting Dian Shah, a former academician at UM who's under the BrightSparks program in completion of her SJD in (I quote from her FB page) "Human Rights, Comparative Constitutional Law and Design in Divided Societies" at Duke University. Though we crossed minds for only a semester in her Torts classes, I can firmly say that we miss her personally as much as her jocular Justin Bieber buffoonery.
On a seperate note, I think our batch is pretty lucky to have experienced both Dian's and Zokhri's youthful injection into the classroom atmosphere. Juniors this year: unlucky you! Haha!
Anyway, I arrived at Durham, North Carolina in the evening of October 29. (after a delightfully Dracula-ish Halloween party the night before!) Had dinner at an Indian restaurant with her and 2 graduate students from Taiwan and Palestine. Question: what happens when 4 "self-professed intellectuals" sit together at the dining table? Answer: We enter into geeky talks on constitutional design, first-past-the-post elections, representative democracy and the Palestine-Israel conflict. Scram off "cool" people who'd talk about the Kardashians or Paranormal Activity 3, cuz we had a great time nonetheless! (secretly hoping that I didn't embarrassed myself naked with my limited knowledge on international affairs) And boy oh boy, the conversation would have been spicier than a potful of Chicken Tika Masala if the Israeli prosecutor attended!
The next day, we proceeded to the town of Old Salem, which is still dotted with historical buildings dating back to the early years of the United States. Beyond the ancient brick buildings, something more fascinating lies in the annals of history. The Moravian church community treated the African-American slaves as equals, way long before the Civil Rights movement came into play. Both whites and blacks were buried together in a plot called God's Acre and attended church in unison. Sadly, external pressure forced segregation nonetheless. As I listened to the caretaker's stories at the St. Philips African Moravian Church, I'm deeply moved that, at least some time ago, people were able to see the light - and judge each other not according to the color of their skin, but as equals before God's eyes.
I just adore these dresses worn a long time ago by early settlers. Speaking of which, I'm continuously fascinated in the history of the American Revolution and Civil War. Heck, I even bought a copy of the original American Constitution as a souvenier. And I swear to God, I almost bought a Confederate soldier headgear!
See my lunch above? According to Dian, it's typical Southern cuisine and I find it delicious. (finally, fresh eggs sunny side up!) By the way, people from the Southern states have a peculiar slang compared to the Midwest - hmmm...something like how George Bush utter his words. Typical cowboy-ish material, I would say.
And I love pumpkins, because it's Halloween! And when Halloween arrives, you get to see......
Adorable, chubby and insanely creative kids going trick or treating! The street of Old Salem was full with parents and children participating in this annual tradition. I'm amazed at the extent parents would invest, invent and make-up their kids - it's such a heart-warming family affair. Being a Star Wars fan, I was thrilled to spot several Jedis, Darth Vader and even General Grievous!
I got a day off by myself to walk around the Duke University campus. I just love being in an environment surrounded by ancient monuments, century-old chapels and well-preserved sculptures of the past. I'm in awe at how people hundreds of years ago possess the technology to construct these marvelous architectures. You really have to see it yourself to experience it. And, lucky as I can be, I got to see the "Occupy" movement in the US sweeping to Duke! Now, this is what I call democracy. Even luckier, there was a 31% discount at the gift shop for Halloween!
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens is probably the most beautiful, elaborate and ambitious landscaping project I've ever been to. Of fountains, giant lakes, bridges, the vast biodiversity of fauna and an even richer array of plants - it almost felt like heaven. My grandma would have insisted on building a cottage to live here! It took me almost 2 hours to explore the massive gardens.
Did I mention that Duke has always been among the top teams in NCAA basketball? A trip to their basketball museum and you'd be shocked at the extent the university goes in honoring their players. Looking at the trophies, medals and hall of fame, I thought only professional sports teams would achieve such a feat! And they have this almost fanatical worship to Duke's legendary basketball coach: simply by the name of Coach K. Besides having a basketball court named after him, he's also the United States Olympics basketball coach. What a man!!!
My final day in North Carolina: a stroll up Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina. It has an equally beautiful campus like Duke and you could almost go berserk with the camera. UNC has this fierce MU-MC rivalry with Duke University in basketball. In fact, Michael Jordan was once a UNC college basketball player before going to the Chicago Bulls!
I loved my time at Durham a lot. Between the places I visited, there are always those "little" moments that matter: political discussions over a Thai dinner, sharing law faculty stories in the Mitsubishi Lancer, sitting in a class with Professor Horowitz on Fijian and Northern Ireland elections and not forgetting Eric playing his "toys". (as well as his willingness to accommodate a fellow Malaysian)
And so, before I end, I would just like to clarify that we (or at least, Dian) are not as geeky as I portrayed. There's just so many adventures and passions beyond the classroom that strikes a chord. After all, from Dian's own words: "Most academicians are hippies". And to a certain extent, I find it to be quite true and refreshing indeed.
Here's a toast to her and many more exciting years in academia ahead.
From the ONLY country that celebrates Thanksgiving and treats Halloween so seriously, The United States of America.
By: Lim Wei Jiet (UGRAD 2011-2012)