A friend of mine who’s been in America for a couple of years told me a funny experience. Once he was visiting NYC with a few fellow Chinese students. All of them were in Manhattan for the first time, so normally they felt frighteningly lost, especially in the subway. Whenever in a subway car, they always tried to find a corner and sardined themselves on the bench no matter how vacant the car was. My friend said that in those moments he felt completely identified with those “min2 gong1” in Beijing. I guess I would’ve acted the same under similar circumstances. But after 5 months of commute and a dozen visits around town, now I feel quite safe and unlostable above and under the streets of Manhattan. It’s said that every street, every park, and every subway train in New York can be dangerous at anytime except for a commuter.
I would’ve been happier if the streets that I zigzag through everyday were 20 blocks more uptown–the real Midtown where all offices, restaurants, shops, and theatres are. The regions I tread upon is actually called Chelsea and Gramercy. Yes there’s the Empire State Building to the north and the Flat Iron Building to the south, but what lie in-between are mostly, and strangely, hundreds of small wholesale stores that sell everything from stuffed animals to Chinese medicine. Many owners are Chinese or Korean. I just can’t imagine how they survive by selling Made-in-China anonymously-branded items that you may not even find in Kmart. Maybe that’s exactly New York–everyone can survive and anything can happen.
There is one place in my commute route that I really love: the Madison Square Park. It’s one of the numerous angular-shaped parks created by Broadway cutting across the otherwise perfectly checker-boarded midtown streets. People know the Madison Square Garden much better from the Knicks and Rangers, the arena used to be right beside the park then it relocated a couple times and finally settled down right above Penn Station. Every day I start from the Garden and usually pass through the Park–sometimes deliberately. It’s literally an oasis in the heart of the city, and I’ve been witnessing its reincarnation for months. Fountains are cleaned, lawns replanted, and sculptures erected. Now there’re always all kinds of people in the park, some for a break, some for a book, some for the whole summer. Dogs bark merrily in the playground, or gaze curiously at the squirrels running around and up and down. Pigeons sleep with heads tucked under wings when I walk by in the morning, and lurk on the branches in the setting sun when I return. I feel refreshed by the scent of the grass and elevated by the facade of the Flat Iron Building every time in the park. Why? Well…
“I don’t have any reasons
I’ve left them all behind.
I’m in a New York state of mind.”
(Billy Joel, New York State of Mind, from his 1976 album “Turnstiles”)