Sunday, 8 May 2016

Hells yeah, America. Learnings

Howdy from LAX, the most shit airport in the first world! I am at the end of my trip. Despite it being a conference trip, it has been a great one, relaxing and fun. I had a conference both in Philadelphia (more a research based one) and DC - the American College of Physicians meeting.

It was my second visit to Philly and DC, my first visit being 10 years ago to the month, pretty much. Funnily, I don't remember much from that trip, though I took lots of photos. Hence, rather than taking photos, I took notice. Walking, meandering, people watching. And conferencing.

Philadelphia, or the city of brotherly love (Phile - love, adelphi - sharing the same Greek), is, according to Wikipedia, the 5th largest city by population in the US. It is a 2 hour train ride North-East of DC. It has a feel which is very similar to Melbourne - though there is a Starbucks everywhere, there are a great deal of independent shops. Also, the weather is very changeable. Like 28 degrees on one day and 11 degrees another. DC is similar.

I did some of the touristy things in Philly, like visiting the Magic Garden, and ascending the Rocky steps to the Philadelphia museum of art. The PMA has a great collection of French Impressionist artwork which is worth a squizz, if you go there. In my spare time, I mainly just meandered, people watched. One of the days I meandered to the tune of 30000 steps; I've just bought a fitbit blaze and am getting use out of it.. There are plenty of murals to look at in the streets.

I was alone in  Philly. I usually travel alone and quite like it. I met my colleagues for the ACP meeting in DC, and was a bit worried that it would be stifling. I need not have worried, they are great people to travel with. They are easygoing, enthusiastic and like many of the same things I do, those being travel, shopping and eating. My boss was one of the people on the trip, and she had organised the trip down to the hour, and arranged us some things to do.

One of these things was a bike riding tour of the national mall. I had seen many of the sites, but not all, in my previous trip. Two of the more moving monuments were those to Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Being an avid researcher, I looked up these gentlemen on Wikipedia, both great men, and changing the USA for the better. Mostly, it was just great to get a hint of sunshine and bond with my friends/colleagues.

The other great thing we did was go to a show called Capitol Steps. If you go to DC, it is worth a look. They do brilliant Political Satire, and don't spare either end of the political spectrum. Bernie, Trump and Hillary (as well as Barry, Dubya and Vladimir) got a skewering.

We ate and drank like queens, sampling some great American / Soul food, as well as a restaurant which was a fusion of Asian and Peruvian. We ate sparsely and walked liberally during the day, but went hard at night.

A professor once told us "never let your study get in the way of your education". In addition to some great medical facts, I learned, or had reinforced, some of the following - both in conference and general travel aspects:

1. How to show respect to members of the LGBTI community, and manage their medical issues appropriately.

In the ACP meeting, where there were 7000 delegates and hundreds of parallel sessions, there was one on health care for a person from the LGBTI community. It included things like keeping greetings gender neutral (ie instead of "good morning, Sir", just "good morning" is fine). How getting transgender men to have pap smears and breast examinations can be a challenge ("if you have it, check it). The staggeringly high rates of HIV in certain sections - up to 50% in some cultural groups of gay men.

2. No matter what your religious, social or political allegiance is, some things are dear to everybody's heart.

I love a good heart to heart with a person I've just met. I met a few American women of my own age, and had a good chinwag with them. One or two of them were politically conservative, pro military, religious and did not even cringe when Trump's name was mentioned, but we still managed to see eye to eye on a few things. Here was the opportunity to listen and not shoot my mouth off. Always good to practice. Differing views are interesting, if nothing else.

I agreed with them that veterans of past/current wars should be looked after, and certainly not be homeless. But I questioned the need for young men to be sent to more wars in foreign lands. They conceded agreement.

There are issues common to us all. The whole biological clock or minus the finding the appropriate partner to procreate with. And utual admiration of shoes/hair/eye makeup. I have been introduced to the wonders of Chanel Fantasme eyeshadow. Sah sparkly!

3. The USA is trying to find it's place in the new world order.

I went to the museum of American History. I have been there before but needed a refresher on it, as I find history very interesting. America's history is punctuated by wars. I learned about the war of independence/ revolution and the war of 1812 - as the White House was being burned down by the Brits, there came the inspiration for the lyrics of "Star Spangled Banner". Four score and seven years after independence, the civil war. Where the US established itself as a world power was WW1 and 2, particularly the latter. They were reluctant to enter into WW2 but their hand was forced after Pearl Harbor. They produced munitions, sent men and just generally went hard, looking like the hero in the process. Returning soldiers were sent to university and made babies with their wives. Korea was yet another battle. Things started going downhill, I realised, during the Vietnam War. That was politically very dicey, with many opposed to it.

There was the arms race with Russia, which cooled after the fall of the Soviet bloc. 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put the US under severe pressure for many reasons. They are no longer the hero or the saviour, nor are they the most powerful country in the world, with the rise of the BRICS countries. 

