Ka Ue (Lorraine) Wong
Justice & Law
December 2 | I can’t believe it is already my final blog post for this semester. Let me tell you about my first jail visit and a day trip to Philadelphia.
On November 15th, I visited the Arlington County Jail with my Criminology & Justice class. It was my first time setting my foot inside a jail. The Correctional Officer Captain introduced himself and talked to us before he guided us around the jail’s intake area, the kitchen, the inmate library, and cell blocks arranged for the lower and higher security inmates respectively. The more dangerous inmates usually only have around an hour outside of their small cell daily because of security concerns. I expected dirt, stinky smells, and rats. But this jail was a lot cleaner, more spacious, and brighter than I expected. There was also a gym designed for the inmates to receive some fresh air. However, I later learnt that the Arlington Jail was one of the “nicer” jails when compared to other jails. This experience reminds me to avoid making generalizations after seeing one only example, which is an important principle that can be applied in our day-to-day lives when we encounter new people or explore new places. (Interesting fact I learnt: It is very expensive to maintain a jail because a lot of steel is used to mold the furniture into one piece onto the ground in order to prevent the inmates from using a piece of furniture as weapon.)
I had to admit that I felt a weird sense of guilt when I was in my business casual clothing “exploring” the common area of the jail, standing several arms’ lengths away from some of the inmates who had just come back from court. For me, it was just a several-hour visit, an “exotic” experience I could talk about with my friends and my family. But for many of the individuals, being there means losing their freedom, losing time to be with their loved ones, and anything that could happen when you were in a jail, such as physical and sexual assault. We were being stared at by the inmates, and the officer told us they were very bored because they have nothing to do in jail. I suppressed my desire to observe the inmates out of my curiosity. If I was in their shoes, I probably would not enjoy being watched as if I was a panda inside the zoo.
The day after my jail visit, my friends and I took a spontaneous day trip to Philadelphia. We visited the Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed in one of the rooms. We also saw the Liberty Bell and other exhibitions related to the history behind the bell. One of the highlights was the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a mosaicked visionary art environment and gallery. There was a collection of sculptures named “Vidas Suspendidas/Suspended Lives,” which reveals the personal stories of nine individuals as they migrated to the United States with guided voice tour. The struggle, sense of isolation and diaspora I heard from their stories made me wonder: if the American politicians could hear these narratives, would they be moved to orient the immigration policy by helping these vulnerable people instead of labelling them as undocumented invaders?
Afterward, we watched the sunset on the One Liberty Observation Deck. I have always loved gazing at the sunset. The once golden, rosy colored sky was slowly fading away as the crisp, bloody red sun rolled below the horizon. The city lights started to shimmer across the building complex. The darkening clouds had soothed my mind, allowing wandering thoughts to precipitate. We tried the classic Philly cheesesteak at dinner and ended our night at a Live Jazz bar before taking a night bus back to DC.
These past three months have been truly special for me. When I look back at the new people I met and the new opportunities I had, I could not feel more thankful for my decision to come here at the American University. The importance of communication, networking, and time management have been recurring key takeaways I bring with me even after I finished the program.
Thank you so much for following my blog posts. I hope you enjoyed learning about the Washington Semester Program and my day-to-day life in D.C. this fall. All the best to everyone!
Ka Ue (Lorraine) Wong
Justice & Law
November 11 | I had been working a lot during the midterm period for an in-class exam and two take-home exam papers, I was glad for a change of pace with new site visits and a fun night at the French Embassy!
On October 22nd, my Public Law and Society class had a site visit at the United States Capitol. The Capitol was built as a symbol of the American government. We visited the main exhibition areas which included the Rotunda, two wings for the Senate and the House, the Old Supreme Court Chamber, and the National Statuary Hall. I was fascinated by the numerous marble and bronze sculptures and the vivid paintings that depicted the legislative history of the United States.
