Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Okay, so it wasn't quite snow over Christmas (since it's still a few days away), but it's a good enough dumping to see what it would be like to live in a city where it snows. Yes, I know how naive that sounds. I'm not pretending it's not. Still, it's all rather exciting to see it.
It started Friday morning, when I was watching Fox News (Fair & Balanced) - and along came a 'Breaking News Alert' which advised that the entire East Coast would be in for a blizzard over the weekend, resulting in a massive dumping of snow on Saturday. Much fear would be had by this snow, and the rest of the show would be dedicated to the impact of the snow on the economy. I, on the other hand, was more than a little bit excited. Yes, I have seen snow before, but only on a mountain, and it's not really the same when you're surrounded by snow, and all you can see is white anyway, to only see more white being dumped everywhere.
But this is New York - I've seen this city at its most vibrant, its most colourful, and its most full on 'move over or I'll stab you' crazy. How would this look completely covered in snow, and how would this affect my dinner plans on Saturday?
I live in the suburb of Morningside, New York City. It's located in the upper west side, near Columbia University and before Harlem, so is considered a rather neat area. It really is. Okay, so there aren't a great range of shops around - many deli, nail salon and cheap mattress accessory shop. But there are also many neat little restaurants, cafes, eateries and bars around here too - which makes enjoying the area exciting, and also expensive. But I'm only in New York once, right?
So Saturday night I arranged to go out with a friend for dinner to a nifty little French restaurant, which for the sake of this post I will call 'Nifty Little French Restaurant'. I was particularly looking forward to this, as
a) I like going out for dinner,
b) They had a fixed menu early bird discount dinner - three courses for $25 (approx $800 NZD, inc tax and tip).
As I left my apartment to go and meet my friend, I noticed that it had started to snow. Only a little bit, the kind that you see on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - snowflakes gently falling down. Snowflakes gently floated down from the sky onto carolers on the street, and everywhere people stopped to look up, and marvel at what was going on. Lovely, right?
Okay, so that's what I wanted to happen. What it was actually like was a little more miserable.The snow started gently enough at around 1pm. By 1.30 it was raining sideways snow bullets in a way that reminded me of a normal day in Wellington (except with snow instead of rain). By the time the evening rolled by the blizzard had subsided somewhat (still with the snow, but less with the booming face-lashingness of it all), and the city was blanketed in a thick layer of crisp white snow, 10 inches deep.
I will admit to being a little like a kid at Christmas at this point. I was running around in my puffy jacket, gloves and beanie, trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue and make snowballs, no doubt embarrassing my dinner date to no end.
So, snow on day one is pretty awesome. Snow on days two, three and four, however... not so much.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about this city without first mentioning the people. I love New York as a city, but I think that I love New Yorkers more. When one thinks of a 'typical New Yorker', most times you'll think of very busy, rushed pedestrians, trying very hard not to be delayed from getting where they're going. I was prepared to be exposed to a people that are rude, arrogant, and opinionated. That's the impression I had got from television, and some friends and family.
But I was wrong.
New Yorkers aren't rude, they're focused. There is so much going on in this city with all the lights, signs, homeless people, pan handlers, people handing out fliers for the latest musical/play/charity event, that in order to survive in this city you really need to just put your blinkers on and focus on getting from A to B. Otherwise you risk suffering information overload in a city full of stimuli (and tourists).
The thing that has actually really impressed me about New Yorkers though, is that they are genuinely very helpful, even to tourists. If you ask for help, or if they see you struggling, they will go out of their way to make sure you know where you're going, and what you need to do to get there. New Yorkers are, in fact, the friendliest and most helpful people I have met on this trip so far. Without their help, I would have been seriously lost and confused for much longer than I have been.
It may also have something to do with my accent. I have certainly noticed that having a New Zealand accent has done me many favours in terms of making friends, getting assistance, or even a girl's phone number. I don't know quite what it is about it exactly, as New York is so full of tourists and immigrants that it can't be the exoticness of it. But I don't ask questions of something that works so well in my benefit (Your Honour), and so I just enjoy the extra attention. I have been told however that I sound more British than Kiwi, and tell me that I certainly don't have a typical NZ accent. Since I haven't met too many kiwis in NY (other than the ones I already knew) I can only assume that they mean that I don't sound like the Flight of the Conchords. Thank you, Bret and Jemaine.
I am making friends too. I'm not meeting as many people as I would have liked, which I believe is largely due to my only just moving to the city, and also with not having been able to find a job. I think that there have been opportunities for work here - I could have possibly worked in a bar, or handing out fliers, or some such. But my goal for NY was to get a job that would complement my job back home, or would utilise my skills or whatever I have to make a difference. I know that sounds wanky, but I realised a while ago that I really am a public sector employee, and that I most likely wouldn't be happy working in the private sector.
