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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The name is 野毛...上野毛

Blame it on the dark days of winter? It's closing in on three months since I started studying Mandarin Chinese full-time at taxpayer expense, and I feel like I haven't made much progress. Sure, my reading and listening skills have improved, but I still speak in a clumsy, halting manner, simple question formation is still beyond my grasp much of the time, I still can't decipher what native speakers are saying when they are addressing me directly, and with the February 1 exam date rapidly approaching, I lack the slightest iota of confidence that I'll be able to pass the test. And all in spite of the many hours of conscientious studying I've been putting in every single day, not to mention the facts that I'm married to a Taiwanese and I lived for more years than I care to admit (mainly out of embarrassment) in a Mandarin-speaking country...oops, I mean "renegade province"...or should that be a "separate customs territory"? In any event, it's been a struggle. Along with all the other things I need to do, such as handling all the stress-inducing aspects that are involved in moving a family overseas, sometimes I just need a break from everything and everybody...

...which is a very long-winded and annoyingly whiny way of justifying my visit this afternoon to the International Spy Museum, located at 800 F Street NW in Washington, D.C. just a short walk from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station. The photograph of the building above is the only picture I'm able to post as photography isn't allowed inside. The admission fee is also pretty steep at $21.15 (tax included) for an adult, which is another reason I went alone today. But those were the only negatives - in all other aspects, the museum is well-worth a visit. It's full of gadgets and weaponry from the Cold War era (ah, the good old days), as well as plenty of displays covering the history of espionage. You can also learn about what went on during the Second World War, from sabotage operations behind enemy lines to the breaking of the Enigma codes and the use of Navaho Native Americans as code-talkers. The U.S.-Soviet rivalry is also covered in great detail - I was particularly interested in reading about the Cambridge Five. There were mini-cameras and listening devices; a Get Smart-style shoe phone; a replica of James Bond's Aston Martin that recreates some of its features; the Great Seal of the United States that contained a bug inside, courtesy of the Soviets; suicide kits; and a cutaway umbrella showing how Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was poisoned on the streets of London in 1978.

Speaking of Bond, James Bond, the museum also has a special exhibition on the villains from the 007 series, from Dr. No up to Skyfall's Raoul Silva (a movie which I haven't seen yet, so please don't give any of the plot anyway). There were plenty of curios from the films, such as Jaws' teeth, as well as displays connecting the fictional evildoers and their nefarious schemes with the real world's fears of nuclear war, terrorism, drugs and cyber-warfare. The Bond stuff alone make a visit to the museum a must for fans of Ian Fleming's creation, but the permanent exhibition is also pretty fascinating. Just make sure it's what you really want to see before forking over the exorbitant entry fee.

Oh, it wasn't until leaving the museum that I realized I had been wearing my State Department badge the entire time, for all to see. So much for Opsec.

Walking back from the East Falls Church Metro station, I spied a falcon (or hawk?) perched on the roof of someone' s house, with what looked like a small rodent in its claws. I tried to get a picture, but the bird of prey flew off (with catch in, I mean foot) just as I was pressing the shutter button. Here's the result:

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