Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Impressions of a Whole New Culture

We have arrived in New York! So maybe it wasn’t the best idea to do all my packing the night before in lieu of sleeping but so far it has worked out as well as I could hope for.

New York has a completely different vibe than anywhere in California. The first difference I noticed was hinted at by our shuttle driver’s driving and confirmed by our chaperone Mrs. L. In New York pedestrians do not have the right of way. It was quite exciting to see our driver shoot straight toward startled pedestrians and to watch them scamper out of the path of the van. As a somewhat assertive pedestrian myself, I will have to make sure to adjust accordingly.

Another difference I noticed was that the people in New York, or at least those whom I have interacted with to this point, are super nice. I’m not saying people aren’t kind or polite in the Bay Area, but so far people here seem to go out of their way to be helpful and courteous.

Take the hotel bellhop at the Empire Hotel. Not only was he much gentler with our luggage than the shuttle driver in the Bay Area, he went out of his way to kindly provide with answers to my plethora of questions. He provided directions to the stairs, the location and hours of the gym, and even joked and posed for a picture with me, all with a gleeful, genuine smile.
Then there was the waiter in the restaurant. Now, I have ordered plenty of drinks at restaurants, but this waiter still posed a question to me that I had never before encountered. After not minding that I ordered my soda well after he had taken everyone else’s drink order, he brought my drink to me. Then, just a few sips into a perfectly good glass, he asked me if my drink was flat. Now, possibly there was a problem with sodas in the kitchen and he was just following directions, but I’d like to believe he had a desire to make certain that I was drinking the best possible soda. Having only been in New York for a few hours, I will have to wait before passing final judgment on the etiquette and behavior of its citizens.

After dinner, in the flamboyant hotel lobby, which attracts considerably more male than female patrons and is full of cheetah and jaguar chairs and cushions, our entire cohort had a meeting to discuss tomorrow’s agenda. The gathering was methodical and efficient and Mrs. L systematically determined what time we have to meet in the lobby tomorrow in order to safely catch our train.

We haven’t started our class and we haven’t taken any tours, but already the Ivy League Connection has been providing me the thrill and exhilaration I was hoping it would.

The Big Apple

I am finally in one of the greatest cities in the world: New York City! I’ve only been here for about 5 hours and this city has already taught me lessons.

Saying goodbye to my family was hard. I’ve never been away from them for a very long time, and being away made me realize that this will happen around this time next year when I really leave to go to college. This was lesson one. I need to learn how to survive on my own.

Our flight was delayed because of thunderstorms in New York. We did not leave SFO until about 11:30 AM. The plane had TVs on the back of the seats for each of us to watch and they also had a screen where you could track where the plane was and how close to your destination you were.

When we landed, we headed out on our first car ride in the Big Apple. I learned that since the Bay Area and New York City are on complete opposite parts of the country that they are completely opposite from each other. In California, the pedestrians have the right of way. In New York, however, if the pedestrians do not move out of the way from the speeding cars coming their way, they will become road kill.

We checked into the Empire Hotel, where we were given out roommates and room numbers. We are each located on different floors. Beilul and I share a room and together we learned lesson three. Teamwork is necessary in everything, even trying to figure out how to turn the shower on. We spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how the thing worked!

Mrs. L. took us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant around the corner from our hotel. The food was amazing! Everyone ordered something different and we each tried a little bit of each other’s food, especially when it was time for dessert. The vibe of the restaurant was different from any vibe I had felt at a restaurant. It was very friendly and almost laid back, even though it was a very nice restaurant.

So far, I haven’t decided whether I like NYC or not. I’m not used to being in a big city. Inside the hotel room you can hear the loud trucks and noises outside. I’m very anxious to explore and broaden my horizons. We are all planning the trips we can make in the city, like going to a concert in Central Park, go to museums, and even try to see the Today show!

In the morning we will visit UPENN and dine with admissions officers, alumni, and current students. We will also see Independence Hall. UPENN is on my list of colleges I want to attend so today will be a big day!

We Have Arrived

The Ivy League Connection’s Columbia group has arrived in New York City.

Our journey began at ECHS at 7:30 AM, as all the students and parents waited for the shuttle to take us to SFO. When we arrived at the airport, we ordered breakfast and lunch to-go. We had some time to relax and eat in the waiting area because our plane was delayed for about half an hour.

Will, Milani and Masao waiting to board the plane.

The plane ride was long but enjoyable because of the company of my Columbia cohort and the personal televisions. We were divided by the isle in groups of 3 designated by gender, with Mrs. Lilhanad sitting right behind me.

Milani and Irene on the plane.