We also met with Ms. Tanya Bradsher, the Chief of Staff of Congressman Beyer, on the Hill. Ms. Bradsher served in the U.S. Army both within and outside of the United States, including sites in Iraq, Haiti, and the Republic of Korea. She worked at the White House and the American Psychiatric Association before she joined Rep. Beyer’s office. Under the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibits most federal employees in the executive branch from engaging in certain forms of political activity, Ms. Bradsher was shielded from much of politics when she was serving in the military. However, her lesbian roommate Beth in the Army significantly shifted her approach to politics. Beth was one of the best Army officers in the country. However, she was forced to hide her sexual identity. For instance, she had to prepare two sets of Christmas cards for people who knew and who did not know about her marriage. Otherwise, she could have lost her commission under the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That was when Ms. Bradsher learnt about the importance of politics and started to develop an interest in the field. My two key takeaways from the visit included learning about the day-to-day lives of congressional staff and the LGBTQ rights issues in the United States Army.
On October 25th, my friend and I visited the Embassy of France for the Halloween Gala. Many of the guests dressed up for the costume contest. We spotted a couple dressed up as Wonder Woman and Superman as well as various witches, werewolves, and vampires. After a classical performance of the Phantom of the Opera, we learnt some European Ballroom dancing steps in the dim light. We ended the night after consuming a lot of sweet red wine, layered vanilla cakes, and chocolate truffles.
The next day, I travelled to the Seventh District for a four-hour ride-along program with an officer from the Metropolitan Police Department. One of the guest speakers in my Criminology & Justice class, who is a detective, had mentioned that the Seventh District was the most dangerous district in DC. I did not know what to expect, but it was not hard to see the poverty once I stepped out of the Congress Heights Metro station. Even when I was inside the Metro, the environment was a lot dirtier with rubbish left on the seats.
The police officer assigned for my ride-along was very knowledgeable and taught me a lot from his working experiences. I did not encounter any crimes during my ride-along. (I am not sure if that was lucky or not.) However, the officer told me just yesterday there was a lady who was stabbed in the neck as a result of domestic violence, and she is still in the hospital. Besides, I learnt about the history of DC and that the Seventh District is the last area that got revitalized from the past racial segregation, which was the reason why it still has a majority African American residential population. Also, the area contains a lot of neighborhoods with working poor families. This demographic is often used to explain why the Seventh District has a high violent crime rate in comparison to other parts of DC. I learnt about the logistics of the daily work of a police officer by participating in the program. However, what strikes me the most was the realization that there is a part of DC where people live under poverty, violence, and crimes, while that area is only one and a half hours away from my dormitory, which is in the safest neighborhood in DC and houses all the beautiful embassies, think tanks, museums, and monuments nearby.
Ka Ue (Lorraine) Wong
Justice & Law
October 21 | It has been a two hectic weeks since I wrote my last blog post. My 22nd birthday was on the 20th of September, which was a Friday. My friends planned to celebrate with me into my birthday, so we gathered at the common room in Leonard Hall the night before. It was a simple, cozy night for close friends. Everyone was chatting, and there was a happy vibe. After we all got a slice of the sweet, creamy chocolate cake, I suggested that people start returning home as everyone still had their classes or internship the next day. Suddenly, one of my friends took out a turquoise-coloured paper bag with some printed flowery patterns and handed it to me. They said it was a surprise birthday gift.
I shook the bag, stretched my hand inside and grabbed one of the palm-sized wrapped packages. I guessed it was a candle, but I was wrong. It was a plastic potted plant that looked like those at the open-air market! I have always wanted one of the real potted plants. I knew that I will be leaving DC after this semester, and I could not bring them on the plane, so I did not buy one. I was thrilled to find a purple and a green plastic potted plant, as they could keep each other company when I am away from my room! I then discovered a candle, too. I was instantly in love with the slightly sweet, woody scent. The gifts reminded me of a Chinese proverb, which translates as, “Goose feather sent from afar, a trifling present with a weighty thought behind it.” It means that it’s not the gift that counts, but the thought behind it that matters.
