By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I never expected to be in New York this year. By a twist of fate, I was there last week. What lured me to this city of glamor in the past was materialism and fantasy, never its people or the least — its environment. In retrospect, it could be my fault.
This time, I set a different agenda — no shopping, no Broadway shows, and no museums. And I skipped Canal Street and Chinatown. For the past five trips to New York, I always dined in Chinatown once or twice.
Initially, I didn’t plan the trip that way. Quickly, it changed course when I picked the location of the hotel.
“Where would you like the hotel?” I was surprised my husband asked me, as if I know the city well.
“Across from Central Park,” I replied instantly out of the blue. There are limitless hotels lining on the edges of the 843-acre park, it’s 2.5 miles long. It’s sheer bigness is insane. No matter how many times I visit the park, I always find some spot I have never stepped foot on.
My husband found one hotel with a reasonable price because we couldn’t really see the park. Our room’s window was on the hotel’s left side, blocked by surrounding skyscrapers. The view was remarkable, even without facing the park. Each tall building tried to build on top of its rooftop, with old and new layers of additions. How precious space is in New York!
Our convenient position to Central Park made it impossible to resist hopping in the park any time of the day. This location gave us a new approach to experience New York. Novelty means beauty and excitement for travelers. It was a joy to walk in the park. And we wandered around often.
Dining in Central Park
The energy in the park was amazing. Concerts, plays, marathons, and other community events were held at the park almost every day. The night we arrived, 15,000 people from 350 countries took part in a marathon. Participants wearing different colors and style of t-shirts, representing many groups, hovered around tents for food, selfies, and networking. And there were artists, Asians, and non-Asians selling their craft. Did I mention the horse carriages, bikers, and pedicabs streaming along different paths of the park? On Sunday, pedicabs charge $5 a minute, and horse carriages cost as much as $110 per ride. Or you can rent a bike near the park for as little as $2.99 an hour. With all the traffic and activities, there was never any chaos and confusion as cops were stationed in many spots to ensure public order and safety.
My cousin and his family drove a couple of hours from New Jersey early in the morning, so they could find a place to park at $12 a day in Midtown. Otherwise, it would cost over $40 an hour to park around Central Park, assuming he can find parking at all.
He took us to lunch at the park, figuring that it would be novel to us. It was. The park has two restaurants. I loved strolling with my cousin to catch up on all the family gossip, while his family members entertained my husband. We had not seen each other since 2005.
My cousin worried if we would enjoy the food at the park. “We can go to 42nd street, there are Korean and Japanese restaurants.”
“No, no, this is fine,” my husband said. “We will remember dining at the Park more than going to a restaurant in town.” I agreed.
He selected Tavern on the Green. After a 40-minute wait (another opportunity for us to loiter and chat), we dined in the bar, a large patio on the park. I liked the warmth of being outdoors — having two big umbrellas above our heads, the sun beaming down on our table, while tree leaves fell on our table occasionally.
None of us had dined at the restaurant before. The food was not only good, but surprisingly delicious. I ordered French toast, and didn’t expect anything special. With almonds and strawberries on top, it’s the best French toast I have ever eaten. No wonder the restaurant was packed with regular guests, and a wedding banquet, too.
What made this trip different was our desire not to be indoors. The weather was on our side. I was glad my cousin could read our minds.
Walk and chat
“No lunch. Please take us to interesting places,” was my new motto whenever I travel in America.
So we can walk and chat.
“You want to go High Line (HL)?” my friend asked. I was aware of HL’s transformation from disused railways to an urban 1.45-mile walkway with refreshing landscaping and trees. On both sides of the walkway are newly developed condos, shops, and restaurants. During the walk, we could also see downtown New York. That’s what urban and contemporary living is all about. My friend said HL is the work of landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, who is also involved with the new Seattle waterfront. We are lucky to have him.
It is inspiring to see how New York reimagined some useless and ugly structures into green public spaces.
If you think Seattle traffic is bad, wait until you drive in New York — it’s 10 times worse.
We made the mistake of driving to visit Corona Park and Coney Island. Just to take our car out from the hotel’s parking garage cost us $65 each time, in addition to the daily parking rate. We returned our car that evening.
The New York subway takes you everywhere. It’s well organized, saves so much time, and also runs 24 hours. It beats Seattle’s transportation system by a half a century.
The toll is expensive. One toll was $15 when we drove from Pennsylvania to New York.
Washingtonians would scream to pay a fee that high.
One good way to see New York is through water taxi. An all-day pass will enable you to go on board and see the World Trade Center, Wall Street, and Brooklyn Bridge. You can see the Statue of Liberty closeup. The fee is $35 per person.
You may wonder why I mentioned Wall Street. Well, the notion that our treasury genius Alexander Hamilton, with his face on our $10 bill, roused my desire to visit his grave. No, his grave was not exactly on Wall Street, but close to it. It was at the Trinity Church’s cemetery next to Wall Street. I would never agree to pay a $1,000 ticket (through the black market) to see the Alexander Hamilton Broadway play, so I am happy to settle for his big tombstone. By the way, when we arrived, the cemetery was closed. If it happens to you in New York, don’t panic. Just go to the cemetery midway and you will see the mark for his grave. We didn’t know about his grave site at first. A couple sat next to us at a restaurant, and started talking to us when he spotted my husband wearing a hoodie with ‘Seattle’ on it. They were Seattleites, too.
There was another interesting tidbit about the city-run water taxi. A woman or guy who did the talking on the boat earlier, holding a can at the entrance, solicits tips before you get off. Can you imagine Seattle ferry members asking you for a few bucks before you leave?
Speaking of tips, everyone in New York wants to make more money. At our hotel, there’s a tip can on the countertop at the check-in desk. Isn’t that tacky?
When we left the hotel to go to Newark Airport, our taxi driver told us he had to pay the hotel’s bell boy $7 or else he wouldn’t let him take us to the airport. Yes, the bell person got tips from us by hoarding our luggage into the taxi’s truck. Our driver also lamented how his business dropped since Uber entered the market and how hard he worked to make a living. He charmed and wooed us. He wanted us to feel sorry for him, and tip him more. I know his game. If a few bucks can make someone happy, I would go for it.
Why we were in New York is just a side benefit. Our purpose was to be part of a family reunion in a small town in Pennsylvania, where a relative serves as a caretaker to her husband who has dementia. Automatically, New York became part of the agenda.
We flew United Airlines this time because its schedules and prices worked for us. Sure, we remember the inexcusable “unfriendly incident” deplaning an Asian American recently. It’s good to give United a second chance. I appreciated the plane ride from Chicago to Pennsylvania, especially with a seat on the left side of the plane where there was only one seat per row. It’s like having the best of aisle and window seats. The flight attendants were extremely friendly, and made extra efforts to serve passengers, giving us water and drinks four times during the five-hour direct flight, from New York to Seattle. That’s the way it should be — if they want to keep calling themselves as the “friendly skies.”
Next week, dining in New York.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.