Hi everyone! After a tumultuous couple days of missing flights and being placed on standby flights, I finally made it back home from New York in one piece!
Man… there is so much I want to tell you guys about my past week in NYC, I just don’t know where to start. My apologies if the following post is all over the place without any coherent structure. It parallels the state of my mind right now- reeling from wondrous memories of my past week’s adventures. I will be writing detailed accounts of each day of my trip, but I thought tonight’s post could be more of a general overview of my sentiments, thoughts and lessons learned from my week in New York.
Before embarking on this weeklong solo journey to the heart of New York, I was unsure of how I’d adapt to New York City life. I grew up in the pristine, sheltered suburbs of Redwood Shores, where trees grow in perfectly straight lines to complement the perfectly uniform blue houses occupied by upper-middle-class, white-collar professionals. My whole life, up till this point, has taken place in a perfect little bubble.
Even after completing one year of college at UCLA, I still didn’t feel like I’d experienced much of the real world and its harsh realities. During my freshman year of college, I rarely left the safety of campus, which was yet another bubble in itself, albeit filled with a more diverse array of individuals. While I was blessed to have had the opportunity to travel the world with my family in my youth, traveling in a pack, within the confines of your family and tour groups, is much different than traveling alone in a big city.
All this to say, I didn’t have much street-smarts to draw from, prior to embarking on my New York trip. I was understandably a bit anxious, then, about leaving for New York– my parents, probably more so than I!
Little could I predict how well I would mesh with New York City life, though! I remember the very first day I explored Manhattan alone. It was Wednesday, my second day in New York. I got off the subway at Times Square/42nd Street, followed the crowd up the steep subway steps and was greeted by a gray sky, light drizzle, hoards of bustling people, towering buildings, flashing billboards advertising the latest Broadway hits, the sound of drawn-out car honks and the smell of food stands and cigarette smoke. It was absolutely thrilling.
I had a lot to learn in the beginning– deciphering the subway system; navigating the city (Google Maps was my lifeline); walking the streets in typical “New Yorker-esque” fashion (i.e. taking brisk strides with eyes trained forward, not smiling at strangers and spurning unwanted attention); mastering the art of J-walking (if you don’t J-walk in New York, you’ll look like a fool); and dealing with panhandlers/homeless people (apparently it’s illegal in the state of New York to give homeless people food or money).
I adapted quickly, though, and by the end of the week, I felt like a pro New York city gal. I grew to be absolutely confident walking the streets, even in the early hours of 1am. Having not run into any trouble with crazy people or dirty men– aside from the occasional cat-call, which I’d haughtily roll my eyes at and ignore– I developed a mental armor of invincibility, thinking that I could handle anything the streets threw my way. Of course, it is dangerous to fall into such a mindset, especially if you are a young woman, more vulnerable to worldly evils. No matter how seasoned a New Yorker you may be, you mustn’t ever let down your guard. Anyway, at the week’s close, I had pretty much mastered the art of public transportation, though I still struggled with locating subway stations– they’re often hidden in the corner of some dark alleyway, and if you aren’t paying close attention, you’d totally walk right past it.
Here’s what I love about New York City.
- Ease of transportation and ensuing independence. Public transportation makes getting around so damn convenient! This aspect of city life is one that especially hit home with me. As a young woman living in the Bay Area without car insurance, I must rely on Caltrain, Uber, my brother, my mom or my dad to take me places. The heinous hour-and-a-half commute to dance practice or gymnastics coaching is a real time and money drain. In New York, I never had to face such day-to-day hassles. Anywhere I needed to go, I could do so in a timely, cost-effective manner. For once in my life, I felt truly independent, without needing to rely on others to get around. The subway, dank and smelly as it is, is a real blessing. I bought a $32 weeklong unlimited subway pass that let me ride the subway to my heart’s delight throughout the duration of my trip. To my surprise, the subway system is actually quite simple to navigate. Google Maps will tell you which train-line to board, and you just have to make sure you board the train headed in the right direction (either uptown or downtown). Once you exit the station, your destination is usually within walking distance. In short, city life makes transportation so much more accessible and convenient, and with this convenience comes an empowering sense of independence. In New York, I needn’t worry about traffic, expensive Ubers or being a bother to those who give me rides. Armed with my purse, Metro card and pair of flats, I’m set for the entire day. I never find myself in a situation where I’m trapped inside the confines of my home because I cannot find anyone to take me to where I need to go. That’s how I sometimes feel at home. Trapped, like a bird with clipped wings. In New York, I have the freedom to fly.
- The arts. Obviously! After relinquishing myself of the “premed illusion” and looking within to discover my true passion, I realized that my heart is drawn to all things related to creative expression, be it dance, music, theater, or writing. New York is THE place for artistic souls like myself. Standing in the middle of Times Square, looking up at the flashing billboards advertising timeless shows like “Book of Mormon”, “Cats”, “Chicago”, “Hamilton”, “Phantom of the Opera” and many more, I find my heart fluttering with excitement, my soul burning bright flames of life. My goodness. I can’t express how alive and invigorated I am when surrounded by everything that colors my life and gives my soul purpose. I am New York City, and New York City is me. It is a love story meant to be.
- Latin-American dance. New York is rich with the best dancers and dance instructors in the world. Allan Tornsberg. Vibeke Toft. Eugene Katsevman. Maria Manusova. Colin James. Gary and Diana McDonald. Yulia and Riccardo. Troels and Ina. The list goes on and on. Being surrounded by so many passionate, brilliant dancers has really inspired me to continue onward on my dance journey. It’s shown me that there is no limit as to how far you can grow in mastering the art of Latin-American dance. If I want to dance seriously, New York is THE place to be. No doubt about it. There are opportunities for dancers here that I just cannot find in the Bay Area or Los Angeles. For instance, I tried out with two potential partners in New York. Both guys were great– only problem was, neither one could relocate to California, and at this point in time, I cannot move to New York. Obviously, I wouldn’t have that problem, were I to reside in New York City!
- City life helps with my depression. See, friends, I have a tendency to get depressed when my life lacks structure or I find myself bored with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I’m sure some of you can relate. In NYC, I’ll NEVER find myself in such a limbo state. Times Square is but a subway ride away. There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy– internships, Broadway shows, shopping, music festivals, clubs, good restaurants, the works. Never will I find myself wont of a means to get out of the house. Simply by living in New York, my life will be a constant hustle-bustle, which I know is the kind of pace that’ll keep the depression at bay.
I’m sure you all can tell how much I adore the Big Apple. I’m already planning another weeklong trip back in September, right before school starts, to take dance lessons with top instructors. God knows how long I’ll have to work to pay back my parents for these trips… but man, going to New York this past week was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Until then, I’ll continue working hard at my dancing and prepping for the upcoming competition– Embassy Ball on September 3! If anyone is in the Irvine area around that time and wants to watch me compete, I’d love to have your support!