By Chhai and Mindy
When I started learning English back in Cambodia in 2009, there were pictures of Grand Canyon, Sydney Opera House, and the Statue of Liberty in an English textbook that we used. These three places were mentioned in a dialogue between two people, an Aussie from the land down under and a local New Yorker. They talked about these amazing places and things to do in Australia and the U.S. As we studied the dialogue, I was hoping that one day I was able to set foot in those places. It was just a dream. I imagined that I was one of the people in the dialogue-an Aussie to be specific- who travelled to the states and was able to speak English fluently. And then I pictured myself as a Cambodian who traveled to both Australia and the U.S. and talked to people (in a perfect English) about all these amazing places and things that you can do in Cambodia. It was exciting until the bell rang. All these pictures I had in my head faded away. The class ended, and I was just one of the students who had the dream to travel abroad.
Five years later, I found myself at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A few years after that, I was sitting in the Opera House watching a live performance. And it wasn’t just these two places, I have been travelling to a bunch of other places that I never thought possible. But this wasn’t easy to accomplish, it required a lot of works (if you’re not well-off, which is my case). Long story short, there was one more place that was still hanging in my bucket lists, NYC. After graduating from college, I started working right away. Instead of spending time travelling or visiting family like most of my friends did, I rocked and rolled to make them dollars. It wasn’t a bad idea to start working right away, I just personally think that it’d be better to give yourself a little bit of time before accepting an adult life. So, after working for half a year, Mindy (@mindykimchi) and I booked flight tickets and headed off to the east coast, NYC and DC. Box checked! Here are some interesting things that I learned from my trip to these two places.
New York, New York
New York City is the biggest city in the U.S. aka the big apple. With a population of 9 million, this place is insanely busy, crowded, and fast-paced. For more geography, Google it! In this post, we are going to focus on the good apple and the bad apple based on my personal experiences.
Let’s start with the good apple!
New York City is the melting pot of the U.S. The diversity of this city made me feel included. I never felt like a foreigner during my time in New York City. Not that I am bothered when people ask me where I am from, it just feels better when nobody is surprised about where you’re from. We are just people of different races coming together to enjoy what this city offers. The diversity of the city contributes many great things such as food, and creativity to the city.
Don’t get me started on food! I could write and talk all day about food. I thought Portland (OR) has a great variety of food. But New York isn’t playing. Food is the biggest part of NYC. It’s not only delicious, but also creative. For instance, if you want a delicious sandwich with a taste of Cambodian dishes, head out to Num Pang. You’re welcome! As a person who likes to cook, I really enjoyed eating and learning about great selections of food from different cultures.
New York City is creative. There are so many opportunities for artists and creative people to come together and showcase their works. It made me want to do something artsy. Maybe I’ll work harder on my photo skills.
How about the bad apple?
Things are expensive in NYC; and on top of that there is a sale tax. While people in Portland enjoy shopping and paying whatever on the price tag, people in New York pay a 10% sale tax. We could argue that the minimum wage is higher compared to that of Portland, but it is difficult to live in NYC even with that minimum wage. You might be walking next to a millionaire in Manhattan area, but there are also a lot of people who struggle to make a living. Almost half of the population in NYC are living at and near poverty.
The city is overcrowded, traffic is crazy, and New Yorkers are not as nice as Portlanders. There are about 9 million residents plus tourists (God knows how many) that makes this city very crowded. I visited over winter when it was less busy, but there was a trade-off of that. It was freezing. Traffic is bad. Drivers are less tolerant. If you’re thinking about renting a car in NYC, just take public transportation. It is so much more convenient. Lastly, don’t expect everyone to be sugar and spice to you. Maybe it’s the fast-pace of life in New York City, but we did not encounter many people smiling. Everyone seemed so serious all the time.
Overall, it was a great experience. I had a great time and I enjoyed every second in NYC, mainly because of the food. It is a great place to visit, but maybe not to settle.
DAMN IT, TRUMP!
After a couple of days in New York City, we took a bus to the District of Columbia. As we got closer to our destination, we noticed more and more snow. I love snow, and it was a beautiful sight to see after a long four hours on the bus. We got super lucky with the weather and didn’t end up having to use an umbrella at all!
DC is the capital city of the United States and is located between Maryland and Virginia. It’s known for being home to many of the country’s iconic monuments and buildings such as the White House, Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It also has some great museums and art centers such as the Smithsonian museums. Unfortunately, all of the Smithsonian museums were closed thanks to the government shutdown–shout out to Donald Trump!
What was open?
The White House was not open for tours, but we were able to see it from a distance. About two miles away! There was extra security, so it was gated off a couple meters more than usual. We tried to snap a couple of photos, but we might as well have photoshopped our own. Realizing it’s just a building that the US president and his family lives in, we quickly moved on to more interesting sights to see. It really was a breathtaking view especially with all of the white snow covering the monuments and the reflecting pool iced over. The snow made it slippery so of course being clumsy as I am, I slipped on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial right on my butt for all the other tourists and statue of Abraham Lincoln to see while Chhai laughed at me. Welcome to my life! J
So…was it worth it?
Besides a sore butt cheek and museums being closed, it was well worth the trip. Do I deeply resent the fact that federal workers are not being paid and that the Kennedy Center and some really fascinating museums were closed because of some wall? YES OF COURSE I was silently cursing the government shutdown the entire trip. But there were still plenty of things to do and see like the Library of Congress, US Botanic Garden and US Capitol. Food in DC was amazing as well! And thankfully unaffected by the shutdown. We were able to find a variety of foods and delicious little shops along our trip. We chose to go on our trip after the holidays, past the peak of tourism, making queues much shorter and smaller to no crowds. I would also suggest doing what we did and booking tours and things ahead of time to guarantee your spot.
We tried to get ourselves to see the National Mall at night after reading reviews that the lights made the monuments a beautiful sight, but by the end of the day we were far too exhausted and tired from walking around in the cold that we never got around to it.
Our conclusion is that DC is more enjoyable than NYC because it’s less crowded and most things are free of charge. I would come again just to see everything that was closed when we went! Finally, thanks to Chhai for letting me take over for a couple of paragraphs.
It was unfortunate that our trip ended. But the trip overall taught me that life is not just about working and saving up. There are so much you can do to live a beautiful life like Mindy once said:
“Live a little and treat yo-self! Life is too short, and the moment will pass before you know it.”– Mindy The Kimchi