Thursday, March 19th: First day
The alarm rang so loud at 8 AM that I flung myself out of bed, and forgot for a moment that I was not in my room at Franklin & Marshall, but instead with my friend at New York University Polytechnic. Because the check-in for CWMUN staff wouldn’t start until 10 AM, I had enough time to take a quick shower, eat left-over food from the night before, then packing and dressing properly (Double Windsor-knotted dark blue lozenge tie, my favorite). At 9.30, I was already on the F subway line, which I had gotten so used to since the beginning of this week. There were two main differences though: first, I would stop at 42nd Street – Bryant Park, from then I would walk about 10 minutes to the Grand Hyatt next to the famous Grand Central Terminal; second, this time I would go alone.
When I got out of the subway and mingled into the stream of pedestrians on 6th Avenue – Avenue of the Americas, the weather was fortunately neither chilly nor windy. In fact, it was so nice that I decided to wander off a little bit, to the New York Public Library located in the Bryant Park. The two majestic marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, stood guarding at the entrance of the magnificent Beaux-Arts building, giving the library an air of nobility similar to the royal palaces I have visited in Eastern Europe. Despite not getting inside, I could definitely imagine the quiet and intellectual atmosphere behind those huge doors, contrary to the busting and crowded streets outside.
Turning left and crossing the 5th Avenue, I walked on the 42nd Street for 5 minutes, and then the glassy Grand Hyatt appeared in front of me. The hotel looked indeed grand and gorgeous, filled with important-looking people and Asian tourists (LOL). Yet, there was this huge scripture right at the entrance that I didn’t know who it represents, or what it symbolizes for. May be this hotel has some kind of connection with the Easter Island, I wonder.
Once coming inside the hotel, I wasted no time to meet and check-in with Ms. Sabrina, the chief executive of CWMUN International and my interviewer during the application process. I also asked her if the other two Dias members of my G-20 committee, Mirna from Malta and Maria from Spain, had arrived yet. They hadn’t, so I came down to the lobby level and waited for them. There, I realized that there were actually two check-in room, one for Italian students and the other for international students and staff. Since Associazione Diplomatici, the managing organization of CWMUN, is an Italy-based organization, I wasn’t surprised that Italian students had their own check-in room. But isn’t it an irony that American students somehow become “international students” on their own land?
One hour passed, then two, three, four, five, and six. I still couldn’t get my room, while more than 1600 students, advisers and staff from 93 countries were coming, talking, laughing, grumbling and frustrating around me. I met a Russian guy currently studying his last year in Saint Petersburg State University, who warned me that in June the sun never sleeps in Russia, so I had better bring dark tape or curtain with me to cover the window. He seemed honestly perplexed when I told him that Eastern Europe is very wary of his country’s behaviors, since “We maintain our security, and what’s wrong with that?”. I also met a Filipino who is completing his second Master degree in Yonsei while teaching at an university in Manila. We passionately discussed the future of ASEAN and the common interests between our two countries. “It’s rare to be able to discuss these things with someone”, he told me, and I told him that I felt the same.
Finally, I got my room key at 7.00 PM, only to have a staff meeting at 8. I met my two roommates, one from India and one from Pakistan, both flied straight from their respective countries to NYC. Soon enough, our immediate and imminent challenge was to decide how 4 adult guys (there’s supposed to be one more, a Chinese American) could squeeze into a 2-bed room. The beds were big enough, but how could we strangers sleep together on the first day we met? The issue was settled with me voluntarily sleeping on the couch, while the other 3 would rotate to sleep with each other. The couch was obviously not as comfortable as the beds, but given one guy’s snoring level and another guy’s frequency to speak while sleeping, I just couldn’t complain.
And why was I the only one who brought the toothpaste? 😥
Friday, March 20th: Second Day
My alarm rang at 7.30 AM. As usual, I intrinsically turned it off in order to sleep a bit more, but since it also woke my roommates up I had no choice but to join with them. We took turn to take shower and iron our shirts and suits. In a half-conscious state of mind, I looked out of the window, and my heart stopped.
Where was my spring weather?? Why was there heavy snow on the first day of spring??
I had been super exited for today, since we were going to hold the Opening Ceremony in the General Assembly of the United Nations Headquarters, literally several blocks away from the Grand Hyatt towards the Harlem river. Due to an unexpected meeting of the UN Women that morning, our Ceremony would be moved to the afternoon, and the first session would begin in the morning instead. “Fine for me”, I thought, “hopefully the weather would get better soon”. (I couldn’t be more wrong).
