NYC


Nobody can possibly tell it better than this Scott Adams blog.

I rarely take the subway, maybe once a month or so, therefore I never got to really practice the art of MetroCard swiping. About half of the time I need a second try, and sometimes a third.

I came to NYC for job interview in late 2000, with J for her office visit after she got her job here. We stayed in a midtown hotel and I needed to go to 21st St, so I probably took the V train, which stops at 23rd St. After a looong ride between stops I saw the sign for 23rd and got off. The station felt a bit strange and different from the midtown one I entered, but what did I know.

When I got above ground, the strange feeling grew much stronger. The streets looked very different from midtown. There’s hardly any tall buildings around.

Nor people in clean clothes.

Then I saw a familiar skyline in the distance. Wow, Manhattan is really huge, I thought.

But wait, if I see midtown in one direction, I should see downtown buildings in the opposite direction, right?

I looked around. There were no tall buildings in any other direction. Nor people in clean clothes.

What the foosball underwater clockmaker kitchen…

In the end I got to the interview 15 minutes late. Now I wish I were late more and didn’t get the job, but that’s another story.

Since we moved to the area, I’ve studied the Map enough that I won’t mistake uptown/downtown or Queens/Brooklyn again, but I still get confused from time to time about local and express trains, and weekday/weekend/holiday schedules.

I’d safely bet that the average IQ of New Yorkers is at least 15 points above the rest of the country just because of the subway. Adding in stuff like spotting a non-off-duty taxi 5 blocks away and alternate side parking, New Yorkers have got to be the smartest people in the world to just survive in the City.

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The kitchen sink was clogged.

The dishwasher was stuck in rinse cycle for a whole night.

The washer’s final spin sounded like a dozen anti-aircraft machine guns.

And we went into the City and had a most wonderful time–Ahhh, the sweet images and sounds of escape.

A good trip to New York always starts with good parking, because after spending 40 minutes circling the blocks in vain and forced to surrender to the $15/hour parking garage you wouldn’t have much good temper left. We found a legal space at the corner of Madison and 77th without much trouble, which is a small miracle according to Murray Tepper because many spots in that area is marked for diplomats.

Our main destination is the “El Greco to Picasso” exhibition in Guggenheim. We heard about it from from NYTimes a while ago, and finally got a chance to see it. Like the article suggests, anything covering 500 years of paintings in such a major force in European art is bound to be a tapas sampler. The taste is still excellent, since the tapas from which it samples are all world-class.

Now that I think of it, Spain seems to have the only unbroken stream of truly great artists in Europe from Renaissance to modern time. Italy was kind of silent after Renaissance; France only has Realism and Impressionism; Flanders has nobody between Rembrandt and Van Gogh; and the rest of the European countries have some spotty presence like Durer, Turner, and Kandinsky. Spain, on the other hand, produced one monumental artist in each of the 5 consecutive centuries: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Gaudi, and Picasso. Yeah Gaudi is in a different category, but I’m just trying to make a point 🙂

That is actually the theme of the exhibition: the “endless return and reappropriation on a formal and iconographic level that binds together the works of Spanish artists” (from the exhibition page). The unusual order by theme instead of the usual chronicity emphasizes it, however I feel it’s a bit artificial: you can find “common” themes and styles and techniques or whatever you want to find in any random collection of 10 paintings, barring pure abstract expressionism stuff, maybe.

Another downside for this “greatest hits” exhibition is, well, there’s actually no greatest hits from any artist. There’s no way, for example, to borrow Las Meninas from Prado or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from MoMA–angry visitors would rip down those places feeling cheated. There are well-known pieces, for sure, like several Dali.

It’s still a great exhibition, after all, for an overview of Spanish art. The thematic display is freshening, and I particularly like the fact that all name plaques are placed very far from the paintings, forcing you to focus on the art itself instead of the names of the picture and the artist. I’ve got a terrible habit to look at the name plaques before the art, and sometimes skipping the art piece altogether if the names don’t ring a bell. So in the beginning it was a bit frustrating to spend much time looking for the plaques, but very soon I got used to this “right” way of viewing art itself, even though I can never get rid of the “this must be a Goya” kind of speculation.

One more interesting thing is the reassurance of Picasso’s stupendous productivity. At least 3/4 of the displays contain at least one painting from him. Wikipedia says “it has been estimated that Picasso produced about 13,500 paintings or designs, 100,000 prints or engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures or ceramics.” I remember seeing a documentary on Andy Warhol where he claimed that on some days he makes more “paintings” than Picasso. How preposterous!


When we got out of the museum, the sky put on a faint glow of the freshly fallen night as the perfect backdrop for those Manhattan streets in fabulous holiday fashion. Our car idled down the super crowded 5th Avenue in a speed that would drive me crazy in any other time of the year, but Christmas ain’t any other time of the year!

