The myth that New York City is considered the big apple was busted when I, along with the other fourteen 2013 Emerging Leaders of Pakistan Fellows delved deep in the city’s diverse and unending cultural landscape as our first stop in the three week US visit.
New York City, by no means, is a big apple; I reckon it is a humungous apple, beckoning to have a bite taken out of it.
Before arriving, my impression of New York was that of a bustling and busy metropolis with trademark callous and cold people, but to my amazement I fortunately found people willing to go out of their way to help me. Every time I bumped into someone to talk or ask for directions they would stop, chat in a congenial manner, take out their smart phone, and guide me to my destination. Even my misgivings of boarding a subway at night dwindled when I met some of the friendliest people at the stations.
Times Square, where our hotel was located, seemed like a city within a city that had assimilated all the ethnicities in just a few blocks. Israel’s Independence Day celebration was one highlight that drew a massive crowd to the famous Times Square. Even in the wee hours of the night, this area gives the feeling of a busy Monday morning.
The visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the Islamic Art Galleries and Imran Qureshi’s Roof Garden Commission, was an awe aspiring experience. The way invaluable relics of the past were preserved in that art conservatory was very moving.
James Burke once said: “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are.” I believe partly that Pakistan is in a state of lost identity today is because we have not preserved the rich historical archives of our past.
Another highlight from that week was standing on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building (famous for the movie King Kong) and seeing the panoramic view of the entire city and its surrounding boroughs. No other place in New York could match that experience.
One peculiar thing I noticed with American monuments or historic buildings I visited is that each has a separate shop dedicated to sell its merchandise. I don’t think in Pakistan our monuments or buildings of historical significance are marketed in this manner. Also, people in the US take pride in visiting these places.
The team building exercise held in Chelsea Piers hogged the limelight for me in terms of our cohort’s professional activities in New York. I was dumbfounded by the state-of-the-art facilities at the recreational centre. We even had a celebrity sighting, with Jamie Fox playing basketball in the next court to ours.
Sitting next to Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen, during our meeting at their headquarters, was another memorable moment that I will not forget. Apart from her charisma and aura, she permeated spiritually all around the room while speaking to us. Her inspirational pep talk was palpable in her company’s manifesto, the gist of which is: “it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity.”
Before leaving Jacqueline was gracious enough to gift each one of us her awe-inspiring book called The Blue Sweater!
It might sound cliché but I can’t help but say that the vibe in NYC cannot be compared to any other city in the world. The High Line, rich art galleries, overarching Brooklyn Bridge, the grandeur of the Statue of Liberty, a bustling Wall Street, the famous fountain in Central Park, top tier universities, Broadway shows, and the skyscrapers of Manhattan are just a few jewels in the crown of the great city of New York.
Walt Whitman aptly lauded New York’s vibrant landscape in these words: “Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan!”