Fast cars, towering buildings, flashing lights…New York was and is everything you saw of it in the movies and expected it to be.
Years ago, If someone had told me that I would be traveling this famous city with two of my best friends in the world, I would have laughed it off as yet another incredulous flight of fancy. But “…concrete jungle where dreams are made of…” indeed, and there we were, dreams fulfilled, standing in the midst of Times Square, braving the possible threat of an epileptic seizure from all the flashing lights rocketeering* on an A.D.D. high- A glimpse of what advertising looks like on ecstasy.
With the sleep still over my eyes, I saw the city for the first time; and I could never quite tell you what that feeling is like. The bus drove over a bridge giving us a full on panoramic view of the first glimmer of light breaking in over the city skyline. We climbed the dirty staircases of the bus terminal into the haze of a pre-dawn street and was hit in the face by a cold blast of single digit weather. As we walked to our hotel, my heart beat faster and faster with every recognizable sight. THE NEW YORK TIMES OFFICES! I screamed for awhile while Journo Girl and Kina had to calm me down. Not calm me down so much as encourage it. A few minutes later and it was Journo Girl’s turn with THE MORNING SHOW! NBC! (we are nerds).
In New York, nothing is ever just McDonalds, or Forever 21. Its more like MCDONALDS! In BIG flashing lights, and FOREVER 21! With a 12-storey screen in front of it advertising its latest collection. HERMES! H&M! COACH! GUCCI! ZARA! Everything there screams. The signs, the people, the smell from the sewer…
Only in New York would you find a McDonalds with a grand piano on a top balcony, and a classically trained pianist playing lounge music as you gorge your butts silly on salty, subpar burgers and fries (I had to go into McD’s to use the loo).
I told the girls that I could actually see myself living there. It actually reminded me a lot of home. The shops don’t close till eleven, you can find food at all hours. The streets had no rules, people bumped into you, rammed right through your shoulders, spat on the streets, and people of all nationalities try to peddle you for money, sell you anything your heart so desires, and exists to solicit all your vices.
Now you have to understand, after months of being in Canada- shops closing at five, people saying thank you, excuse me, and holding the doors for everyone, New York in its gangsta, thug, OUT OF MY WAY, pace was as exciting as a kid in a candy store. I mean literally, we were kids in candy stores when we visited the giant Hershey’s and M&Ms store, possibly giddy with too much glucose.
Some guy on the corner of 48th actually asked “Want some?” and our friend there played along. “You got some?” What made me laugh later was when he went “You can smell it!” popping out some Grade A from his sleeves. At every single street corner, and I mean EVERY single le coins de, there would be a hot- dog vendor. Halal hot-dog vendor, with kebabs, and all sorts of meat on bread combo.
On the first day, we hit Staten Island, Liberty and Ellis, respectively. We saw the green lady, museums and the Empire State Building. We also got tickets to see Sister Act on broadway for the next day (we wanted Wicked of course, but Wicked has been consistently sold out for six years now and running). We went on an NBC tour, bus tour and went to look for the famous Serendipity café. For all the days I was there I could not stop being excited by everything I saw. I was feeling a sense of nostalgia for a place I’ve never even set foot in before. I blame Television, for all my favourite shows set in New York, seeing everything first hand was like seeing your new born baby for the first time. I don’t know how long I’ve been pregnant with ideas of how New York must be like, and how many times I’ve written about it. Then I was finally there. I became Ella Fitzgerald, I became The Duke, I was John Lennon in his last moments, I was that struggling artist in her dingy New York flat, Serena Van Der Woodsen in her Upper East Side Loft, I was among the first few migrants taking her first steps on the land of the free after being stuck on a crowded boat for months. I was even Ted Mosby running around with Barney and Marshall.
And of course we also visited the entire financial district area, Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange… I can’t help feeling like the proud children of the baby boomer, flower power, hippie generation, with demonstrating running in our veins and boiling in our blood. We knew we had to go to Occupy Wall Street.
Unfortunately, the date of our arrival didn’t coincide with the heat of the battle. By then the demonstrations had already been somewhat dispersed and the financial district was on lockdown. So while it was nothing like what we saw on the news or like how the media portrayed it, there were still crowds, but significantly smaller in scale. It seemed more like a music festival than anything else, there were people with guitar and tambourines, signs and dancing, and colorful peace sign jewelry over their necks and tie-dyed shirts over their backs.
This one demonstrator picked Ea and I out from the crowd and started talking to us about the vast corruption with the shady dealings of Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong, and then added “You would never see this in Malaysia!” (and here I was thinking, buddy, you have no idea…) I did feel proud though, bravo on him for picking out the only two Malaysians in the crowd. At least we know not everyone is ignorant. That and our headscarves are a dead giveaway, every country wears it different.
I like New York. Its one of the realest cities in the world. When people feel like shouting they shout, and when they shout at you, you shout back. I couldn’t quite grasp the feeling it is to find vast affluence and excess of the Upper East Side, then to the fringes of Harlem. Or to be standing in one of the highest population density in the world and navigating its subway systems. Its significance in history, its dominion of World Markets and the birth of empires caused me to move to inspiration, irritation, elation and an intense enamor all at the same time.
New York in its pushiness made me that much braver, and I pushed back. I found myself fearless, to be able to talk to anyone on the streets, because I know for a fact people don’t care. There are far crazier things they’ve seen in these streets. For all its extremities, the good, the bad, one thing it never is-is boring.
I loved it. More than that, is I love that I was changed by it. My ideas have grown since, and I felt like I licked a taste of travel, and I can never look back. Also, I finally know what it meant when Ernest Hemingway said, ” “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”
*Not an actual word