The sidewalk was filled with people like I’d never seen before, progressively more toward and climaxed at Rockefeller Center. It’s a miracle that nobody was crushed or stampeded in that multi-block sardine can. We caught a glimpse of the 88′ Christmas tree (this one from Ridgefield, CT)–boy is that magnificent!

And a nice trip to New York must not conclude in traffic jam. Seeing the throngs of people I knew I had to take the secret entrance to Lincoln Tunnel–the only useful thing I learned from my boss in the previous job. In no time we were cruising (or rather, crawling) through the tunnel, leaving thousands of frustrated drivers behind…

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It was mentioned in 娜斯’s blog. I used to read her column in 读书 and liked it a lot. She lived (and lives?) in NYC for a long time and really knows what it’s like being a New Yorker.

This novel is funny as hell, like a good New York Post sports column. Like 娜斯 said, you have to be in NYC long enough to fully understand and appreciate the book, but anyone can get some quick laugh. I still don’t quite understand alternate side parking after reading it, but at least now I know what it’s about.

Good planners, people from New Jersey, except for the plan they must have hatched at some point to move to New Jersey.

“I read somewhere that the aggregate value of unexpired time left on meters people drive off from, just in New York alone, is the equivalent of the gross national product of something like 38 different countries.”

… the (subway) system had created as Tepper always thought of as the New York version of the Swedish sauna, offering, instead of an abrupt change from a hot tub to freezing snow, an abrupt change from furnace-like stations to freezing trains and back again.

Now this is why Manhattan is Manhattan: a perfect Spring afternoon in a museum of private art collection and Central Park.

We went to the Frick Collection for a special exhibition on Goya’s last works. Turned out there’re lots of goodies housed in the mansion of Henry Clay Frick. The museum entree fee is $15, but with J’s Goldman ID we got in free. Corporate America is good!

The Goya exhibition only takes up 3 small rooms (2 underground) with around maybe 40 compositions in painting, drawing, lithograph, and miniature painting on ivory chips. The breadth and scale is no comparison to what we saw in Madrid’s Prado Museum, but its focus is quite significant: the last 4 years of Goya’s life (1824-1828) when he self-exiled to Bordeaux. The pieces are from all over the world, mostly Prado.

The permanent collection is very impressive, with pieces from Renaissance, Flemish, to pre-Impressionism masters like Titian and Rembrandt. I like the English collection of Constable and Turner in particular, since I’ve never seen them in galleries. I hate the many French Rococo paintings by court painters like Boucher, though.


Coming out of the museum, we bought some quick food and sat down in Central Park for lunch. Then we strolled around Central Park mostly to practice photography for our upcoming European trip in just a week. Little did we expect that we’d run into one of the most celebrated Manhattan residents: a red-tail hawk called Pale Male. It started to make a 5th Av window top his nest in early 90’s, had 3 mates (first died in the Catskills, second died on Met’s roof from eating a poisoned pigeon), and several broods. Today a new brood is expected to be hatched, so there’re many cameras and telescopes pointing toward the nest waiting for the new chicks to appear.

The moral of Pale Male’s story is anything can happen in Manhattan, and anyone can survive…

It’s the last day of the Tribeca Film Festival, and I bought tickets to the 11:45pm So Complicated for 7 short films, and the 3pm Green Hat by 刘奋斗, the screeplay of 爱情麻辣烫. It’s our first time to a film festival, and it’s sure worth the money ($10 each ticket)!
So Complicated is part of the family program at the festival, and all the shorts are about growing joys and pains of teenagers. At the end 6 directors that were there had a Q&A session. Here’s a recount of each film.

1. Young Artie Feldman, Director: Erik Moe, U.S.A. 6 min

This is the best of all shorts. It’s the story of a boy named Artie Feldman who is an extremely talented agent for fastfood workers. He finds jobs for his “clients” at all kinds of fastfood places selling burgers and tacos alike, and bargain for their salary and benefits. Ridiculous as it sounds, the film really make you believe it’s real and in no time Artie will be a super star agent. The director wasn’t there, otherwise I would ask him if it’s based on a real life story, maybe even his own.

The film is very fast-paced (great editing). Artie talks all the time, with a dorky assistant managing his schedule and patching in calls at his home. At the beginning he’s negotiating with a burger shop manager for the salary of a client. He asks for $8.25 an hour, but the manager only agreed to pay about $6. Artie didn’t get what he wants, but wait and see. Then we see Artie making and breaking a few other deals, and hit a low point when a guy doesn’t want him to be his agent, throwing the tagline “I’m not in show biz, I’m in food biz”. Finally we see the burger shop manager again, shocked by some photos taken by Artie’s assistant showing him kissing someone not his wife, and had to give in to Artie’s deal of $8.25/hour plus benefits.

