Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NYC Meetup : Monday Manhattan

On the Monday, most everyone had gone home. I had taken advantage of Han's really fantastic hospitality a bit too long, I thought, so an outing was called for. Yes. More walking. It was up to me and Bob to wander around Manhattan, the island that I think most people think about when you say "New York City" (well, what I think when people say "New York City" is that El Paso commercial, but that's neither here nor there). The financial district, Central Park, erstwhile meat-packing districts now the fashionable stalking grounds for high priced escorts with rod and tackle still in place, all the glories of NYC, in other words.

I wanted to see the crush of people, the endless sea of NYC that first got drilled into my head by, I think, "Crocodile Dundee". You know, where he has to climb a lamp post to get his bearing? I got a bit of it. I think. But, you know, it's just people. And they didn't walk at a blazingly fast speed that had me at half jog either. Maybe some of Hong Kong's walking speed made it's way to Vancouver, because I didn't really notice a huge uptick of speed. I had visions of being crushed underfoot by overpriced Italian pumps and Oxfords whose sheen could spear a small pidgeon at thirty meters.It might have been the words of warning from my overly cautious big brother, something along the lines of "NYC Will Crush You". But then, he always moves through the crowd like a particularly well-paid security detail for a retired President. Too much marital arts at an early does this to a mind.

We wandered around, Bob being a bit of an old hand at the NYC than I was (then, I think, pretty much anyone was more of an old hand at NYC than I was. I might have slightly edged out a 3-month old from Hungary in a Baby Bjorn, but just). I know I didn't want to see the same ol' same ol. Get pictures of landmarks that have several million shots of them on Flickr or what have you. I wanted to soak in as much as I could of the island, for the few hours we had. In my 30 dollar quickly disintegrating sandals.

I also had to get a knockoff bag for Mrs. Owl. It was a thing she vaguely requested, and me, being filled with the guilt that only young parents can feel when going on a vacation without the family, took it to be a Holy Quest. I was told there might be Bartering.

My family, as I've said many times, comes from South East Asia. Different parts, mom and dad, but that area nevertheless. A place where 'prices' are just 'where to start your haggling from', numbers that get attached to items by the store owner looking at you, and not so much the tag (which is non-existent in the first place). I had to go, get a bag, and haggle. There was all sorts of ancestral and family honour on the line here.

Now Bob comes from the Mid West. Bedrock of community and family values and picket fences and neighbours with lawn envy and very large Ford dealerships. I don't know. I'm going by, as you can see, Hollywood here. But I do know that Bob had a distaste for bartering. And so did I, or so I said. Or so I thought. One of those.

I have recollections of my dad bartering for things where he really shouldn't have, to the eternal burning embarassment to me. Say, aquarium supplies, or Little League fees.  I have recollections of my dad breaking down a shop owner (on one of our trips to previously mentioned SE Asian countries) until he paid some unimaginable fraction of a US dollar as opposed to the entire US dollar for, I dunno, a wild boar, a small bushel of pineapples? And then there is the story about the family van. Which is a story for another time.

In short, the act of bartering, as well as the very real uncomfortableness of it all is ingrained deep in me. Like, how I imagine college hoops is to other families, or quilting.

So we reach Canal Street. An area, where I'm assured, all sorts of kitschy NY things can be had, notably things involving a heart or questionable electronics or trashy knockoffs of Italian designers made in Taiwan. Ahhh, America.

It's a heady matrix of shops, really. The sidewalk is crammed right to the gills, quite a bit past it, over the eyes and dorsal fins. One is submerged in knock-off flotsam and crap that makes 'pleather' seem the stuff of Louis the XIV's court. And it's manned by many, many Chinese. Ah, Chinese! My life in Vancouver has prepared me for this! There are entire malls in Vancouver with not a single word of English is displayed and where I can be accosted by any number of merchants who insist on trying to talk to me in Cantonese while I beg off, trying to explain I'm only 1/4 Chinese and that quarter being Haka anyways, so, you can see, I'd never understand you anyways, and them, slowly comprehending, shaking their head in shame and disgust.


So the street is cram full of these store fronts. But these store fronts are just an ENTRY WAY to a long hallway jammed with MORE of the EXACT. Same. Shops.

There's a casual disinterest, as well as a undefinable hostility from the shop owners. A posture I know all too well. It's the thinnest veneer of emotion, just going through the motions. Everyone playing their part until they have a general idea of how far you are willing to go. It's almost rude, but, if you've seen it enough, it's not so bad. I take on the half broken English, short sentences, curt words.

"How much?"

"Thirty five dollar."


"How much you pay?"

"Too much."

"Ok. *pause* Thirty."

*sucking air through my teeth* "Ahh.."

*goes about fixing bags, pretending I'm not there*


"Twenty seven."

"Ahh. Twenty."

"No, no. Can't do."

*I pat his shoulder, nodding* "Ah, well" *start walking away*

*He pauses, then he gestures towards me* "Okokok 25"

At this point I push it too much and am at an impasse. A deal is made later on, for a bag that doesn't look quite like a ripoff of a $10,000 bag and more like an actual $200 bag. I don't haggle so much with this owner because I'm sure Bob has tired of the uncomfortable with my half English and comically abrasive tone.

It's an act of wild optimism to hope to turn a profit on items that your neighbour is also selling, nearly identical, about half a foot away from you. I'm not sure how they do it. Then I see a dozen tourists, possible from the Midwest, who actually pay whatever the shop owner says the price is. I can't help but feel that someone is being insulted in that exchange.

Although we avoided most landmarks, I did want to see one, the Chrysler Building. It may not be as iconic as the WTC site or the Wall St. Bull or the Empire State building, but dangit, I just thing it's so dang stylish. It looks like Ayn Rand novels read. Art Decoish. But you know, without the turgid prose, flimsy philosophy and cruel, cold, competent protagonists. It was great. And I've added to the Internet's current collection of 958 100 292 photos of that building. I'm a contributing member of society.


Lagged2Death said...

Who would have guessed that thought that being part-Chinese, uh, I mean visiting New York would be such an emotional whirligig!

All your New York recaps have been great reads. Makes me want to visit sometime, which I have never done properly as an adult.

Niteowl said...

Hehe, yeah, who knew that'd come in handy! Thanks for the words of support! Man, it was my first time there, EVER. No childhood memories to fall back on.

Not sure if that's good or bad.