I realised that, with unemployment a major issue in the US, in some parts more than others, the war and the military is a major employer for the US. This is one of the many problems. The middle class is dwindling. The world appreciates that this former superpower cannot employ its people or provide them with healthcare, and judges accordingly. The world questions the US's interests. In my opinion, the US is trying to find it's way in the new world. Hence some of the potential leaders wedging things. 

Anyway enough about that.

4. Doesn't matter how interesting the topic of a conference talk is, the speaker has to be good or nothing will be absorbed. 

This is fairly self-explanatory. 

5. It's good to schmooze

I made a special effort at both conferences, particularly the first more research based conference, to meet people, say hello, state my business. Mostly I met nice people. Sometimes I met important people who gave me good advice. I made myself known, pressed the flesh, collected business cards and email addresses. These will come in handy.

6. I am barking up the right tree, research wise.

It is always a bit of a fangirl moment to meet a researcher whose work you have referenced extensively in your PhD. It's even better when their thoughts on the research topic are similar to yours. Better still when they are doing a pilot study on something you have done and are about to publish (HAAAA I BEAT YOU! I nearly said, but didn't.)

7. Americans are very polite

I had a cold, my first in 18 months, during this trip. I was sneezy as hell. Without fail, every time I sneezed in public, I would get a "bless you". Isn't that charming?

Things bought:
  • pair of new balance casual sneakers, which were featured on my instagram account
  • new handbag. Cole Haan. On sale,  no less. I had thought about buying myself a Balenciaga City handbag as a gift to myself for completing my PhD, but I just cannot bring myself to part with 2K for a handbag. I just cannot. So functional Cole Haan it is.
  • A dress from Anthropologie
  • Rain jacket from Nordstrom Rack. BCBGeneration. Not ugly. 
  • Some unintentional shoes - nice Italian boots. Like 75% off. Very sweet. Cost per wear will be low.
  • Chanel mascara. 
  • Pills, lotions and potions from the chemist.
  • Assorted other small things.
Positively restrained, I feel


  1. It sounds like it was a very rewarding trip. I am looking forward to New Orleans for all that you have discussed here. Except about research because I suck at research and academic pursuits... But to just be at the conference absorbing will be enough for me.

    SSG xxx

  2. Just FYI, you totally deserve that Balenciaga handbag, even if you can't justify it.

  3. So much here. I don't know there to start. I think outside the US we're more worried about Trump then inside. We have a joke in the UK about Trump and Boris duo and the battle of the hair. Schmoozing is good at conferences. All worth it even you beat a researcher to the chase. Well done. Nordstrom would be my port of call. Referenced in so many blogs but we don't have one in the UK. I bet you came home exhausted. I've been doing touristy things with an overseas colleague this weekend and I'm shattered.

  4. sounds wonderful! love the shopping update x

  5. You sound like you had a great trip that allowed you to do other things than be stuck inside! Hope you get ober the jetlag soon x

  6. Sounds as though you had a great time - and v productive. Also, so good to get shopping in! I rarely had time, except at airports, when I attended conferences.
    When staying in Paris on my own a few years ago, it felt as though I was at a medical conference. Was having the complimentary afternoon tea in the salon of the small Left Bank hotel where I was staying when I did a little choke and splutter on a piece of cake (yes I know, naughty). Suddenly a v nice man jumped up and brought a glass of water saying "Can I help you, I'm a doctor" Then everyone else - about six or seven people - said, "yes, so am I! Can we help?" Luckily it was just a little choke. But they were all so nice - none of them knew each other. They went on to exchanging cards and arranging to meet up at particular conferences. Americans, two Aussies, Canadian. They were all specialists of some kind or other - surgeons, an AIDs specialist, an anaesthetist and I've forgotten the others. From then on we used to meet up late every afternoon over tea/coffee and share stories of what we'd done during the day. About half were just there on hols. All so nice and sympatico.
    Someone was telling me today that Trump and Putin are meant to be great mates. It's all such a worry I think. Not just for the US - for the world. And the terrible thing in the US is if the President is a disaster they can't get rid of him short of impeachment - and he may not have committed any impeachable offences. At least it is possible here in Oz to get rid of Duds - the governing party just has to have a spill motion and vote in a new party leader (though this isn't quite as easy as I've made it sound). Best wishes, Pammie

  7. LAX is indeed the worst airport. As are pretty much all the US airports. So strange that the best in the world are in Asia, and the land of the free gives a decidedly third world experience as its welcome to foreigners.
    Sounds like an interesting trip - I love meeting people from different places with different views to mine. Guess that's what we bloggers all have in common maybe? xx

  8. Buying shoes is essential in the States. Makes you realise how much we are ripped off here!

    Do doctors in the US use Sir/Madam to start with? I've never had a doctor in Aus use anything other than my first name.