Hilarious, great tempo, great storyline. A wonderful treat.

2. Terra, Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas, U.S.A. 7 min

This is the only CG film. The story is that an alien girl named Terra builds her own telescope disregarding the rule on the alien planet. Her father tries to stop her as well as some law enforcement, but Terra is determined to use her telescope to see an object coming towards her planet, which turns out to be a gunship with a USA flag with hundreds of stars. The film ends there, but we all know what’s gonna happen to Terra’s planet.

The CG is ok, with nice alien landscape and facial expression. The storyline is kind of stereotypical, but the imperial USA ship is a good punchline. The director said it’s a tiny part of a feature CG film that he’s been brewing for years, and 9/11 changed his thoughts (I think that’s just a polite way of saying if he showed it after 9/11 he’d be booed like a traitor).

3. Little Losers, Director: Rena Ferrick, U.S.A. 17 min

A stereotypical but delicate film about one day of a lonely smalltown girl’s life. She delivers paper, hides her elder sister’s boyfriend, babysits, looks for the little boy all around, befriending a boy just moved in. The pace is slow, the children actors sometimes not very natural, but the storytelling is smooth. Nice little film.

4. Gretchen & the Night Danger, Director: Steve Collins, U.S.A. 26 min

The longest, boring sometimes. Too much use of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, although deliberatedly. Gretchen looks like 30 instead of a teenager. She can’t stand her biker boyfriend treating her like trash, but she just can’t break up with him, and had to lie to her caring but careless mother all the time. In the end she learns to choreograph, and created a surprisingly wonderful dance showing her paradoxical relationship with her boyfriend.

Sometimes the shot is out of focus without a good reason. The lighting doesn’t look nice. Good story, still.

5. The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja, Director: Peter Craig, U.S.A. 12 min

A funny scene about a bunch of teenage boys making the “climatic” scene of a ninja movie with nothing going right, something the director did himself, as he confessed. The camera moves smoothly, but the actors seem a bit fake.

6. I Was a Mathlete Until I Met Margo Marris, Director: Joe Denk, U.S.A., 18 min

A stereotypical high school scene, where the funky Margo Marris moves in town and the boy falls for her. Almost the whole story is told by offscreen voice, leaving little room for the camera and dialogue.

7. Great Lengths, Director: Dara Resnik, U.S.A., 20 min

Another stereotypical story about a boy converting to Jewish for the Jewish girl he loves. He finally bails out at circumcision, but she comes back to him for his efforts anyway. The director says it’s based on her and her boyfriend’s real life experience. The film is nicely made, though.

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We went to Lily’s for a quick lunch, took a walk to the riverside, watched some kids play a baseball game (it’s fun! We should do it sometime), then headed back for the Green Hat. It’s a very strange movie, sometimes brillant, sometimes way too slow, sometimes nonsensical. It’s like 爱情麻辣烫 in a very twisted way. It started out with a short clip from a cul-revol documentary showing Chairman Mao and millions of Red Guards at Tianan Men, everybody wearing a green hat. What followed is two stories about love and betrayal.

After the movie, we couldn’t resist the fine weather so we decided to take a walk to the storied Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a long nice walk from Tribeca to the middle of the bridge. I need to learn more about the history and myth of the bridge, otherwise it’s just a plain old looking structure.

Afterwards we went to Sweet and Tart in Chinatown to cap off the afternoon. A great trip would never be complete without great food. Wonderful afternoon, wonderful City.

Mayor Bloomberg asked, and my answer is: in the office. There can’t be a less common answer than that, but everything else is uncommon.

ConEd, the utility company for New York City, came to our building in the morning and reset the meter, so we were asked to turn off everything, and the power went out for less than one minute. With our CEO on vacation, the rest of us chatted happily with sunlight seeping through the blinds. So when the power went off at about 4:10pm, we had no other thought than that it’s another meter reset. Our office manager went out to check with the building owner, and she came back quickly to tell us that the whole block was out of power. Soon everyone found out that no one’s cell phone can connect a call.

Of course the first thing that came across my mind was that it’s 9/11 all over again. The Empire State Building must have been hit. I ran down to the street. There were not too much more people on the street, and no one was panicking. I walked half a block and saw the tip of the Empire State Building through the forest of buildings under a bright blue sky. No smoke, no fire, no siren. It’s just a blackout.