I went to the conference room a bit early to meet Mirna and Maria. Both have graduated from university, with Mirna currently pursuing a law degree in the UK. We had a bit chit-chat to introduce ourselves, our experience with MUN and divide our specific roles. The G-20 Committee, which consists of delegates from 19 richest countries in the world plus the European Union (not counted as a country ops), would tackle on three agendas: infrastructure investment in developing countries, energy market resilience and safe drinking water for all. None of these was in my area of interest, but I was still very eager to learn more from what the delegates would bring to the discussion.
16 delegations were present, with the exception of Australia, Germany, India and Russia. The agenda of infrastructure investment was the first order of business, and the delegations moved into formal debate and moderated caucus. However, most delegates didn’t seem to catch up with the pace yet, since the issues they raised were rather diverged and unfocused. For example, the focus of the discussion kept jumping from manufacturing infrastructure to education to government role in economy to food security (?!), without a “hook” to develop the discussion further and deeper. The more experienced delegates could feel the deadlock too, so they put in a motion for an un-moderated caucus, so as to break the ice, concentrate on focal points and form caucuses based on common interests. That motion overwhelmingly passed.
One problems appeared, however. The more experienced delegates gathered outside of the conference room with the majority of delegations, leaving just a few, more reserved delegations inside the room. Of course, that huge group was bounded to break up, but in order to speed the debate up and make it more spirited, I decided to back-channel and balance the delegations into developed and developing blocks. I convinced Indonesia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Argentina to join the developing countries caucus led by China and South Korea. In return, I convinced Canada and Mexico to join force with the U.S. and Turkey to side with the European Union, all of which altogether created the developed countries caucus with Great Britain, France and Italy. I didn’t manage to turn Japan away from China and SK though. Nonetheless, with the formation of two rather distinctive blocks, the “hook” was around what type of investment should be prioritized, domestic or foreign. From this point, the debate became much more spirited and competitive.
The first session ended at 12.00. After a brief staff meeting, I went to lunch with some other staffers, then together we walked to the UN. It was literally raining snow outside, but nothing can halt our excitement, really. Walking along the UN complex to reach the guess entrance, I passed across the 192 flags representing 192 member states of the international community. The line of flags was so long that it seemed to be limitless. Any clearer indication of the vastness and diversity of our world?
And then I came inside the General Assembly, and it was just speechless. Finally, a dream came true.
Everyone wanted to take pictures from the podium, but the security guards were just to tight T_T
Obviously, I didn’t miss the chance to *pretend* to represent my country 🙂 The picture’s quality was not ideal, since the security was chasing us and we had to make it quick 😦
The speeches themselves were not very intriguing to me, partially because they were made in Italian and the translator didn’t do a good job at translating them to English. But like one speaker said, I was able to breathe the history and feel the responsibility within these walls. My goal to become a diplomat was thus never be stronger.
I returned to the Grand Hyatt with Mirna after we ate dinner. Before going up to our floors, we went to a conference room to fill our bottles with water from the morning. After all, what is free here is invaluable.
P/S: This city is not the same without you :p
Saturday, March 21st: Third Day
At 8 AM, I came to the conference room, only to find no one there but a single cardboard that said the G-20 committee had been moved to room ABC on Lobby floor. “What the hell?” I grumbled, while rushing through the crowd of suits and dresses to the first floor. There, Mirna was waiting for me at the front door, grumpy and explosive.
“Giang, you need to talk to the Chief of Staff, and tell him that it’s impossible to do conference in this room. I have already talked to him, and if I have to do that again I will just shout at him.”
The room was indeed terrible for a Model UN. It was spacious and luxurious, yes, but a living room nonetheless. There was no table for the delegates to place their plate cards or write on. Heck, there wasn’t even a table for our Dais. I was obviously upset, yet I still convinced Mirna that this decision to move our committee probably came from the Hotel instead of the organization. Complaining to the Chief of Staff or shouting at him wouldn’t accomplish anything anyway. She would continue to grumble, however, even after the hotel staff brought our table in.
I began to conduct the roll call. Since today we should be able get at least one resolution and vote on it, the delegates would either say “present”, which means they can abstain during the voting procedure, or “present and voting”, which means they have to vote. The better option is unquestionably “present”, since the ability to withhold your vote will make it much more valuable and leave you room for maneuvering between different factions during the negotiation. A vote of “No” will expose you to animosity from the sponsors of the resolution that you oppose, while a vote of “Abstain” will make you the center of attention from both sides to convince you to change (or keep) your mind, should the resolution fail to pass.
