A Nepali in New York
New York used to overwhelm me. With its skyscrapers that seem to be reaching for the stars, its lights that never go out and the constant swarm of people, always moving, like a torrential flood, New York would overwhelm anyone who doesn’t live here. Its been almost a year since I’ve been here. I don’t live in New York City, just 30 mins out in the suburbs, in between the towns of Bronxville and Yonkers. But I’ve sojourned many a time into NYC and I’ve grown accustomed to it. No longer does it faze me. Now I find myself walking faster than I ever did before, overtaking people, swerving right and left to avoid slow walkers, giving dirty looks to cabs that don’t stop at red lights. I’ve assimilated, the press of the crowd doesn’t scare me like it used to. Now I embrace it, this heaving mass of humanity.
The central island is for the trendy and the upwardly mobile. Here, everything is ridiculously expensive. I’ve explored most of Manhattan, and I haven’t been very impressed. Cities breed loneliness. I don’t remember who it was, but there is a theory out there that predicted that the rise of the metropolitan would not create interaction between the millions living in it, but rather, would cause every individual to retreat into themselves, cocooning away from the rest of the population. And that is what I see here. Most people walk around plugged into their Ipods, buried into the cellphones or texting on their Blackberrys. It hard to get people to look up, let alone interact with others.
Sometimes, while passing through Penn Station or Grand Central, there will be a band playing music. Often times, its one of those Peruvian flute bands (that South Park lampooned brilliantly) but often times, it will be a guy playing 5 intruments at once, or a dance troupe or even an acoustic guitarist. These are always welcome, a break from the monotony of transit (not the flute bands, they annoy me, there is no variation to their tunes).
My interaction with Queens is limited to three spots: Astoria, Jamaica and of course, Jackson Heights. Astoria is where Avinesh lives. And its a quiet residential area, so unlike Manhattan and other parts of Queens. Its fairly diverse and its a great place to live. Often, my sojourns into Astoria have been drunken ones, so forgive me if I skim on the details.
Jamaica and Jackson Heights are immigrant hubs. Jamaica is mostly black people, Africans, Jamaicans, etc but Jackson Heights is a milleu of Indians, Nepalis and Tibetans (I’m sure there are more South Asians in there). When I first walked into Jackson Heights, I felt like I’d been transported to New Delhi or even Kathmandu. It seemed unlike any other place in New York. Of course, its more dilapidated than most other areas, but the cultural mix is undeniably the best for a Nepali missing home. Walking around, you can overhear snatches of conversation in Nepali and it amazed me. You can eat hot momos for $5 a plate at a cheap fastfood or splurge for a dalbhat at The Yak. Indian restaurants are everywhere too. Everything is undeniably cheaper here. There are Indian grocery stores that stock everything from meat masala to Kurkure. Everytime I go there, its almost a homecoming for me.
Brooklyn and the Bronx
I haven’t explored much of Brooklyn, except a little of Williamsburg and crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge (very touristy, I know). I hear its a lot prettier than Manhattan and Queens so this next year, I vow to see more of Brooklyn.
Williamsburg is mostly hipster area. Rich white kids dressed in plaid shirts, skinny jeans and oversized sunglasses are everywhere. There’s almost an atmospheric pressure to be ‘cool.’ There are thrift stores everywhere and most hipsters shop at these stores, wearing cheap handmedowns and discarded clothing, even though they can afford so much more. Its cool to be poor.
I haven’t been to the Bronx. I’ve only passed through it. All I know now is only the stereotypes attached to it. Those stereotypes so pervasive that they’ve even travelled all the way to Nepal. I don’t trust television and especially its portrayal of minorities. I haven’t had a reason to go there yet, but I’ll make my trip soon. Once I buy a decent camera, I can photograph, but till then, these words will have to do.
I don’t feel like an evil alien here. I don’t feel like I belong either, but I don’t think anyone belongs to New York. This is a place of constant movement. This is the heart of Empire. From here, deals worth millions of dollars are made, the rich and influential drive around in limosines, and sometimes an occasional celebrity will be spotted. But its all a farce. This city just has a facade of loveliness, a layer of flash that almost everyone sees through once you live here for a while. New York is not just the flashing lights and Times Square. Its Queensboro Plaza, the hub of a thousand languages being spoken at once, the bum collecting discarded MetroCards and systematically swiping them for a ride, the street musician on Union Square, his guitar case open for loose change, the disgustingly affluent who traipase through SoHo, the mill of students from NYU, Cooper Union and the New School in Washington Sqaure, the Jamiacan lady who announces the train arrivals at a few subway stations, the fat rats running along the same subway tracks, the white cops who will harass you and give you a ticket for sitting on the stairs at a station, its the Puerto Ricans who will try to pickpocket and rob you but flash a gun if you protest, its mass, movement and milleu. New York is everything and nothing, all at once.