In this journal:
- Mao Zedong with make up;
- traditional streetside robbery and murder;
- a model of New York down to every house.
I took the metro from JFK airport and stayed at a rather non-standard area: Flushing. Fun fact: this place comes from the English name of Vlissingen, because New York was originally a Dutch colony named New Amsterdam. However, the only thing Dutch about this place now is the name, as everything in this neighborhood has been taken over by my fellow Chinese. I have been to New York a few times, but I always wanted to see the suburbs outside Manhattan, so this time I chose to live in Queens, and be an actual New Yorker for once. Most folks commute into the island daily, as only the spoiled and tourists live in downtown Manhattan.
I settled down into my Airbnb, and napped a solid 14 hours due to jet lag, exhaustion and the sheer amount of food I had while on board Alitalia. And then, I decided to explore the neighborhood by taking a walk around.
For some reason, we, Chinese, as a group, love to bundle up together and not socialize with outside groups. Maybe it is because we have such a rich culture with millenia of history, it is significantly harder to blend in. Or, maybe it is because there are simply way too many of us so that we do not have to blend in, as there is always enough Chinese to satisfy our social needs and to fulfil every role in a mini-circle of society. Regardless, I was extremely content that I was able to have some authentic and cheap Chinese food after almost a month since my departure from Hong Kong, and with my Chinese stomach quelled, I could finally see the truth of Flushing: it is China, no doubt about it.
At the western edge of the real Chinatown of New York, not the downtown fake one, you can find the gigantic Corona Park. This was the location of the New York World Fair in 1939 and 1964, with the themes of “future”. Thus, it is not hard to guess that a lot of experimental buildings were erected here on this former garbage dump, yet sadly most of them were dismantled once the fair concluded. However, a handful still remain, and the Unisphere is one of them. This 12-story high steel globe is the largest globe representation in the world, and the three loops surrounding Earth are the journeys of the three important space achievements at the time: Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the planet, and Telstar, the first active communications satellite. Ahhhh, people and their hope during the 20th century, so cute!
And in the Queens Museum next to the sphere, a gigantic exhibition of the city of New York had been in place for decades. This is an accurate model of all 5 boroughs of the city presented in a hall as large as a warehouse. If you are sharp-eyed enough, you may have questioned that the model is a little bit different than the city today, and you will be correct. This is actually accurate down to every single house, as of 1992. So you can still see the twin towers standing and many other now-famous features of the Big Apple missing.
For some nourishment, I went downtown with my local New Yorker friend Sally, who you may see in our Iceland 2013 trip, to the famous Second Avenue Deli. Despite its name, this undisputed champion of kosher food heaven is located on East 33rd street, quite some distance from its namesake road. This is because the original owner, a surviver of Holocaust, was murdered in a streetside robbery in 1996 per typical New York fashion. Sadly the perpetrator is still at large, and it is very depressing to see folks who could live through Nazi racial genocide could not manage to survive Yankee street burglary.
And I accidentally walked by Times Square while I was wandering around downtown. This is the quintessential definition of capitalism in physical form, and there should be no explanation needed for this iconic location. Tons of tourists from all around the world surrounded me, and I could hear at least 10 different languages being fired off at the same time. The world truly comes together in this small place, as a tiny representation of New York, and America, in general.
I continued walking south, passing Soho, lower Manhattan, Wall Street, and eventually reached Battery Park. That was when I realized that of the three times I have been in New York before, I had never ridden the Staten Island ferry! The ferry terminal is right at the southern tip of Manhattan, so why not hop onto the free public transportation for a little sightseeing at the border between New York and New Jersey?
The ferry ride takes approximately half an hour each way, and provides a relatively close run by of the Liberty Island, where Statue of Liberty stands. This is as close as you can get to the international icon without paying a hefty entrance fee. It is really funny that the gateway to USA is supposedly a symbol of New York, but the island is literally surrounded by New Jersey waters. The ferry also gives one an unmistakable view of the skyline of New York, complete with the Upper Bay view that is worth dying for.
Then, my other local friend, Angela, took me under her wing as she evacuated her place in New Jersey for me to stay. She also took me around some places that only locals would spend the precious sunny times of the city in. First up is High Line park, a 2-mile long elevated park converted from an old railway track that used to transport packaged meats from the factory district. Nowadays, this long snaking platform is a crowd favorite for a walk, as the park crosses different districts from a vantage points and connects some key parts of the western part of Manhattan. This park also served as the first urban elevated redevelopment project that eventually proved to many other cities that parks like this can become a cultural gathering place and serve as a great benefit to the citizens.
We also took a dive into Museum of Modern Art, probably the most important location of modern art in the entire world. This is not like any other museum that simply presents old items and showcase history. MoMa actively shapes the scene of modern art by participating in evaluating and adjudicating art pieces that are created right now. And during our visit, the entirety of the museum was converted into a special exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol, the icon of pop art.
The idea of pop art originated around 1950s. It is just a form of counter-movement against the pretentious art world that demanded balance and elegance, completely detached from the common folks. The idea started by portraying common objects, such as daily items and comic book panels, in an art format, in order to combat the Monet and Picasso. However, Andy Warhol tried to side step all those conroversies, as he simply created those arts as a form of expression. Eventually, and maybe ironically, his works were turned into the most important and most valuable pieces of modern art, even though he wanted to be away from these exact practices.
But focusing on just the art form and away from its controversies, pop art is probably a crowd favorite for modern art. Its use of daily mundane products, usually from popular advertisements or productions, can always evoke a sense of pre-consumerism nostalgia in a lot of people’s minds. Just the fact that everyone can recognize the art piece, be it a colorful rendition of Mao Zedong or a slightly duplicated soup can, is in some form, superior than a bunch of people confused about why Mona Lisa is so famous in the first place, or what that piece of classical art did to contrast the light and the dark. I like the fact that you do not have to look up the piece in order to understand what it is about, and that is why I like to call pop art capitalistic impressionism.
However, at the end, I was just tired of everything. This trip had taken so much out of me as my parents required a significant chunk of my mind to attend to, and mentally I was exhausted. As a result, I used a few of my days here in New York to just relax and unwind my head. I mostly wandered around Angela’s block, looking for some nice little stores on the Jersey shores. It is okay, as this is time for me to recharge my batteries, and continue along the world for the second half of this trip.
New York is like a can of soda. You come close because you see the bright colors, neon lights, vibrant words and sweet taste that you have always been impressed as shown on TV. You open it, and POP! Out comes everything. The bubbling people everywhere, the fizzy sound that resonates in every corner of this vibrant city, and yes, it does leave a bit of a mess here and there; however, it is the idea of the soda of New York that is so charming, and made so many people stay, and that is why I love it. Most people who ended up living in it, like Sally or Angela, ended up living a fairly normal city life, not as you have seen in movies or read in books. Those are as extraordinary for them as it is for us. However, the very idea of being in New York is the exciting part, just like the crave for a nice cold can of pop on a summer day.
I boarded my flight on Alitalia back towards Rome, and left the Big Apple behind. Surely I will come back soon, but now, my vision lies towards east. Home that I barely remember, Taiwan, here I come.