humblebrag joke that my career consisted of being sent to various places around the world to play with excel. It had to start someplace, and it was 16 years ago that I went on my first assignment to New York. As a junior intern, it was the epitome of excitement and privilege. I didn’t know what to expect.
New York will forever have a place in my heart as the city where I saw in the millenium. New Year’s Eve I was at a stranger’s roof at a stranger’s party, having gone there with people I just met earlier that day. It was a bit surreal. All I can say about living in New York was, it was an interesting experience, it’s a place where one can very easily disappear and become invisible.
My boss called me as I was leaving so I spent a good many minutes talking to her on the (then swanky) mobile in the lift lobby. My cousin picked me up at JFK and brought me to the serviced apartment I was booked in. I stayed at that serviced apartment for 2 months, then moved to my permanent place at 175 E96th between 2nd and 3rd Ave. It was the first time in my life I rented, but even with the application form filling and not having a credit history it wasn’t as troublesome as it could have been. I was a bit clueless then, and my furniture hadn’t arrived so I moved the suitcases and boxes I had accumulated at the serviced apartment on foot about 3 blocks.
Reason I chose this apartment was I liked the bright airy feel and the beautiful view over the East River. On a clear day if I looked south from my living room I could see the Empire State Building. From the outside the building was imposing and my first thought was of a large drum. There were a lot of apartments per floor however the beauty of the cylindrical design was no one had to look at a neighbour’s apartment. I tried taping a big “X” on the living room window but it was too small to spot from the street. Hee.
It was only a few minutes’ walk from the subway and shops. My weekend routine would be wake up, read the paper and go to the neighbourhood supermarket run by Spanish speaking Koreans. More shops at 86th Street were only a few bus stops away, and since it’s only 10 blocks, on a nice day I sometimes walked down there. Once or twice I even ventured up past 100th Street in the middle of the day, I kept to the busy roads so I wasn’t that scared.
I did a lot of walking in New York. Some Saturdays I’d visit the Union Square market and then walked all the way down to Chinatown. Or I’d take the bus down to South Street Seaport and walk around there. I’ve always been a bus person because I liked looking out at the scenery, the subway had no view. In those days internet was dial-up. I subscribed to the weekend editions of the NYT and there would be small announcements of where street fairs would be that weekend.
New York was the place I learnt about food. Hours and hours of watching the Food Network and some of the enthusiasm certainly rubbed off. Food was abundant, cheap and portions huge. I thought nothing of having grilled strip steak once a week. The aforementioned Union Square market with fresh fruit & veg stalls, fresh meat and even a wine stall. Visits to the big name fancy food shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s were a special day for me.
But most of the time I stayed at my little place. I might order $20 worth of Chinese take-out, gorge and then stick the rest in the freezer. When the Razor rage erupted that year I bought one and was happily speeding from the front door to the living room window, it was a good 30ft run. There was only one bedroom so my desk was at the corner of the living room. The only thing I still have is the desk. The chair, the glass cabinet, the iMac and the (gasp) cassette player, all thrown away or donated.
My assignment was supposed to be 3 years. The office was in Stamford so it was 1.5hrs by train each way every day. Once a week I’d work in the office in the city, which was at the bottom end of Broadway. My global head moved me to Zurich after one year so on 9/11 I wasn’t in NYC anymore. But I could have been.
It wasn’t long enough, one year, to live there. Took me a while to get used to it and I never made any friends. There were places I wanted to visit but I never got round to it. Fortunately in the years to come I’d get a chance to visit the US and eventually had my second US assignment to Chicago. Fewer regrets in life.