Of Aliens, Sun Devils and Sun-Affected SUSI scholars

LA Times building

After four weeks in Phoenix, the SUSI scholars hit Los Angeles on Saturday, with the Arizona weather still the “hot” topic of discussion. The emblem of Arizona is the Sun Devil, for good reason: the heat is simply hideous. We were informed that we were fortunate since it’s usually hotter at this time of the year. Just the thought is enough to give one heatstroke! 

The locals have adapted and they are proud of their city, if not quite basking in its summer heat. Phoenix certainly has its charms, including laid-back and polite citizens, some great bars and restaurants, the majestic Grand Canyon, amazing wildlife, not to mention frequent UFO sightings. ‘Aliens’, from across the border and beyond the skies, also like to visit. 

The drivers here actually stop to let the pedestrians pass first! In Fiji it would be hazardous to second-guess our drivers, or to take a chance on them. 

While the Phoenix locals adapted over time, we discovered our own short-term coping mechanisms. Some found solace in retail therapy, giving Amazon’s coffers quite a boost. The one who missed “the green chilis of home” started growing a green cactus in his room (he did not eat the cactus, according to his roommate). Another used his fingers to make the sound of raindrops, or burst into a folk dance in 30-second spurts. 

No, the Phoenix weather wasn’t driving us bonkers. To the contrary, the parting message is not to let the famed Phoenix heat deter you. The city has so much to offer. 

Some of our flights to Los Angeles went haywire. It’s too much to think about, let alone explain. Suffice to say, it Involved three, four unscheduled airport stops and several hours of delays, but ultimately everyone reached their destination with enough energy and excitement to explore the Los Angeles of lore – the cultural melting pot that is home to the Hollywood stars. We are a sprightly bunch, some more than others. 

SUSI scholars enjoying the milder weather in Hollywood

The weather is beautiful and what we’ve seen of the city so far is both marvelous and tragic. One of the first sights to greet our bunch in the City of Angels was the sight of “Fallen Angels”: the homeless people. Some in our group from Asia-Pacific and Africa, who understand poverty, could not reconcile the level of destitution with the all-powerful international image of the United States. But even a superpower with a vast and sophisticated support mechanism is unable to cater to every needy individual, and many fall through the cracks in Phoenix, Los Angeles and in other cities, large and small. A major cause of the problem is drugs. America’s longest war has been against drugs–a losing war, it seems. 

A visit to the Autry Museum of the American West showed us how beautifully the country preserves its history. The museum is not just an opportunity to celebrate past heroes, but reflect on the brutalization of the indigenous population, make restitution, seek forgiveness, heal festering wounds and injustices, and build a better and even stronger country for the future generations. 

There is much to admire and much to lament about cowboy culture, which has not only captured the imagination of the country and the world, but produced and inspired magnates, movie stars and presidents. The cowboy mentality and gung-go attitude is also said to be behind the Iraq war disaster that is still unfolding today. 

America’s greatness does have flaws and faults. We are reminded that not everything or everyone in America is great. 

The first draft of history is written in, and about, the newspaper

Los Angeles is famed for the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper’s imposing headquarters is testimony to the wealth, power and privilege once enjoyed by print media in the Land of The Free. 

At the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we found a humbler version of free speech, but inspiring in its own right: an old timer with a sign reading “F-Trump, now Give Me Dollar.” He wasn’t making as much as the Los Angeles Times, but still raking it in, and, like the Times, a compelling symbol of free speech. How many of us can poke fun at our national leaders in our countries in the same manner, and make a buck out of it to boot?

The personification of American freedom of speech… and capitalism