New York, New Yawk!

IMG_4659I’ve traveled a lot of places in this world, but I’m hardly a hard-core world traveler. Last week I found myself in a place, I’ve never wanted to go, New York City. For whatever reason, when I was younger I thought it to be a crime ridden, dirty big time American city. Over time, my vision of New York changed, somewhat forged by 911 and my own maturation. So as the train stopped at New York’s Penn Station, I was ready for adventure.

Emerging from the overheated train cavern, I was struck by the grittiness of the city. I had expected that, but the urban landscape coupled with the cacophony of people hit me just like the excessive heat of the day. This city was alive, full of energy and ready to be taken by storm.

What impressed me most about New York City were its people. Simply put, it was almost like the Canadian mosaic, except remember this is a melting pot. When I walked down the street I heard almost every language except English. I heard a lot of Spanish, especially among the people working in the hospitality industry. However, there were lots of Hindi, Bangla, French, German, Hebrew and a whole host of other languages, which I couldn’t understand. To me it represented what “America” is today, a multicultural nation, with the Spanish language becoming increasingly important to the nation’s commerce.

If you go to New York, you need one main thing, a big pile of money. Things are expensive there. Forget the real estate, which is horrendous, meal prices are about double what we have in southwestern Ontario. Ditto for about everything else.

What impressed me the most about New York was Ground Zero and St. Paul’s chapel, which is immediately west of Ground Zero. Ground Zero struck me because of the terrible things that happened that day and because of that, Canadian troops are in Afghanistan. The St. Paul’s Chapel was the church were many of the rescue workers rested and slept immediately after September 11th. In the churchyard were buried veterans of the American revolutionary war. That against Ground Zero in the background was very symbolic to me.

I have always tended to forget that after the revolutionary war New York was the United States capital. While touring New York, not far from Ground Zero I saw Frances Tavern, still selling suds 228 years after George Washington said goodbye to his troops there. Unbelievable.

New York City is not the biggest city I’ve visited this year. When I emerged out of Zia International Airport last January, Dhaka City with its 12 million residents was about everything I could handle. With its noise, shocking cultural assault and dirt, Dhaka will always be Dhaka. That city will pound you to death if you ever go there and spend an extended time. New York City I must say will pound you too, but it’s nothing like that trip to Dhaka last January. New York is for living breathing people who enjoy life. I haven’t seen another big city in this world quite like it.

Before I went there last week, I couldn’t quite get that. However, I get it now. I was making a purchase on 5th Avenue and the guy behind the counter asked where I was from. After I said Canada, I asked him where he was from. He told me he had been in New York City for seven days and he had come from California. Having been to California last year, a place that I find idyllic, I asked him why he left for New York. He looked at me and retorted, “I wanted to go to Broadway!” Say no more.

Of course no trip to New York, the financial capital of the western world would be complete for an economics writer without a mention of Wall Street. When I was down there, I could only imagine the amount of capital that is made and lost. Times Square holds the NASDAQ, so ditto for that. The only other thing I couldn’t quite figure out was where the recession went. Although the United States is still in recession, there seemed to be people and money everywhere.

When I was on Liberty Island viewing the Statue of Liberty, I ran into a group of people who were obviously South Asian. When I asked them where they were from, I was expecting them to say New York or some other American city. Unexpectedly, they told me Bangladesh, so we had quite a conversation about me being there in January 2009.

There next line was to tell me they had immigrated to New York. I thought that so fitting. It is what New York and the United States are all about, immigrants yearning for a better life and making New York their starting point just like the Irish, and Germans did 140 years ago.

Today, New York City continues to amaze, full of people working hard to get that done. If you get a chance to go, go. As I said when I got off a plane from Dhaka in January. Wherever you are, there you’ll be. New York City is a great place to be, even for a few days.