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USA: New York City, 2018 | Part V

I made sure to get my ass off my bed early on my fourth day here so I could arrive at the Metropolitan Museum on time. by the time I found my way there, two long lines had already formed from the entrance and spread to opposite directions. being the kiasu, I went to a guard standing on the stairs and waved my e-ticket at him but he shooed me to the end of the queue.

my prayer was heard somehow. the doors opened a short while later and the queue moved steadily. I don’t know how big Met is, but I really didn’t want to share the experience with hundreds of others. the tip to enjoy a museum or an amusement park is to go to the endddd and slowly make your way out.

I was welcomed into a dark room before executing my plan. it’s the gallery exhibiting the Met Gala: Heavenly Bodies displays to my delight because I wasn’t expecting this. I found them attractive since the 2018 Gala although many criticized it. but I ain’t got no time for y’all displays now so I rushed past them and boy, did I manage to appreciate a lot of artworks in peace.

despite my brief visit to the museum, I made it through the maze to see The Death of Socrates, wow-ed at a lot of religious tapestries, saw some contemporary art that, to be honest, I still don’t understand, and bought some postcards.

back in Washington, my new friend had asked me which is my favourite painting that I’d seen that day. I was drawn to the dark tones at first, then the details on Georges de la Tour’s The Repentant Magdalen that’s a bit Memento Mori-ish made it my favourite. turned out that this dude drew lots of Magdalens and they’re scattered in museums around the USA. so apart from eavesdropping and judging and rolling my eyes at conversations among ‘hipsters’, looking for Magdalen was the one thing I always did at each museum.

before leaving the museum, of course, I had to take a look at the Heavenly Bodies pieces, even just for a little while as I was late for lunch. it had this grand and divine feel to it. (I mean, it’s Heavenly Bodies. hello?) the music playing also made the whole atmosphere ghostly.

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youngsters who visit New York City would probably prefer MoMA but I’d recommend The Met. it’s already on the list of my next NYC trip, even though I’m not sure at all if I will have enough money to travel to the Big Apple again.

I hastily left the museum and huffed and puffed through Central Park to get on the E Train. it’s a tiny restaurant that fits tightly. mmy new friend wasn’t there when I arrived, but I spotted his tennis racquet and luggage—ready to head to Las Vegas in the evening.

I left it to him to decide the food since it’s his recommendation anyway. there were mentions of wine, but we decided against that. In the end, we had pasta. and even with my I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-food tongue, I could tell it’s good. restaurant name: Piccola Cucina Osteria Siciliana. you’re welcome.

the atmosphere was a little cold compared to last night. and conversations were more sporadic, probably ‘cause of the sleep deprivation. at one point I looked across the street and see people walking by—alone, with friends, with family.

if my family were here… I’ll be walking first, pointing my camera everywhere, energetic. followed by my elder sister, looking at a map, or for a landmark, or for a tourist spot, or looking for the power bank, or entrance tickets, or gloves, or heat pack, or umbrella, or whatever that’s filling her bag to the brim for my parents. then my mother next to her, telling her that she doesn’t need whatever my elder sister is searching for, or “your father needs it a lot”. the second last would be my eldest sister. I don’t know what she mostly does, because I’m always busy with my camera. but if something’s wrong, she’s always there, lecturing and panicking first, then solving the problem. at the end of our line would be my dad, like me, pointing his camera everywhere, probably noticing street signs, how the city is designed, the plants and flowers, etc. I can see this family from a third-person view.

“what are you thinking?” he asked.

“my family,” I said. My focus back to the food.

“do you miss them?”

I got asked this a lot. “not miss miss, you know?” the answer came naturally.

“like it would be better if they were here.”

“yeah.”

back then in the water park, I had a small talk like this too with a customer. I told the middle-aged man that it made me miss them especially more when I saw families at the park. I never told him that it’s probably not just being thousands of miles apart, but because we all grew up and times like this come by less often now. before he left, he said, “well, then, I’ll be your family today.” something like this would creep me out normally but that day, I said okay gratefully.

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we lingered around the area for a while after the meal. I asked if I could buy him coffee. to compensate for the few hours last night and the expensive grapes. in the end, we got ice cream though.

in the crowded cafe, (why is everywhere in New York City crowded and small?), the women sitting next to us were talking about scripts. an ongoing advertisement project, I think. again, I wondered what it’s like to work in this concrete jungle. I followed some photographers who live in this metropolis online. they seem to have a good life. huh.

we parted ways after that. in just a minute, I had to turn back because I made a left instead of a right. I glimpsed at the street where the cafe was at but he’s no longer there. you see, New York City is so big that once you turn around, whatever that’s gone, is gone. for months, these conversations played again and again in my head. I thought I could hold on to it, but sadly, I’m only human.

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next stop for me was the 9/11 memorial. it’s a black, gaping hole with water pouring into it from all four sides. you know that the kids who are born after 2001 are called Post 9/11 kids? though I wasn’t born after 2001, I was so young and so far away from America, I might as well be a Post 9/11 kid. seeing it from a large scale, the disaster felt so distant to me it’s hard to comprehend the disaster. yet, on a closer level, personal accounts on Tumblr aren’t too difficult to empathise with. people crying in the streets, overhearing stranger’s emergency calls, students being sent home as school shut down, etc.

it’s the day before the 17th anniversary and I noticed that on some names, there’s a white rose on top of them. could they be left behind by friend or family who misses them? Or could the memorial management leave it there because it’s their birthday today? now that I think of it… it’s devastating. one day it’s a celebration, the next it’s a tragedy.

