I Hate New York, I Like Beijing



60 Bowery, NY, NY 10013

Neighborhood: Chinatown

I am one of those people who can’t stand New York.

The first time I was in New York I was mugged by a young Hispanic man wielding a Phillips head screwdriver. It was long ago, I was young, and not about to give him $20, all the money I had. We went into a restaurant where I asked for change, which they said they couldn’t give me. We went next door to an adult book store and they gave me two tens, one of which I gave to my assailant, who thanked me.

On the occasion of my second trip to New York, my car was sacked, and an assortment of cassette tapes I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to was pinched.

Also, there was the window incident: It was summer, and the windows were open and I left a book by the window overnight. The next morning, there was a layer of grit on it and I asked our host if there had been a fire in the neighborhood during the night. At first he didn’t understand my reasoning and when he did, he couldn’t stop laughing. The third time went well mostly, I imagine, because I was in and out of the city on the same day and caught the criminal element off guard — though I did have to endure a New York Wedding, which was painful — so much black, it was like a funeral. One wanted to feel cheerful and happy and enthusiastic, but it was something of a struggle, given that cheerful enthusiasm seemed both unsophisticated and out of place give the somber dress and hushed, cool, speech among those gathered. Odd, given the exuberant and genuinely loonily creative nature of the groom and the bride’s capacity for whimsy. But there you have it: New York can turn even a wedding into something from Camus.

And then there was the last time I went to the Big Apple. I had thought I was done with the city for a long time, what with all my friends there safely married, I figured I wouldn’t need to return til they started dropping dead. But no. I took an old Chinese lady to see the place because her friends back home in Beijing, had made fun of her the first time she returned from a trip to the US for not seeing New York, New York being so American in the Chinese mind. So this time, her second in the US, after she had said “It’s all right, can take a bus, I’m sure I’ll be fine, not to worry, I know you are busy.”

I drove down with her from Maine and showed her a thin pie slice of the place. Somehow, I didn’t think that “cookie”, “banana”, “fish” and “spoon”, the four words she can speak in English, would be enough for her to get by with on her own. We stayed at a friend’s apartment around the corner from Chinatown, where I explained about sweatshops and pointed out the funny mix of Chinese and non Chinese vegetables at stands on the street. We took a cab to the boat one takes to the Statue of Liberty, where we encountered the weirdest assemblage I have ever seen in America. Half the people milling around were from China and Taiwan. We met someone from her old neighborhood in Shanghai. The other half of the people were a mix of foreigners. My eldest, who I had brought on the trip, and I, were the only Americans there. We took the subway North and saw The Met, which was also packed with foreigners, though we saw only one other Chinese during our visit there. Then we took a bus and saw the Empire State Building and the view there from. We returned to our first mode of transportation of the day, and took a cab to a French restaurant. The next day, we saw Central Park, we saw stores, we saw a man sleeping in a doorway, which perplexed her. I tried to explain some of the reasons why a person might be sleeping on a doorway, but I’m not sure it made much sense to her. But of course, in a way, it doesn’t make much sense to me either, so perhaps she and I are not so different at that.

I live in a small town in Maine. And I live in Beijing. I can go from of twenty thousand to among sixteen million in nineteen hours. Either place works for me. But you know, passing someone on the street in either place, even a person you’ve never seen, it’s ok to say hi.

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§ One Response to “I Hate New York, I Like Beijing”

  • Loretta Cox says:

    Hi Mike. I enjoyed your story, and tried to give it 4 stars but it wouldn’t let me.
    The one thing you didn’t mention were the years you were in New York.
    I was born there and spent 45 marvelous years there.
    And then, everything changed. Despite the 8 million people NYC was a neighborhood town.
    Downtown ( where I lived) were groups of neighborhoods with folks sitting on their stoops,
    and hanging out. It was a creative time, a polite time, a giving time. By 2010 we had to leave.
    New York is no longer New York. It’s rude, over indulged, texting addicts who stare at you if you say,
    Excuse me. “They” join a gym but, take a subway for two stops. “They spend hundreds if not thousands on
    Designer stuff but, live ten to an apartment. Yes, “Sex and the City” created generations of self absorbed,
    illiterate, imbeciles who will videotape you while your bleeding on the street. That was not the case from
    the 1960’s till 2000. No longer my Manhattan. I dread going there now. Living in a rural town of 4,000-
    where people are still polite is alright by me.

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