For a week, Washington D.C. was home. I led a handful of college students here to observe the U.S. presidential elections and cover the event as cub reporters. For the first few days we camped out in a hotel blocks from the White House and braved Hurricane Sandy.
Most of these young people had never been to America, and the freshness of going to a new country ignited fireworks in their eyes. They had a wishlist of things that they wanted to do -- load up on Abercrombie & Fitch, eat buckets of popcorn at the movie theater and go to Target. They were psyched, because in many ways they still viewed America as the land of golden opportunity. This might sound corny and oversimplistic but there was truth in it.
There is the cultural aspect of America -- the films (James Bond), the TV shows (Gossip Girl), the music (Lady Gaga) so cool and chic to the rest of the world. And then there are the freedoms that for so long I had taken for granted. In essence, I became reacquainted with what I had missed so long by returning to my homeland.
Within a few days the kids concluded that everything was bigger and better in America. The air was fresher, the sidewalks were spacious (there was room to tap dance and do cartwheels on the sidewalks), and Americans were friendly, one student observed.
Having living in Hong Kong for a total of six years and traveled frequently through China, I have seen both sides, the good and the bad. It is true that in Hong Kong we were starved of fresh air and space, but there were other aspects of life that I had missed seemed a lot less reassuring -- freedom of press, freedom of space, and knowing perhaps deep inside that Hong Kong's fate was in the hands of something greater, Mainland China.
These young people, in their early 20s, were well aware of their fate and future. On Election Night a group of them went to observe the event from Virginia, and snapped photos of elated and often emotional voters.
"I almost started crying because I thought Americans really care about who they are voting for," said a young woman. "In Hong Kong maybe we don't care as much because we don't have a vote, we don't have universal suffrage."
we toured newsrooms from the National Journal to the Washington Post, the students marveled at how organized, professional and put together the editors, reporters and the overall newsrooms were. The editors were proud about talking about their coverage and showed off in-depth investigative work. This compared with the often dissheveled environments in newsrooms in Hong Kong, where there often is a greater focus on quantity versus quality of news, according to the students.
A number of them questioned their future as journalists in the media. Would they be relegated to writing about entertainment, celebrities and food? Was there a future in investigative or watchdog journalism when it wasn't even existent now?
At the end of a week, the students and I had our fill our burgers, Macy's and Target, and were set to return home. Only this time I thought twice before I boarded. What would I miss the most? Was it the familiarity of language, landscape, of food and culture, or was it something greater than that. On the plane the students chattered about what they missed the most -- their family, the cheap public transportation, the warm weather and rice. "What will you miss the most?" a student aske me. I thought long and hard. "Rice," I said, and that was that.