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the World Trade Center station is I think the newest and definitely cleanest station of all. upon exiting and walking towards the memorial, there’s a white building that resembles a fish skeleton. it’s The Oculus. I made it a point to check it out after visiting the memorial. it’s the same as every famous spot. all the photos on Instagram looks about the same.

so here’s my darker take on it

so here’s my darker take on it

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it’s crazy to hit two museums in a day. I never intended to, but remember that the bus coming to NYC was delayed? so I had to visit MoMA today because time was running out. you may think the real reason for me to have to really, really make it to MoMA was because of Van Gogh’s famous painting.

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but it’s not. it’s this. Rene Magritte's The Lovers II.

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I loved it the moment I scrolled past it on my Tumblr a few years ago. and still, I love it till this day. I think it’s my favourite painting? even maybe not, I can’t deny that this surrealist artist is my favourite artist.

I had a difficult time looking for this painting initially even though I’d walked past the gallery it’s hung at. so I walked up to the information lady and had a small chat with her. after learning that I’m from Malaysia, she responded with, “I love Bali.”

I kept nodding at her comments on Bali because I didn’t know what to say. “Bali is in Indonesia, lady?” that’s rude. a part of me was speechless; a part wanted to laugh; and a part of me felt sorry for both she and I. because really, if you tell me about Bucharest, I can’t tell you if it’s a country or a city. (okay, now I’ve Googled, Bucharest is the capital of Romania, so it’s a city)

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MoMA isn’t so big that they even had paintings hung on the corridors leading to the stairs. but it’s popular so it’s always crowded, especially on Free Friday afternoons. my friend from Washington showed me a photo of kids crowding around Starry Starry Night from his visit a Friday before. anyway, while I was walking through a corridor to get to the stairs, I overheard a mom very patiently interpreting this painting to her daughter.

“see where she’s looking at?”

“a house?”

“it means something. some say that the house is her hope. but maybe she’s in despair because she’s so far away.”

okay. that was new. I’m impressed. you have a painting like that in Malaysia, you won’t hear parents talk to their kids like that. about arts. ‘lawyer, doctor, and engineer’ is Asian’s ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’. heck, you won’t even see parents bringing kids to the museum.

while shopping for souvenirs, I overheard familiar accents. I turned to see two Malaysian girls browsing through the postcards. I said hi to them and asked if they’re on J1 Visa. before the conversation could move on to sharing our experiences, they escaped and I couldn’t help feeling a little nonplus.

I don’t know. I feel like that’s the thing with Malaysian. or Asians in general. they’re not shy, nor are they slow to break the ice. they just tend to keep to themselves. collectivists? but I guess it’s also travelling alone that makes one more open to new things and experiences. and I’m kinda glad about that.

after buying a gift for my friend, my wish to get another glimpse of my favourite painting before I leave wasn’t granted when the security guards shooed us out into the rain. feeling a little lost and still a little awestruck (I can’t believe I just saw my favourite painting!), I went to the last spot on my NYC Pass—Rockefeller Center.

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when I exchanged my pass for a ticket, the ladies at the counter told me again and again that visibility was zero and asked if I’d like to change plans and come another day. when it comes to things like this, as always, I told them I’ll think about it. although I already knew full well of my answer.

while I sulked at the weather for being such a bitch, I pathetically had my Oreos at the dining area because I couldn’t afford Starbucks. it’s too soon for sundown, but it’s also too short to get a proper meal. things would’ve been different if I were with my family. an argument would ensue. for. sure. I won’t get into detail because arguments during travels usually come out of nowhere and go nowhere so it’s hard to grasp the whole point of it. anyway, although stuck in this shitty luck, just thinking about this made me feel a little bit better.

I went back to the counter again and smiled helplessly to the ladies, telling them it’s my last day here and I’d already paid for it and I have nothing better to do so might as well. then I got my tickets half-heartedly, knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing any sunset that day.

as is at the bottom of any observation decks, you walked through this passage explaining how the building was built, memorable events, etc. etc. the elevator has a glass roof and we zoomed, zoomed, zoomed into the sky.

the doors opened to let us out and before I could make a decision whether or not to say hi to this solo dude who was queueing in front of me, I’d lost him in the building. I made a circle in the inner deck first, then slowly going out and up. there’s a lot of fog, yeah, but the visibility wasn’t completely zero. nonetheless, I only caught a glimpse of the Empire State before it was completely swallowed by the fog.

it might as well be winter outside. on the plus side though, the deck belonged to only the four, five of us that evening. I clicked and clicked my shutters, then moved to the other side and repeated. another guy almost my age was also busy clicking his camera. I don’t know what exactly it is, but his movement gave out some sort of enthusiasm and excitement for shooting the fog. maybe he likes shooting the fog, I don’t know, he reminded me of this Instagrammer who shoots fog in Chicago.

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standing side by side, both of us continued with our cameras. it’s sort of like a competition, except it wasn’t more like camera shooting, but like, shooting shooting. our cameras were our guns. y’know?

anyhow, I thought for a moment to exchange thoughts on our luck with the weather and tips for shooting the fog and I don’t know, maybe start another night adventure with a stranger? but then I held myself back because I didn’t want to be challenged to go rooftopping or something like that. yeah, I’m always paranoid.

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oh, yeah. I never told anyone, but by my third or fourth day travelling with a huge backpack, I come to realise that the washroom is a not-too-bad refuge to rest my legs and in this case, to stay warm. LOL. I couldn’t decide if the one here looked more like a hospital’s or a spaceship’s, but rest my legs I did. and pee.

