One of my absolute favorite things when traveling is just wandering and finding what you may. Sometimes I might start out somewhere and wander from there, or maybe I might just pick an area of the city. This practice has led me to some pretty amazing places in the past and it served me well again on my recent business trip to Washington, D.C.
My good friend Amanda was in town for the weekend, and we tend to gravitate towards out-of-the-way experiences, abandoning Starbucks for independent coffeehouses, and that’s how we ended up meeting for coffee one lovely Saturday morning at Filter for coffee. Filter is located in Dupont Circle (we had been deciding where to meet based on neighborhood) and it was packed out when we got there. Literally. There are probably 15 seats inside and so you can well imagine that on a Saturday morning in one of the trendiest neighborhoods it would be busy. Busy, but worth it: we snagged the window “seat” which we perched our muffin plates on, and dug in. Amanda got a chai latte, which she claimed was amazing; I had regular coffee, which was excellent, though I really needed a smidge more room for cream. Also, I highly recommend the peach-raspberry muffin; the peach flavor was not very pronounced, but it was delicious.
When I had been walking to the coffee shop, I had passed by a seemingly innocuous building that bore a sign that said “Laogai Museum.” This might not seem a big deal to you, but for me it was, because I had been seeing the signs for the museum in the Metro. It was literally next door to the coffee shop, so since we had a few extra minutes before we needed to catch the Metro to meet up with some friends for lunch, we headed next door.
What happened during the next hour left me feeling pretty ignorant. I highly, highly recommend the Laogai Museum–everyone in D.C. and everyone visiting D.C. should go. It’s very educational. The museum has been there for less than five years, and it’s about the laogai system in China, which is essentially a system of labor camps. The name was changed a few years back, but Chinese who have since escaped and come to America claim that the exact same concept of work camps still exists; nothing has changed but the names.
It’s hard to purchase something that has been completely not impacted by labor camps, child labor, or another of the things that we like to pretend don’t really happen in the world. It’s almost impossible to avoid it in some form or fashion– the last exhibit at the museum shows you different products that are impacted: everything from shampoo to clothing to computers. Regardless of the impact on your life, or whether you believe this is a past or present issue, this is one that is worth learning more about.
Learn more and visit the next time you are in D.C.