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.

USA: New York City, 2018 | Part II

my Oreos and Milo served their purpose again and I set out to Times Squares and Broadway for the day. half-priced tickets, I’m coming for ya. to the unpleasant subway I went. hey, wait, this… is not the entrance from yesterday, right? turned out that unfortunately, I took the long way the day before. man, all the panting wasn’t worth it.

it was almost the end of rush hour by the time I headed out. there were still some white collars getting to work, some other folks who I wasn’t sure what they do on a day-to-day basis, and of course, some tourists.

I got out of one of the many, many subways in the Times Square area and head to the TKTS booth. when I finally saw the huge LED screens that I’ve seen so many times on TV, I thought, a little unflattering, “oh, so this is the Times Square?” to be honest, it was… okay. it wasn’t anything outstanding or impressive. to me, it’s just a tourist trap. I remember watching a TV show and the host remarked, “no locals will come to Times Square.” sure enough, no one he interviewed came from New York City.

I asked a girl in a suit who’s promoting Chicago where the TKTS booth is. it was right in front of my eye and I’d just walked past it to ask her for the directions. haha. and so I went to the counter, armed and ready to pay five hours of my wages in exchange of three hours of an extraordinary experience. turned out there weren’t any $50 tickets left, only starting from $80.

“that’s the cheapest ticket?” I knew the answer but still asked anyway.

“yes, ma’am. $80, that’s the cheapest,” the man at the counter replied unapologetically. after working in the service line, I understood him. he must’ve had all sorts of weird requests every day, just like the receptionist last night.

“alright. no, thank you, then,” there might not be any hesitation in my voice, but inside, I was torn.

I walked back to the stairs at the center and sat down, watched the screens without processing the contents while I contemplated my options. $30 extra or look for something else to do? I texted two different people at that time and I got two very different replies.

the first was my sister, “huh so expensive?” it’s really demotivating, Er Jie.

the second was from my friend, it’s pretty straightforward, “$30 now or another RM3000 in the future?”

somewhere between waiting for them to reply me, I felt really, really, really bad my eyes started to well up and then my tear rolled down. I’m not kidding I even have a photo of it it’s just I can’t post it because well, um, I kinda walked around the entire morning with a little bit of Oreo still stuck at the corner of my mouth. but anyway, yeah, me, crying in Times freaking Square. no one else will do that other than a kid separated from its guardians.

after making my decision, I went up to the line again, hoping that fate doesn’t bring me to the same counter again. while queueing, the lady behind me asked, “what are you watching?”

Phantom of the Opera.” entry level. “and you?”

I forgot what she watched. sorry, lady. we had a small talk about the shows. though I hate small talks, it struck me… “so that’s how easy you can start a conversation with a stranger?” my skills are definitely lacking in that socializing department.

I didn’t want to stroll too far from the theatre, afraid that I wouldn’t arrive early enough to beat the queue. so I walked around the area, depending on Yelp to lead me to some good food at a decent price. I ended up at a cheese sandwich place which was okay for its price.

remember that friend that I said was supposed to come with me? while eating, I couldn’t help thinking again… what could’ve been? we probably would’ve skipped DC. I don’t think Broadway show would’ve ended up on the itinerary. even if it did, I would be convinced to change plans, as always, especially when the 50$ tickets were sold out. and I would say yes, as always. would I be led to an even more exciting adventure? or would I beat myself up every day after that for missing Phantom of the Opera?

by the time I got back to the theatre, the queue lined along the outside of the theatre building. if you’ve read enough of my ramblings, by now you’d know that, yes, it made me anxious. again.

I got in alright. got a seat with no one to my right or left. it’s McMiserable again. who the hell watches a play alone? it was better than last night though, because since a few years back I started going to the movies alone often. also, that means I wouldn’t have to come up with any opinions just to talk to the people around me. however, by intermission, I was already regretful for having this thought. because I couldn’t wait to share this experience with someone else.

the show was… how do I put it? “amazing” would be an understatement. the set was magnificent, the acting spectacular and the music breathtaking. I remember having to make sure to breathe slowly so that the sound of my sinus nose and beating heart didn’t distract me. there’s also something about listening to music you’ve known for over a decade being played right in front of you. although the story bothered me for some reason, I’m thankful I didn’t take my sister’s advice. it’s really a once-a-lifetime experience, so please watch it if you have the chance.

though I’ve watched Birdman before this, I didn’t realize the movie was set here.

when the show ended, people were directed out of the building but a small crowd formed at the front of the stage. ah, I knew it’s the orchestra, but I’ve never seen one myself before. curiosity brought me to the group. it’s quite funny in a way, sort of like looking down at animals in a zoo.

the musicians finished the score and started packing up. then, this… strange thing happened. my eyes met a brass player’s. and we both gave each other a faint smile. it’s not the stupid smile from the adrenaline after a show nor was it an awkward one you do to a passing stranger.

it’s more like some sort of… “I know”. “I know you get this twice a day, whenever the show ends. could be quite annoying yeah?” “I know you’ve never seen something like this before. welcome to Broadway.” I’ve never encountered anything like that anymore throughout the trip. or in fact, even until now.

and it was until now, months later, while writing this, that I realize why it’s strange. it’s because I didn’t look away immediately as always, being the shy person I am. that’s all the more reason why it’s important to write these things down to reflect on experiences, instead of mindlessly consuming them and for what, right?

anyway, another funny thing is, I can’t remember how that guy looked like anymore, yet I remember how strange the whole thing was. ain’t it like that with people? you never remember how they look or what’s their name, but you remember how they make you feel.

it’s already 5PM when I got out. museums were closed by now and I didn’t want to hit The Rock until I’ve made sure I have time to do the things that the New York City Pass includes. I should’ve gone there though.

so I made my way to Flatiron, confident that it would be easy to spot this landmark once I reached the area. “it’s flat, Ruo Ling, it’s flat. that’s why it’s called Flatiron.” lo and behold, I got out of the nearest subway station to street level and I didn’t see any flat building. I searched my phone while I walked along a corridor with scaffolding, thinking I shouldn’t’ve missed it unless… unless I’m right underneath it.