I went into a room that’s filled with lights to find that the guard who was there before was nowhere to be found. so, while waiting for the sky to turn dark, I just sat on the floor and watched the lights. they’re supposed to do this cool thing where they dance in sync to your movement or something like that. but it made zero sense to me. and each time the red lights came on, they made the same dance then disappeared.

so I gave up. I just sat there and reflected on the past week. went full on introspective. where did I go? whom did I meet? what am I doing now?

I was at the Top of the Rock. 70 floors above New York City. completely alone. utter peace. I never thought it’s possible to feel that in a city holding eight million people. let alone a tourist spot.

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I couldn’t even make out the city lights in the thick fog when night fell. now, this was zero visibility. I pity the guards in raincoats on duty for the night. it’s freezing and wet. and lonely.

disappointed, I left. it could be winter alright but the missing giant Christmas tree under the Rockefeller Centre reminded me that it’s not. I tried looking for the ice-skating rink that’s mentioned in Salinger’s book but all I saw was only cafe chairs and tables. maybe it wasn’t wintry enough to make ice.

I saw a Lego shop not long after leaving the centre and did an impromptu decision to take a look. the door was locked so I knocked on it until a guard signalled to me that they’d closed. whoops. now I’ve become one of those annoying customers who don’t read the sign to see that store’s closed.

okay, okay. so guess where did I end up to get my dinner that night? very boring. nothing new. no, not Shake Shack. oh c’mon, not again. it’s Times freakin' Square. I saw many people getting The Halal Guys on Instagram so, yeah. it’s average. like the usual Middle Eastern cuisine that you can find in Malaysia.

and so my last night in New York City was spent eating that in the kitchen back at the hostel. alone. I could almost see it as a movie. Ruo Ling munching on her food and looked into space. camera looking through the glass. zooms out very slowly. blackout. credit.


Just A Minute In June

wanting… to live in a mid-modern century home and play The Walters all day everyday.

listening… to Frank Sinatra and Justin Hurwitz again! man I think Hurwitz is my most played artist this year.

realising… that information holds value. a little too late.

learning… to be bored again. put down yer phone! and focus on… pooping! the best ideas come when I’m pooping. ain’t yours the same?

writing… a book? I don’t know. it happened at 3AM. and if it ever gets published, half the world’s population would be offended.


USA: New York City, 2018 | Part IV

you may have wondered why I stop the previous story at the point when I still wasn’t conked out yet. because the day still went on.

I was sorting my photos in the common area while waiting for my laundry when a soft-spoken voice asked from behind me, “do you know any place to get dinner around here?”

I said I was gonna have dinner with my new friend if he cared to join. then, he pulled another chair and asked me to try sitting on it, it’s more comfortable than the one I was sitting on. it’s awkward to do with people around, but I did it anyway. he knew it’s better because he used to sell chairs. and me? I love shooting chairs all over the world. well, what have we got here? we’ll have such a good time talking about Eames. spoiler alert: said Eames discussion never happened.

I settled my laundry and met him downstairs as agreed. Harith was conked out so it’s just me. his French friend ditched him so it’s just him. there’s a chicken place right on top of the subway station. I never wanted to eat there, only saved it as a spare. being an industrial area, there ain’t other choices though.

it’s the usual conversation again:

I’m from Malaysia.
I’m here on a work and travel program.
I worked at a waterpark selling pretzels and churros and sometimes chicken tenders like this one here. (holds up the chicken tender that I’m eating)
I’m gonna travel for about a month.
this is my second stop. heading to Niagara Falls after this.
I’m the “baby” of the family (“oh how lucky you are!” “yes, I know.”).
yes, of course, I’m afraid of travelling alone (“but you don’t look scared at all. you’re so brave.”)
yeah but I am scared to the bones on the inside. (I just cried at Times Square) (this is my first time, can you believe it)  (I’m still gonna do it anyway) (sometimes it’s thrilling though)

he’s 7 years older than me (what’s with meeting people 7 years older than me today???). been in American soil for ten years. (“that explains your accent”) here in New York City for US Open then heading to Vegas to travel with his parents before he goes back to Korea for good. when he took a moment to tell me when’s the finals, I already knew the answer—it’s today, the game he watched was the finals. Ruo Ling, oh, Ruo Ling. you never fail to embarrass yourself.

while digging for the ticket, he retrieved his lunch receipt from a restaurant called Raku NYC. although I’ve never tasted it, from its Instagram profile, which I still followed till this day, I can tell it’s damn good. so if you’re in NYC, I beg you to please go try it on my behalf.

he asked if I’d try any good food in NYC. other than the famed Shake Shack, not really. (c’mon, look at us in this pathetic chicken place… that I picked.) to be frank, a huge part of me not getting nice food in NYC is because I couldn’t be bothered, really. food is food as long as it doesn’t taste weird (like celery or coriander) and it fills your stomach. I’m not one with lots of worldly desires—a lot of time even forgetting to eat (remember McMiserable?)—that sometimes I joke to myself that you know what, if someone were to put me in a monastery, I’ll not only be fine, I’ll even be glad. cut off from the world. ZEN. but it’s New York City, so we made plans for lunch the next day.

the topic came to K-pop culture. like food, I couldn’t be bothered much with it. I was a bit taken aback when asked if I listen to any Korean songs. considering my age, he probably thought I’m a fan. for the record, (hah, punny), on my phone I have

