Posts Tagged 'Akilae'

I want to be a part of it

‘Everyone wants to go to New York,’ the white-haired Italian man said, at the Pittsburgh station. ‘Why does everyone want to go to New York?’

Good question. But all I know is that I’ve wanted to visit this city for a looong time, longer even than I’ve wanted to come to America. Pictured in so many ways across so many mediums, it’s one of the most culturally represented cities in the world, and if not quite all things to all people, it is certainly something to many.

I took a Great Wall bus, one of the network of asian-run transportation options that span a constellation across the east coast, interlinking the biggest cities, frequently by their asian districts. It is a lovely bus. Do excuse the aside, but after so long on Greyhound, inured though I am to them the startling contrast in luxury was… well, startling. Clean, well-aired, full of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese people instead of mad ones, it was even comfortable enough to get a few hours semi-sleep in. It was also faster and cheaper than Greyhound, with more sensible times. I really recommend it should you need to get around the seaboard.

It rained through the night, and on into the morning. I landed in Chinatown having slept through the station approach just as the light was starting to filter into the streets. The city that never sleeps was doing a remarkably good impression of it, but soon after I disembarked, the muffled sounds of slumbering concrete started to pick up the dull roar of another day. At exactly 7am, a light flicked into life across the street as the Wing Sing bakery started its business.

I met up with Akilae, who proved an awesome tour guide – very knowledgeable and with quite a flair for rhetoric in his own quiet way. Together we bought me a subway pass, jumped back to his apartment in Brooklyn where I got a blessed hour or so of proper sleep (before jumping out of my skin at finding him standing behind me. Guy is a ninja). Then we headed underground.

We used this tour, which involved queuing in the drizzle alongside an inauspicious street before climbing down an equally ordinary-looking manhole (someone needs to rethink the ontology of that word) in the middle of the traffic.

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(That’s my new jacket!)

It’s a very tight fit. Underneath though, through the accumulated dirt and mud of decades, is a cavernous man-made tunnel with a colourful and fascinating history (covered to some extent by the site I just linked); technically the first subway in the world. I could only take one picture because, y’know, pitch black, but there are some more on the site that do a decent job of it.

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Also, politics was super-corrupt back then. If it wasn’t so awful it’d be impressive. Small wonder America distrusts their men in suits so much.

Afterwards, we returned to Chinatown to eat a whole bunch of Dim Sum, which I made a valiant effort at, even trying the shudder-inducing chicken feet, but I decided probably wasn’t for me on a regular basis. The Chinatown in NY is a pretty expansive one with a lot of character and the slightly otherworldly feel of its cousins elsewhere (Philadelphia, San Francisco, London…). ‘Not going to gawp at the ducks?’ asked Akilae, gesturing at the bronzed poultry dangling in the window, then looking slightly disappointed when I broke the news I had unfortunately seen it before.

We decided to walk the rest of the way home, but by a circuitous route. First we reached Ground Zero.

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No American, and very few others, need further detail here. It’s a place full of sadness and optimism. The discrete information center hosts a model replica of the planned replacement tower and memorial (square waterfalls set where the foundations of the prior buildings were), as well as a simple timeline and unsensational explanation of what occurred. I was pleased to see a focus on contextualizing the event that shaped the first decade of the 21st century, rather than blind outrage or festering resent. It felt like it was being handled properly. There was, additionally, a blacked-out, sound-proofed booth wherein one could record their recollection of that day in three minutes. I left my own words in there, and shan’t repeat them here.

We ambled on through the odds and ends of the city, across small parks and cemeteries, past Wall Street and the ‘anatomically correct’ bull outside, and crossing through the square in front of City Hall. There was a small ‘truther’ protest being held there. Having just been to Purdue, where they did explain how the towers collapsed as they did, and subsequently the scarred site of the tragedy itself, I found myself getting very, very angry.

Some vapid and earnest-looking young man with curly hair was speaking into a microphone in front of the relatively diminutive crowd, and I managed to ignore him. But it was the people hassling passers-by with their leaflets that really choked me. You don’t get to ask a question that serious and then disregard the answer. I yelled back that there was no such cover-up and that Purdue had already shown exactly what happened, and as an amateur camera-man wheeled on me with a slightly predatory grin he was followed by a kid of about eighteen (‘Really?’) who had that wild-eyed look of the conspiracy theorist. As he bounced after me yelling about willful ignorance and abetting an evil Government it was all I could do not to turn around and punch him in the face. I’m not a violent man, but some things…

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We finished the day by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, a marvelous structure with wonderful views of the city, the Statue, and its sister the Manhattan. Very photogenic.

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And not quite true. We finished the day proper by stuffing ourselves with NY-style pizza, fresh from the restaurant oven in the fashionable waterside DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) district of Brooklyn. Watching the sun set over the silhouetted skyline, the first skyscraper lights glowing through the distance, I found myself more eager than ever to explore this city – to be a part of it.

My adventures continue tomorrow.

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