“If you are given a one-way ticket to any place in the world, where would it be?”
New York City, New York.
I have always had this strong affinity, sort of an attachment with NYC – ever since I was a little child. It’s incredibly amazing as to how I got myself to fall head over heels in love with the city, even through reading materials, iconic photographs, TV sitcoms and movies. There are a long list of things to love about New York City, and mine does not even have an end to it.
I promised myself I would bring myself to the iconic city one day, with my own blood, sweat and tears. I was (still am) a firm believer in making my dreams come true through the outcome of my hard work, because I truly believe the sweetness of the reward is greater that way. And with Allah’s will in 2012, my wish was granted. Got accepted to a state uni, secured myself a scholarship, packed my bags and off I went, to the city of my dreams.
Exhilaration did not cut it. It was an intense feeling, overwhelming in a frightening sense that I thought was caused by the air pressure in the airplane. Even when I was in the car driving through Lincoln Tunnel, my heart was beating wildly in my chest, my ribcage building and collapsing rhythmically as I anticipate the light at the end of the tunnel.
Concrete jungle where dreams are made off, there’s nothing we can’t do, sang Alicia Keys
Skyscrapers surrounded me, making me feel so tiny and withdrawn. They were impressive, overpowering, erecting so boldly. There are so many things to look at in this city – you snooze, you really do lose. Everything is fast-paced that you would get dizzy instantly if you were to stand off guard, trying to process everything that is happening in a mere minute. New York City is impossible; buzzing with life with its mixture of country/R&B/ghetto music playing from every corner of the streets, an array of colourful neon lights lighting up the smallest kebab carts to the enormous billboards, different ethnicity of citizens walking mindlessly an purposefully down the street – they are a lot to take in, yet strangely, I feel myself right at home.
Why I say it’s my sanctuary – the city is sort of my physical escapism – trips to NYC soothes my mind and calms my jittery nerves. Back in those days I literally went to the city as often as two to three days every two weeks. I had taken buses, trains even drove myself in my car “Scarlett” and I will always look forward to it like it was the first time. Whenever I feel homesick, uninspired, upbeat and up to no good, I will settle with a trip to NYC.
What makes it so different – I am drawn to the city’s personality. My personal opinion about NYC is that, the city is too huge and famous and everyone in the whole world knows about it, yet there are so many hidden characteristics that not many are aware of. I feel every streets and corners have their own stories to tell. So much to see, so much to explore. It is never ending.
Who do I normally go there with – I spent 80% of the time going to NYC alone. Because I love the time on my own. I walk around at my own pace, according to my own schedule, fulfilling my wants and needs without any pressure and I get to do whatever I wanted! I personally find being alone (or having off days, as some may call it) necessary in one’s life. It’s therapeutic, it gives your mind a break and also helps to learn about yourself more.
Where do I normally hang out – everywhere. Literally. I try to explore as many places as I can, but I spend more time in Manhattan. I have tried different bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants. I try to shy away from the tourist sites because I save them to play tourist guide whenever people come to visit me. I focus more on the hidden little unknown shops because those are where I absolutely loved to shop. There are kajillions of thrift stores in Manhattan, and I even created a “thrift store shops” map on Google Map to help me navigate. I had discovered precious gems – a myriad of vintage accesories and clothes priced at $5 to $20 – all in perfectly good condition. This is my most favourite thing to do back then, and I miss doing it so much. Trust me, the excitement you get when you come across shops like these… it’s amazing. Although thrift stores are scattered all over Manhattan, my personal favourites are around East Village and Union Square. Even if some of their items are not your cup of tea, you will love the eccentric, quirky vibes the shop emits. So original and uplifting.
How do I get around – the Subway. Even when I’m driving. I would park my car, and then take the underground. Why? Because I get to see and learn a lot of things. I get to observe people, and come up with the most fitting scenario about them. I get to be entertained with street performers along the connecting tunnels or in the subway itself. I get to read and be inspired by empowering quotes scribbled all over the walls by random strangers, or just writings about life that depict my own. In my opinion, NYC subways are not as straightforward as London tubes; they are made up of tracks that look haywire with a kaleidoscope of different colour codes. I rely solely on my app to make sure I don’t get lost.
What I normally do there – it varies. I shopped everywhere; from the known brands to vintage treasures, I went to Central Park to bask in the sun while reading Murakami with no sunscreen on, I rented a bicycle to go around the city, I watched movies outdoor with strangers, I sat by the pier to vent and let the waves calm me down, I stopped by the roadside to hear a talented 50-something-year-old man play “The Way You Look Tonight” from his saxophone, I indulged in good food on a rooftop overlooking the Empire State building, I watched theaters and concerts that were unavailable to experience in Malaysia, I drove along streets and avenues aimlessly because I am fascinated with the Manhattan Grid, I ate the best vanilla ice cream on a cone from the classic ice cream truck, I devoured countless of chicken kebab from the anywhere-anytime kebab carts, I heard the wind howling and my hair slapping my face viciously while on the ferry towards Staten Island, I went to high-end designer shops to feast my eyes on the bags I lusted for, I tried and tested Indian restaurants all around the city to find the best butter chicken and you know… other stuffs. Lots of other fun stuff I dearly miss.
What’s not to love about this city? I feel a little torn and sad that my writing does not even justify my experiences enough. A thousand and one memories made and not a day passes by without me dreaming to step foot there again. It was where I taught myself independence, it was my training ground against reality, it was where I sought for shelter where all else fails, it was where I planted my seed of strength…
… Also the only place with Ladurée for me to splurge on my favourite macarons and madeleines (of course there’s food involved haha).
Circumstances now are not in my favour but I will patiently wait for the right time to come. I’ve had the privilege of bringing the person I love most to experience the city, and I am hoping to bring my children there too – aside from showing them my alma mater because there are tons of awesome stuff going on in New Jersey too!
One fine day New York City, one fine day…