Travel to US and Europe – tall buildings, tall talk

Travel to US and Europe – tall buildings, tall talk

We woke up around mid morning on 24th December. All of us felt very tired and exhausted on the second day in New York. I was thinking what we should do today – the day was relatively warm and fine, and the sun peeped through the windows for a while. My first priority was to buy a mobile sim so that I can communicate with others while on the move. I had two mobile phones with me, one having international roaming with Vodafone and the other unlocked. International roaming is generally expensive; however, I had this option active in case.

I was looking for a mobile phone shop somewhere near our hotel on 42nd Street, Manhattan. I asked a few people around one guy gave me the address of an AT&T phone service shop half a kilometre away from the hotel. On my way I found a Bangladeshi pharmacy and cosmetics shop. I felt a bit curious and entered the shop. An old lady was at the cash counter who was the owner of the shop. She lived in Queens in New York. She asked me where I was from, and said she had some relatives in Sydney. She did not see them for more than ten years and had a wish to visit Australia sometime in the future. I bought some face and body cream from the shop. The cream and body lotion we took from Canberra were confiscated at the Sydney airport as we put these by accident in our hand luggage and the items exceeded the weight limit. So these were dumped into the bin at the airport.

Anyway, coming out of the shop I was heading off to the AT&T shop to buy a mobile sim. I got it and loaded with US$25 credit which was enough for ten days we stayed in New York and Washington. Coming back to the hotel, I asked my family members about where they wanted to go. We understand there are so many things to see and do in New York – the city of tall buildings.

New York has a long and interesting history. In the 16th century the area now known as Manhattan was a land of natural beauty, populated by wild animals and Native American tribes. A Florentine navigator called Giovanni da Verrazano who worked for the French made an attempt to discover the supposed Northwest passage for a more direct link between Europe and Asia. Instead he found in 1524 what is now the New York Harbour. The English navigator Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, and the Dutch brought traders to settle in the area finding the commercial potential of the area. The area known as Bronx belonged to Jonas Bronck. Finally the English seized the territory which became what is now New York.

At around midday we went to a place called Bryant Park close to the hotel. It was decorated with Christmas tree lights. An ice rink was built in the middle of the park for ice skating. It was free for everybody who ventured to do it. The girls did some shopping buying items of personal use from small shops adjacent to the park. Everybody except me had a go for ice skating but none succeeded to make it! However, it was fun for the family, especially for the little kid Ivy, my granddaughter. While living in Vancouver back in the year 1990, I once tried ice skating with Naim, a fellow Pakistani student studying at Simon Fraser University. He taught me how to do it with feet bending outward, but I failed to apply his techniques and to keep balance, and as a result fell down a number of times. That was my first and last experience with ice skating – fun though. Failure was the pillar of further failures for me so I chose better not try it again and break my legs!

From the Bryant Park, I headed off to the Empire State Building and the rest went for shopping – they required warm clothes, shoes and other things. There is no shortage of shopping malls or shops in New York. Since Manhattan is the most vibrant part of New York, attractions are everywhere. The famous Times Square is full of shops selling a variety of goods and is the entertainment intersection. It is the place where we see the crystal ball dropping at midnight every New Year’s eve. It is an amazing place for visitors and is good to be there to enjoy, especially in the evening with tall buildings illuminated and showing eye-catching electronic ads.

It was a long wait for me to get inside the Empire State Building located on West 34th Street – a 102 storied skyscraper. It was Christmas time and so many visitors from other cities in the US and also from overseas came to enjoy their Christmas holidays in New York. So it was not unusual to expect long delays at some public places during the Christmas time. I was in the queue for almost an hour and then finally passed the security checks to be lifted up to the observation deck. From the 86th floor observation deck of the building one can see the whole Manhattan and beyond. The lights are dazzling and heart-fulfilling. Just before entering into the lifts that take visitors to the top, every visitor’s photo was taken giving him or her a number so if someone wishes to have a photo of the building superimposed with his or her photo that can be purchased before leaving the building. ‘This photo is not that cheap I discovered.

With tall buildings come tall talks. Some people say Americans are boastful and show a sense of arrogance – they are prone to self-publicity and self-aggrandisement. America has economic and military might, and generally many American political leaders are known to have harboured a sense of national superiority and often exhibit megalomaniac attitude in international affairs. They consider themselves as the custodian of free world and strong proponent of democracy and liberty. While some of the founding fathers of the nation believed in civil liberty, equality and reward for talent and efforts, the US administration sometimes may not represent those ideals and values of the founding fathers.

The lofty, idealistic and wordy talk often devoid of substance may even be evident in the ordinary business of life. I remember an American professor of economics who made a presentation to a Conference of Economics in Australia ten years ago. He was an Education Economist from a renowned American university. He presented the findings of one his studies and often quoted from his book while holding it in his hand. After finishing his presentation, the professor said, “This is the best book on the subject and everybody should have a copy of it”. He was self-eulogising in an explicit way and appeared to be an “all rounder chapabaaz” bordering on tall talk. He was an expert in his field but the way he made self-publicity was not pleasing to the ears, and the participants of the conference were dismissive of his bizarre self-publicity.
On Christmas day, we paid a visit to a number of places. We went for a river cruise although the weather was cold and the sky was cloudy, and in fact it was raining. We liked the cruise as we saw the city landscape and towering buildings from a distance, with the boat making a semi-circular movement in the river. The cruise boat went past the famous Statue of Liberty – the symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue was closed at that time for tourists because renovations were going on in the site. We took the opportunity to take some close photo shots of the Statue. The Statue was a gift from the people of France, which was unveiled in October 1886. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984 by the United Nations.

We stayed in New York until 29th December before heading off to Washington. During our stay we visited the Rockefeller Centre, the United Nations Building, a couple of museums. My daughters did not miss the opportunity to enjoy theatre in Broadway. Kebabs sold on roadside mobile shops were delicious, especially the chicken kebabs. We know Americans like everything big and example being Mac burgers and coffee. The size of the coffee cup is more than double the cup we see in Australia. Mac meals are much cheaper in the US than in Australia. The Big Mac index is often used as a measure of purchasing power parity when comparing real per capita incomes of citizens of different countries in the context of volatile foreign exchange rates.

I felt interested to buy an iPad 2 in New York and was shopping around. First I went into a shop in Times Square. The guy who I was talking to told me that Apple iPads would not work in Australia because of different voltage systems, and I better buy an Asus tablet. He asked for price for an Asus much higher than that of an Apple iPad. I was confused. I checked two other shops near the New York State Library (which is close to our hotel and another at a Macy’s department store .

I became further confused as one shop asked for a much lower price for an Apple iPad than I was offered in Times Square. The seller advised me that iPad has international version which can be used in Australia. His price was $399 and the price he asked for Asus was $299. The shop assistant at Macy’s said that nobody can sell cheaper than them as the price was fixed by Apple – the right price. He told me that I should be careful about what I was offered by the seller near the State Library, perhaps hinting at fake iPads at cheaper prices. Who knows? I could not figure out who told the truth and who was trying to cheat. “I am the best; my price is right” was what everybody was trying to project to customers – perhaps a universal business tall talk!

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