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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.