And so I made a conscious decision not to work in the service industry, as although I would possibly have made a fair bit of money (esp given that people tip rather generously during Christmas etc), I wanted a job on principal, not just to make money. This has ended up nearly killing me financially, since I'm still having to spend NZD in a country where the dollar keeps changing its mind every day. Couple this with the fact that my job back home has been rather temperamental in paying me, means that my visa card is getting a bit of a hammering! At least I get air points...
Despite all my love for this city, I am starting to see how it could destroy me. Completely and utterly chew me up and spit me out. This is certainly a city which can make you feel isolated and anonymous, unless you can find a way to balance that out somehow with active social networks or some kind of creative outlet. Which is something I haven't really developed here yet, though to be honest I think most of the blame for that lies with me, since I haven't made the effort to make many social connections here outside of a few key friends in the city. Still no luck with the improv either. Shame, but the groups I have seen here are all rather average. I'm hoping to check out at least one other group before I go (Asskat and PIT), but we'll see how that works out.
There is a lot that can be said about New York City. I love it here, but life here requires constant care and vigilance. We shall see how this goes.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Guess I wasn't really ready for my close-up after all.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Right now I'm standing in line on 11th avenue between 51 and 52 streets, waiting to see the funniest daily talk show on tv. I love this guy, I mean I was excited to see Letterman because he's famous. But I'm excited to see Jon Stewart because he's hilarious!
I've decided that since it's now very unlikely that I will be staying in this city past January 5, that I'm now just going to make the most of this city while I can. I plan on seeing at least one Broadway show a week, and I still have to get to the Statue of Liberty.
My 'job' is a complete bust, through (and I feel I can say this honestly) no fault of my own. I was completely ready, willing and able to jump into that project, but it's hard enough a project to do on its own, let alone when nobody shows up to the office! Still, I met a couple of people through the 'project', so I guess it can't have been a complete waste of time.
But I'm happy. The weather is starting to get really cold, and may possibly snow today. I'm standing in line to see somebody I genuinely admire, and I have a pretty cool apartment (thanks to my handy earplug investment).
But there is a kind of peace to knowing that I'm not going to stay past January. Now I can stop looking up jobs online, stop getting down that I haven't had a single interview since I got here, and finally take some time to enjoy the city that I'm now living in.
Well, for another month, anyway.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Okay sure, I know there are a few that send their clothes out, but for many, this is a perfect chance to chill out, as it's not always the best idea to leave your underwear unattended for too long.
It's also reasonably affordable. $2 gets you a double load wash done, and it's 25 cents for six minutes in the drier. So a load of sheets (today's adventure!) will only cost me around $2.75 - much cheaper than washing your laundry in Sweden ($40).
It's raining today, so not much with the sightseeing. I'll probably just hang out and catch up on some work, and also maybe some DVDs. Also it's rather chilly, and the natives are thinking it's going to snow soon.
Exciting! Maybe I'll get a white Christmas after all?
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Friday, December 4, 2009
Clothes are cheaper, movies and entertainment are a similar price, and food is cheaper. Or so you would think.
Eating out at a restaurant is great fun, and New York has great restaurants every few metres. Mains (here they call them 'entrees') are generally cheaper back home; where you might pay $30 for a steak in Wellington, you could pay $20-$25 here for the same. This is especially impressive given that Manhattan generally has to import everything.
But New York (well actually the entire country) doesn't make it that simple. Why would you, when you can make it confusing and difficult to predict? You see sales tax (their version of GST) is never included in the menu price. Of anything. Food, clothes, goods and services all exclude tax until it's time to pay the bill, which just gets confusing. A $20 steak will now cost $23.
Why tax is excluded I'll never understand. McDonald's have a commercial over here which has a man wandering the streets with a $1 note, asking people 'what can I get for this?'. Of course when he gets to McD's he is answered wit a swagger of burgers and items that I would just as soon eat as I would run a marathon. But the point is, they lie.
I went into the offending restaurant my first week here, with all of $1.25 in my pocket to satisfy my craving for self destruction, and ordered a 'sweet tea' from there $1 menu.
"That will be $1.09"
"Plus tax, sir"
"Then it's not really a dollar, is it?"
"Of course it is sir. The tea is a dollar, but the tax is nine cents"
I gave him my $1.25, took my sweet tea and change (which I didn't put in the charity box), and nearly lapsed into a diabetic coma from the sweetness of the tea. So I gave it to a homeless man. It's what Jesus would do.
So we have sales tax, to help compensate for the relatively low price of food and such. But then there's tipping. Here you tip anytime anybody does anything for you, outside of simple retail or deli service. This is particularly true of any place with table service.
Typically a tip should be at least 15% of the total bill: 18% is expected, anything more is to reward good service. So basically you tip for service, not good service (though you don't have to tip for bad service, a smaller tip is generally still expected). Also the nicer the restaurant, usually the higher the tip (thanks, peer pressure!). It's not unusual for a $400 bill to have a $100-150 tip.
