Top

Travel

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.


USA: New York City, 2018 | Part I

when I changed my bus tickets, I already knew that I was gonna be late for free MoMA Friday. but life always gets in the way, so suck it up, girl. I opted for the one that would arrive in New York City faster with one transit.

the whole trip was about six hours. I couldn’t remember much except the transit because I pretty much slept all the way. sincerely feeling sorry for the lady sitting next to me. that’s when I learnt that I could wear my contact lens and close my eyes for such a long time! seventeen-hour flight back home, I’m ready. (yes, I broke my glasses a few months back.)

the transit station was a small one. there wasn’t any number anywhere. back in Washington DC, a lady in print pants who’s in line behind me had complained to me how Greyhound didn’t bother to send her an e-mail regarding the cancellation. I said, me too. I was afraid that I was gonna miss my connecting bus, so while journaling, I kept an eye on this print pants lady. a ball of anxiety swelling inside me. I don’t even know what exactly I was anxious about. Christ.

I arrived at a rush hour and gloomy New York City. now, I’m someone who has been to the shady bus station at Bangi, yet, I still found this station underneath Times Square just as scary. it was a busy one, but it gave me much more anxiety than the ones in Tokyo or Taipei.

okay, calm down, Ruo Ling. first, get your Metro Card. then get on the E line. you’ll be fine. after struggling through floors after floors, a dude tried to help me get my card. I said no, no thanks, no, I can do it myself and my eyes were on my wallet, my backpack, my luggage, my fanny pack and the ticketing screen all at once. it took me some time to find the ramp to the E train. I made a mental note on it for when I return a few days later.

guess who’s trained (hah, punny) to have a thick face when it comes to squeezing into the train at peak hours? embarrassed with my luggage, yes, but my thick face won. it wasn’t easy. the wheels of my luggage only decided to work perfectly well on the train. they kept sliding in all direction.

I arrived at Court Square Station. somehow, when thinking of arriving in NYC from another place, I always think of Lady Bird lugging her luggage out from the stairs of a subway to a random street. although truth be told, I look far less elegant from Saoirse Ronan. following my instinct, I dragged everything all the way to one end of the station. stairs. uh-oh. I was expecting this after watching a lot of Instagram Stories of my friends struggling with their luggage.

I couldn’t remember but if I’m not mistaken, someone helped me with it. as always, “ohhhh no, thanks, it’s heavy. it’s very heavy.”

okay. so where the hell am I? Google Maps told me to go straight all the way, cross to the right, go straight, cross an alley, go straight and make a left. easy, right? nope. I was panting all the way. I passed through this neat little hidden restaurant and couldn’t help but feel a little envious for the people inside. “at least you guys don’t need to drag so many pieces of luggage across New York City. you live in New York City.”

as I walked through the swing door to my dorm, I could hear a group of people outside remarking, “oh, I wouldn’t bring that much stuff to New York.” DID YOU THINK I WANTED TO? I would very much love to send this thing back to Malaysia if I could afford it. thank you.

the front desk guy asked if I had a pleasant trip to NYC. I looked at him, all sweaty, and said, “URRGHHH.” yes, I literally did that. when he told me that my room’s on the second floor, I was hoping he would help me with my luggage, this time it’s “oh PLEASE, thanks, it’s heavy. it’s very heavy.” but all he did was give me an “all the best” face. dude, really? but who was I to hate him though? he must’ve all sorts of crazy requests every day.

I walked past the common area, the kitchen, to the stairs. oh, God, no. I’m not ready for this. not after I just dragged them around for almost an hour. being in an all-girls-and-only-one-guy department in the water park, one thing I learnt in the USA was I never knew what I can do until I do it. I used to always look for the easy way out… by look I mean I literally look at my guy friends and beg them to help me carry stuff most of the time. this time, I gritted my teeth, rolled my sleeves and got them both up into my room. one more step, just one more step, and one more, and another, oh c’mon, one more, another, and… you made it! two trips. 30KGs. three flight of stairs. your girl Ruo Ling is a strong, independent woman. *smugs*

after checking out the rooftop view (what a view!) and settling down (someone in my room plays with film camera, there are at least two guys, I wonder what they’re up to, oh my god the shower is so narrow, I hope no one is fat here, mmmm the sheets are crisp and nice, wait do I wear my shoes in or do I leave it… here… or here, shit am I the only one with so much stuff), I really wanna just conk on my bed, but it was still early and it’s such a waste. after much contemplation, I decided to check out NYC at night. having back pain just after three days, I left my backpack and only brought a sling bag with me.

