A new leaf after holiday in America
EVER since I was a child, I grew up on a staple of American TV, American music and for a while, sort of idolised the American culture. I dare say that many of my peers, especially the English-speaking crowd, felt the same way. I can’t say I grew up reading too many American books, but I’ve been reading since I was three.
The entire gamut of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Secret Seven, all the classics – Robinson’s Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travel and abridged Shakespeare were on my bookshelf. As a child, your imagination grows and you find yourself becoming a little influenced by the culture you read. When I told stories to myself, the characters only had English names and they ate only muffins and scones.
I suppose in recent years, the popularity of the US has somewhat waned, and Japan and Korea have become the cool cultures to emulate.
But when my twin sister Lin Say and I decided to go on a holiday together, US was the natural choice. It was that one country that appealed tremendously to us.
We spent two weeks in the US in November, making the route from New York, Florida and Las Vegas. We have come back totally changed. While Malaysia will always be my home, we now want to make New York our second home. US is everything and more than we imagined. Not many may be as awestruck as us, but when we were there, there was a palpable can-do spirit that profoundly inspired us.
Landing in New York as the first pit stop completely blows you away. The energy, the 100 different nationalities, the Spanish you hear everywhere, the accents you only hear on Law And Order and CSI all come to life. Everything I saw on TV was right in front of me in New York.
Seeing New York City, with its giant billboards, yellow cabs, fastwalking New Yorkers toting their compulsory coffee cup, Trump Tower, an African-American dude with his cool swagger, the New York accent, Central Park and the somewhat iconic NYPD was surreal to me.
All the romantic comedies filmed in New York, you see the scenes flashing in your mind as you walk by. White trailers were scattered throughout the city, and we were told by a guide that it meant a movie was being filmed.
Not many people seem to know this, but Americans are extremely friendly. I cannot stress enough how friendly and helpful they are.
Stop anyone on the street, ask anyone anything, and there is no hesitance in helping. There are no weird stares, no pretending they didn’t hear you. The taxi driver sees your tired face and goes: “I’m gonna take you home right now.” They always end with a sing-song: “You’re very welcome,” “No problem” and that broad American grin.
Prior to my visit, I was told that New Yorkers were unfriendly, but I did not experience that. Almost everyone from the cab driver, the doorman, the tired-looking AfricanAmerican waitress to the hot Latin cook was extremely friendly and courteous.
In our six days in New York, we did a lot of tourist-y things. Yes, I would have liked a more Carrie Bradshaw itinerary, but it was our first time and New York was bustling with must-sees. We visited Times Square, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, Museum of Natural History (where Night At The Museum was filmed), Broadway, explored 6th Avenue and pretty much tired ourselves out.
We went into a diner, shopped, took the subway, rode in the yellow cab, ate their famous pizzas and saw plenty of hot dog stands. We passed Harlem, saw the barbershops, the African-American boys hanging out and the brownstone buildings. We wandered in museums and even saw a magnificent presentation on the creation of the Universe. We heard first-hand accounts of the 9/11 incidents from New Yorkers, got lost in Central Park, and basically, just fell in love with New York.
The city is a wonderful place to go on a date. There are just so many things to do besides shopping. It really caters to the whole spectrum of interests, whether you like the outdoors, arts or concerts. And let’s not even talk about restaurants and elegant bars, because New York simply redefines them.
New York isn’t cheap, and our hotel in New York, Wingate by Wyndham is a stylish boutique hotel on 7th Avenue, probably a 15minute walk from Times Square. Of the three hotels we stayed in during our US trip, the New York hotels were far more expensive, with the cheapest being Vegas.
On the first morning when we went down for breakfast, I was once again reminded of how multi-cultured New York is when a Chinese waiter and Latin cook nodded at me. Oh, this was really New York, I thought to myself as I smiled ever so sweetly at the Latin lad. He was so cute.
We had plenty of nice conversations in the restaurant, with the guests and workers. Consistently, in all the three states, Americans praised our fluent command of the English language. Unfortunately the majority have not heard of Malaysia and one playfully asked if: “... it’s the middle of Asia?”
What I enjoyed the least was the biting cold. New York was seeing the beginning of winter and it was 5°C and blowing cold (for me at least). For vanity reasons, I had refused to buy a thermal jacket because of its industrial look. I certainly paid the price when nighttime came; never had I experienced such cold and discomfort. I understand now when people say the cold affects your happiness level. It certainly affected mine.
I was extremely happy when we got off the plane and Orlando, Florida greeted me with the warmth of sunshine. Never had I been so happy to be bathed in sunshine.
Now Orlando reminds me of the Adam Sandler movies I’ve watched. The Hilton we stayed in was big and domestic-looking. The bellboys wore Bermudas and floral shirts and high socks. It was clearly a “whiter” state and images of Backstreet Boys came to me. Incidentally, Orlando is the birthplace of the popular boy band.
I must say, people here were decidedly wider compared to the slim New Yorkers and the Southern drawl was everywhere. I had a wonderful time practising mine.
My stint in Florida felt a lot more laid-back and my twin and I got the chance to catch our breath after the whirlwind in New York. We spent five days, and almost all of it in Disneyland and Universal Studios. I suppose if I were five, I would have died and gone to heaven. But I’m much older and after the 10th ride in a make-believe world, I was a little bored. Michael Chang, our friend, was a Disney fan and so we went along for the love of him.
Meals here were truly cheesy, creamy and huge. They were satiating but by the seventh day, all of us missed Asian food. I missed our clear soups especially and couldn’t bring myself to think about steamboat and teh ais.
While New York was a melting pot of cultures, Orlando was obviously very much native.
Surreal feeling. (From left) the writer, friend Michael Chang and twin Lin Say in the middle of Times Square, New york City.