  • two songs by Big Bang

  • two songs by 2NE1

  • three songs by FT Island

  • two songs by Winner

  • several songs by Hyukoh

  • several songs by Primary

  • two songs by Zion T.

and that’s about it. the last drama I’ve watched is Goblin (“oh, tokkaebi?” “yeah.”) and I filed it under the mediocre category.

the conversation flowed smoothly from one topic to the next. it’s a nice vibe.

an unrelated subway photo from that night to give you a break in reading…

we moved to the bus stop outside to wait for our Uber. I hadn’t been driving for three months and I couldn’t believe it too when it slipped out of my mouth, but boy, I actually missed driving even though parking sucks and tolls are expensive. the way I said it, he thought I drive for a job. I even showed him how a Perodua Myvi looks like. I said no, it’s just that to get anywhere interesting from my house takes at least thirty minutes so naturally, I spent a lot of time alone in the car, blasting music and singing at the top of my lungs. I mainly missed this, definitely not the crazy congestion.

I’m a person with very little worldly desires, yeah? a garment is a garment. so while talking about our own plans for tomorrow, he asked if I’m into fashion, I said, “not really.” my eyes fell on his fine Chelsea boots, then onto my dirty pair of Reebok—one that I went into a sports retail and randomly picked, which turned out to be the comfiest shoes I ever bought. a while ago I watched Timberland’s (emotional) ad and couldn’t help feeling a little touched, having myself shared so many moments with my very own pair of footwear, like accidentally but unapologetically spilling turkey grease on them. later, when I changed from one GAP hoodie into another GAP hoodie, he commented, “GAP again?” yeah. really. not into fashion. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are my muses when it comes to shopping for clothes.

the conversation wound its way to relationship… again. the “what type?” question leaves me speechless most times unless I’m in the mood to throw people off by stating quirky criteria. like, I don’t know, very specific eye colours. there’s this Humans of New York story where the 70-year-old or so protagonist said that by now he has probably loved 8 different women—all of them his lovely wife throughout their marriage. that’s more like it. people gotta understand that everyone changes so it’s not the “type” makes a relationship endure through time and hardships, it’s two people who can grow together without growing apart.

but this is a new friend. so, instead, I said, “has a brain and a heart.” and the wisdom to know when to use which.

“has a brain and a heart,” his response echoed mine. “but it’s complicated.”

thinking back to this conversation from time to time, I shoulda asked him what went wrong, you know, maybe he was waiting for my cue or to, I don’t know, lighten the mood or something. she a heartless bitch? or a brainless woman? or is he closeted? but all I said that time was “I know”. (I know??? what do you know Ruo Ling???)

by the time we got onto the Uber, it’s already 10:30PM. the night's still young, considering this is the city that doesn’t sleep… it’s gonna be an adventure.

he dozed off during the ride, only jolted awake when another rider got off. he mumbled something in Korean in his sleep, and that’s when it’s proven all the more true that when people cuss or I don’t know, sleeptalk, they do it in their mother tongue. it’s a long day for him: woke up at 3. ran at Central Park at 5. had a Skype meeting. met a friend. lunched. watched the US Open. and now he’s here unfolding the night with this strange, awkward woman. putting these pieces of information together with his realization when I said, “I wanna see the Statue of Liberty” I meant from the ferry itself instead of the terminal (you can’t see Torch Girl from the terminal), guilt overtook my excitement. I frantically texted Johnson. I think I accidentally scammed a person to a midnight trip. what the hell should I do?

I told him I’ll wake him up when we arrive but he said it’s okay, it’s his choice to come so he stayed up and we talked about learning Korean.

now, I’m trilingual like most of my friends are and having learnt Mandarin since five, I thought nothing could be tougher. but boy, was I wrong. Korean is a completely different challenge. it took me about ten days on Duolingo to realize that the characters are constructed much like English—a formation of a few “alphabets.” and what’s the difference between Yo and Yeo again?

another random subway photo…

we missed the 11PM ferry. so that’s another 30 minutes wait. he tried napping but did otherwise. so, on the benches under the brightly lit terminal in the night, we people-watched. remember I said how your identity and background shaped your New York City experience? it’s playing again here. mainly, I just thought what are these people up to until he pointed out a man in his sixties whom we later called “Alaskan-Hawaiian”. you'll see why. Alaska: long sleeve shirts + black sleeveless winter jacket. Hawaii: beach shorts + slippers. as for the fedora, I don’t quite know what to categorize that as. boy, the people in NYC are never cease of cuckoo choices when it comes to clothes.

the ferry was a big one. as we boarded I reminded myself again, go to the right for Torch Girl. we’re seated on the right side at first. however, for some reason, he requested to sit at the middle row. wait… what? but but, I came here for Torch Girl. not good at making requests and too good at bowing to requests, we moved. but after a little while taking in the atmosphere of the ferry, he sensed something and asked if I wanted to check the outdoor deck. “afterall, you’re here to see the Statue of Liberty.” yeah, right.

we checked out all the outdoor decks on every floor and couldn’t help feeling curious when we saw “Hurricane Deck” for the last one. he tried opening the door open for me each time but failed so in the end, I was always the one sliding the door open. dude… even though I didn’t manage to catch the sunset from the ferry as planned, I felt a little relieved that we didn’t need to squeeze with the crowd. there were only the two of us.

view from the Staten Island Ferry

how did I know the Staten Island Ferry runs even in the midnight? courtesy of the young adult novel Where She Went, the sequel to If I Stay. out in the open, the wind messed our hair and made me even colder under my GAP. as we looked beyond the endless waters to the twinkling city lights, I couldn’t believe it—I was living in a fiction.

he said it’s beautiful and breathtaking like his previous day on top of the Empire State building, watching the city beneath from the top of the world. behind him, I shook my head and scoffed in my mind. such a romantic, although I can’t say if he’s a hopeless one. me? well, by now you’d probably know the pattern of this passage: a night view is… (c’mon say it with me) a night view. of course, it looked good, because c’mon, how often do you see views like this? but there’s also the overworked and underappreciated people working late into the night. and the enormous energy needed to supply the electricity in this city. it’s also likely that somewhere in an alley, a crime is happening. oh, I’m such a realist and a party pooper.