NYC Subway, ew. as I waited for the train, I read the notices that were everywhere in the train station, something about this train closing for road work at midnight and additional buses, blah blah blah. it caused me a lot of anxiety. I don’t wanna be stranded in such scary stations at midnight!

before heading out, I’d plan to catch the Japanese animation Perfect Blue at the Metrograph—an indie movie theater (and it’s quite famous). I’ve made it a point to watch at a repertory cinema in the US at least once. this was a good time since my plans were all messed up and the showtime fitted perfectly.

to the Metrograph I went. I took the subway, got down the subway, walked past a park, walked past some Chinese shops, walked past more Chinese shops, looked into the Chinese shops to see which one I can run into just in case anything happens because it’s starting to feel scary, made it into a darker street and I was almost there. I looked into the left street where Metrograph is located and saw a group of party animals loitering there. I was so near! but my instinct told me to turn back. without much hesitation, I listened and almost broke into a run. I kept walking and kept walking without stopping until I saw a McDonald’s and realised that I was hungry. well, I was never a person who made sure her stomach is filled well.

eating at McDonald’s in New York City. that’s like the worst thing you can do, right? this country, in a lot of ways, is like home. think the melting pot and the racism. and New York City? it’s all the more. there’re so many people in this metropolis, which means there’s a lot of good food just like home. and of these choices, I chose McDonald’s. =)

my first time ordering from a machine at McDonald’s was this time. back then, there’s only one in Malaysia. (but so glad to have it at most outlets now!) dealing with machines make me stressful. I usually buy my ticket or pay my parking at the counter, where there’s a human. (I’m a lot better with McDonald’s machines nowadays, no worries.) however, this time, as always, was s-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l. I couldn’t look for the number plates. I asked the lady beside me. she couldn’t help me too. so I decided to press for take-out instead. then I turned over to tell her my decision after the conversation stopped like two minutes ago. 🤦🏻‍♀️

spoiler alert: I got my McDonald’s fine and sat alone at the bar facing the street. now, eating alone wasn’t anything new to me. I did that half the time in Malaysia. but somehow, maybe it was because of the foreign place, or maybe it was my damn luggage (emotional baggage, perhaps?), this was different. the internet probably wants you to think that, “oh, look at this lucky girl, enjoying her solo trip!.” but truth be told, most of the time when I ate alone during my travels, it was, “oh, look at this poor girl, with no one together.” that was my first of many times feeling lonely during the entire trip.

I didn’t want to head back just after a McMiserable. so I decided to check DUMBO out. York Station was worse than Court Square. but the tunnel has this feel that somehow attracted me. those white tiles, dirty floors. mmm. *slurps* (more York Station love in the coming posts)

I got out of the station to a mostly empty place, save for an underground restaurant. there were two touristy looking women who got down from the same train and they seemed just as lost as me. I wondered if I should ask them if I could tag along if they’re heading to the same destination. but then, if the situation was reversed, I would be scared af when someone approached me like that, at night, in an empty neighbourhood like this. so I let it slide, plus they went this way that I think… is… not… DUMBO?

anyway, I just picked any one side of the street that I thought will lead to DUMBO at this cross street. pure guesswork. guess what? it didn’t lead me to DUMBO at all. it did, however, lead me to one end of the Manhattan bridge. so I thought, fuck it, I’m here, what am I gonna do? go back to the train station? might as well walk the bridge and take a look at NYC at night, right?

this… unfortunately… was taken on another day.

this… unfortunately… was taken on another day.

it was a dumb + crazy decision. the kind that would make a story of a lifetime. so, what’s the story you ask? the story was I walked the entire bridge, the whole 2KMs of it, alone, at night. it was SCARY AS FUCK. as I later told my friend, “it was scary when I was alone on the bridge and there wasn’t anyone. it was even scarier when there’s another person on the bridge. ‘cause I don’t know if they’re gonna rob me or what.”

why did I finish it if I’d known it was scary from the beginning? it’s just the same as how you keep giving in to someone. you keep giving in, keep giving in until there’s no point of return.