Our flight was lengthened by the bad weather conditions in New York, as our pilot was told to stall a landing until the weather cleared up. But we arrived safe and sound at 8:30, only an hour late.

Our shuttle driver unloading the luggages.

Once we landed in JFK, we grabbed our luggages and got into the shuttle for the 45 minute ride to the hotel. I must say, I haven’t seen much of New York yet, but I did not realize how large the city is.

Our room at the Empire Hotel.

The Empire Hotel is absolutely beautiful. We have a total of 5 rooms amongst us and Milani and I will be sharing a room for the 4 nights we are here. Immediately after we got our luggages in our rooms, Mrs. Lilhanand took us to a restaurant around the corner for dinner. We came back to the hotel and Mrs. Lilhanand went over the schedule for tomorrow when we visit Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

Two for the Price of One

This is an odd sort of two-part blog today. The first section was written this morning while sitting in the airport, trying to record the thoughts and feelings going through my head at the time. Part two was written later at about quarter to 1 in the New York morning, looking back at the day's events and describing my first experience with New York as a young adult.

So, written at the airport:
The San Francisco airport is really well designed.
Smooth and sleek, it manages to seem very open and airy even with low ceilings.
Not a bad airport to be delayed in, I might add.
Right now I'm sitting at the gate, waiting to board our plane. Because of the thunderstorms in New York right now, our flight has been delayed until 11:30 AM as opposed to our original 10:49 departure time. There's this very intriguing design on the wall I'm staring at; that plus the view out the window to watch the organized frenzy of the airplanes makes for a interesting waiting period.

Just got the news that when Ms. Kronenberg joins us in July we'll be taking a sunset boat cruise around the city; sounds gorgeous! Sunsets from home are always spectacular, but I'm sure the setting sun will light up the skyscrapers like wildfire and turn the waters into flaming colors of orange and red and, who knows, perhaps even green! Parrot sunset, I believe that's called.

This whole thing is seeming so unreal, now. A few days ago, starting to pack and selecting an entirely new wardrobe to wear in the hot 'n' humid New York summer, everything seemed very concrete and tangible, as if the act of placing things in my suitcase and discarding others was some sort of ritual before leaving home for almost a month. But its strange: now that I'm sitting at the gate, typing away, pausing occasionally as Mrs. L offers some more advice or explains some of the rules she has set for us, Columbia seems farther away than ever. Its like I'm stuck in some sort of limbo. I can't go home, but I can't move farther ahead.

Thunderstorms in New York. I'm excited for that. I adore thunderstorms. Lighting is just so... incredible. I remember a few months ago we had one in California; I had my nose pressed against the window panes, searching for the next flash and bracing myself for the next thunderous boom reverberating through me, while my brother subtly and then not-so-subtly encouraged everyone to move far, far away from the nearest windows. So it’s quite a welcome from the city, in a way: one of my favorite things greeting me as I enter a new state, thunderstorms!

I know I'm going to miss home. Rather a lot, in fact. I already miss my dog, silly as that sounds. And sleeping in a new bed, for so long! I hope it’s a comfortable one. I also hope I have a brilliant roommate. Not brilliant as in genius, but brilliant as in great. Just someone I can get to know and hopefully be friends with. Its going to a lonely trip if I don't find someone to get close to; not that the rest of my cohort aren't great (in fact, they've all been really friendly and, as Will put it this morning, I think we're all looking forward to actually getting to know each other), but I already desperately miss my friends from California, and finding someone I can be good friends with will help make that easier, I think.

I keep thinking about my father's advice: “Engage!” As in don't sit in the back, don't be silent the whole time, speak out, discuss. I'm hoping the small class size at Columbia will let me do just that.

Our boarding should be starting very soon... time to put my laptop away!

And then later, from the hotel room:
My it has been a long day.

It seems so incredibly long ago that I groggily waited at El Cerrito High for the shuttle to appear and whisk me off to the airport, but it hasn't even been a day!

Getting off the airplane and being in New York, the first thing that told me I was somewhere different was the air. Wet and sticky, it had a sort of taste to it as you breathed through your mouth, that sort of dank and musky odor I associate with a cool(er) day in Florida.

The drive from JFK to Manhattan was very similar to what I remembered from arriving in the city as a kid: long, and not so very different-looking from here, at least in the dark. Our shuttle driver was relatively tame for a New Yorker, Mrs. L informed us; he only almost ran two people over on the drive instead of eight. I'm definitely going to have to remember that here in New York, the cars and not the pedestrians have the right of way.