My favourite part of the night was when they showed me my birthday card. In addition to English, I found Urdu, German, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, and simplified Chinese words on the card. Even though I couldn’t understand most of the languages (hopefully they are all kind words), a part of my heart was deeply touched by the unique, beautiful handwritten texts. I have always believed that language is not merely a tool for people to communicate, but it represents the culture and the historical roots, and it shapes the way people think who are from different places. So, when the people I cared about had written something for me in their native languages, I felt like I had taken a closer step to their soul. It was one of the most beautiful memories I had from this semester so far. I was so moved that tears came to my eyes when one of my dear friends read out loud the Urdu words she had written and then translated them into English for me.
The week of my birthday marked one month already since I had started my internship. Last Monday (October 7th), President Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Syria. Two days later, Turkey started a full-blown military offensive in northeastern Syria. I still remember how my jaw dropped that morning as I glimpsed the news notification on my phone screen. I ran into my supervisors’ office and asked them what was going on. I was originally working on a Dear Colleague letter for the Members of Congress to gather support to oppose the President’s decision. The talking points soon had to be changed in order to address Turkey’s response. I also spent the afternoon at a live press conference held by the Syrian Democratic Council, which summarized the concerns and unknowns in the region.
I thought things had been horrible enough in Syria when I started my internship few weeks ago, until I realized that it could be worse. At least thirty civilians had been killed in six days since the Turkish operation started (data from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights). I realized that I had a more personal connection with the situation in Syria since my internship had started. If I have not been working where I am now, I would probably still feel sorry for the casualties, but that would be it. But now, thirty was not simply a number to me. My heart ached for every single life lost because of the reckless, irresponsible decisions made by the ones in power. Besides, we needed to stay in the office on Indigenous Peoples’ Day because there are now more new tasks. My supervisors seemed frustrated. They talked about how the Congress should have passed some of the proposed bills earlier, which would have helped the whole situation. I appreciated their ability to still joke around to relieve some negativity though.
At the same time, I have been increasingly overwhelmed with the escalated police violence against protestors in Hong Kong, when there is not much I can do to help. Since the situation in Syria exacerbated, I have been feeding myself with negative news almost 24/7. From 10am to 5pm, news and articles about the bombing, death, and policies in Syria occupy the screen of my laptop. From 5pm to 2am, I am consumed with the news and reports on Hong Kong on my phone. They are often about the bodies being found in the street or the ocean under suspicious conditions. However, no justice can be pursued yet because it was very likely that the police force had contributed to these murders. Who do you go to when the law enforcement officers exercise their power above the law? I am still looking for an answer.
It got harder and harder for me to fall asleep at night. My thoughts were racing. Whenever I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was read the news. I put myself in a state of lethargy, and I didn’t think I would be able to articulate what I am going through to the people around me.
Until this past Thursday. I texted a friend in the program and told her briefly that I felt a bit overwhelmed with everything. She knew me well enough that she offered to call me after work. While we were chatting, she suggested I go to her for a hug before she left to travel for the weekend. It is magical how much a hug can make you feel that sometimes a thousand words could not express. A heavy rock was lifted for one inch, which was just enough for a ray of light to shine through from the outside of the cave.
On the following day, I spent my evening in the study room with another friend. We spontaneously decided to spend the night on the rooftop of an apartment with some drinks. Nobody else was there. We sat on some cushions and chatted under the starry night. This time, I felt better;a breeze of fresh air rushed into the cave. For the next two days, I spent most of my time studying with a friend in her apartment. I felt recharged after each random laugh and short conversation between us. I finally gained some strength back to stand up by myself and to push away the rock that was blocking the entrance of the cave. I am grateful to the ones who had kept me company when I was at my low point, even though we have only known each other for two months. They did not make me feel pressured to feel better. I was taking my time to digest some complex emotions. Now I know that they are the ones who would be there for me unconditionally.