I got on the bridge, walked a bit, saw nothing. maybe if I walk a little more there will be something? once I see something I’m just gonna head back where I entered. I saw some buildings. not impressed, I walked more. hmm, I don’t think I can see the entrance now. then, I saw the East River. I turned back. I think I’m nearer to the other end than to this end now (fact check: I WAS NOT), might as well keep walking. then I saw the Brooklyn Bridge and felt envious for whoever who owned this beautiful, chill balcony with this view that I’m seeing. now that I can see the Brooklyn Bridge, I’m somewhere in the middle of Manhattan Bridge… right? (fact check: NO) so I kept walking, thinking that it wouldn’t take me long to reach the other end. at one point it got so frightening I wanted to FaceTime my friend just so we could “walk” together just in case anything happened to me. the scariest part was the end of the bridge but I was so glad I was over it.

so after walking the Manhattan Bridge, what’s my thought on it? every once in a while, there’s the strong tremble on the bridge from the passing trains. there’s an old couple walking a few hundred meters ahead of me. I tried not to lose them, but at the same time kept a distance to not creep them out. occasionally there would be bikers and joggers, and group of friends chatting and laughing. how do I put it? it’s a terrifying and lonely walk if you do it alone, but contrastingly, it’s a charming, romantic walk if you do it with your lover, and it’s a fun walk if you do it with friends. bring your camera along. someone tore down some parts of the fence so you could take pictures of the entire Brooklyn Bridge.

I got out and into a part of Chinatown (only guessed but didn’t know it was Chinatown for sure until March 6, 2019, as I’m writing this and did some fact check). at that point, I was so frightened that I didn’t register my surrounding much anymore. all I’d wanted to do was to find a subway station and get the hell home. I walked past fruit stalls, I walked past clubs, I walked past Rich Kids of Instagram getting out of chauffeured cars, I wondered if any of them has a spam account that followed me on Instagram, I wondered if their parents are stinky rich or they’re in fact struggling at a food stall and I couldn’t help but felt a little sad for the parents.

I got back fine. I couldn’t remember much from the trip but decided to not stay out that late anymore as I settle into slumberland.


USA: Washington DC, 2018 | Part II

wonder what’s in my giant suitcases? it’s embarrassingly stuffed with Oreos and some 3-in-1 Milo. breakfast was made with the attempt of reducing them. c’mon, they’re serving their purpose!

I set out my journey by taking the free tram (never took one before in my life). I didn’t know I was at the last stop until everyone alighted. it’s supposed to stop at Union Station, no? confused, I broke away from the crowd and took a detour unexpectedly.

back when we had the trip to Washington, my friend posted a photo of a corridor that caught my attention. he couldn’t remember where it is (“one of those buildings”). turned out that it’s just outside of Union Station. I didn’t notice it the night before because I was busy weighing my choices + getting distracted by the lit dome, hoping for some action sequence, maybe a helicopter chop, chop, chopping above and Nicholas Cage descending from a rope stair.

anyway, while I was mesmerised with the beauty, I had my first stranger interaction. seeing that I was busy with my camera, a working class man offered to take a picture for me. I know, what are the chances of someone running away with your big, bulky DSLR? but there’s this funny ad that I once saw, (sadly, I can’t find it anymore), where a photographer offers to take photos for strangers and then run away with their camera to capture the strangers’ reaction. plus in my head, there’re ten thousand ways to rob a camera, (though most of them aren’t viable). anyway, spoiler ahead: the photos he took of me were okay.

first stop was, of course, Capitol Building. the last time we’re here, we didn’t make it down to the visitor center. this time I did. that is, after spending a good fifteen minutes or so under the sun, trying to get a good photo of the dome.

upon entrance, people were being rejected to enter from the security gate because of the water they carry. not wanting to embarrass myself, I dumped my water to the grass. usually I’d be worried, but in big cities, everywhere you go, there’re always water fountains and clean bathroom, and that’s what I love in America. I know Malaysia is still a developing country, but hopefully one day we’ll come to this point.