Once I concluded the roll call, the delegates moved to a short moderated caucus, then several long unmoderated caucuses to finish their working papers. While the developed countries block focuses more on domestic investment, the developing countries block revolved around how to keep foreign investment from developed countries flowing into them. At this critical stage, I tried to avoid meddling in the negotiation as much as possible. The only two times I decided to intervene were when Canada and Mexico broke off from the U.S to join the developing countries block, and when France and Italy miraculously departed from U.K and the European Union to join side with China and South Korea. I succeeded in helping the U.S to retain the support of Canada and Mexico by promise to strengthen the NAFTA commitment. However, Italy and France were adamant , and Italy even became the main sponsor of the resolution from developing block. Surely, some dramatic behind-closed-door deals must have occurred last night.
By noon, there were two draft resolutions on the floor ready to be voted upon. We were about to take the votes and finish this first agenda when our chairwoman found it surprised to have two draft resolutions in the first place (!?) According to her version of Model UN, there can be many working papers, but eventually they all have to merge into one big resolution. Needless to say, I and others were awestruck. The very essence of Model UN are competition and cooperation, and the competition lies at the different perspectives translating to different solutions and resolutions. Even diplomats in real life too often find themselves at unbridgeable odds with each other, and if it’s impossible to bridge the differences among them, what is the point of forcibly merging the differences to create a delusion of unity?
Mirna didn’t buy it, and insisted on her own way. The delegates had no choice but to work among themselves to create one single draft. I would not attend a Model UN in England, ever :))
After the session ended, we the Dias had to attend a staff meeting. There, we had the chance to voice any issue we had with our committee. Mirna wanted to talk about the condition of our conference room again, but she (and I and Maria) were literally speechless when we heard what troubles other Dias had to encounter:
“There’s this boy in our committee who took one of his shoes out, banged it on the table, and demanded that we ended the committee 2 hours before the schedule.”
“I don’t know what to do. Our delegates keep speaking Italian and Spanish during the session.”
“Our delegates didn’t return to their seats at the end of the unmoderated caucus.”
“The delegation of Italy was not present in our committee. Yet, we still found a note sending to the delegation of the United States from the delegation of Italy.”
“We are in the Security Council, and the delegation of China just vetoed the resolution that our delegates have worked on for the last two days. They are traumatized now.”
We looked at each other. How lucky we are…
Sunday, March 22nd: Final Day
There are often four awards during a MUN: Best Position Paper, Honorable Mention, Best Delegation and Delegates’ Best Delegation. The first three were our responsibility to pick, while the last one would be voted upon by the delegates. The Best Position Paper award had been decided to be Turkey, while the delegates voted for Italy to be their best delegation. However, we still needed to debate who would get the 3 Honorable Mention and 1 Best Delegation.
“Look, Italy and the United Kingdom are clearly the most notable delegations in this room. But since Italy has had the Delegates’ Best Delegation, we should give Great Britain the Best Delegation.”
“I don’t think that’s right. We should consider the award solely based on the delegation’s performance, not on whether or not they should have more than one award.”
“But the both delegates of Italy equally contributed, while only one of UK did. The other girl was invisible.”
“That only makes the one from UK more deserved to be the best, since she had single-handedly made such huge contribution to the committee.”
“Then give her a Honorable Mention. Italy will be the Best Delegation, and the Delegates’ Best Delegation will be given to the delegation with the second-to-highest vote.”
“That seems unfair to UK, she deserves much more than a Honorable Mention.”
Eventually, we ended up with UK as the Best Delegation, Italy as the Delegates’ Best Delegation, Canada, South Korea and Japan with Honorable Mentions, Turkey with Best Position Paper. All awards were given instantly, except the Best Delegation, which would be announced during the Closing Ceremony. The delegate from UK, a young woman coming all the way from India, was visibly upset for not hearing her name. She asked me:
“Italy would get the Best Delegation, right?”
I told her that I couldn’t say anything. However, she interpreted that ambivalent attitude of mine as a confirmation of her doubt. She told me that she wouldn’t attend the ceremony, since she had to be on time for her flight.
“Wait, but… Well… Alright, you get the Best Delegation, okay?”
“But I still have to, wait, what, are you sure???”
“You hear nothing from me, you remember that.”
Needless to say, she was so happy that she agreed to stay for the ceremony right away. In the end, it was me who was unable to attend the closing ceremony, since I couldn’t miss my bus back to school.