What initially seems to be a good deal in this city will usually screw you with the fine print. Something I'm starting to become very familiar with, the longer I spend here.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Today, I buy earplugs.
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Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I hadn't so much intended to go there yesterday, but I was in the neighbourhood, and needed desperately to use their bathroom, so I paid the $24 entrance fee and went in. It was worth it just to use the bathroom.
The planetarium is a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and so I spent a little time checking out the space exhibits in and around the planetarium before I was due to go in.
What struck me at first was that all mention of Pluto had been erased from the exhibit, what with it not being a planet anymore. It left me feeling kind of sad; like Pluto was the skeleton in the Solar System's closet, or some bad historical mistake that had to be wiped from public record. It's okay Pluto, I'm not a planet either. (I saw that on a T-shirt).
When it came time to visit the planetarium, we were shepherded into a massive windy line, then mustered into the elevators, and finally herded into the waiting room and theatre. The seats recline, so that we could get a direct view of the domed ceiling.
The ceiling was the screen - or the screen was the ceiling. Either way it was cool. The film opened with a rumbling and some pretty awesome special effects (which made a baby cry), and was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg (which made the republicans cry).
The focus of the film was primarily about how awesome the sun is, but it also showed a portrayal of the big bang and other such cosmic niceties. It was quite impressive, and very well done.
I couldn't help but almost doze off in several places however, as the chairs were altogether way too comfortable. I'm normally a pretty light sleeper, but I reckon that if I had nodded off, not even the big bang would have woken me.
After the movie, I saw the dinosaur exhibit.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I don't really know what I was doing differently. Maybe it was luck, or statistics (eventually somebody's going to respond to your email!), but likely it was that I had both increased my budget for the month from $1000 to $1300 (made easier by only having to pay for one month), and lowering my expectations.
I have seen some nasty places in this city. I have also seen some laughable ones: I saw this one place in Gramercy Park, a studio which I had decided to take on the spot. Then they wanted $1200 a week. Not $1200 a month. I put my chequebook away, threw up a little into my mouth, and walked away.
This place however, is pretty cool.
It's located in Morningside, Manhattan - a suburb just south (?) of Harlem - buy very nice. A cursory walk around the neighbourhood reveals many wonderful looking restaurants, bars and shops. It's a 3bdr/2 bathroom furnished 5th floor walkup (i.e. no elevator).
I'm sharing with two guys, both American, and both in the film and tv 'industry'. Yep; they're pretty cool. Jason (the one I've met), and I have a lot in common. We're both foodies, love British comedy and drama (esp Spooks) and got on really well. I think I'm going to like it there.
Still no luck on the job front. Now that Thanksgiving is over (separate post to come on that), nobody will really be hiring until after Christmas, which is when I'm due to leave bfor back home.
I feel like I've missed an opportunity to live and work in the city though - it was my goal to pick up some work while I was over here but the pickings are so slim (unless you're in finance) and the competition for work is so slim that I think I would have to really make a go of it here if I wanted to get anywhere.
What does that mean? Basically I think that if I were really trying to make it work, and didn't have the safety net of my return ticket home (or my job back in Wellington), then I would probably just apply for anything and everything that I can, and accept whatever I can get until I find something better.
The problem with that is that I've already been doing that, to some extent at least, and haven't even had so much as a rejection letter, let alone an interview. Things will pick up though, given enough time.
But then raises the second problem. New York City is not the capital of New York state. So there are very few policy jobs going. Those that are require a PhD or experience doing that exact same job for ten years elsewhere. I'm just not sure have the experience to compete fairly in this city.
Basically my only hope now is to network like mad - and either get a job or star in my own reality show. Either way would be fine with me.
Unless it's a True Hollywood Story. That would suck.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Still no job.
I am however, continuing to look. I have seen a couple of other apartments since my last update, and while they have been rather lacking, each apartment has been an improvement on the last. I don't think it's necessarily my fussiness that's letting me down, rather it's my desire to be able to access a full bathroom and not suffer from exposure just by getting into bed.
I'm also no closer to figuring out what this pro bono/volunteer/internship job thing is about. But here's what I know.
I'm helping out a lady who's also the Vice President of an organisation called "Yele Haiti" - a non-profit that's dedicated to the economic development of Haiti, founded by Wyclef Jean (but that's not what I'm doing). She's interested in initiating several development projects in Haiti, as well as in other developing countries, and she needs people to research these projects to see if their viable or interesting.
"So you're a research assistant?" I hear you ask. No.