it was such a shame that I didn’t know that I could watch the congress in session. if I did, I would’ve planned it in advance. channeling my #NerdyRuo. otherwise, there’s the exhibition hall that you can visit.

anyway, after some time in the dark hall reading about the dome (pretty impressive), it’s time for the next stop—The Library of Congress. it’s another photo that’s posted by my friend which caught my eye. the details of the interior are just… *inserts Owen Wilson’s WOW* just look at it for yourself.

my favourite thing (so hard to choose!) in this library should be all the famous, remarkable quotes on the ceiling. the one that first caught my attention was this—"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

then, I made my way to the National Air and Space Museum. again, there’s a security check. I was puzzled with the tight security at first. then, I realized, “oh, this is DC, the capital. c’mon.” most places have bag scan, or at the least, a hand search. now looking back, you know what, America, forget about fences or teachers learning how to shoot, maybe you should just put these machines at school entrances. get some control on your gun control yo.

anyway, I knew this museum because of… *drumrolls* yes you got it, my friend’s Instagram post, again. XD jeez, do I have any of my own ideas? apparently Night At The Museum was filmed here?

but before I was at the museum, my stomach was already growling. a guest at the water park who’s from DC told me that there’s a restaurant offering good Malaysian food in DC. alas, I couldn’t find it, so in my indecisiveness, I resorted to eating at the museum in the end. pretty sure if I were travelling with pals there would be sounds of complaints but I really don’t mind much when it comes to food. I sat at a spot with sunlight and enjoyed my lunch.

you wouldn’t imagine how much time I had spent at the museum. almost three hours of reading stuffs and playing around with the interactive exhibits, which I love a lot. the How Things Fly part of the museum made me miss Physics class. and c’mon lah, there’s no broken stuff whatsoever unlike here.

it’s partly also because of my indecisiveness (again). I’d wanted to visit Newseum (journalism fans out there, anyone?) initially but my itinerary was running an hour late. so might as well just hang in this museum, right? so I bade goodbye to the museum. I mean… it’s been three hours, hello? at last I skipped Newseum to go straight to the National Gallery of Art.

I didn’t have any good photo of the National Gallery of Art, but some interesting things happen while I was there.

there was, of course, the bag check again (ugh). that’s not the interesting part. somehow, I made a swift turn into the visitor centre to grab a brochure because I thought I didn’t wanna waste my time finding my way in this big, art maze. the friendly elderly man at the desk asked me if I needed any help and realised that my huge backpack was somehow allowed in, so he advised me to sling it to a side so it wouldn’t be noticed. hey, thanks man!

the brochure that grabbed my attention was the one with Van Gogh’s face on it. surprise, surprise. I didn’t know they have Van Gogh’s work here…

finally at the gallery exhibiting his work, I plopped down on a sofa and just… look at the paintings. after so many Madonna and Child (I swear, they’re the art world equivalent of pop songs) and other works that do with religion, it’s pretty good to see something different.\\

there’s this guy taking photos really, really up close to the painting with his phone, as though he’s looking for some secret Van Gogh code in it. the Vincent Van Gogh code, Professor Langdon?

“Excuse me,” a voice next to me said, “may I know what picture you’re taking?”

“Oh, just… a picture of a picture.” I replied rather awkwardly.

the middle-aged man continued, “are you Van Gogh fan?”

now, here’s a man, sitting on this sofa long before me, just looking at the paintings, and at the people looking at the paintings. so I said, honestly, “not really.”

I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan, no, didn’t know much about him. only heard bits and pieces about him from my good friend Tumblr. I love Starry Starry Night for the fact that many of us see the night sky the same way (thanks to the ever growing timelapse video on the net) but this guy saw it so differently and beautifully.

he laughed. he said that’s fine. in fact that’s actually good, because I can really tell which painting I like. I told him, of all the paintings currently hanging on the wall, I like his self-portrait best. I like the blue in the background. it’s very moody.

“What about Roses?” he asked.

