New York: Where the best and the worse collide

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June 2nd 2007
Published: August 6th 2007
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No one was at the Jetblue check-in counter when Sacha dropped us off in her shiny wine-colored Tucson. We had just spent two days in Aruba (more about that in another blog) and now we were headed to New York. Yeahhhh, the Big Apple. Check in went well and we proceeded to immigration. Reina Beatrix International has a US-approved and staffed immigration section and it was here that things fell apart. We approached the sour-looking lady in the cubicle for the usual, dehumanizing fingerprinting and mug shots. The lady asked Shanna why she had written out of Curacao.
"Because I am going back home to Holland", said Shanna.
"So do you have a job now?” she asked.
"No, I quit my job a few weeks ago and my boyfriend and I are now on a world tour after which, I will go home".
"So you are not working?" And so it went on: the same stupid set of questions.
"And you, do you work?” This time the question was directed to Vibert.
"Nope", I resigned too and like my girlfriend said, we are on a world tour". She wasn't impressed and then, like magic, a male officer appeared and asked us to take a seat at the back. Then a few minutes later another officer asked to take a seat further back. The first officer then reappeared and asked Vibert how much money he had in his possession. "About USD 700", Vibert replied. Then he turned to Shanna and asked,
"So why are you going to the US?”
"We are on a world tour and we're passing thru", she said.
"On a world tour with USD 700? How's that possible?” he queried.
Angry by now, Vibert snapped. "You asked us how much money we had on us not in total".
"Listen here, I am an officer of the state and if you keep disrespecting me I will deny you entry into the US?” And on went the diatribe.
Next, Shanna was taken, along with her bag, into a room where all her stuff was rifled thru and where she was asked the same set of stupid questions even one about if she was on pension. Then it was Vibert's turn. In total, we were detained for almost 40 minutes. We both vowed never to enter US territory again unless it was absolutely necessary.

Jetblue had a super aircraft with great
Manhattan BridgeManhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge

From the Brooklyn Bridge
legroom and individual TVs and XM satellite radio. After 4+ hours of flying we landed at JFK and there to meet us were Mr. and Mrs. Boyce - a couple who got married on May 5 and whose wedding we attended in St. Maarten. Vibert was the best man. We drove with them to their condo in a nice area of Brooklyn called Canarsie. We had good food, FREE internet and a great time with these nice people. Unknown to us at that time was that Kwame and Nicky were going have a smaller ceremony at their home and so we were witnesses too. It was one of the nicest and certainly the shortest wedding ceremony we've ever witnessed.

On Thursday morning we rode the B103 bus into downtown Brooklyn. Along the way we saw the same cookie-cutter, red-brick housing complexes as if some color-challenged architect turned politician and made it law. The city of 8 million was littered with skyscrapers and crackheads, yellow cabs and pedestrians, liquor stores and churches and McDonalds and Subways. It was humid, noisy, smelly, congested, organized and disorganized and yet captivating. We, Kwame, Shanna and Vibert, jumped off the bus in front of
Manhattan SkylineManhattan SkylineManhattan Skyline

From the Brooklyn Bridge
the Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn and headed in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was impressive, a huge suspension monolith where tourists gawked at and photographed the towering Manhattan skyline and the distant and foggy outline of Lady Liberty on the left. The bridge itself is some 1585 feet/483 meters long and is held up by very thick steel cables connected to two massive granite towers that are over 271 feet/83 meters. It cost about USD 9 million, took 14 years to complete and was opened in 1883. Over to the right was an equally impressive Manhattan Bridge spanning the greenish-brown waters of the East River. Sightseeing helicopters buzzed overhead, ferries shuttled between Liberty and Ellis islands, thousands of vehicles hurdled at break-neck speeds on the underpass and cyclists sped along on the bridge in their designated lane.

Manhattan was indescribable. It is the home of Pace University, Wall Street and Broadway, the Dow Jones, American Stock Exchange and the NYSE, Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the Trinity Church. We stopped by the gaping hole that was once the twin towers of the World Trade Center and watched as bus loads of tourists came and went. Around 'ground zero' the other buildings seemed to scrape the sky and sometimes they did block out the sun in a few dark, unfortunate streets. The pace was brisk as New Yorkers did their thing: chugging Starbucks coffee and screaming into bluetooth headsets. We walked quite a few blocks north and ended up in Chinatown, just as we planned. It was grungier but no less busy. The contrast was stark as the classy coffees shops of downtown Manhattan was replaced by smelly little curbside shops selling everything from Chinese fruits to exotic seafood and unknown meats. The custom-designed signage turned into hand-painted Chinese characters and where once was a metropolis with many nationalities was now a shoulder-to-shoulder crush of Chinese. We ate a tasteless, suspect vegetarian lunch and thought that we simply had chosen the wrong restaurant since this area was known for good food. On our way back we decided that we wouldn't walk over the bridge again; we would be bold and boldly go where no first-dayer would ever go: the New York subway. Kwame, himself, was only a few days in the big apple. It would be a first for us all. Yes folks, we push the limits: we skydive, we scuba dive and we ride NY's subways on our first day. The entrance was scary: a long, dark and foreboding hole in the ground. The section of the train we entered was crowded and Shanna got lost in the crowd. A map would show us our stop and we surfaced and appreciated the foul NY air. It was on 42nd street, late one evening that we would find and be dumbstruck by Time Square. Giant billboards were plastered to buildings and broadcast in full, living color. It was a 360-degree whirlwind that overpowered the senses. Coca Cola bottles were suddenly big like buildings and sexy M&Ms paraded onscreen. The streetside magicians and artists and police were out and so too the employees of the sex industry. We walked together: Kwame and Nicky, Vibert and Shanna. Kwame and Vibert were solicited and they politely declined. We photographed and videoed (see videos above) conscious that we'd never be able to adequately describe this, this 'thing' before our very eyes. Time Square is truly phenomenal.

