My 17-day adventure in New York City has ended perfectly. In one word: what a life!
I spend most of my time on museums, shows and just walking around the city. Simply walking around is not only healthy, but also full of surprises. There are artists around every corner, in every subway station, even in the subway. They make New York really New York. Now I feel like that I can write a personal tour guide or give advices to other tourists.
On average, I have spend $70 per day, which is really good. At least $25 will go to food. There are transportation, admission tickets, living in a hostel, and most importantly, tickets for different shows.
During my stay in New York, I have been to four Broadway Musicals (Mama Mia, Fela, Memphis, South Pacific), two live comedy, two concerts from the New York Philharmonic (one of them is "Salute to Vienna", the American version of New Year Concert), one Ballet "The Nutcracker" from the New York Ballet, and three operas in the Metropolitan Opera, which is magnificent! Two of the operas (Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier) are from Richard Strauss and were sung in German. So all together, they are 12 world class shows in 17 days. It was AMAZING!
And I went to a couple of museums. Like many others, my favorite one is the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. The finest human creations in such a high concentration. It was just dazzling, and I can't keep my mouth close for 7 hours.
On the contrary, modern arts still close its door to me. I went to the Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, but I find it hard to appreciate most of the works there. It will come.
I have learned, a lot. Here are some points that I find very interesting.
As a student, I have more time than I have money. Sometimes I spend more than an hour running up and down the streets to find the cheapest opera ticket. It has been a great experience and a free microeconomics lesson. The delight of making wise business decision is overwhelming! Just ask a few more people in the box office, I can save fifty dollar and get the best seat for a world class concert. It's not really saving money that makes me happy. It's the real battles, negotiations, strategies and maneuvers that makes me glad. If I just go and stand in line and buy full price ticket, I wouldn't really enjoy the shows as much as I had.
These days, I work closely with different banks, ATMs, and personal financial issues. It's very exciting! I have to decide whether I should use credit card or cash, whether I should sell my Euro for US Dollar or keep it, whether I should pay my bill today or let the balance roll over to next month. "Timing" has been proved to be a crucial factor. If I find the "rhythm" of money and do transactions according to it, I will have enough liquidity all the time. Although in small amounts, these practices and transactions are real, and it affects my living standard in this crazy city. For example, one day I forgot to keep enough cash on me, so I can't even buy a hot dog on the street. I had to run through several blocks to find a place that accepts credit card---McDonald's.
Besides timing, "asking" is also very important. Always ask, and ask for information from different sources. Information is money!
2. Speaking German
I'm very glad that I spend a year as an exchange student in German before I come to America. And I'm very glad that I speak basic German relatively fluently right now. These days, there are so many tourists from Germany, partly because the Euro is worth more than US dollar, therefore it is even cheaper for Europeans to spend their holidays in USA. I'm always excited to hear German on New York Street, and I go up to them and talk. This turned out to be one of the most rewarding things. When we speak German together, we are like old friends meeting again in a foreign city. I made a lot of German friends, and I got to practice German and get familiar with all different German dialects.
I always get complimented on my German and accents, which makes me feel great =) This is also my motivation to practice more.
Speaking Chinese as mother tune is my privilege. Chinese is such an unusual and beautiful language. It offers a different way to think. And for five thousand year, Chinese people have been recording their philosophies, history, poetry, etc with Chinese language. When I speak Chinese, I gain access to one of the richest treasure of human wisdom and intelligence.
Speaking English is a must. It gives me great convenience, but it's not an advantage.
Speaking German is like a hobby of mine. I've had such a lovely experience in Germany, so whenever I speak German, I feel like that I am experiencing again those nice moments. Speaking German is also my advantage, not only in business, but also in intellectual world. So many great work that form modern world is written in German. So many operas are sung in German, so many books are published in German...
Language is really a bridge and a bond.