KA UE (LORRAINE) WONG
JUSTICE & LAW
October 7 | My days have been quite intense since my internship started on September 16th. I am interning as a policy fellow at Americans for a Free Syria, a non-profit organization that helps enact legislation that promotes freedom, human rights, accountability, rule of law, and secular democracy in Syria. I will be working with the Government Relations team to craft briefing papers, talking points and other communication materials with Members of Congress and theirs staff. I will conduct my own research with specific policy recommendations on the Syrian conflict, too.
My first task was to read through a lot of readings and online materials about the ongoing Syrian conflict to get myself familiar with the complicated situation. It started in 2011 when the peaceful demonstrations calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s removal were suppressed by the military under Assad’s regime. There are both domestic and foreign forces involved, such as Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the United States. The war is listed as the second deadliest of the 21st century. (And, I would say, one of the messiest we have ever seen.)
The tasks I have completed are of a wide variety. I find myself waking up every day feeling excited about the new assignments on that day. Within the first two weeks of my internship, I gave feedback on an infographic designed to promote the Caesar Act, a proposed bipartisan bill which aims to sanction the Syrian government and their allies for the war crimes they committed against the Syrian civilians. In addition, I drafted nine questions for members of Congress and their staff at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with the Syria Study Group as well as a one-minute floor speech and five tweets for Congress members to use to draw attention on fifth year of Russian participation in the conflict. Russia has allied with Assad’s regime to commit war crimes since September 30, 2015. Moreover, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with a Foreign Policy Advisor on Capitol Hill. It was my first time visiting the Hill. If you remember the cliché that little girls secretly step into their mum’s high heels and put on her lipsticks when she is away from home - that was exactly how I felt when I was on my way to work some of the times.
Last Friday, my friends and I decided to have a girls’ night out to put an end to the long, long week. After a few drinks, we went to Ultrabar and danced till half past two. Under the flashing blue, red, and white lights, our heartbeats accelerated with the strong metal beats. Feet were tapping on the floor. Our shoulders shook and our bodies swayed as the strong rhythm picked up the pace. Left, right, left. Drops of sweat glided down our skin; we burst into laughter between our ragged, short breaths. It was exactly what I needed to decompress after this past week, which felt like two weeks for the lack of sleep and downtime.
The next morning, I woke up to participate in a rally for Hong Kong. It was held on September 28th to mark the 5th anniversary of the Umbrella Movement. The umbrellas were used as a passive resistance when the Hong Kong police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd in an occupation demanding more transparent elections. The rally in D.C. was also part of the global anti-totalitarianism movement with protests and rallies organized in 42 cities around the world. When I was on my way to the Washington Monument with my whiteboard, a boy with chestnut-colored hair approached me and asked me if I knew the direction for the rally. During our conversation under the heat, I figured out that he is a local student and a senior in high school. I was quite surprised that he was so passionate about the protests in Hong Kong, as he doesn’t have any personal connection with Hong Kong. He said that it was not just a matter of Hong Kong; the protests matter to the whole world because they are intertwined with the values of democracy, universal freedom, and human rights and that the United States should guard them. Being a Democrat himself, he mentioned that he was disappointed in the Democrats because the Republicans were the ones who proposed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Congress. I always feel impressed when I see teenagers protesting in the streets because I was just hanging out with my friends at their age.
Even though I have only spent two weeks at my internship site so far, I am sure that I will learn a lot more from this hands-on experience than sitting in an ordinary classroom. At the same time, I keep reminding myself to always be proactive because my supervisors have no obligation to spoon-feed their interns. At the end of the day, I reap what I sow.
Ka Ue (Lorraine) Wong
Justice & Law
September 23 | Hi, everyone! I am a senior political science and pre-law student. I am from Hong Kong, and my home school is Westminster College, Missouri. I will be sharing my experience in D.C. with you as a student ambassador this fall. I am doing the Justice and Law concentration with the two seminars “Public Law and Society” and “Criminology & Justice”, the Justice and Law Internship, as well as a 3-credit research class. I was mildly overwhelmed by the internship search process since I arrived in D.C., so (pro tip!) I would encourage everyone to start the job hunting over the summer. However, I am going to work as a policy fellow at the Americans for a Free Syria, a nonprofit organization that helps enact legislation and policies that encourage human rights and secular democracy for the Syrian people. I am truly excited about this opportunity!