I thought that’s not quite like Van Gogh. to be frank, if it weren’t for the brochure / leaflet / whatever you call it, I wouldn’t’ve known that that’s his painting.

another lady joined in the conversation and said, “that’s because he was trying to make money!”

we chuckled. God, nothing beats people who share the same humour. it made me fell instantly in love with galleries.

I pointed to the painting next to Roses—Farmhouse in Provence and said I actually like that one more than Roses. it felt more Van Gogh to me. he then explained to me what he thought is so good about that painting. the man in the painting was Van Gogh’s best friend. the postman, I assume? (see, I told you I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan) he asked if I know how Van Gogh died.

unsure, I said, “uh… he… cut his ear?”

this got him. losing an ear led Van Gogh to his death, yeah, really, Ruo Ling, just what the hell were you thinking? I was ignorant so he proceeded to tell me that he shot himself on that very field in that painting. and that’s the story.

silence followed as we continued contemplating the art pieces. a moment later, he said, “you know the thing about Van Gogh? No one buys his painting, yet, he still draws, for fifteen years. Why do you think so?”

I continued staring at the paintings because I thought the question was rhetorical at first. realizing that he was waiting for an answer, I said, gingerly, “he is… crazy?”

he laughed again this time. I like how my new friend laughed. taking his time to appreciate all this silliness and to only reply when he’s ready. I laughed too and to my defence, I said, “I mean… he cut his ear!”

he replied, “well, I was gonna say perseverance… but he is crazy too.” and we both laughed again.

ain’t it weird that one can share a similar sense of humour with another person who’s double her age? in fact, I find that I’m always more chatty with middle-aged people when working at the water park. maybe it’s seeing too much of life and accepting all the foolishness that it is, thus, sharing the same sick humour.

it was a few months later when I had the chance to watch Loving Vincent in the cinema that I knew what he’s trying to say about Van Gogh’s passion and determination.

we parted ways after some general topics, agreeing that I should stop taking picture of a picture, because they’re so… Googleable. you know, when Google Image Search is full of the similar photos… and that I should take it the Vincent-Van-Gogh-code way since it could be my one and only time to be this up close with these paintings. we also noted that life's pretty odd in that in a few days, he’ll be closer to my home (he’s based in Vietnam) while I’ll be closer to his home, and I’ll be travelling the path that he’s travelled in the past few weeks.

I’d thought of walking to Lincoln Memorial but then I saw a few people standing in line at a bus stop. so I took a $1 and got on the bus but the driver said, “nah, just get on.” I insisted on paying but then he said something like, “it’s passed the time” or something like that. shit, did I do something wrong again? T~T

I really, really didn’t want someone to run off with my camera or my phone, yeah? so I tagged along this kind-looking person who’s sitting in front of me in the bus so I could ask her to help me take a photo. but then the vibe wasn’t right. then, I noticed this family speaking Malaysian Bahasa Melayu. trying my best to you know, jadi kawan, I went ahead and asked, in BM (HAHAHA oh God now thinking back I really wanna laugh at my desperation) if the daughter could help me take a photo. gotta send it to my mom so she knows I’m safe.

since I took the bus, I’m now running early. so I just sat at the stairs facing the Monument, swiping my phone while getting used to being alone. it suddenly hit me that, OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO PRINT MY BUS TICKETS. distressed, I texted Aaron (as if he could magically bring me my tickets), figuring how to overcome yet another hurdle in this trip while overlooking the city, thinking, “where the hell do I look for a printer?!?!”

I couldn’t remember what made me felt assured that things would go smoothly. somehow, I just went on with my day without giving any damn about those tickets.

I walked the tree-lined path (not pictured) to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Memorial, all while appreciating the good weather, although I was sweating a lot, and the fact that I was at a very walkable city. throughout the day, I could see that some people had already reset themselves and gone back to their daily routine for the rest of the year, while some were still trying to catch the tail of summer with their kids. it was nice.

I figured that there would be many tourists at the Lincoln Memorial catching the sunset. so, I’d planned to do it at Lake Basin. it’s actually the highlight of my plan, haha, ‘cause I was excited to get a photo of the Washington Monument in the evening sun that’s different from the usual angle from Lincoln Memorial.

granted, there’s no one there except mosquitoes swarming around at dusk. growing up in Malaysia, I thought it wouldn’t be such a big deal. I was wrong. holy crap, the mozz fest was HORRIBLE.