And it’s a big one! There was a blackout in 1965 that affected 25 million people in Northeast US. In 1977, 9 million people in New York City lost power. This time it’s reported that 50 million people throughout southern Canada (Toronto and Ottawa), Michigan (Detroit), Ohio (Cleveland), Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York may have an answer to the Bloomberg Question.

We soon learned about the blackout from a battery-powered radio, the same good old one that brought us news on 9/11. Fortunately our cordless phone base station has batteries in it, and the whole phone system must have an independent power supply, so we were able to make phone calls as usual. I called Ding Qi, and learned that her building was operating on backup power and she still got Internet on her laptop. The cell phones were actually working, only that the networks were too overwhelmed.

As we learned from 9/11, we need to get out of Manhattan as quickly as possible. There’s a ferry station right beneath Ding Qi’s building, and she would take the ferry across the river to Hoboken. We four Chinese engineers at BrainMedia would go to Port Authority Bus Terminal. It was about 5pm when we started walking. The streets were jammed with no traffic light. Lots more people were on the streets, and more every minute. People were popping out of the ground through evacuation wells from stranded subway trains. I couldn’t help but have Bob Marley singing “Exodus/movement of the people” in my head.

We got to the bus terminal in less than an hour, not much longer than it usually takes. It was closed. We continued to the entrance of Lincoln Tunnel two blocks further away, wondering if we could walk to the other side. It’s also not far from the midtown ferry stations, where we could use the ferry to get across the river (later we learned from other people who went to the ferry that it’s a huge mess and the waiting was 3-4 hours). Turned out that it’s not allowed to walk in the tunnel, but we saw cars and buses moving, slowly but indeed going through the tunnel. Most drivers were kind enough to give people a ride, and we got on a New Jersey Transit bus going to northern New Jersey and upstate New York. I asked the driver to drop us off before getting onto New Jersey Turnpike, where it’s just a couple of miles from our home. When I saw the light at the New Jersey side of the tunnel, I knew it’s nothing like 9/11.

We got off the bus, slide down a few meters on a slope from the highway to a fenced area, and found ourselves on the street of Secaucus through a door secured only by a bungee cord. There happened to be a taxi company close by, and 5 minutes later we arrived at the basement of our building. It’s surreal that everything was normal in our building because of the powerful backup generators. Next month I’ll feel much more at ease when I pay the maintenance fee.

Meanwhile Ding Qi was waiting to get on a ferry with at least one thousand people. It’s grueling under the sun, but it’s orderly and she got to Hoboken in 1.5 hours. We drove to the ferry station to picked her up, and had a nice big dinner with our colleagues celebrating the easy escape.

When I turned off the light before sleep, I still forgot to remember that it’s quite a privilege to be able to turn off the light by yourself.

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一个星期了。

昨天灾后第一天进城上班,与Penn Station依旧川流的人群一起浮上地面,发现在门口等出租车的长队不见了,因为任何车辆不准靠近Penn Station的大门。每个街口都有警察,每个电话亭上都贴满了寻找亲人的绝望。经常经过的一个消防站里,死于废墟中的消防队牧师在相片里微笑着,透过天堂般的烛光。从第六大道上向南望,第一次看到了尖顶的世界金融中心一号楼(美国运通大厦),才发现其实它比周围的楼已经都高了。灰烟散尽以后,估计从帝国大厦顶上就可以直接看到自由女神像了。

今天到了公司才知道8:48时全美国静默了一分钟。那时我一定刚刚从火车上下来,在自动扶梯上闭着眼睛醒觉;等我上到地面,街道繁忙如常。Canal Street以上的纽约到底并没有什么不同,出租车依然鸣叫,Broadway两边批发店的韩国老板们依然抽着烟搬着箱子。百万城市居民加百万进城的上班族,受到直接影响的几万人最多只是一个统计百分点。纽约市长朱利阿尼早就开始呼吁人们恢复正常生活,而正常的生活和华尔街一旦重新启动,恐怕要再倒一座楼才能轰然停止。忘却的力量是残酷的,可我们只好倚仗那力量来摆脱电视里无数次地重播各个角度的撞击和坍塌,以及一家家的人们一次次的缅怀。说实话我无法想象他们如何面对着摄像机平静地讲述着他们接到的最后一次电话,但愿那也是一种忘却的手段。

能够忘却的人是幸运的。犹太人不能忘却毒气室。巴勒斯坦人不能忘却家园。中国人不能忘却南京。现在美国的阿拉伯人没有时间忘却或记忆,他们随时担心飞驰的车中射出的子弹。现在阿富汗的老百姓没有时间忘却或记忆,他们收拾着从上次战争结束以来积攒的血汗不知该在什么时候向哪个方向逃亡。我不知道该不该忘却,该忘却什么不该忘却什么。

一个星期了,纽约扬基队又开始赢球了。

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