Start spreading the news: New York is a city of dreams and dreamers


By LEESAN

The 911 Memorial was erected on the site of the New York World Trade Centre in Manhattan. The two massive square pools sit in the footprints of the former North and South Towers.

At 5.43pm on Jan 2, a brand new A350 airliner hit a six-seater light aircraft upon landing at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The light aircraft had been on standby on the runway.

The airliner burst into flames, but luckily, all the 379 passengers and crew on board managed to evacuate to safety within 18 minutes of the crash. Shortly after that, the plane exploded, and its body was completely burnt.

Unfortunately, five crew members from the smaller aircraft – who happened to be Japanese Coast Guards – were killed, with one person seriously injured.

The mishap brought back memories of the Hudson River incident in Manhattan, New York in the United States, which took place 15 years ago.

On Jan 15, 2009, an A320 aircraft, which had taken off just four minutes earlier, flew into a flock of Canadian geese, causing both its engines to fail. At 3.31pm, the aircraft made an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River. Since it was still winter, the river was frozen at -7°C. Luckily enough, with the masterful control of the 51-year-old pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, as well as assistance from other parties, the plane managed to land on the ice; all 155 passengers on board managed to get out safely.

The Hudson River “miracle” was subsequently made into a movie, with Captain Sully becoming known as an American hero.

Hudson River flanks Manhattan island on the west, separating it from the state of New Jersey and west of New York. There are three airports of various sizes in the vicinity, and aeroplanes can be spotted readily above the city skyline.

The columnist (centre) with his travel buddies at the Statue of Liberty. If you ever visit the place, make sure you get a local guide who can explain what the place truly means to Americans.The columnist (centre) with his travel buddies at the Statue of Liberty. If you ever visit the place, make sure you get a local guide who can explain what the place truly means to Americans.

While walking around the city, we could see New York Police Department cars patrolling the busy Manhattan streets, and hear the loud sirens of the ambulances and fire trucks everywhere. Not forgetting the city’s many skyscrapers towering over everyone ... What a dynamic metropolis New York is, and we were so excited to discover that it is exactly as it is portrayed in all those Hollywood movies.

The island of Manhattan, measuring only 59sq km, has a population of four million, with over two million residents. Besides that, Manhattan also welcomes a whopping 50 million or so tourists annually!

Most people – with a majority being immigrants – seem to hang out at Central Park, the New York Stock Exchange and Times Square, while the homeless are seen everywhere across the island.

In Manhattan, it seems like different “classes” of New Yorkers have their own rules and needs for surviving in the city. I wondered, is New York a “sin city”, or is it the epitome of the American dream? Of course, it is also not wrong to say that New York is the focal point of the world.

And who can forget the Sept 11 attacks in 2001? This was when two low-flying aeroplanes, hijacked by terrorists, flew into the towers of the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan, destroying over a dozen other buildings in the vicinity, killing many. The incident shocked everyone around the globe.

Soon afterwards, two more planes were involved in another suicide attack operation. Although they missed their intended targets, the planes crashed, killing everyone onboard.

According to reports, the attacks killed a total of 2,996 people, including 343 of Manhattan’s firemen and emergency responders, as well as all passengers and crew. Notably, the victims came from some 90 countries around the world.

I walked slowly towards the 911 Memorial or Ground Zero, which was where New York’s World Trade Center once stood. It is now a memorial site for all those perished in the Sept 11 attacks. I thought about how the tragic incident happened so suddenly, with many of the victims probably not even realising what had happened.

A stone’s throw away from the memorial is New York’s world-famous Chinatown, where you can find not only migrants from places like China and Hong Kong, but also from Malaysia. These migrants have long made the neighbourhood their home. For example, Simon and Kim who moved there from Ipoh, Perak 35 years ago.

The couple said that while on the surface Manhattan looks glitzy and posh, the sad reality is that there is a vast disparity in wealth distribution among the people there. A majority (85%) of the city’s population work “like dogs” for the 15% of super rich New Yorkers.

Moreover, the city can be extremely unsafe, and many of its amenities are in disrepair, whereas the cost of living is high. Life could be extremely tough in the city of dreams.

Chinatown in New York was said to have been established in 1858. — Photos: LEESANChinatown in New York was said to have been established in 1858. — Photos: LEESAN

You could even say that American-born Chinese folks are reluctant to live in New York’s dilapidated Chinatown.

However, having said that, Chinatown actually sits on the city’s prime land and is much sought after by real estate developers. It is a matter of time before Chinatown properties will eventually fall into the hands of real estate tycoons.

In spite of all that, Manhattan is a must-see destination for travellers from across the world. Dubbed the “Crossroads Of The World”, Times Square is an international landmark known for its New Year’s Eve countdown, while Fifth Avenue, 45th Street and Soho are a hive of activity, at any time of the day.

Not forgetting the headquarters of the United Nations, representing 193 sovereign countries of the world, is also located in New York.

The city is veritably the centre of the world, a global melting pot, a class of its own among global metropolises.

As for me, I love that there is order in the city’s seemingly uncompromising chaos!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.


Leesan, the globe-trotting traveller who has visited 137 countries and seven continents, enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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