I shot a timelapse while non-stop swatting the mosquitoes away till sundown and walked back to Lincoln Memorial to catch the monument at night. remember I said that I’m glad that drink fountains and bathrooms can be easily found? guess what, the water that came out from this fountain was yellowish. I was doomed. I can’t go without plain water for more than half an hour.

when I was finally back to Lincoln Memorial and prepared to take a photo, my camera died, like died DIED. not even the pull-battery-out-and-stick-it-in-again trick would work. I had the crazy idea of borrowing from some Nikon user, but then borrowing a battery just to shoot a photo? I fit perfectly well into the “Japanese tourist” stereotype. 😐

I was pretty upset. I mean, I came all the way to DC to catch the lit dome at night (cues action sequence fantasy again) and there wasn’t a point to see it without my camera (maybe I am truly a “Japanese tourist” at heart). you can tell it’s a hard decision. in the end, I reluctantly called an UberShare (one of the best inventions, seriously) and got back to my dorm.

my new friend had told me that DC serves great coffee. unfortunately, this girl doesn’t do coffee. I was hoping that maybe I could still visit a cafe for a quick breakfast, but it turned out that I woke up earlier than these businesses did. in the end, I cashed out and bought some okay-only-lah food from the grocery store. the ATM that’s built into a hole in the wall was fascinating to me. (channeling my #GeekRuo). I don’t think this type of thing exist in Malaysia, does it? we don’t have good sidewalks to begin with. they’re usually terribly made, ill-maintained, vandalised and badly designed. I mean, sometimes the sidewalk just narrows and then… disappears completely and you find yourself walking dangerously next to the open road. ah, also, there’re snatch thieves.

anyway, when I got my stuff in order, it’s time to leave. just when I made sure I had everything with me—my backpack, my big luggage, my small luggage, my money, my passport—and reached for the front door, I felt something wrong with my feet. MY SHOES! they’re still on the first floor. I bolted upstairs to get them and made an embarrassed smile to the cleaner. I should nickname myself “embarrassment”, really.

being the person who always have to make-make sure (you know, make sure again and again), upon arriving at Union Station, I asked the Uber driver, “is this where the bus station is?”

to my horror, he said he thought it’s somewhere else. this is the train station. what now, do I still wanna stop here?

I said, yeah. it’s not like I could make it to my bus on time if the bus station was really somewhere else, right? might as well take a look here and make sure this is the bus station. I might look calm on the outside but it’s really a panic-stricken moment, I tell you. I was worried that I was running late, what with my bus tickets and you tell me THIS IS NOT THE BUS STATION?!??!

rest assured, things didn’t get better after that. I frantically looked for an elevator. but that’s not the only thing that I couldn’t find, I couldn’t find THE WORD too.

in screenplay format, it went like this

INFORMATION COUNTER, TRAIN STATION - MORNING

 

RUO LING
(calm outlook but nervous on the inside)
Hi. May I know where’s the li-

(realises that the Americans don’t use the word “lift” and it means Lyft the e-hailing service not the big box that goes up and down)

um the

(a beat)

(another beat)

(another beat)

elevator.

 

I didn’t know where the lady pointed me to. anyway, I made it into a service elevator. and it was scary.

when I finally got to the upper floor, it turned out that bus station’s another floor upstairs. I knew I was definitely going to be late if I went to look for another elevator (the service elevator couldn’t take me to the rooftop) so I told myself fuck it, just use the escalator. guess what? IT FITTED. my damn luggage fitted on the step. just nice, just right. as if escalators were made so that a big luggage could fit, or the other way round. a matchmake on Earth.

alright so things were turning brighter right? NO. life always gets in the way. I went straight to the bus line, waved my phone to the conductor, asked him if I could board with just a confirmation e-mail. he said, “oh no, your bus is cancelled. please go into the office to sort it out.”

right… thanks, man. it was a good thing amidst the bad, really. ‘cause they’re gonna have to print the ticket for me. so ticket problem: solved. bus problem: uhhhh let’s see. spoiler alert: I arrived at New York City that day, safe and sound.

where the bus station is situated and the direction we’re heading, I couldn’t get a decent view of DC when I left. I remember back when my first time visiting DC, while searching for places to visit, I found this place uninteresting. yet, my heart was heavy when I left for the second time because I wasn’t able to take one last good look at this city that captured my heart so easily with its second chance.


USA: Washington DC, 2018 | Part I

I never thought that writing this would take such a long time… probably because it’s the first post for the trip and I’m trying to make it good. I’m sorry that it’s gonna be a long word post without any photos, because I never used my DSLR the entire day. anyway, you can follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Bloglovin’ to get the latest update from the blog or if you wanna read through my USA story: click here to teleport.


after passing by the set of swing doors through the train station countless times, I finally walked through them. despite a few waiting passengers, it was peaceful and quiet like in Spirited Away and everyone seemed to be minding their own business. I made my way to the table with lotsa brochures to see some bag tags, good, I never thought of having one. I noticed that my two trolley bags made a lot of noise against the small, red tiles.

according to Amtrak’s terms, I was supposed to check my baggage forty-five minutes before my departure but there was no one behind the train counter. shit, was I late?

calm down, I told myself and began to weigh my luggage. It’s an extra step, really. it’s not like the weighing scale here would miraculously make it 0.2 pounds lighter. Ash and I had actually weigh them multiple times in my room and I knew they were slightly overweight because we argued what to eliminate when I was packing. I even took my toiletries out to weigh them again and made sure they’re more than 0.2 pounds so if shit happens, that had to go.

so I grr, grr, grr, grr, grr, grr-ed my way to the other end of the station to the bus counter—mama said never to leave your belongings unsupervised. worriedly, I asked the receptionist if there’s something I should be doing, and she told me to wait for the train guy to come back. so, I grr, grr, grr, grr, grr-ed my way back to this end of the station and saw the sign that said the train guy would be back fifteen minutes before departure. good obversation, Ruo Ling, good observation.

having nothing to do but only to wait, I opened my notebook and penned down my memories, occasionally staring into space to teleport myself to the there and then that I was trying to recall, my tear-streaked face clearly noticeable by the other passengers.

when the train guy was back, I let him know I wanted to check-in my luggage so he asked, “have you weighed them?”

“Yes.”

“How much does it weigh?”

“23.2 lbs.”

“You’ll need to take that 0.2 lbs out. Then go out to the platform and wait for me.”

so, once again embarrassing myself by making lots of noise, I began Operation Tetris and re-organized my stuff. the thing was, my big suitcase had all the space, but it’s overweight. on the other hand, my small suitcase and my backpack were packed to the brim. I desperately took my phone out and read the terms again, “passengers are allowed two carry-ons.”

smart, Ruo Ling, smart. the packing time was shortened down to one minute as I took said toiletries out and chucked them into my extra tote bag.

later when I told this story to friends, Zoe said, “see, don’t see this girl macam so smart, in fact, sometimes she is naive.” I know right. I could’ve told the train guy that it is 23 lbs. but, hear me out. I lied to an acquaintance once a few years back… ok, it wasn’t even a lie to most people! I said I was at the restaurant we’re supposed to meet when in fact I was 20 meters away walking towards it and I got busted. 20 meters. from that day onwards, I told myself I’m never gonna lie anymore.

when the train arrived, I didn’t know which door I should get on. “Logically speaking, the carriages near where I’m standing should be first-class, right? My ticket is the cheapest one, so maybe I should go to the end?” With only three minutes for passengers to board, the conductor told me to get on the train when I showed him the tickets. This weak heart of mine can’t take that bothered face he gave me. I don’t remember the last time I took a train to another city being such a stressful task I actually wanna cry???

road trips aside, the mode of transport that got me the most excited was taking the train. I mean, c’mon, dining car! that aside, silly of me, I know, I have this romanticized idea that maybe, just maybe, I would bump into my Jesse like Celine did on that train from Budapest in Before Sunrise. haha. no, but seriously, Malaysia’s trains are either brightly lit or creepily dim, there’s no in between.