I started out to be an optimist, then a pessimist, then a realist and now, an opportunist. nowadays, it’s like I have a panel full of toggles in my head and I can adjust them accordingly. sort of like Lightroom’s interface. deep down I know I’m still an idealist, but you want a little pessimism? I can give you that. oh, you want me to see through the rose-coloured crap and see reality as reality? yeah, that I can do too. how about focusing on the silver lining instead of the cloud? alright, no problem. hey, throw cynicism, scepticism and nihilism onto my panel too.

we spotted Lady Liberty. it’s tiny like I’d imagined it. it never stopped leaving him in a daze even though it’s his second time seeing her. the first time being a handful of years ago, “when I was about your age.” while we’re on the topic of landmarks during dinner, he told me he used to go to Namsan Tower when he’s a kid. but growing up, his last visit to the tower was about ten years ago. I said yeah, funny how we always never visit our own city’s landmark and I told him my embarrassing exchange from the night before.

Torch Girl

me leaning against the handrail while he kept himself a few steps away from the edge, he mentioned that he’s afraid of the water, especially in the dark. what’s in it? I thought of those divers who go into the water in the dark to see sea creatures that come alive at night. then, I thought of my diving licence. my diving licence that I haven’t gotten yet. my diving licence that I’ve been saying I would get since 2016. and then I thought of the peace underneath the water—the kind of peace that is close to non-existent on land. In the water, not even the fish talks to you. spell Z-E-N. maybe I should really consider moving into a monastery, yeah? anyway, I’ve pushed this idea away as I aged ‘cause a diving licence will likely result in a yearly diving trip. otherwise, I’ll be guilty over the money spent on that licence.

we switched between the right and the left side of the ferry, even though there’s nothing much on the left to see. at this point, I didn’t care much about Torch Girl anymore. the idea of discovering New York City in the middle of the night seemed more thrilling to me. not as scary as before now that I have someone along with me.

when we’re done being frozen outside, we settled on a row of seat opposite a man with lots of belonging—including an extension plug—sleeping. he didn’t look like he’d be getting much sleep here though. ‘cause when the ferry arrived, they’re surely gonna kick him and everyone off. keeping to ourselves, “what are these people up to?” we mused. are they going to work or are they heading home? we’ll never know, it’s the city that doesn’t sleep. just look at us. as tourists, why the hell are we even spending thirty minutes on the ferry at such an ungodly hour? we could’ve done it in, say, the evening or at least, 10PM.

we disembarked then embarked on a significantly smaller vessel. no outdoor decks to explore. instead of a single orange colour, the walls are painted milk white and the seats are in yellow and blue. he assumed I liked this one more because I kept taking photos of it. okay, yeah, maybe I like the seats here more.

this time he napped without reluctant, only waking up when I sat next to him again after taking photos of the Lady… never cease to amaze me on my second view too even though the last time I’d seen her was about half an hour ago.

we watched the world go by outside the window. he pointed out these rows of lights and told me it’s moving. it took my eyes a while to see through the illusion. but yeah, it’s moving. I said jokingly, “maybe my Amazon orders are in it,” except that I pronounced the Ama- in ‘Amazon’ like how you would pronounce ‘Amazing’. he corrected me and I tried a few times but I just couldn’t. I give up. I said we’re brought up mostly with British English and it’s been a funny time weaving my way through American conversation with this language. I agree with my father. I mean, it’s ridiculous for can and can’t to sound the same here. so can you or can you? in our place we say can or can’t. then I did a mental “oops”, because yeah, can’t is pronounced like… cunt. it’s a swear word so filthy that even the NYC subway can’t beat it. English language. unbelievable.

the smaller ferry that I like more (?)

in exchange for his agreement to come with me, I’d agreed to go to DUMBO (again) with him after Staten Island. he took a deserted new subway ticket lying on top of the machine to examine it. a couple of people at the subway told us it’s okay to take it, it’s an extra anyway. I left the choice to him since he should be know better than me after living here for ten years. in the end, he took it, albeit a little bit hesitantly. in my mind I went really? really??? my natural defence is to not take it. what if it’s, I don’t know, drugged somehow? what’s the catch? yeah, asked the one who decided to spend the night with a stranger in a foreign city. spoiler alert: it actually worked and there’s no catch. wow, New York City, you surprised me.

as I put my purse bag into my backpack, he stopped me and arranged it properly for me, commenting that “it’s sloppy”. seriously? I’d figured out a way to make it easy for me to find my stuff but nearly impossible for pickpockets to steal. so, hey, if there’s a word starting with ‘s’ to describe Ruo Ling, it’s ‘smart’, not ‘sloppy’.

