Back in the embrace of big city: New York City

Before I came to the U.S.A., my understanding of the country was very narrow. Most of my impressions of America were merely learned from popular dramas set in big cities such as Boston and New York. In my mind, New York City has always been another name for prosperity and flourish, as well as a must-go place during my stay in the U.S..

Traveling from a small town in Ohio to New York City, I am more than thrilled to be once again embraced by a big busy city with numerous skyscrapers and colorful nightlife after leaving Hong Kong for so long. I cannot wait to explore this somehow homelike place — take a subway train, try different cuisines and visit all those popular tourists’ spots.

Nightlife scenes and a sky completely obscured by light pollution at night are what I miss most.

I was in the line of going onto the top of Empire State Building at 4:40 pm. As I had already purchased my New York CityPASS, which already covers a ticket to the 86th floor observatory, I only needed to pay $20 more to get to the 102nd floor observatory. At 5:30 pm, I finally got through all the lines, security checks and was standing in the elevator which brought us to one of the highest point of the city.

We first arrived at the 86th floor main deck. I was astonished by the view right away as I stepped out of the lift. It was almost sunset. Golden beams of light were projected over the river and the buildings in front of me. “We should not waste our time here. We have to hurry to get onto the top deck on 102th floor,” my friend Emilie urged us to keep moving.

I was disappointed. I was stupid. I never should have spent my money to upgrade. The scenery here had no difference. It was just as crowded. On the 86th floor there was even a glass-free outdoor area where photos can be taken without having the reflections on the glasses. I spent only 10 minutes and then left the top deck without even looking back. “Goodbye forever!” Emilie cursed.

The glass on 102th floor brought no convenience for people to take picture as the reflections could be obvious.

It was 6:05 pm. I went back down to the 86th floor main deck. There was still light in the sky and the sun was going down. The western side of the city turned yellow while the sky on the other side had a pink-ish glow. Being able to watch the skyline go through sunset and turn into a bustling and multicolor landscape, this was simply the perfect time to visit the observatory.  After the sky went completely dark, we left the building and headed to the nearest subway station, which was a five-minute walk away.

The view of New York City from 86th floor outdoor observatory at 6:10 p.m.

I hate and I love New York City’s subways. Rats and trash all over the floor are not rare things to see in a subway station. During the trip, there was a weekend and a public holiday called Columbus Day. Most of the time when there are public holidays, the subway would adopt a holiday schedule which changes train routes, closes stations and only posts a few printed announcement notes at the affected stations and train platforms. Tourists like me who are not familiar with the “Planned Service Changes” during holidays can easily be confused. It took me almost one and a half hour on Columbus Day to travel a 30-minute distance during normal weekdays.

New York’s subway makes train service changes every weekend.

“It’s show time,” a group of three young men behind me shouted. Standing in the middle of the cabin, I was asked by them to step away and empty the area. One of the men put down a music speaker, hit play button and started clapping along with the strong and throbbing beat. The dancers began their choreographies by contorting themselves around the poles that I was holding seconds ago. In this narrow carriage they were twisting and somersaulting.

As the train started moving a group of dancers started performing in the middle of the cabin.

Some of the passengers were acting as though the performers did not exist, but others loved seeing them and gave them donations. The dancers turned the car from one filling with cold and emotionless people into a hilarious and alive one. This is New York City’s subway. Just like New York City. So energetic. So much fun.

Empire State Building

  • Opening hours: 8am-2pm
  • Address: 338-350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118, USA
  • Closest subway station: W 34 St/5 Av

New York CityPass

New York City Subway


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