After an intense week of orientation, unpacking, and groceries shopping, I decided to treat myself on the 1st of September with a day of art feast. I visited the National Gallery of Art with two friends after a mouthwatering brunch of pancakes, bacons, and French toast. Wandering around sculptures and paintings has always reenergized me. (Fun fact: Some of the paintings from the Netherlands were more vibrant and colorful than those from its neighboring countries. My friend explained that it was because the Dutch painters were rich and could afford more expensive colours like Tyrian purple during that period.) Then, I spent the evening at the ARTECHOUSE for an exhibition named “Infinite Space” by a Turkish-born artist Refik Anadol. It is a collection of works that seeks to “explore memories and dreams through the mind of a machine” by using data sets including sea surface activity and human memories. Even though I am not a big fan of digital art, I enjoyed exploring this new field of artwork.
I had my first Criminology & Justice site-visit at the National Law Enforcement Museum on September 6th. One of our classmates volunteered to play the role of a police officer in the Decision-Making Simulation Room. A model gun connected to the computer system was provided. He needed to deal with a threatening “suspect” and to decide whether and when he would defend himself with the gun. I was quite surprised to learn that the police officers in the U.S. are trained to shoot the critical mass of a person in order to eliminate their mobility and ability to attack. The police in Hong Kong (and in Germany, as a German student shared later) are expected to shoot the limbs or the lower body instead, so that the suspect’s life is still preserved.
I was intrigued by a display room in the museum that demonstrates community effort to build reconciliation between the law enforcement officers and the people. These successful examples included “The Forest City” in Cleveland, “The Holy City” in Charleston, “The Windy City” in Chicago, “Summaville” in Somerville, and “The Big D” in Dallas. (Google them if you are interested!) There was a quote by Rob Crain, the 108th President of the Dallas Bar Association, at the top right corner: “If we listen, we will understand that what unites us is greater than what divides us.” I learnt that sometimes people lose trust in police officers because they enforce law based on factors such as the race of the suspect.
This exhibit reminded me of the police brutality back home in Hong Kong, where the police enforce law depending on the political ideology of the people. There is an ongoing series of protests in Hong Kong right now aiming to oppose the passage of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill proposed by the Hong Kong government. If passed, this amendment would subject Hong Kong citizens and visitors to the mainland Chinese jurisdiction and significantly undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” promise. Within 100 days of the protest, 2,414 rounds of tear gas have been fired by the police, and 1,453 protesters were arrested (data from the South China Morning Post). Not to mention the countless rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, torture and sexual abuses of arrested protestors, and indiscriminate attacks against unarmed civilians. The once helpful and trustworthy image of the Hong Kong Police was shattered. Many were traumatized with anger and the desire for revenge.
While I was circulating around the exhibit, I asked myself, “What will the future of Hong Kong be like?” I realized that it is essential to rebuild the trust between the people and the law enforcement officers if we want our free, peaceful, and stable society back. (Though I have no clue how that could happen.) I glanced at the bright, smiling faces printed on the wall once again and made a wish before I stepped out of the enclosed space. I hoped that I would see the people in Hong Kong with radiant grins when I return home for Christmas.
I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with a group of friends on September 13th. The festival originated from a harvest celebration and is held annually on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. There was also a myth about the Moon Goddess of Immortality, Chang’e. I would describe the festival as a Chinese-style Thanksgiving. Families gather and have a scrumptious supper together. Friends hang out and play with lanterns and candles at night. The beautiful full moon signifies family union with its round shape. I was full of joy knowing that my D.C. friends enjoyed their first encounter with the mooncakes, which are sweet pastries stuffed with various fillings like lotus seed paste, red bean paste, nuts, and egg yolk.
These three weeks have been fruitful. I am grateful to be surrounded by people who are inspiring, ambitious, and kind-hearted. Now, I am looking forward to gaining more hands-on experience at my internship, and I will share more in my next blog post!