Day Fifteen

When the day dawned, the snow was falling more and more heavily in the wind. We got up early and had breakfast in a McDonald's a block away. In the United States, McDonald's seems to be more popular than KFC. Unlike in China, the McDonald's in the United States is actually a breakfast store where many local people buy breakfast and eat it while walking. The way you eat in the American fast-food restaurants like the McDonald's is different from that in China. When you finish your meal, remember to clean up the trash on the table by yourself and put the trays at the designated place.

We visited the United Nations (UN) in the morning. Despite the heavy snow and the cold wind, we walked through quite a few avenues and arrived at the UN Headquarters. The UN Headquarters is located on First Avenue at 46th Street, covering an area of 18 acres or 72,844 square meters. Standing by the roadside and looking ahead, we saw the building of the UN Headquarters on the other side of the street towering in the whistling snowstorm. It was displaying its authority as the "global government" to the people throughout the world, though the authority had been constantly challenged by some power forces in recent years.

The UN Headquarters is in New York City but the land and buildings are international territory belonging to all its Member States. In December 1946, the General Assembly accepted the $8.5 million gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to buy a tract of land along the East River, New York City, for its headquarters. The Headquarters consists of four main buildings: the General Assembly building, the Conference Building, the 39-floor Secretariat building, and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, which was added in 1961. The complex was designed by an international team of 11 architects, led by Wallace K. Harrison from the United States.

The United Nations has its own flag, security force, fire department and postal administration. Six official languages are used at the United Nations – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The UN European Headquarters is in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. It has offices in Vienna, Austria and Economic Commissions in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Amman in Jordan, Bangkok in Thailand and Santiago in Chile. The senior officer of the UN Secretariat is the Secretary-General.

Each time I came to New York, I would go to "pay homage to" the United Nations and this was already the fourth time. (I missed New York when I visited the United States in 2003.) Each time I visited the United Nations, I would develop a certain nameless respect and admiration for it.

After the 9.11 incident, it is the same in the UN Headquarters as in many other important buildings and institutions in the United States that visitors need to go through the strict security check. When I visited the United Nations for the first time in 2000, the security check passage was set up in the Headquarters Building. But when I visited here again thereafter, I found a bungalow built outside the main building used especially for security check. The security check procedure is very strict, almost the same as that at the airport. Visitors are not allowed to take their personal bags into the main building and should deposit them without exception. They can pick up their bags at a small back window of the bungalow only when they finish visiting the UN building.

Passing through the security check passage, we arrived at the Visitors' Lobby on the first floor. At the Public Inquiries Unit, located in the center of the Visitors' Lobby, visitors can obtain for free the information materials relating to the United Nations and its agencies. These materials are issued both in English and French.

On the wide wall of one side of the Lobby are hanging seven big portraits of the successive UN Secretaries-General since its first Secretary-General Trygve Halvdan Lie. I noticed that the portrait of Mr Ban Ki-moon, the new UN Secretary-General, had not yet been there, and the last portrait remained Mr Kofi Annan, Mr Ban's predecessor. Many visitors like to have pictures taken in front of those portraits. I believe that each of them dreams of pinning his picture up here!

When going further on along the aisle, we came to the entrance of the visiting zone. Opposite the entrance there is an information desk whose job is to provide different visitors with tour guides speaking different languages. The UN tour guides are called "the United Nations Ambassadors to the public", because of their direct contact with the people who visit the United Nations every day. The guides play a pivotal role in shaping people's perceptions of the work of the United Nations. They are young people, from all over the world with different backgrounds, who share a common interest in international issues.

When I first visited the United Nations in 2000, we were provided with two Chinese-speaking tour guides. Divided into two small groups (about 10 people in each group), we entered the visiting zone led by the two guides respectively. It was unexpected that one of the tour guides graduated from the middle school of our education group!

The guided UN tour starts with a brief overview of the United Nations and its structure. The main part of the tour consists of a visit to the chambers of the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Economic and Social Council, which are located in the Conference Building. Visitors also see the exhibits on such topics as peacekeeping operations, decolonization and disarmament. An art collection, presented by Member States, is also part of the visit. It consists of tapestries, murals, mosaics and sculptures. The final stop on the tour route is the General Assembly Hall, the largest and best-known room. Visitors are then escorted down to the Public Concourse where the UN Postal Counter, the Gift Center, the UN Bookshop, a coffee shop and restrooms are located.

At the UN Postal Administration, visitors can buy postal items with various UN topics, and mail them directly from there so as to acquire a UN postmark on the same day. Visitors from all over the world often like to send postcards back home with UN stamps – these stamps can only be mailed from the United Nations.

The UN Bookshop is the place that I must go to during each of my UN tours. The bookshop is not a big one, yet it sells a great diversity of books. Most of the books are published in English and some in other languages; however, I didn't see any books published in Chinese. They also sell various souvenirs with the UN Emblem on them in addition to the books.

Diagonally opposite the bookshop is the Gift Center, where delicately-made handicrafts from all over the world are displayed and you can choose and purchase anything that is your favorite. There are plenty of high-grade handicrafts that are restful to the eye, but their price isn't what we can afford.

After the tour in the Public Concourse is finished, visitors can go up to the Visitors' Lobby in an open elevator and leave the Headquarters Building through the exit. In front of the building there is a sculpture of a broken globe whose implied meaning I cannot tell. A lot of visitors like to take pictures there.

Outside the fence of the UN Headquarters along First Avenue you can see the colorful display of flags of the Member States. Placed in English alphabetical order, the first flag at the level of 48th Street is Afghanistan, and the last one, by 42nd Street, is Zimbabwe. China's five-star red flag is flying from the 36th staff while the light blue flag of the UN is in the middle of all the flags.

Unfortunately, we didn't see any flags flying aloft due to the snowstorm, nor had we a group picture taken there.