All posts by Chuen Kong

My New York Holiday 2013 Addendum

So I suppose I’ve still got the post-holiday blues, three weeks after returning from New York. Or have I? Perhaps, as Billy Joel’s song goes, “I’m [still] in a New York state of mind”! As with all holidays, yours, mine and just about everybody’s, this one was over far too soon.

There are always things and places we would like to have seen and done but didn’t get round to, or seen more of (or again) but didn’t have the time. For example, I would like to have taken in a Broadway show (or even an Off Broadway or Off-Off Broadway for that matter!). Had I known about @TKTS Discount Ticket Booth on Times Square (or online at: www.tdf.org/tkts) sooner, I may well have booked tickets.

I would also have liked to re-visit some places that I had seen on my previous two trips. However, as I have mentioned in previous posts, commuting by public transport from my brother’s house on Long Island into Manhattan (or anywhere else) is extremely difficult and time-consuming. And I found that asking for directions from locals is also often a fruitless excercise; many are either so focused on their own lives (one similarity they share with a great many Brits, I’ve observed), that they aren’t aware of what’s going on around them. For example, in Manhattan, most residents or workers around Central Park haven’t heard of the Delacorte Theater, even when they’re standing right outside it! Or else they’re so dependent on technology (e.g. satnavs etc.) that they just don’t know how to get around themselves.

All this can be very frustrating for the tourist who has actually done some research and is trying to actually enjoy the locals’ home town. The consequent restriction on my time forced me to prioritise my sightseeing and concentrate on a few new experiences that most first-time visitors usually miss.

However, one thing I do regret was not visiting the recently completed 9/11 Memorial (www.911memorial.org) on the site of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.

With regards to that tragic day, I am arguably blessed in two ways. First, I was privileged to have been taken by my brother to lunch in the Windows on the World Restaurant in the North Tower in June 2011 – just three months before 9/11 – and had met some of the staff who worked there. Second, I was lucky enough not to have lost any loved ones in the attack.

The fact that I had personally visited the Twin Towers and have met and interacted with some of the staff makes the tragedy of 9/11 more poignant for me than even most native New Yorkers (notwithstanding the personal loss of the nearly 3000 victims’ families), who would, until that day, have regarded the World Trade Center as just another local landmark that they pass while they go about their daily business. The restaurant and bar staff whom I had met in June 2001 were more to me than just figures on the tv or names on a list. They were human beings with faces, feelings and real lives. And while they were simply acquaintances to me rather than close, intimate friends, the horrible thought that some or all of them may have been killed in such dreadful circumstances on September 11th, 2001 will live with me – possibly for the rest of my life.

Maybe what I actually regret is not that I didn’t manage to visit the 9/11 Memorial site on this trip (after all, things happen and life goes on), but that I didn’t make more of an effort to do so. I feel that I should have gone to pay my respects to not just the innocent workers and visitors killed in the WTC on 9/11 (including possibly those who had served my lunch in June 2001), but also the First Responders and other emergency service staff who either died trying to rescue them or suffered serious physical and mental trauma in doing so.

I hope and pray that this may serve as a small tribute to those who lost their lives or suffered terrible injuries on that day.

My New York Holiday 2013

So I’ve finally returned home after my holiday to New York visiting my brother. I’ve got a load of washing on, and I’m thinking about what I want for my dinner tonight. After a very long day that’s lasted effectively over two, that’s going to take a bit of effort!

As to what the highlights of my holiday were, that’s harder to say. This was, after all, my third visit to the Big Apple, so I was never going to be doing so much sightseeing as such on this trip. However, the trips to see the Water Fire display in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Home of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, NY, were remarkable experiences in their own right. In the case of the visit to Hyde Park, it was regrettable that the drive there took longer than expected, so that I was not able to look round the main house that FDR lived in, and where he entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. But the Visitor Centre and the Franklyn Roosevelt Library and Museum provided a remarkable wealth of history and insight into the former President’s life.

I was also delighted to be able to personally sample the dim sum at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Doyers Street in the Chinatown district of Manhattan. I had caught a rave review of this restaurant in the Food & Drink section of the New York Times some time in June 2011 and I’d been following them through their website (www.nomwah.com) and on Twitter (@nomwah, and @dimsumNYC – the Twitter handle of Wilson Tang, the  restaurant’s owner) ever since. So one of my first treks on this visit to New York was to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. It took a bit of finding, because Doyers Street is such a secluded side street that even many people who work in the area don’t know where it is. Imagine, then,  my excitement when I finally found the place, walked in and met Wilson Tang himself, standing just inside the front door with his young children. Admittedly, he was actually on his way out to take his children home, but once I’d announced that I was visiting from England and the Nom Wah Tea Parlor was on my itinerary, he made a point of coming over to the table where I was seated to say “hello”. We have since exchanged several cordial tweets. As for the food, it’s certainly among the best dim sum I’ve tasted.

Finally, I mustn’t forget to mention the annual Shakespeare in the Park. This is a festival of Shakepearian plays performed for free every summer at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (More information at www.shakespeareinthepark.org.) I first discovered this on my last visit to New York in 2008, although I can’t remember off hand which play I actually went to see then. This year I was able to get tickets for “Comedy of Errors”, a rarely produced play and therefore not well known among non-Shakespeare fans. There’s something magical about live theatre, wherever it is and whatever is on show. But it’s even more special in an open air theatre like the Delacorte. Since I found out about it five years ago, it’s definitely on my itinerary for future visits to New York.

My New York Holiday 2013 – Day 17 of 17

So, it’s the last day of my holiday and I fly home this evening. Actually, I suppose you could say that tomorrow is the last day of my holiday, as I don’t go back to work until Tuesday. However, today is my last day in New York.