the many advertisement posters stared back at us while we’re waiting for the train. one of them was a movie poster. he asked if I liked watching movies and if I watched any chick flicks. both Fight Club and Legally Blonde flashed past my mind when I tried to decide what fits into “chick flicks”. I watch pretty much anything as long as it’s not too bad or scary. I mean, from Fight Club to Legally Blonde. the spectrum’s really far and wide here.

on the train, I studied the New York City map on the wall out of boredom. as if upon realisation, he said, “so, Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and… The Bronx. the five boroughs of New York City.” it’s my first time hearing it. the five boroughs. I never really thought about it. it’s funny that we always look at the same thing but see completely different things. months later when I saw the primary election stickers, hey, New Yorkers, I understood!

we arrived at York Street Station again. oh hello, old friend. I’ve been to this station three times it’s kinda like home in New York City now. I knew how the exit looked like even with my eyes closed. it’s a sloped tunnel with walls covered in square, white tiles. it’s grim even during the day, but that’s what attracts me. I’d imagined someone running across it, camera going from levelled to skewed. maybe Keanu Reeves limping behind with a gun in his hand. the overall tone cold... channelling my action movie fantasy again huh.

the horror movie version would be a bunch of zombies chasing after us. I mentioned that. and how when we insult our friends we say, “it’s okay you’re safe from the zombies.” because you don’t have what they want—brain. it’s really just an elaborated way to say ‘you’re stupid’. of course, he didn’t get it. well, I don’t blame him. it’s like some kinda level 8 insult.

the York Street Station underground.

DUMBO was completely different at 1AM. dead. almost empty save for a grocery store. he treated me a bunch of grapes that I stupidly picked which cost a lot in exchange for the Uber ride earlier. I kinda forgot how much grapes cost ‘cause I’ve been snacking the ones from the park for free. “who would’ve expected a grocery store here late at night like this? New York City, it’s different, huh. no Walmart or Target,” he said. yeah, but all I could think of was Food Lion Food Lion Food Lion and what’s the equivalent of it in Salt Lake City where he used to live.

he wanted a photo with Manhattan bridge so I said okay, but gimme a sec I needa switch lens. he’s amazed—okay everyone’s always amazed—when I flipped my bag the other way to retrieve my gears. “so that’s why your bag is so big?” I get that all the time. also, I don’t understand girls who want nice photos but are unwilling to carry the gears themselves? jeez.

“are you going to be a photographer?” the joke is, anyone with a DSLR can open a Facebook Page and call themselves a photographer. the label is vague. as for me, the benchmark is to be hired as one. so I only shrugged and replied, “trying” when he asked if I wanna be one. fast forward a few months later, hey, Paul, I made it! I was hired as one. real job, real dough.

he’s worried how the photo would turn out in the drizzle. I assured him that it’s okay, plus, “I actually like it when the rain gives reflection.” it’s the truth. except that I shouldn’t’ve said that OUT LOUD because it’s a fucking curse. the next trip I had, it was raining cats and dogs on the first and second day. well thank you very much omnipotent being up there.

his response to this was, “you’re weird.” in a flash I was back at the big, brown, rectangular table in my old office again, Nat giving me a judgmental look, she said, “you’re weird, Rolling.” “well, everyone is weird,” I replied matter-of-factly. looking back to her computer, she said, “you’re right.” probably wanting me to think that she’s brushing me off, but I saw her smile and I knew that she agreed with wise, wise Ruo Ling. everyone is weird, it’s just that we wear it differently.

I strolled after my new friend to a park facing the Manhattan skyline, pushing away the idea that this is a lot like Before Sunrise away—two young travellers walking around the city in the midnight, talking for hours. okay, reality check: it’s not. well, for one, our conversation is way, way less philosophical than those two. I was more Jesse and him, Celine. also, there’s no train waiting for either of us to catch in the morning. instead, we’ll meet again soon. tomorrow. well, I mean 12 hours later.

as we wandered the area, we talked about the places we’ve been to. his list was considerably longer than mine, but he broke off halfway and said, “you know, it’s not the list of places that matter in the end. it’s the experience, like this one now.”

one day I was sorting my receipts (yes, I hoarded them :P), it struck me that you can’t dismiss the importance of dates, yes, but they only play a role in planning, documenting and staying on the same page with people you communicate with. but how you felt and what you did on a particular day, time will either polish it shiny or grind it into nothing. McMiserable, crying at Times Square, the chills after every sunset in San Francisco, lousy ramen in Chicago made slightly better with the presence of an old friend, feeling warm in my heart despite the cold shower from the American Falls, one Target run before our road trip began… they’re the ones that stood out among other memories that are thrown into the abyss of my memories, forgotten. these… these are what beats The List.

the area was run down, I thought. he gave me a face questioning my understanding of the word “run-down”. I insisted. this place could be livelier, you know, even during the day, considering the number of people who come her to #OOTD every day. but instead, a lot of the shop units are left abandoned as if time stood still in the 1980s.

