Those three little words. Such huge implications.
New York City.
It sends chills down my spine, even in the aftermath of our trip. Highlights and lowlights accounted for, New York possess vibrancy that some suburbs lack in volume.
The family (ie: Lao Lao, A, & the Parentals) and I left home at 4am on Friday for Big Apple dreams. After some minor escapades, we managed our way into the Times Square hotel room. In a tourist-trap lunch setting, Europan, we grab some rather ordinary food. First impressions? Tourists are rude… ah, some background, yes? Lao Lao fails to speak any English given her status as Chinese grandmother. She also can’t move her chair away as quickly as…oh, say a pretentious 20-something tourist. Some prissy little thing with attitude rudely snaps, “Um, excuse me” with a snarky laugh to her friend.
Excuse you; you assume all of the elderly speak English? Have some respect, not everyone
is exactly like you grew up in an environment where they could properly learn a second language. Honestly, I can’t understand people who are ethnocentric to the point of blindness.
A quick Thai dinner on 48th Street, Pongsri left me with the same sick feeling about tourists. The food itself was satisfying, albeit the courses slightly smaller than appreciated. A huge range of fresh spring rolls, crispy tofu drenched in peanut sauce, pad thai, soups laced in coconut and lime splendor, juicy chicken…so much love goes into cooking. Not so much love for the ambience or the unfortunate company though. Why can’t people leave their noses in their own business? Instead, I find all these random strangers sniffing around…a middle-aged, mustached
Flanders man peeking at my dad as he signs the bill. He had the gall to stare me down with his companion, loudly saying, “You see? SEE?” Come on, be a gentleman. Yes, we are Asians eating at an Asian restaurant. Whether for better or worse, you pointing us out seems a little racist, given your SES. Once Pop foots the bill, we take a glance around the east coast grocery chain Duane Reade, buying absolutely nothing. Sales tax might be low, but food itself seems pretty pricey.
Times Square and Midtown is a tourist trap. Not that it isn’t a pretty trap, but a trap nonetheless. Bright lights? Moths to a flame, anyone? We make locals want to smash us to the floor with a rolled up newspaper. After waiting in line with Pop for an hour in order to obtain 40% off Phantom of the Opera tickets, Mummers and I watched the show…only to be “pleasantly” surprised by Chinese tourists seated beside us. Who would not stop talking. During every SINGLE number. Rude. Suffice to say, they and I both survived, though barely. The show was well-sung, the set was beautiful, the gun shots realistic…but what’s a show without some seat-number drama, eh? Times Square at night – just breathtaking.The bright lights on Broadway entice the eager and repel the weary. There some sort of enchantment…where even dirty sidewalk water takes on the sheen of multicolored Broadway, lighting up concrete. Just another enamored moth? Well, at least I’m not blind to my status.
A beautiful night of sleep later (well worth the extra stars), our family sets off with Liberty plans. The Lady awaits in all her minty glory. Even from the plane she was gorgeous. From up close, this French statue gives off all the grace and splendour we expected of her. Did you know, her fingernail is the length of a forearm?
We take the ferry to Ellis for more tourist-trapping. Dad and A split early to entertain themselves with video games and TV at the hotel. The ladies and I spent the afternoon gallivanting through downtown. Given our limited street knowledge, we made good friends with the NYPD, who seem to know every subway and landmark in NY history. We gawk at the glory of Trinity Church, grab a custard near Albany St. and pay our respects at the 9/11 Memorial. We checked up on the cutest old Italian man who nearly twisted his ankle. Even in pain, he managed to smile and thank us for our concern. Such an angel, dressed in navy sailor stripes and stark white pants. Rude tourists, but let’s skip the unsavory. Our girls’ afternoon out stopped with us perched on rock outcroppings in Central Park, by the Columbus Circle.
Finally embarked on a solo venture. Up on the red 1 line to 125th for Jin ramen. For once, everything went according to plan – I arrived early, found the restaurant and staked out a nice table. M and I caught up on our respective lives, everything illuminated and all that jazz. She took me around Columbia Uni, through all the gorgeous architecture on campus plus some. Though I was disappointed by the refurbished bathroom in the Hungarian Bakery (twas supposed to be covered in writing), I fell in love with their Baklava. After an hour-long trek back to 59th through Central Park pathways (and confirmation of my neuroticsm in the dark), I took the subway to 42nd and waded through the tourist-waves back to the Marquis. Through urban jungle and locust-buzzing foliage, I left feeling quite enchanted. I was surprised to find New York with its very own charming side.
K offered to go to Hillsong service with me. After lining up for half an hour (is this a concert?), we find ourselves in a dimly lit auditorium pulsating with bass. Pastor Bethany encouraged us about battling giants as we gaze at her shiny, shiny platform heels. After some amazing worship, we end the trek at 127 E 23rd with Shake Shack burgers in Madison Park.
Despite being a guy, K likes shopping. Trekking towards Park Ave, I get hit on by a random guy trying to sell his rap CD’s. Uncomfortable conversation ensues, along the lines of, “Is this yo man? No? So, why don’t you have a boyfriend? I could be your boyfriend…” Oh dear. We sampled Kee’s Chocolate (chocolate dipped, caramelized orange skins and a Creme Brulee chocolate). There was Blick’s art supply shop, Madewell, Club Monaco, J. Crew, Uniqlo, Muji…mostly window shopping given the price range for the shops. The most fun? Just people watching and looking at the street vendor wares. I love those little cupcake stands…so adorable.
On a whim, we get the courage to take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge area, off towards Williamsburg. I was determined to go on a quest for coffee. 3 or so subways later and several missed turns, we arrived at Black Brick. A suave dark corner with paraphernalia from the 40’s or before, Black Brick made getting money from the sketchy ATM across-the-way worth it. A cold brew, self-dubbed “haus brew” with soy milk and honey. Mmmmm. Good conversation, good company, good food.
Speaking of excellent food…ending the night in K Town. Gotta have my kimchi chigae, you know. K got jajangmyun and fried dumplings. Hardy Korean food for the exhausted traveler. Some miscommunication up from 34th on the R line later, I was back home from a late-night downpour.
Today. Reality fooled me into dreaming for four days…so much art and color, crammed into every nook and cranny. A city literally bursting with beauty from the in-seams. A brisk stroll through Times Square, and I’m just another pretentious tourist trying to look less touristy than the other tourists.
Reunion with Z! Sharply dressed and clean cut as always, with his trademark, hip frames. HK memories resurrected in a different setting. He knows exactly what to say to the Chicago tourist. “Don’t you look chic.” From a New Yorker, I am glowing with this compliment. Z, you always know just what to say. Our time was short but succinct given his work, so we settled for ivory lobby couches. Time is too short with good friends.
And now…I’m sitting pretty in the Admiral Club at LaGuardia with little A and the Pops. We’re each respectively wired to our digital ball and chain – A to his Nintendo DSi, Pop to his Galaxy note, & me to this mini laptop.
New York. We’re still here, but in transit. Airports have that unsettling effect – the feeling of instability and unreality…a place of limbo and borderless-ness.
This city has taught me so much, in so little time. Appreciation for every hardworking service man and woman who devote their time catering to way too selfish, way too unappreciative tourists. Thankfulness for the extraordinary ability to see – Broadway lights, Times Square ads…the New York skyline. I love the metaphors of bridges – strong ones, that seem to connect different worlds.
In some way, New York taught me love – to care for my family in a foreign setting, respect for the traveler…patience for the crazy ignorant or just plan crazy.
I’m thankful for all this beauty I’ve been blessed with.
Next time, New York. Until we meet next time.