Going Primitive in D.C.

February 11, 2015

I never realized how much I had been enslaved to my cell phone until three weeks ago. I went skiing in Maryland--- Yes, they do have a couple of ski resorts around D.C., nothing like Lake Tahoe, though --- with three friends from UCDC, and accidentally gave my cell phone a mountain funeral. Since then, I have been living in a constant state of uncertainty. “Where is the nearest post office again? I have to mail some postcards to my friends in Berkeley. And, what are their addresses anyway? Gosh, I really should have written them down.” “It’s now 4 minutes past my appointment time with my boss, what if there was something coming up and he had to ditch me?” “Wait, at which Metro stop should I make my transfer again?” Without a cell phone, my life is just full of those “Gotcha” moments. I’ve always thought that, compared to all my “techy” friends in the Bay Area, I was pretty indifferent to digital stuff. Now I have to say, a smart phone is something that, once you get used to it, there is just no way back.

Yet, everything has a bright side. Not having a cell phone as a walking stick, I trained myself to walk on my own. I got a DC Street Map and Metro Map. I memorized almost all the street names near the UCDC building and the Wilson Center (where I work). And when I do get lost, I do something that I haven’t been doing in a million years --- I look around the street, identify someone who looks nice and less busy, make eye contact, ask for directions, listen to them, observe their manners, say thank you, and feel very blissful. I now have a basic version of DC geography in my head, topped with those famous landmarks. As someone who has an absolutely terrible sense of direction, I’m so proud of this achievement. And what’s even better, I actually get the chance to let myself fully immerse into whatever I am doing at the moment. For the first time in recent years, I can appreciate the beauty of a painting, a sculpture, a really good meal, or gathering with friends, without having to worry about taking pictures and posting them on social media. When the world is no longer “at my fingertip,” I actually get to learn how to cherish every moment of my day.

Let me share with you some of the cool places I visited in the past three phone-less weeks:

1. Whitetail Ski Resort

It’s the closest ski/snowboard place around D.C.: about an hour and 40 minute drive from the UCDC center. For those of you who are spoiled by the perfect mountain conditions in Lake Tahoe, Whitetail is like a small hill. But it does have a couple of slopes for intermediate and above. And its “black diamonds” do require some skills to conquer. Just in case some of you may feel like shredding the snow when you are in D.C.

2. International Spy Museum

My friend Sylvia Yixi Zhao (a Matsui fellow last year) recommended this place to me, and I’ll always love her for that. The museum features a large collection of espionage artifacts and is divided into different themes (e.g. secret history of the Cold War, new spying techniques in the 21st century, and James Bond, of course). Among all the museums I’ve visited so far, it has been one of the best interactive designs that incorporate the visitors into the spying theme. It does charge for tickets but I personally think it’s totally worthwhile.

3. Uncle Liu’s Hotpot

D.C. is not the best place for Asian food. But if you’d like to go a little further, there are some good ones in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. I went to Uncle Liu’s Hotpot this past weekend with two other friends and we all loved it. Make sure you’re ok with spicy food, though, because their spicy soup base is just soooooo good.

headshot of Mengyu Dong

Mengyu Dong is a 4th-year Cal student double majoring in Political Science and History. She is excited at the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., and hopes to open her mind to different views on topics that she has already learned about through books and professors at Cal. She is most looking forward to utilizing the knowledge and skills she has gained at Cal to make contributions to the real world. "Thank you to the Matsui Center for this incredible opportunity!"