I kinda wished that we’re in the 1920s or somewhere there. I’ve always loved that era. Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 captured if perfectly. suspenders and fedoras and pocket watches are still common. there’s an underground jazz bar that we could duck into. heck, there' would plenty of jazz bars that we could hop around. and even though I sucks at dancing, I could hang at the back, boozed all night with the trumpets and saxophones and double basses.

inside one of those red brick buildings stood some pianos, I think… my memories are a bit messed up. it was dark. I wasn’t tall enough. but anyway, the topic came up. I said, yes, I learnt the piano. there’s no “pre-music” period in my life. I learnt it as early as I learnt to speak. it’s the best damn thing in my life. I was surprised when he said he learnt the violin, “tennis and violin? those two don’t sound like they go hand in hand.” I completely forgot the whole ‘Asian genius’ thing, you know, be great in maths, be great in a sport, be great in playing a musical instrument, write a computer program at 15 and sell it, fly to the moon, win a Nobel Prize or some prestigious awards, etc. etc.

both our wishes granted, we hopped onto the train. we transited at a station I’ve never been to before and for the first time, the underground didn’t disgust me. rather, I thought this is something. he thought so too. it reminded me of a photo series of when the subway stations in, I don’t know, Ukraine or something, opened to the public for the first time. (couldn’t find it on Google, will add the link if I do). we got onto the train home and at this point I kinda hoped that just like the city, sleep wasn’t a thing for us.

we took a different route back and on our way, he randomly mentioned that his plan when he gets home is to learn tango. I said it’s good, it’s good. being close to thirty and still keen on learning new stuff is admirable. as the Chinese saying goes, “learn as you live.” the night drew to a close as we shared the aforementioned expensive grapes.


USA: New York City, 2018 | Part III

I sat at the bar in the kitchen the next morning. you know what? I could get used to this. waking up in New York City in comfy sheets to have Oreos, thinking where to spend the day. a man in his late twenties joined the seat next to mine. his rich breakfast made my Oreos look pathetic.

he’s struggling to open something and I thought of offering help. but before I could, he already managed it himself. and in turn, he offered me his breakfast. it’s Indian food and I hadn’t had any curry or dhal ever since setting foot in American soil. so, I indulged myself, even made sure that I get this sauce/paste that tasted sweet and spicy when I have the chance to visit India. for a moment, I was instantly transported back to home.

he’s here on a business trip. being the “baby” at home, his family had packed all this for him to make sure he didn’t starve in the Big Apple. I said I was gonna hit Central Park. he was, too. so we headed out together. it felt nice for a change, to have a travel companion for a day.

during the 20-minute subway ride, I got to know him better. let’s just call him Harith. he’s 7 years older than me. he’s been running some sort of e-marketing business for about 3 years and was looking on expanding. which is why he’s here.

we got out of the subway to the Upper East Side. (after some fun tossing the tiny yellow human figure onto Maps, I think it’s 68th Street.) I got out my phone but not sure which direction I was facing. my new companion looked at the phone and instantly knew which way to head. I remember when I first used Google Maps in Bangkok, we would walk 10, 20 meters only to realize we’re heading the opposite direction the map intended us to. this guy’s a wizard.

we walked past neat buildings. I wasn’t sure if they’re used as office or residence. the basement unit somehow intrigued me more than the street and upper units.

“huh, must be nice,” I thought. in my head, I wondered, beyond each window, how those lives look like each day, each season, each year? fulfilling? miserable? complicated? just as ordinary as mine? really? you live in one of the nicest places in New York City!

we walked the perimeter of the park to the entrance. there were quite a number of runners and some auxiliary policemen controlling traffic. Harith pointed it out. later, we saw that there’s a marathon going on.

we made it to the park entrance and there’s nothing but greenery in front of us, around us. if corner buildings hold my fascination, then Central Park is all the corner buildings in the world put together. after seeing photos of it thousands of time on Tumblr (and Humans of New York!), from this angle and that angle, I was finally here. some hard facts: it was created between 1857-1876 and covered 843 acres. crazy big, right?! it’s an oasis in this metropolis.

the marathon ended at a few pink and white canopies. I think it’s a run that’s run (hah punny) by an organization advocating for women. Harith was like a little kid spotting a fun fair. he couldn’t wait to check them out. now, who’s the older person here?

I don’t know. I’m thinking something in me is dead, you know. I don’t get excited that much anymore nowadays. other than a riddle or a maths problem, it really takes something colossal to tickle my brain cells.

after a few touristy photos for him and getting a free bandana—which at first I rejected ‘cause I hate having to bring an extra thing home but later glad that I took it ‘cause it kept my camera dry in such lousy weather—we moved on.

I know it’s kinda idiotic of me. knowing how big the entire park is, I never bothered to look at the map beforehand at all. so we just followed a path with a general direction towards the West Side, ending up at a gazebo next to a lake. I wondered if this is the lake that Holden was talking about. oh boy, he’s sorely mistaken. it’s the end of the summer, but there ain’t any duck to be seen. maybe his question wasn’t valid at all. because there’s no duck to begin with. or was this not that lake?

I remember watching a (prominent) politician said on TV that Kuala Lumpur will build its own Central Park some time ago. they’re planning it. I just scoffed. so you think you can have a Central Park in 5, 10 years? how much money are we going to pour into it? and how much of those will seep into who-knows-who’s pocket? how many people are to be evicted from their homes of decades so you could turn that land into a park? how are you going to maintain the park? we’re a hundred years behind than the world. why not put that money into the forest reserves that we already have? our national parks are badly managed and could use some money anyway.

there were some rocks jutting out into the lake and we decided to take a look at it. I’m more of a lone ranger, really, very… more. (solo trip here, hello? self-explanatory.) but I have to admit that, sometimes, two is really better than one. we had to walk a narrow strip at the edge of the jut-out land to get to the rocks that we saw. usually, when I’m alone, I would just give up and go home. never underestimate my drive to “go home” when it comes to “go big or go home”. seriously.

