LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Reversing Reverse Culture Shock

"So you forgot how to live in your own country", my research groupmate concluded, after telling him I experienced a reverse culture shock during my month long vacation in the Philippines.
Psychologists tend to over analyze everything, and I thought culture shock is just a made-up word. (Examples of these words are "overweight", "obese" and " morbidly obese". Can you distinguish the key differences? South Park made fun of these words). These words don't mean anything until it hits you.
Culture shock, in a not so text book definition is a "feeling of confusion and disorientation when one moves from a familiar environment to a new setting where language, food, clothing and even the culture of the people are different".

MY REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK. December of 2007, after 5 years in the US, I experienced first hand the Philippines again. My friend was right, I forgot how to live in my own country. I forgot how bad the traffic was. I can’t even imagine driving in Manila highways. My cousin summed it better: if you can drive in Manila, you can drive anywhere in the world. True.
If in the U.S., red light is a stop, in Manila, it means 3 more cars can pass through. If in Boston, using a signal light to change your lane is a sign of weakness, in Manila, there’s no lane. Every space available in the road is occupied, by vendors in the sidewalk and motorcycles in the middle (motorcycles are called ‘insects’ of the road).
Before, I knew that time in the Philippines warp. I forgot about the concept of Pilipino time when my brother was teasing me for being early for a dentist’s appointment. In the U.S., 5 minutes early for an appointment is considered late, because you have to fill up paper works. In addition, being late is rude, tantamount to showing no respect to other people's schedule. In the Philippines, however, it’s better to be late in order not to waste your time waiting. To paraphrase: It’s better to waste other people time, than waste your time, waiting for being early.
I just stayed in Manila for a month and I’m still in the state of shock, but, I guarantee you, I can recover. Give me a few weeks and I will be driving like Manila drivers do, give me a few months and I will be jay walking in no time (in Pilipino time fashion).
MY CULTURE SHOCK. Rewind five years ago. August of 2002, when I first arrived in Orlando to study for the fall semester. I was amazed how clean the place was—not polluted and less traffic— relative to Manila. Pedestrians follow their lane, automobile respect the pedestrian lanes.
Although I was excited, I started to see the differences between my new environment and my culture.
In general, Americans are unbelievably wasteful: my roommates, more often than not, don't turn off their ceiling fan or TV when they go to work/school. They use automobile all the time, even throwing their trash to the dumpster.
And in the dumpster, especially at the end of the semester, I see a lot of good computer tables, chairs and sofas, ready to be discarded. Americans move a lot, and they often throw away things—even if it’s still reusable—than pay for shipping.
I questioned their eating habits. How can they survive with burgers and fries during lunch time and dinner? I’m so used to rice, vegetables and meat (even breakfast). Is it me or them?
Changing gear to sex, Americans do have an active sex life, at least in reference to my roommates who were college students. There were several times that I woke up in the wee hours of the morning because of the moans from sex at the other room. Picture this also, a bed rocking at high noon. Can they just be discreet?
I’ll campaign (since I can't vote), for senators who are willing to pass a bill requiring college apartments to install sound proof rooms. If they can require smoke alarm to every apartment, they should sound proof the room too. Waking up in the middle of the night from sex moan, squeaking of a bed and a head banging in the head board, is equivalent to slow death.
One peculiar thing to me because it's the exact opposite for Pilipinos, is that Americans worship the sun to, work on their tan. Pinoys pay for whitening products (such as lotion or vitamins) to whiten their skin. Americans consider walking under the sun with an umbrella wierd; I look at Americans lying in the pool side sunbathing as skin cancer.
Before, I have the impression that Americans are so polite, until I realized that "How are you?" or "What's up?" are considered greetings equivalent to "hi" or "hello". It's rude to say "What's up?" and not expect a response. It's hard to comprehend those things being an alien in a strange land.
After 5 years in the U.S., for sure I recovered already from the culture shock. But did I assimilate the American way of living? I don’t know yet.
If eating burgers and fries in your car is a measure of assimilation, then I’m not yet fully assimilated. I don’t do it often. If knowing the rules of American Football or starting to call burger, coke and fries “fine dining” a measure of assimilation, I’m close. I still eat a lot of rice though.
I hate to admit this but I been throwing my garbage using my car, and greeting strangers"what's up?!" without looking at the person and not expecting a response.

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