3. Time Management
For travelers, time management is very crucial to their experience. This is a grand strategy thing. I have to take into account many issues, like how is the weather in the coming days, how popular is the site, when are they opened and when they have discount tickets, where are they located, what is the most efficient route and so on. And I always have to think about where I can find good and cheap restaurant and where to lay my big luggage and sleeping bag.
My experience is: I must plan, but don't plan too much. Good plans save time and money and makes the trip more enjoyable. But too much planning is just a burden because things change always. The Statue of Liberty may close due to terrorist threat, and the weather forecast may be misleading. So always have a plan B, and have a good book with you.
4. Modern Times: laptop, internet, Google, online banking, Starbucks...
I find it hard to imagine a situation without my laptop and a internet. At least once I day, I take my lovely netbook and walk into a Starbucks, get online and use Google Maps to get direction, and then log on to Online Banking to pay bills and do budgeting. This is really efficient, but sometimes addictive. I don't want to lose my ability to survive without electronics.
And Starbucks, they are just everywhere! They are not cheap, but offer good, standardized environment and free, fast Wifi. They must be making so much money because no matter which Starbucks I enter, the room is always full of people. The logo of Starbucks has been deeply rooted in people's heart. Sometimes, it serves as a oasis in the wild city. When I see the green mermaid, I feel relaxed at once as if I'm meeting a reliable old friend.
I don't know anything about coffee, and I always order green tea from Starbucks. But there business has been very successful. However, sometime the shops are too crowded, too loud and there are some poor people use it as a refugee.
All of the museums and theaters have a big board near the entrance to show who the benefactors are. The Met Opera even have names on the back of each seat.
I think this is a great system, but maybe the government should also cover a bit of the cost. Indeed, without these great shows, New York is not as alive.
What I found really interesting is reading through the long list of sponsors. Among the greatest sponsors are Rockefeller and his wife, Morgan, Carnegie, Mellon... When we look at industries, it is very obvious that banks are the single biggest sponsor group of all shows and museums in New York City.
The list of sponsors are usually several pages long. Donations range from thousand to billion dollar. I'm really impressed that there are so many people supporting the art and events they love. For the banks and big companies, they are doing a great advertisement for themselves. Honestly, my impression of banks really changes a lot after this visit to New York.
Another interesting thing is that many Japanese companies are very generous and active sponsors to all different kinds of places and events in New York. I have to say that they have been successful in building their image in America. And look at Time Square's crystal ball: right beneath it, is a Japanese company. On the New Year's Eve, the eyes of the whole world turned to Time Square and watched the ball come closer and closer to the advertisement of a Japanese company. They must have paid a bloody amount of money, but it's worth it.
6. Looking at China and Japan in USA
The "Sponsorship" and advertisement lead me to the following comparison of China and Japan.
When I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum, I heard quite a lot of people asked: "where is the Japanese hall?" But I've heard no one asking anything about China. I was curious, and I went to see both the Chinese hall and the Japanese hall, and now I know why.
China has a much richer and longer story than Japan, but the Chinese Hall in Met Museum is really disorganized. There are no themes or proper display. The hall looked almost like a flee market. On the contrary, the Japanese hall is made into a special exhibition. I can see that they spend a lot of energy in displaying their culture. And the sarcastic thing is that, the subtitle of the Japanese Hall said something like "5000 year old Japanese history and art." At the entrance of the hall, there is a piece of note from the Met Museum, saying thanks to Japanese companies and Government of their effort and support. Obviously, Japanese government and corporations are doing the job.
Japan has a small story, but they tell it very well. They tell the story so well that all Americans know it. China has a big story, but no one tells it.
Walking around the street of New York, I see Japan everywhere. Their engagement and operations have been very deep and successful. They has established their own brands and standards. On the contrary, Chinese presence in New York is just Chinese restaurant and Chinatown.
Even the Chinatown is not doing a good advertisement. I visited the Chinatown is Manhattan, and I was very disappointed. But this also represent a good business opportunity. Now China has a lot to learn from Japan.
OK, I will stop here because I need to pack my bag for my next trip to Maine and Quebec, skiing and snowshoeing and so on =)