from where we stood before the rocks, we could see the NYC skyline. it’s just like in the movies I’m not kidding. the movies ain’t kidding. sitting atop the rock was a boy around my age, or he could be younger than me. I really didn’t want to interrupt him appreciating the view in front of him. but he noticed us and offered that place to us. we took turns taking touristy photos for each other. then, he left. I couldn’t help but wonder if he too, had McMiserable. I hoped that he’s handling it well.

now that we got the view to ourselves, I stood there taking it in slowly. the weather really sabotaged it though. otherwise, it’d be amazing. I imagined fall, when all the trees in the park turn to gold and yellow. surely, it’ll look brighter than this summer’s day.

my fascination with New York City—if I have any—comes from Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. yeah, that’s what all the duck deal was about. so naturally, visiting the Museum of Natural History was a must.

our experience there was mostly a haze of getting from one gallery to another. it was so, so dark and so crowded, probably because of dum dum (remember Night at the Museum?). I don’t think I actually digested any information I got there. I only vaguely remember watching a presentation about the universe being projected onto the ceiling and thinking, “okay, so this is the ‘in’ technology nowadays” ‘cause I’d seen something similar in another museum, except there ain’t any seats then and I was the only one smart and indifferent enough to sit on the floor. I think they’re fine with neck pains. I think it was from that preso that I finally understood the phrase “when you wish upon a star, you’re a few million light years late.” love me some Physics lessons from time to time.

our stomachs were growling so we checked out the restaurant. it gave me a feeling of a merge between IKEA restaurant and boarding school dining hall. unsatisfied, we left. the Museum of Natural History was nothing like it was in the book. then I realized that 50 or so years had passed and I wanted to tell Holden that even the museum changes. the birds? they’re in some other gallery now.

it’s Harith’s first day in New York City so I somehow found myself in Shake Shack again. I didn’t mind ‘cause then I could have a double check if the burger was really just “okay”. spoiler alert: it was.

the restaurant was jam-packed. I was finally that person who has a partner to work out the logistics with. I got seats and he got food. the paranoid part of me was afraid that my food’s spiked. but I think I thought I’m a slow eater so by the time I fall to the ground, the whole restaurant will be looking at me and be sensible enough to call 911. so yeah.

we talked about family first during the meal. there’re some commonalities between us. we’re the youngest, the “baby” of the family which is why we’re always the protected one no matter what age we’re in. I don’t mind all that pampering though.

we’re also the one that took a different path in the family. his brothers have stable and secure jobs whereas he took the leap of faith to start his own business. me? none of my family pursued a creative path.

then, the conversation changed to relationship. I didn’t have anything to say about that. his story was what I assume most relationships are like in reality. to put it short, she wanted to continue a life of wanderlust and his business just took off. none wanted to take a step back so it ended eventually.

I said I’m bad at compromising too. you may say that we don’t love the other person enough to sacrifice ourselves. yada, yada, yada. but me giving up my blood and sweat just so my partner could travel? or we both half-ass our own shit? are you fucking nuts? I don’t see the point of going through all those arguments anyway. and c’mon, I’m too lazy for that. I’d much rather spend that energy on something else, thank you.

we moved back up to street level and headed to Brooklyn Bridge. I initially saved it for sunset time, but with this weather… might as well. before we reached the beginning of the bridge, he had to stop to take a cig. just like me and everyone else who sits at the computer most of the day, his number of steps taken on an average day was about 300. yeah, we compared our Health on iPhone. walking 10,000 must be a torture for him. I’m thankful that standing 8 hours a day for 3 months beat leg up enough for this.

the drizzle got heavier as we got nearer to the arch. it explains the missing Brooklyn Bridge photos from this post. Harith’s paper bag was soaked and torn halfway there. it was… I can’t find the right English word, but in Mandarin—狼狈. (nope, it’s not ‘Wolverine’, Google Translate).

I looked down at the passing cars and tried looking for my friends’ scribble that they left a week ago among the graffiti. Harith pointed out One World Trade Center to me. I hadn’t noticed it the night before at Brooklyn Bridge Park. it’s amusing to me, that how your background and identity shaped the way you experience New York City, or anything else, really. I looked at lights, textures and structures. he’s interested in the Financial District. an architecture enthusiast may look at the cityscape and cursed at the few buildings that ruin the beauty. some adrenaline junkie friends went on an open-door helicopter ride above the city.

but either way, you wouldn’t wanna miss the historic Grand Central Terminal. that’s where we went after that. the thing with Grand Central Terminal is, if you look at these photos from the 50s, you can see lights pouring in—which is exactly why they’re so precious. you couldn’t get this scene anymore because of the tall buildings in Manhattan. according to Nat Geo, NYC won’t be getting any sunlight by 2020. sorry to bother you with trivias like this, I just love them. :P

coupled with the bleak weather outside, the inside was more sombre than it usually is. I watched the people come and go, come and go while Harith looked for the oyster place. we were denied entrance, so instead, we shopped at a souvenir shop.

we discussed where to go next. he wanted to go to The Rock, I didn’t want to with such lousy weather, because I wanted to watch the sunset from there. he didn’t want to accept my proposal to take the Staten Island Ferry. talk about compromising. in the end, we decided to head back so I could do my goddamn laundry and then we could go for an early dinner.

on the way back, we jumped onto the wrong train. when I realized that, we alighted at a station that’s elevated. it’s something new, considering that I was so sick of their filthy and stinky underground. it’s a view like this—New York City just the way you’d see on the silver screens instead of Instagram.

later in the evening when I knocked on his door—which was somehow left ajar—to return him his shopping bag, he was already snoring in slumberland.