I was right. at the end of the corridor, I saw tourists at the opposite of the street. the youngsters striking their basic Instagram poses while the elder ones did their usual family photo thing.

I lingered at the area just marvelling at this (flat) feat while searching a good spot to take a photo. but damn these traffic lights! corner buildings always hold my fascination and I have a lot of questions for this one. who would build a triangle building like this? this flat??? how does the inside look like? (answers, fellas)

for a while, I watched this couple that seemed ordinary at first. but later when they started doing these “influencers” poses and switching positions with each other and it went on for about five minutes, I started to roll my eyes. I wanted their help to take a photo for me initially, but you know what, forget it, let them live in their bubble, as most other millennials do.

I headed to DUMBO after that. after seeing so many photos of it, mom, I finally made it here!

unsurprisingly, it’s another spot that’s filled with these… I don’t know, influencers-wannabes, or are they already influencers? this spot was actually much worse than Flatiron, because they just stood right smack in the middle of the road, a four-junction crossroad at that. in terms of vehicular traffic, I would say it’s somewhere above moderate. there’s always someone who didn’t notice a car is coming. or someone who wouldn’t bulge immediately even after a honk. are you guys idiot or what? don’t bother answering. it’s a rhetoric question. you guys are idiots. if I were one of those drivers, I would’ve driven any of them to death just as they’ve driven me into road rage.

the sun was almost gone so I hung around a little longer. might as well see the night view. it’s not worth it. it’s so dark all you can see of Manhattan bridge is the outline. disheartened, I picked any one of the four streets and walked. never learnt my lesson, eh?

this was only possible thanks to RAW imaging.

I’m not sure what brought me to what should be Brooklyn Bridge Park. it’s drizzling and I didn’t want to stroll. so instead, I just walked towards the rail and took in the view right in front of me. ah, New York City. who doesn’t want to live here? there are more than enough movies, books, TV shows out there to make you dream of it. there’s the hidden bowling alley from the book Where She Went. there’s Gretta riding her bike across Manhattan in Begin Again. there’s Superman saving people in Queens. it’s unbelievable.

I took turns taking touristy photos with this family of four. the dad said he’s pretty good with photography, can even talk to me about the lights there. though it’s a point-and-shoot iPhone, the photo turned out… let’s just say he’s joking about all that camera stuffs he said earlier.

then, of course, it’s the usual, “what brought you here?” and “where are you from?”

he said something utterly true. “you’ve never been to the Twin Towers and you say you’re from Malaysia? and now you’re looking at Brooklyn Bridge in New York.”

I gave an embarrassing “yes”. I’ve been meaning to cross that bridge for a long time. ever since I read about how unique it is from my trip to Taipei 101... about five years ago. I told myself I’m gonna do it when I’m back home, but half a year had passed and I still… haven’t.

anyway, I didn’t want to stand in the rain anymore so I left. I think it was Shake Shack that led me to this park because I ended up knowing that I wanted to have Shake Shack. before I had arrived at the park, I passed two restaurants with long queues. it must be good, I don’t know. you let me know if you somehow end up in one of those restaurants someday. it’s Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (4.1 stars from 4192 Google Reviews. okay after a search through Google, it even has its own Wikipedia page.) and Juliana’s (4.6 Stars from 2651 Google Reviews. alright this has its own Wikipedia page too). I’m not gonna queue though. not alone. not in this cold.

it’s McMiserable all over again. although this time it’s not emotionally, more on the logistics part. how am I gonna order and make sure I have one seat in this crowded New-York-City famed restaurant? everyone seemed to have someone to chop seats for them. urgh.

I ended up at a table for 4 - 5 with a couple that’s about to leave. then, a family with a stroller joined the table. I thought, “why would people bring their kids and toddlers to travel? why? just why? it’s such a hassle.” then I remember that this may be their only time in a year that they could spend this much time together in a foreign place. alright, I approve.

I tried to look friendly, smile and soften my resting bitch face. but it’s undeniably getting more uncomfortable so I just focused on my burger and finished it as quickly as possible. speaking of burgers, I honestly found Shake Shack just alright.

and then, and then… I can’t remember what exactly happened after that. I only vaguely remember walking past a car park. I guess I got back, talked to my mom on the phone and settled down for the night.

HAH! so I managed to summon some memories from the previous night before I went to bed. I got back to my dorm and my lower bunk-mate was already in bed, like, his entire body was in the comforter except for his head.

seeing that he’s not asleep yet, we acknowledged each other and he proceeded to continue talking to me that way. it’s the usual “oh what have you done today?” turned out he’s French and he went to support his friend’s comedy. naturally, it’s awkward to be looking down at him this way so I excused myself.

I think I talked to my mom after that (mom, I’m sharing a room with three other guys!). I booked about ten accommodations for the entire trip so I wasn’t sure what I’d actually booked for each night. and no matter how my dorm mates rotated, they were always males. :\

while I was working away on my upper bunk, the four of us agreed to have the lights shut. but I forgot I’d left my contact lens solution in the locker. so I had to climb my way down, open it, feel my hands through my bags to find that damn solution, all while cursing myself for being loud. was I not embarrassed enough with my giant luggage? hmph.