But then all of a sudden, you see it, the city proper, and at night everything is just so glittery and perfect. The elevated tracks can occasionally confuse the unwary; looking up after a few moments of inattention can make one think one has arrived suddenly in Chicago. Driving across the bridge, you can almost feel the inky black of the East River below as you cross to the island. And then there are the people! At a time when, at home, the streets would be thinning out and only the occasional walker would grace the sidewalks, in New York the cabs whizzed their bright yellow across staring eyes while people of all sorts streamed along during the hot, bright night. Even sitting here at almost 1 AM there is the constant dull roar of the city trying to push its way through the hotel's thickly paned windows.

After we arrived at the Empire Hotel, we piled our baggage onto (miraculously) only one trolley cart, and after being assigned our rooms (I have one to myself, a luxury I am glad for!) went out to dinner. Less than two blocks away, Para Comer was delicious and had food that was not only yummy but also incredibly well put together, appearance-wise. Perhaps the thing that intrigued our group the most was an art installation that ran along the staircase from the lower floor to the upper, where we ate. Delectable food and interesting scenery make for a great meal!

I would definitely write much more about today but I really do need to get some sleep, as we start very early tomorrow morning for our trip to UPenn.

Welcome To The Big Apple

All in all, the journey across the United States was smooth. After arriving at SFO, our cohort quickly checked in our luggage and passed through security. Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the gate, we found that our flight had been delayed for about 45 minutes due to thunderstorms in the New York area. After finally boarding our flight, I tried to sleep, failed to do so, and watched television on the small screen in front of my seat until we touched down at JFK.

It wasn't until we collected our luggage that it finally hit me that I was in New York City—the city that never sleeps. I got my first taste of the different culture here when we got in a van on our way to the Empire Hotel. Despite that fact that Mrs. L. said that our driver was tame compared to drivers she had in the past, I found our driver was far more aggressive than drivers in the Bay Area. He cut off cabs and totally ignored pedestrians as he raced to our destination. After the ride, Mrs. L. warned us to be careful when we cross the streets here because most drivers are like our driver and don't give pedestrians the right of the road. When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of when I traveled back to China to visit my grandparents. Like pedestrians in New York City, pedestrians in China don't have the right of the road. Those who are walking in China inch their way across the road while cars speed past and honk to get out of the way. The only difference for pedestrians in New York City compared to China is that in New York, pedestrians cross the road at crosswalks whereas in China pedestrians cross wherever they wish to...even if there are crosswalks. I guess we're lucky to live in the Bay Area where we have the right of the road.

Another part of the Big Apple that reminded me of China was the weather. As soon as I stepped out of the airport's revolving doors I was hit by the hot and humid air. While I knew that it was going to be hot and humid, I was surprised to find that it's much hotter and more humid that I thought. In China the air is also hot, humid, and smoggy. When I stepped out of my grandparent's abode, it was like walking into an extremely stuffy room. The one thing that remains to be found is if New York is as smoggy as China, but that'll have to wait until morning.

I am so excited to begin my adventure in New York City, and I plan to have a blast for every moment of it!

Closer to My Dreams

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here: New York.

Sure, we had occasional deterrence, most notably the flight delay, but we also had occasional triumph, like being lucky enough to complete our flight without any prior landings due to chaotic weather. But, we are here now. I am here now.

It's a lot to take in.

And, it's been an exceptionally long ride. Just today, through the early wake-up, the air-time, the shuttles to and from, the hotel check-in, and the extravagant dinner, I've had an entirely overboard rousing. But it is, and has been, all worth it, and I assume that as an immutable concept. Because, New York is an entirely different experience than California. I thought I was prepared for it; I thought I knew the contrast prior to arriving.

And, it didn't hit me for a while. The fact that I was in New York, within driving distance of my dream school and upcoming summer school, didn't quite register within my mind for a while. In fact, I didn't really catch on until, en route to the Empire Hotel, I snatched a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline--beauty.

I thought.

The street names are completely altered. The thematic courses of avenues, roads, boulevards, and the like follow a more traditional European style. Foreign undertones are widely noticed. Yellow lights are actually green lights in disguise. The differences are ground-breaking coming from a California life. Sure, I'm used to the city. But, I am not accustomed to The City; the heart of the East Coast is pumping vivaciously. I feel it.

The first day, which has been a night, to be fair, in New York is beyond my bewilderment. It provides a sense of simultaneous awe, fear, and curiosity--emotions I intent to embrace whole-heartedly in the hours, days, and weeks to come. I can muster only excitement, with a touch of exhaustion, from my initial N.Y. experience. The first impressions are felt and now comes the fun part. But, New York raises one immense question.

Where will I begin?