After a couple of hours waiting for a free ticket, I finally had a closer look at the White House. Along with the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge, the White House is one of the few American icons that Chinese people recognize, so I was excited to see it.
The garden of the White House is open to the public twice a year—once in spring, the other in the fall. Together with thousands of enthusiastic visitors coming for the spring garden tour at the White House, I was fortunate to queue in the early group and got the advantage to take photos with a smaller crowd. Because I was early enough to visit the president’s house, I even saw the famous “First Dog” Bo which is a furry black Portuguese Water Dog with white paws and chest. Bo was probably finishing his first romp and poop of the day. As soon as his handler saw more people walking in, he led the dog away from the lawn and soon disappeared out of sight. Anyway, this was the highlight of the tour—neither the blooming tulips nor the renowned cherry blossoms matched the morning greeting with the First Dog.
Normally, visitors can see the White House only through the iron fence surrounding the property. It’s nearly impossible for a visitor to take a snapshot of the White House except through the branches of the old trees or the fences. But on the day of the spring garden tour, I took as many photos of the White House as I could without obstruction, including photos of the Washington Monument beyond the south lawn. At zero distance, the White House didn’t look as stately as what it is shown on TV. It was like a snow-white club house with a friendly staff to guide visitors and answer their questions.
In China, you would never be allowed to visit the Chinese leaders’ offices—the notoriously secret Zhongnanhai in central Beijing – much less their homes. For the American public, everyone is informed about the everyday life of the president, from his basketball practice to his press conferences in the rose garden. With the convenience of social media, President Obama’s amiable images with the family and even with First Dog Bo can go viral instantly; whereas in China, the scandals of top officials only stimulate ordinary people’s imagination, simply because no one really knows what the Chinese leaders do after their public appearances. No way will the doors of Zhongnaihai be as welcomingly open to the public as that of the White House.
This is an amazing country.