A new leaf af­ter hol­i­day in Amer­ica

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STAR SPECIAL NEW YEAR - By TEE LIN DEE > TURN TO PAGE 3

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.

New York

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.

Florida

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.

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