Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fairytale of New York (or, so THIS is Christmas!)

Christmas in New York started with ice skating, and ended with cake.

The Rockefeller Tree, outlandish decorations, snow, people in puffy North Face jackets and ugg boots (okay, EVERY New Yorker has North Face jackets and ugg boots - what's up with that?), Christmas with the Rockettes, sales, throngs of people everywhere, magical window displays, and a Christmas miracle or two (preferably a lottery win). This was one of the defining moments of my trip - insofar as that I had planned most of my trip around being here over Christmas and New Years, which basically restricted my travel to a similar extent as my lack of paid US employment had.

There are many types of Christmas trees in New York. This is Rockefeller's:

This is mine:

The day started off with ice skating at Bryant Park, something I've wanted to do since they opened a couple of months ago. It's free to skate there (though you have to hire skates if you don't have your own), and so I had arranged to meet up with my friends Tai and Nicky (kiwis), and their two year old daughter Evie for a couple of laps before we gorge ourselves on ridiculous amounts of food. I got there a couple of hours early (or they were a couple of hours late - depends on your perspective, I suppose), and donned my $12 pair of ice skates (solid blue plastic), gambled with leaving my shoes etc in an unlocked locker, and entered the rink.

I was awesome.

Well, I didn't fall over. Ice skating is just like roller blading. But since no straight guy has roller bladed since 1997, I was concerned that my first foray onto the ice would result in an ungainly double twist/splits combo. Fortunately New York was spared the wonder of my gymnastic dexterity, and so I managed to skate a couple of laps around the ice, along with the 250 others who had decided that opening Christmas with skating, and not gifts, was the way to spend the holiday. And yeah, I'd have to agree with them. At first I was a little unsteady on my feet - the ice was a tad bumpy and hadn't been cleaned for several hours (they use a zamboni to 'clean' it... a giant ice tractor which I would certainly not wish to be trampled by), but I soon found my ice-legs and was away.

My friends arrived a while later and we enjoyed a few laps, but by then it was difficult to do anything more complicated than follow a group in a slow rotation around the rink, much like primary school swimming pools when you used to try and make a whirlpool. I always did that, and then would just let the water drift me towards the middle - that was rather cool. Difficult to do that with ice though, so after a couple of laps we retired back to my friends' house for presents and lunch.

There was still some snow around the place from the weekend before, but it was by now rather grey and dirty and gross. So not a White Christmas, but a cold and 'might-as-well-be-a-White Christmas-anyway' Christmas, so that was nice.

We took a cab back to the apartment, where we started getting things ready for the lunch. My friends were having other kiwi friends over for lunch, so it would be a little taste of home during the holidays. I helped by setting up a toy train set, complete with death traps and dead-ends. Some of my best work, I think.

The friends arrived, and so began the feast. Eight hours worth. It was wonderful - much fun, much food, and much wine.

And so ended my Christmas.

On the way home, I saw Isabella Rossellini.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In the Nix (in the NYC)

I just met an American wearing a Wellington Phoenix jersey, but he wouldn't let me take his photo.

So you'll just have to take my word for it.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I had hoped for a cold Christmas, and possibly even a little snow. New York gave me a blizzard.

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.

I've seen taxis skidding on the street, narrowly avoiding pedestrians. I've been a victim of 'fake footpath', where the ground appears to be solid concrete, only to be melty snow slush the same colour of solid concrete - not nice when you plunge your foot into that! Not least though, snow after day one loses much of its magic and lustre, and quickly becomes various shades of yellow, brown, or pink, and full of litter and other junk.

But I don't let it get me down. I got to see snow in New York City. I'm happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Of Statues and Sunsets

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The crazy that is Times Square

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

New York, New Yorkers, and No Work

There's a lot that can be said about New York City.

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

What made me famous

Back in August (London) I visited the happiest place on Earth - the Borough Market. There I somehow made it to television. Here is the link to my very embarrassing debut.


Guess I wasn't really ready for my close-up after all.

Monday, December 7, 2009


One of my goals for New York was to get a job. Another goal was to watch a live taping of The Daily Show. The former I have as yet been unable to achieve. The latter though, I'm achieving as I write this.

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.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The biggest slice of pizza I have seen in my entire life. I kid you not.


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This is probably better

Snow wise, I mean
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And now it's snowing!!

A little bit, at least.
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Laundry Day

Most apartments and such in the city don't have a washing machine or dryer, so I have to use a laundromat. It's kind of cool that so many people in the city have to use this to do their washing.

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

Brooklyn and her Bridge

I was going to walk down Wall Street today.

I walked to Brooklyn instead.
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Tipping: not just a place in China

One thing I've noticed here is that, aside from the cost of accommodation, the price of everyday items is generally either comparable or lower to the cost of things back home.

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"
"Excuse me?"
"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

First night: little sleep

There's a pipe in my room which connects the whole building's hot water. Every time someone uses hot water it gets noisy. The more that use it, the noisier it gets. Keeps my room warm though.

Today, I buy earplugs.
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