now, you may have wondered, why is this post all just words? I love the countryside view outside my window, especially that they’re washed in the golden evening light. though funnily, I hadn’t thought of capturing it with my DSLR. the scenic views all live in my iPhone.

anyway, when I’m not taking in the view, me being me, I tried to do ten thousand different things but ended up getting nothing done during the entire train ride. I tried to read, I tried to write, I tried to organize my photos, I tried to eat Cheetos. it’s something that I took on since young. I remember having to bring my notebook, my novel, and my sudoku book all at once while waiting for my ENT appointment. you know, just in case.

at one of the stations, an Asian-American family boarded the train—three young adult sisters and a mom. they’re noisy, though not to a point that irritated me. I tried to listen what they’re being so noisy about, turned out they’re just bickering like my sisters and I usually do at home. “Mom, you should sit here.” “Mom, where did you put the candies?” “Sis, why?” “Sis, please.”

once, I chatted with a man at the water park where I worked. seeing that I’m from halfway across the globe, he asked, “don’t you miss your family?” I said, “sometimes, especially when I see families in the park, you know?”

I can almost picture my sisters and my mom in this train. “Mom, take this shawl, you’ll get cold.” “Er Jie, where did you put the power bank?” “Da Jie please, take the aisle seat, you pee a lot.” “No, I don’t.”

being the paranoid that I am, I checked my GPS often to make sure I was on the right track—a trick I learnt from two foreigners on the bus to Tioman. at one point when I checked, the train was travelling on water. I thought I was the only one who noticed this, until I heard the Asian sisters laughing at it, “mom, look, we’re actually travelling on water!”

I waited at the designated area of the train station for my luggage, all the while holding tight to my claim receipt, making sure that I don’t lose it. jeez, why is travelling alone so much hassle? I have to remember where I put everything, Er Jie is not here. realizing that I was the only one who checked-in my luggage, I already felt embarrassed… but soon I would get used to that embarrassment for my entire trip.

as I made my way out of the station, I stopped and marveled at the grandeur of the architecture. train stations at home damn sure won’t be this impressive. I mean, C’MON. at the same time I was thinking, you know what, that’s the kinda perk of travelling alone. pretty sure no one would stop to just take in the hall for a moment when travelling in a group. it was too much trouble to take my camera out, so I settled with just taking a few photos of it with my phone.

well, well, well. here came the problem. my Uber promo code didn’t work. I know, it’s not such a big deal. but then I didn’t wanna break my budget on my first day. so, bus or e-hail? can my luggage even fit onto the bus? God, what should I do now? UGH. maybe I should… walk? no? spoiler alert: I called an Uber in the end.

the driver was a nice middle-aged guy. mama said, “when you’re out there, (for chrissake) make conversation.” I’m no conversationalist. I remember my first time being in a car alone with only a strange driver in a foreign place, I tried asking him about the weather. and that was that. boring. no new information. dry. so, this time I tried asking what’s his favourite food to get an idea of the place. then, I asked him ‘bout DC and how long he’s been here, things like that. slightly better than my first time, at least I know he’s been in DC for thirty or so years. way to go, Ruo Ling!

the entrance to my dorm didn’t look like a… dorm. it’s a small door wedged among coffee shops and hair salons which were closed by then. the driver helped to carry my luggage onto the sidewalk and went back to the car but didn’t leave until he made sure I was okay after I was done struggling and shoving my giants into the dorm while holding the door with one hand. the gesture was small—a pair of worried eyes, but I find it sweet in this lonely, lonely journey. (oh c’mon it’s only Day 1) *heart melts anyway*

inside the dorm, I was greeted by a steep flight of stairs. After getting my check-in done, the receptionist offered to carry my hugeass luggage for me. (YAS!) it was my first time staying at a dorm and I tried to not be as awkward (as I already am .____.) when I was done settling myself down, I wrapped up the day as I lay on the upper bank in the dark room, noticing that the room was slightly warm because there’s only a ceiling fan, no A/C, which I didn’t mind really. despite the conditions that I wasn’t used to, I fell asleep easily in the heat from the tail of the summer.

I’m sorry there isn’t any photo that I can show you from the day so I’ll make it up with this photo from the next day.

till the next post, which is coming very soon… by soon I mean in a few days. cheers.