Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pearson to Laguardia (Pt. VII)

Friday, March 20, 2009 ... [Continued from Parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6]

After two nights of sleep on my sister's futon with an oversize pillow, my sore back muscles and mildly sleep-deprived brain were quickly deteriorating in function. Adding to the situation was my uncanny ability to doze off immediately upon sitting down in a car. (This doesn't occur when I'm the driver... honest!) Thus, I was for the remainder of our automobile trip... effectively comatose.

I awoke at our next stop - Chinatown. Chinatown in New York had the same transplanted Asian feel of any downtown Chinatown. It was perhaps a little bit taller and perhaps a little bit older and perhaps just a little bit bigger. But essentially, all city-locked Chinatowns look the same. Colourful signage hanging off of lofty and aging apartments. Crowded streets filled with fresh fish and bargaining salespeople. And Chinese people. Lots.

Having now visited both Koreatown and Chinatown, I had to note: The Asians were there. They had, like immigrants do anywhere in the world, cliqued up and formed their own little neighbourhoods and little communities teeming with their own... but somehow, outside of these areas they were visibly lacking from the overall mix of people. Not missing, just underrepresented. I still don't quite understand it.

An interesting feature I found on the street was this little intercom box with buttons for both the police and fire departments. It reminded me of the blue-lit security intercoms at Queen's University (a similar network exists at UofT) or the DWA (Designated Waiting Area) intercoms in TTC subway stations, which exist to provide a lifeline to students or commuters faced with a panicky, dangerous situation. Seeing one on a street corner linked directly to the police was a bit unusual.

"Does this thing work?" I asked my sister's boyfriend's father. "Go ahead and try it," was his facetious response. He made it clear, however, that he was not used to seeing such devices either, so I suppose it was more of an anomaly than a New York idiosyncrasy.

While we are on the topic of police, though, I found it interesting to note that Chinatown was patrolled by Chinese NYPD officers. I can only assume that the same targeted officer assignment is true in other ethnically-specific neighbourhoods. I'm sure this is not a novel system, but I did find it rather neat.

We bought some barbecue duck, chicken, and Chinese pastries for a homely meal at my sister's boyfriend's apartment. As a Chinese person, I'm used to seeing all sorts of grocery store oddities - from chicken feet to pig's blood jelly. What I didn't expect, however, was to see a bucket full of live frogs, each slightly smaller than one's hand... that is, they were huge! That was a new one for me. I did ponder whether they really were alive, since they seemed to stay more or less motionless; but every now and again, I'd swear I heard a "ribbit." The real question is: what was keeping them from jumping away?

On the way back from Chinatown, we stopped by a supermarket called Trader Joe's to pick up some odds and ends. Trader Joe's is apparently a very special store, selling all sorts of unique and rare foods and health items. It seemed to cater toward the grassroots, organic food-loving folk; and because of its distinctiveness, it was quite unreasonably popular.

The cashier line snaked all the way around from the front of the store, along the side wall, and ended along the back. A number of employees were tasked with holding up what were essentially road signs that indicated the line's end. It was nuts. Naturally, I stood in line while my sister went around gathering her supplies.

We returned to my sister's boyfriend's place for dinner and were joined by my cousins. In fact, the whole New York trip had been planned as a family get together celebrating my uncle's birthday. My mother and I had opted to arrive a few days early to spend time with my sister and do some sightseeing and shopping, but by Friday night, the whole crew was assembling.

My uncle and cousins were staying in the Plaza hotel. They had apparently gotten a pretty meaty discount as a workplace benefit from one cousin's job at Saks Fifth. The Plaza was the lap of luxury. In addition to its cushy upholstery and widescreen LCD TV, the room featured an amalgamated control panel from which the television, lights, and thermostat could be adjusted (and from which you could order a wide variety of hotel services). And did I mention the complementary shoe shining?

It was getting pretty late, so we decided to leave my travel-weary uncle and cousins be. My mother, sister, sister's boyfriend, his parents and I headed over to the 24-hour Apple Store. From street-level, it appears as an enormous glass cube with an Apple logo on it. When you enter the doors, you descend a glass spiral staircase bordering a cylindrical glass elevator reminiscent of the turbolift in Star Trek. While I still think that Macs are more of a fashion statement than functional computers, I was quite taken with the Apple store's gleaming glory.

Amusingly, one of the largest concentrations of Asian people I saw outside Chinatown was a group of youth huddled around a table playing video games on the demo Macs. For a moment, I was challenged in my preconceptions that Macs were inadequate gaming devices... that was, until I realized that the most sophisticated game on display was Lego Star Wars.

But for all my Apple-bashing, the Apple store was a great place to finish the night off at. I mean, it suited me just right - it even had a Genius Bar. I approve.

(As it turns out, the Genius Bar is not a bar for geniuses as one might expect; but rather, a Macintosh tech support station located at every Apple retail location.)

To be continued...

2 comments: said...

Apple hater!! Poisonous frogs! Nice post.

-But they do wear surgical masks when they are sick in Japan >< maybe they aren't surgical masks. Maybe they are..... anti-bacterial masks?

a_ndy said...

Well when SARS hit Toronto, the popular masks were N95 (which are supposed to filter 95% airborne pathogens)... but what most people fail to consider is that you actually need to get "fit tested" for those kinds of masks. If you don't, they might not fit properly, which doesn't really protect you and kind of defeats the purpose.