She has some research assistants, yes. But that's not what she wants me to do. At the moment, there's a lot of showing up to the office and sitting on my laptop (which is now fixed by the way - sans any documents or photos that were on there before!), researching papers from the World Bank on Community Driven Development, or looking up the latest uses for protein powder in emergency food relief (answer: protein powder is used as an emergency food). This research appears designed solely to keep me occupied until we can brainstorm 'corporate strategy'.
I think the problem (aside from my not knowing the first thing about 'corporate strategy'), is that she's running around trying to manage 13 different projects at once, without a clear idea about what she wants to achieve out of any of them. This results in a very directionless suite of projects, and some very confused interns/research assistants/kiwis. I think what she wants me to do, maybe, is to give her some advice on project management, and keep her on track for what she wants to do.
I'm not sure if I'm on the right track with this, and this whole project thing could be a bust. Or it could just be completely disorganised. But then I'm used to disorganised projects; I've been living one for the last 28 years.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I had hoped that I would have been able to find an apartment by then, or by the end of last week, but to no avail.
Not for lack of trying, mind. I have seen one or two places, and made many unanswered enquiries. In this predicament I have found myself back in a familiar comfort zone; it almost feels like the weeks leading up to my trip to Europe.
There is a feeling of anxiety about leaving what is essentially a new home. Looking for a place in the city opens me up to all kinds of uncertainty, and possibly risk. Not least due to the fact that I most likely only have until the beginning of January until I fly to California, and I still haven't been to visit my grandmother in Louisiana.
But these are all things within my control. I still have time to address all these concerns, and I think I'm going to have to. So with that in mind, I approached a couple of agencies who promised (one even guaranteed) that I would find a place that I was happy with. For a nominal fee.
One such company wanted to charge me $150 (non-refundable) for a retainer to help me find a place. They would make appointments for me to look at, and if I found a place I would then need to pay them the equivalent of one month's rent as a commission. Now since I'm really only looking for a place for the next six weeks, that would have effectively doubled my rent for the entire stay. It took me a while to figure that out, and was hidden quite well in the fine print. Thankfully not well enough.
Finding the agency on craigslist should have been my first clue. Having their agency hidden on the fourth story of a derelict building in mid-town Manhattan (sharing a building with a 'discount' travel agency - yes the quote marks were included on the sign, and a $5 psychic) was the second.
Fortunately I noticed what I was in for before committing myself to anything, and was able to leave having only spend a little time (and no money).
The second agency, also from craigslist, appeared better. Or at least more realistic. They guaranteed that I would find somewhere I liked, or I would not have to pay anything. Well, I would get a refund. So I ponied (yes it's a word, ask The Queen) up with the $100 fee and headed off to my first appointment. Washington Heights (also known as Spanish Harlem).
Washington Heights seemed like it could have been anything; walking out of that subway stop made me feel like I had taken the slow boat to Puerto Rico. Nothing bad, but the whole community was vastly different to anything I had seen so far: storefronts and businesses written mainly in spanish (or very poor english), with all variety of latin music playing, from rap to the Gypsy Kings.
It only took me 20 minutes or so to find the place, which turned out to be yet another rental agency. Kind of. To get there I had to enter a salon full of Latin ladies with giant hair and massive fingernails, and 'ask for Sonia'. I was sent upstairs to a joint florist/makeshift rental agency. I described what I was looking for. Something:
•access to kitchen etc.
I was told (in very broken english) that she had the perfect place for me, and that after I saw this place that I "wouldn't look at any others". Excited at the possibility, I took the address, and found it just around the corner. It was an apartment building that could have been taken straight from Skid Row. But books having covers and all that, I rang the buzzer.
I rang again, and noticed that the self locking door was being held open by a juice box. One that had been there a while. So I opened the door and was warmly greeted by the smell of stale urine. Still determined not to be judgemental, I climbed the six flights of steps to the apartment (as the elevator was broken, and possibly also the source of the smell) and knocked.
Eventually the door was opened by a kindly old spanish lady, with only a little english. Fortunately I had only a little spanish, so we got along just fine. Until I saw the room.
It had a bed, and a wardrobe. The light didn't work, and the windows didn't open.
"No you don't want to do that, not safe!"
It seems that almost nothing on my list had been met, save for being somewhat furnished with a bed, a tv complete with "some cable. Not the good cable, but some cable". I thanked the lady, who appeared to be encouraged by my ability to climb the stairs, and advised her that I had other places to see that day, and thanked her for her time.
Sonia was right. I didn't want to look at any others.
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Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
- See the Statue of Liberty
- Take the subway
- Ride in a yellow cab
- Get angry at traffic ("Hey, I'm walking here!")
- Eat a slice of pizza that's bigger than your face, and
- Climb the Empire State Building
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
- It's in Massachusetts
- It's where David E. Kelly sets all his tv shows
- There's a Liberty Bell
- Famous tea party
- Hotbed of American history
- Famous for Chowder (Chow-dah)
- The Kennedys
- Great accent
- Beans and cream buns