Next day and the day after that was a blur. We hopped on the subway and rode for 55 minutes from Canarsie to Manhattan. We walked east along Fulton and bumped into 'Strands' a bookstore that has over 18 miles of used books with some selling for USD 1. Vibert remarked that his father would go 'loco' in a store like Strands. We bought five books including the Lonely Planet guide to China and then continued down Fulton. Next up was the Southstreet Seaport where an rather macabre exhibition was being held. "Bodies" is an exhibition showing the make up and composition of humans but from the inside out. We couldn't photograph but you can see (beware, it's graphic) a specimen we saw at Real human specimens were frozen in different poses to accentuate and display muscles and tendons and sinews. We watched transfixed at the skinless dummies with holes in the chests and backs and heads and saw first hand what the body and brain looks like inside. Specimens were stripped down til only nerves were displayed. They were numerous and stringy. Then every solid part was removed and only the blood vessels and veins and capillaries were left suspended. The millions of vines glowed with the red, blood-like substance that had been injected. We learnt that a body has about 60,000 miles of blood vessels and that the brain requires 20%!o(MISSING)f a body's blood. We saw, suspended in glass chambers, real babies and their development from just after fertilization to full-grown. We learned that a heart started beating by week 3 and most bones were formed by week 14. We saw a big, half-full canister of cigarette packs supposedly thrown away by people who had observed a real smoker's lung and we learnt that a smoker's life is reduced by two and a half hours with every cigarette smoked. It was a shocking, numbing, enlightening experience as we realized the fragility and 'awesomeness' of the human body. We concluded that truly

we are fearfully and wonderfully made


Our walk thru Central Park, well just a small part of Central Park, relieved the shock value of “Bodies”. It was lively and festive with the sounds of children playing and birds chirping. For a few minutes we forgot that there was a mad rush going on around us. People walked leisurely, some stripped and sun-tanned, couples rode by in horse-drawn carriages, portrait artists, musicians and hotdog vendors were aplenty. It was marvelously relaxing. We strolled lazily out of the park and on to Fifth Avenue with its skyscrapers and billion-dollar buildings. We went two floors into the Trump Building and then into the chic basement of the Apple Store. Everybody built upwards. Apple called the basement below Fifth Avenue home. Risky. Grand Central Station was huge and bright and 'MALL-ish' - a big façade for the scary train and subway tunnels below. We went home.

That night, we would sleep by Vibert's aunt, Shanni. The drive would take us thru some of Brooklyn's toughest and most sinister neighbourhoods. Nicky, the driver, sounded justifiably worried when we passed Malcolm X street in the dead of night and we almost went back to Canarsie. The neighbourhood cleaned up and we found our night's resting place in Clifton Place. We searched the internet for FREE activities and found the 'Bang on a can' 26-hour festival where non-traditional musicians played for an audience who were prepared to spend all night. The music played could not be easily classified. It kind of 'falls thru the cracks' as it were and it ranged from downright annoying and unworthy to be called music to tremendously wonderful. Some
Overlooking Manhattan
of the world's greatest 'fall-thru-the-cracks' musicians played their hearts out in a massive, palm-tree-lined indoor stadium for an adoring public. One particularly captivating performance - Hsaing Kyaik de Maung composed by Kyaw Kyaw Niang and performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Kyaw Kyaw Niang - a Burmese grandmaster of music - is attached (at the very top) as a video.

New York remained, quite surprisingly, a BIG city that we were not in a mad hurry to leave. It was everything we had read about it and then so much more. The paradoxes were everywhere: opulence and grandeur against squalor and poverty; churches on each corner and so too liquor stores. The subways that scared and intimidated us produced a really good gentleman who ran behind Vibert to give him the USD 800 phone he had unknowingly dropped in the subway station. But he left so fast, we never got his name. It is that kind of place where the best and the worst collide.

We wouldn't live there but we'd certainly visit again sometime. Well, ummm, depending, of course, on how quickly we forget the stupid immigration fiasco. 😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 100, Displayed: 29


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Ambulance chaser

8th June 2007

The Big Apple
Man, you really toruing the world. You done teh country side now you in the big city... lol. Keep having good fun. By the way save all teh architecture pictures for me.
9th June 2007

stupid immigration
GRRR.. that is so stupid from the imigration. asking questions and using theire (fake) power to impress... But am happy that you enjoyed NY. When are you coming to holland. Would love to meet up!!!!
10th June 2007

That's NY!
That is New York! The immigration is doing their job! Glad that you got your cell phone back, enjoy the rest.

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