Yesterday, my brother and sister-in-law took me up to Hyde Park in upstate New York to see the Home of Franklyn D. Roosevelt. Unfortunately, with leaving the house a little late and getting caught in traffic, we didn’t arrive until just gone 4pm, about an hour before closing time. So we missed looking round the main house, but we did manage to look round the Franklyn Roosevelt Library & Museum, and the Vistor Centre, which were still quite interesting. Later we had dinner in a Korean restaurant in Flushing.

In the meantime, just about packed for my flight home, just a few last minutes checks to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, and to throw away any rubbish I don’t actually need to take home with me.

My New York Holiday 2013 – Day 15 of 17

Went to have a look around the Nassau County Museum of Art this afternoon. The Museum is fairly local to my brother’s house in Roslyn Heights, but it’s still a bit of a trek to get there by bus. However, if you’re into modern and abstract art, it’s worth the effort. The beautiful gardens and grounds are studded with stunning and spectacular sculptures, while the main building houses a number of exhibitions of modern and abstract art in the form of paintings, sculptures and even some crockery. Detailed information about the Museum, including a history of the site and visitor information, can be found at their website: http://www.nassaumuseum.org. It would also seem that some scenes from the recently released Baz Luhrman remake of the film, “The Great Gatsby”, were also shot in the grounds of the Nassau County Museum of Art.

As an adjunct to my previous post, although getting around by public transport can be quite frustrating, it does help to get copies of the local bus schedules and a subway map which can be a great help in planning your journeys. It then becomes much easier as you become familiar with the area and the routes you are travelling to know the optimum points to transfer buses and subway trains. Of course, this local knowledge does take a bit of time to acquire, and also some effort to actually observe local landmarks, but once you’ve got it, your life becomes much easier! In my case, as luck would have it, I’ve just about got the hang of using the bus schedules and local knowledge to get around my brother’s neighbourhood only a couple of days before I go home. As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”

In the meantime, my brother’s mother-in-law is planning to treat us to a meal out in a local restaurant this evening, as soon as my sister-in-law returns from work. I’ve been saving my appetite all day, so I’ll be looking forward to it.

My New York holiday 2013 – Day 12 of 17

So, I’m well into the second week of my two week holiday in New York. While I’ve enjoyed my visit so far, I would probably have enjoyed it  much more if it were not for the fact that I have to rely on public transport to get around. For those who have to rely on buses anyway, you may be accustomed to the limitations imposed on you and how much you are able to do. However, for me, relying on buses to get around has always been frustrating, which is why I spent so much effort in learning to drive.

In England, especially in metropolitan urban areas, public transport provision is usually pretty good, and most of the places that most people need to travel between are so well served that getting around is not a major issue. In rural areas, if you don’t have regular access to private transport (either because you don’t drive and/or you can’t afford to run a car and/or you can’t afford to keep taking taxis every day), then getting around does become a problem as public transport is much less readily available in such places.

Magnify this by the distances involved in the USA, where journeys of 20-30 miles are often considered local, and the problem of reliance on public transport becomes more obvious. In my case, travelling from my brother’s house into Manhattan can take over 2 hours, involving one change of bus and then transferring to the 7 train to Time Square in Mid-Manhattan*. Naturally, with such long commutes, the amount of time available to spend on leisure activities is therefore also somewhat restricted.

On the plus side, though, public transport fares in New York are very cheap compared to those in England. There is a flat fare of $2.25 (or $2.50 if you use a pay-per-ride MetroCard) on both buses and the subway, which also allows one free transfer (from subway to bus or vice-versa) within two hours of boarding the first bus or subway train. There is also the option of the Unlimited Ride MetroCard, which comes in Weekly (7-day), Monthly and Annual variants. The Long Island Rail Road and the Metro North Rail Road serve Manhattan to Long Island and Upstate New York respectively, and the trains are faster and more comfortable. However, they are less frequent and cost more to ride, and the MetroCard is not valid for travel on them. The MetroCard is valid for travel, however, on the Staten Island Rail Road, and if you happen to enjoy riding on trains, then this represents extra value for money. This is particularly true when you take into account the fact that the Staten Island Ferry that  connects Manhatten to Staten Island is free to ride in both directions, and offers in breathtaking views of Ellis Island (home to the Ellis Island Museum, the former immigration hall and gateway to the USA) and Liberty Island (home to the Statue of Liberty)!

*For the benefit of readers in the UK, who may be more accustomed to the London Underground, the subway system in New York is slightly different. There are a number of different subway lines that serve different parts of the City, and each line is served by a number of different number of lettered and/or numbered trains. In addition to this, some trains are “local’, serving all the stops on the line, while others are ‘Express’ and serve only a limited number of stops. There are, of course, intersections of the various lines where you can change trains to get exactly where you want.

My New York Holiday 2013

I’m now half way through my visit to New York this year. As this is my third visit to the Big Apple, I have done considerably less sightseeing so far on this trip than on my previous trips. However, I have paid two visits to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street in downtown Manhattan’s Chinatown (excellent cooked-to-order dimsum), and yesterday evening, my brother and sister-in-law took me to Providence Rhode Island. Roughly once a month, there is a WaterFire display in downtown Providence, which is a spectacular fire display on the three rivers running into the Waterplace Park Basin below the Providence Place Mall. More information about this event can be found at the http://www.waterfire.org website. If you enjoy watching light displays, you should really check this out!

Next week, I really want to check out a farmer’s market in Brooklyn where an acquaintance I made on my last visit in 2008 helps out each summer. Also, I should really pay a visit to The Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center, the new structure to replace the original WTC, and the National 9//11 Memorial erected on the site of the Twin Towers. I was privileged to have been taken to lunch at the Windows on the World Restaurant by my brother during my first visit to New York in June 2001.