December 29, 2007

New York, New York

I went to New York this week with nine of my friends. It was a three-day trip that felt like a week. It all started when my brother was told about this Chinese travel agency that offers good deals on trips to New York. So we decided to go enjoy our Christmas holiday there and see what the hype is all about.

We got on bus # 69 at 6:00 AM and started heading to the third most populous American state. Our tour guide, Eric, introduced himself in the microphone. (Why is it always that Asians choose an English name for themselves once they immigrate to a western country?). He was not friendly at all. He never smiled, and always hated it when people talked while he was yakking in the microphone. Not to mention that he had the speakers on high all the time, which would terrorize us while we're sleeping. He also hated it when two people talked (or whispered) while he was talking on the bus, even when he was speaking in Mandarin. I can write a short book about Eric and call it "When The Tour Guide Attacks" or "Tour Guide From Hell".

It took us a couple of hours to reach the border. And the American authorities kept us hanging there for a long while because we had several Non-North Americans on the bus. But we tried to sleep at times when Eric wasn't talking in the microphone. We finally started to get going again and we had more sleep on the way. Eric pressed on the microphone button a bit earlier than he was supposed to and sneezed out loud which was like a big bang that woke us up. He announced that we've reached our next stop at some rest house in Pennsylvania and warned us that he'd take off in exactly 15 minutes so if we're not back on time, we're stuck there alone. The washrooms (or bathrooms like Americans call them) were busy and there were lineups especially on the women's washroom. So we were three minutes late for the bus.
'I tol you to come back in fetty minutes and you come back in eightee minutes. Nex tie I live you alone. Is it true?', said Eric in an aggressive tone in the microphone.
What he really meant was "I told you to come back in 15 minutes and you came back in 18 minutes. Next time I'll leave you alone. Is this clear?" It was clear that he was not happy.

The trip just seemed too long. I never knew it would feel so long like that. But we made friends with a 5-year-old Chinese kid named Vince. He was going to New York with his parents on our same bus. He is the cutest kid ever. He's so chubby, very active, and always smiling. So Vince was a source of entertainment for us as we were chatting with him and taking photos of his cheeks and belly. I also saw one of us poking him in the stomach. His mom hated us, I think. Not because of the fact that some strangers are talking to her son, but because she was trying to sleep and we were the reason she couldn't. After many hours, we stopped at some outlet mall. We did lots of shopping there. We shopped till we dropped, literally. The prices of all famous brand clothing were amazing. Three hours after we all met at the same point again for the bus. Everyone got there on time, but Eric was still not happy.

And finally, we went to the hotel in New Jersey that we were supposed to stay at. It was the Crown Plaza hotel. We liked it. My friends and I split into three rooms. Four girls in a room, and six guys in the other two. We were really exhausted that night but we still went for a couple of drinks at the hotel's pub.

Next day morning (I'm not even sure if it's to be called "morning"), we got a wake up call at 5:30 AM. Eric had asked the hotel's lobby to wake up everyone on that damn bus at that time so he can start moving at 6:30. Why would you want us to wake up a 5:30, Eric? We're not in Boot camp for God's sake. Anyway, all 50 people on the bus got to the bus on time except two from our group. You can guess for yourself that these two are girls. Eric kept crying at the other eight of us even though it's not our fault that two of our group are missing. He told our bus driver, Tony, to take off because he cannot wait any longer. And as the bus started moving, we saw the two girls coming and, of course, they heard a good speech from Eric. And Tony drove to midtown Manhattan.

I won't get into details about the places that we saw and visited that day because they were many. But I'll just give you the names of the places and here they are: Empire State building, Freedom Tower (still under construction), Rockefeller Center (which Eric once pronounced as "wakafala" and once "wakifilips"), Ground Zero, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, UN Headquarters, Broadway st., Wall Street and China Town.

We went shopping in a different mall on this day. Apparently, one of the most famous outlet malls in the states. And we bought some good stuff from there too. Typically, some of us were a couple of minutes late for the bus and Eric told us that he is sick of us not respecting his appointed times, and then he said a few words in Chinese. He was not happy.

After we were dropped off at the hotel, our group decided to go to downtown Manhattan to spend our last night there. We took two cabs and both drivers were Arabs. George, the Lebanese taxi driver driving the car I was in, talked to us about how this country (The States) is better than his. He's happy to leave all discrimination and terrorism behind and come live peacefully in a free country. After a 10 minute ride, he dropped us off at the train station and asked for $20. I paid him the money and he gave me his business card to call him next time we go to New York. What a nice guy! A few minutes after, I found out that this 10 minute trip was worth $10 only. Great!

We took the train to Manhattan and it was so crowded down there. People are walking by everywhere. Eating, drinking and just enjoying themselves. We realized in this trip that Americans are really friendly. There were lots of artists in the streets drawing portraits of people. I got one of them to draw a caricature of me. There were also many people selling wieners and barbecued shish kebabs in stands. Most of the passers-by were people our age. We hardly saw any families or older people at this time of the day past midnight. It was fun. We spent almost most of that long night in Times Square. When we got tired from walking, we went to a bar there called Tonic. It was my first time trying a drink named Bahama Mama. It was good. We went back to the train station at about 4 AM only to find out that our train got canceled and we had to wait for the next one which departs at 5:15. This was terrible news for us. If the train departs at 5:15, we'll get to the hotel at 6:15, which is 15 minutes before our bus leaves in the morning. And we knew that it was a huge risk packing all our luggage (since it's our last night at the hotel) and being in the bus in 15 minutes. And if we didn't make it on time, the bus will leave us all alone in a city that we know nobody in... and Eric will not be happy.

We had no option but to sit and wait for the train beside some scary looking people in the station. Some of them took the station as a temporary shelter from the rain and others took it as a permanent dwelling. Some of them were sleeping, some were drunk, and some were checking out the girls in our group. But the train finally arrived and we got to the hotel as anticipated, packed everything and were on the bus by 6:30 sharp. We realized after this long experience with Eric that his watch was seven minutes ahead of ours. So this was our inside joke for the rest of the trip. When one asks what time it is, the other would answer 'Normal time or Eric's time?'

Now, we hadn't slept in exactly 24 hours so we dozed off the minute we sat in the bus. And that was until we reached our second last stop; a third outlet mall for more shopping. And we did buy more stuff. I could really feel my wallet getting thinner and thinner because I decided to use cash on everything in this trip. I didn't use my credit card once to avoid the bad exchange rate. Everything went fine and our last stop was at the duty free shop at the American-Canadian border. I was looking at the endless variety of liquor they had in stock, and a bottle of grain alcohol grabbed my attention because it was 95% alc/vol (190 proof). I saw a lady beside me looking at me who then started conversing with me.
'This tastes terrible. It will only get you drunk', she said, with a smile on her face.
'Does that mean it's good or bad?'
She laughed out loud because she thought my question was funny. I like people with a good sense of humor. So I just bought the bottle to say that I had tried a 95% alcoholic beverage.

We were stuck for a very long while at the customs. The cops wanted to make sure that everyone bought goods within the customs limit. 'Don't nervous, just smiling', said Eric to try avoiding the long waiting time at the customs. We finally reached Toronto and the bus dropped us off at the same location where it had picked us on the first day. We took photos of Eric and yelled 'We love you Eriiiic'. He was still not happy.

Some of us went home, and the rest of us went to my uncle's place for a midnight dinner. I dropped off one of my friends on the way. And while I was driving home from her house, I felt like I'm hearing my bed call my name. And at long last, I came to sleep on my four-legged beloved.

It's good to be home.

No comments: