I made my first trip ever to USA, New York actually last month. Was waiting for the whole trip to sink in before I put up my trip experience on my blog. I wasn't looking forward to it as I had a disjointed view of USA. Love the culture and entertainment, but was miffed over its foreign policy. But I had to go there for a short conference, and after flying the whole day, I better extend my stay and give it a try.
Anyway, I found out that they had made a musical out of my #1 comedy film of all time, Young Frankenstein... so it couldn't be all bad. I am a big fan of musicals but I only get to see those in Sydney and Melbourne mainly. Plus I was going to see a couple of real Dalis for the first time, that can't be bad as well.
I went by ANA as I wasn't going to fly straight for 24 hours, and I spent a few days in Tokyo on transit. New York hotels must be the most expensive in the world. I searched high and low on the net and I needed a decent 3 star minimum and near Times Square, the best was this place called Stayz, the internet rates were US$330 per night. But it was just less than 30m from TKTS (the place where you can buy half priced theater seats). Best discovery, my room in New York was smaller than my room at Washington Shinjuku Hotel. There you go, rooms (for US$330 before taxes) are smaller than in Tokyo, and I paid just US$200 for my Tokyo hotel room. Go figure.
After a couple of days, my whole view of USA and New York changed completely. I was very wrong, I now think New York is possibly the best city in the world, surpassing Sydney. Its the energy of the place. The people were fantastic too, even throw in your loud old Jewish retirees. I think its safe to say that three quarters of all service staff in New York are either Latinos or African Americans, I think the former make up a much bigger percentage. Plus I think the media portray Americans in a certain way. They are really not that loud or rude, not more than most of the cities I have been to, ... and African Americans are not lazy or trouble makers in general, many were happy employees and had a nice disposition. Sure, I think you would get pockets of bad hats in Queens or violent Latino gangs in certain areas of LA, but thats the same everywhere, you just don't go there.
Greatest discovery: New York is a shopping heaven, even better than Hong Kong, much cheaper than KL or Bangkok. You can get stuff like Skechers shoes for under US$60, your Samsonite cases at just 50% of the prices you see in Asia. I walked into Montecristo, a huge cigar shop on Fifth Avenue, half thinking that I won't be able to buy anything. I was like a kid in a candy store. They don't have Cubans, and though I smoke 90% Cubans all the time, I was up to date with the top cigars from Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil and Ecuador... plus I know what they retail when they ever do come to Asia (HK, KL and Singapore to be specific). OMG, the cigars were so cheap. To the Americans, it probably is expensive because they are so used to pay just US$1-4 per stick, while Asian smokers pay US$12-20 per stick of Cuban. I grabbed a couple of boxes of La Gloria Cubana Series R for just US$160 per box, the same box would have set me back RM900 minimum. The moment I got back to my room, I cannot tahan, I went straight back and bought another 4 boxes of CAO, Padron and La Gloria (again). I knew I was risking it carrying 6 boxes of cigars back to KL, but its worth the risk.
There is one big drawback for me in New York, there's no bloody place to smoke. Well, at least you can smoke in the streets... better than Tokyo... there you now cannot smoke while walking. Even out in the open, you can only smoke in designated areas in Tokyo. They are marked in yellow lines and you have to be in that circle to smoke... how humiliating... its like dogs being allowed to poop there.
A tip on getting half priced tickets at TKTS, the queue starts at 3pm and only for shows on the same night. If you queue early, you still be looking at an hour's wait to get your tickets. The trick is to go to the booths at 7.40pm as all shows start at 8pm, but all theaters are just less than a 10 minute walk. You get there at 7.40pm, you don't have any more queues. Got my Young Frankenstein ticket, it was absolutely fabulous.
Second night, I got a half priced ticket to see a stand up comedy club show, it was great fun. Did that for the third night as well. I am not the type that go to see the actual sights, so no Empire State or Statue of Liberty for me.. for me to get to know a place I rather walk and move around and immerse into the crowd and get a feel of the people, their energy and disposition.
The other great thing is breakfast in New York, I think they have perfected breakfast there. My favourite place was Cafe Duke, imagine Uncle Ho's place only 5 times bigger, and they have 3 huge kitchens and hundreds of sodas, fruit juices, about twenty different salads (eat in or take away), and wonderful drinks from around the world. One serving freshly made bagels with your choice of over 15 toppings. The second one was a traditional breakfast kitchen serving, bacon, eggs any way you want and with various types of sausages cooked right in front of you. The third station was the best, it serves think pizza bread and you can choose from over 20 toppings (pastrami, various cheeses, chorizo, various types of ham, veggies and various other condiments), then they toast it in a wood burning oven... OMG. You can create your own pasta, have great deli cuts, great soups, specialty sandwiches, special wraps, various grilled sandwiches... even Japanese and Korean dishes. Plus great coffee at 7am... I was there every morning practically. They have a few places nearby: 545 Broadway& 116 Mercer Street, 140 W & 51st Street (btw 6th & 7th Ave) and 1450 Broadway & 41st Street.
Would I go to New York again in spite of the 24 hour journey, well, yes... I probably still want to break up the flight, maybe Stockholm, Tokyo or San Francisco. I still want to get to see the return of Gypsy and the new fabulous musical Jersey Boys (about Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons), bought the soundtrack this time around. And I will not bring much luggage the next time... will buy the cases there to bring back stuff. I calculate that if I buy 10 boxes of cigars, I would have saved enough for free accommodation anyway. If you love musicals, stand up comedy, shopping... its for you... I also love the book stores and the DVD shops where I got to search through my favourite movies and stand up comedians DVDs that you cannot get here (e.g. Gene Wilder movies such as Blazing Saddles, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, World's Greatest Lover ... my fav Sarah Silverman DVDs, Frank Caliendo, Gilbert Gottfried, etc...).
Could I work and live in New York..., sure but for a corresponding lifestyle maintenance, I would need an annual salary of US$240,000 ... its the housing that kills you.
p/s photo: Kwan Usamanee