The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: New York

Subway Series Haiku: 2 – Livelihood

Man at the turnstiles
Selling swipes for two dollars
— Twelve dollars an hour

Subway Series Haiku: 1 – Transit

Strangers on a train
Stealing glances through the trip
Then one has to leave

Neither rain nor snow shall keep the one wheel from ruling them all

15348[1]Some two weeks ago, Utah had a snowstorm, and the picture above was circulating around the internet. Where cars skidded and crash, that lone unicyclist calm rolled on.

So did NYC.

a_560x375[1]A unicyclist was seen rolling through SoHo last night in winter storm Hercules, like a boss.

Unicyclists: Clearly the master race




The Big Apple everyone wants a slice of

How did “New York City” come to be known as the “Big Apple”? Brain Pickings mentions that the book, Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?explains:

There’s an old American expression “to bet a big apple” and it means to be very certain of what you’re talking about. Then about a hundred years ago the “big apple” started to be applied to horse racing in New York, perhaps because it was the most important center for horse races or because of the value of the prizes. From there the expression grew even wider until it came to describe the city itself, especially during an age when it was one of the most exciting, fast-moving and glamorous places on Earth.

After a time, advertisers started using the words and even the image of a large, glossy, unblemished apple because they realized it was a good way to encourage people to visit the city. It’s true too: New York is like the biggest apple in the world, the shiny object that everybody wants a slice of.

– Philip Gooden, author

Whenever I think of “Big Apple”, two cartons come to mind. The first is this:

While the cartoon doesn’t specify itself to be New York City, but somehow wrecking balls, skyscrapers, theatre, and talent agencies bring New York City to mind. One Froggy Evening (1955) sings of building dreams and of making it big, and of dreams and hopes dashed by an uncooperative frog.

This was probably my first impression of what a big city like New York City would be like, and somehow I likened ragtime and jazz with the city as well. The frog in question, Michael J. Frog, stuck with me for the longest time, even though I didn’t know its name until when I moved to New York City, and I suddenly remembered this frog, whereby I searched up the cartoon and lo! Memories of what I envisioned the city to be, what it represented, and now that I’m in it, how the same exact pitfalls are applying to me.

The next cartoon, of course, is Rhapsody in Blue. Drawn in the iconic style of Al Hirschfeld, I first heard this song in middle school when my music teacher played it in class (on her Playstation 2 which she brought to class, for its DVD playing capabilities, but I suspect mostly to show off her PS2, which was expensive at the time).

My favourite part of the song is when the trumpet fanfare first comes up, since I was a trumpet player myself, but the flutter blare of the trumpets was just so exciting. On one of my first proper internships in the city, where I had to commute on the trains and all that, I played Rhapsody in Blue on the train ride on my first day at work, and it got me very hyped up for the rest of the day.

The song is set in the 30’s Depression era, of a period where dreams and joblessness are rife. Today, we’re coming to the end of 2013, and I still feel like we’re in the throes of the Depression. What with articles everywhere touting us to be in the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, it’s hard not to look at the video and feel blue. But unlike the characters in the video, who miraculously get the life they want, for the rest of us stuck on this side of reality, we can only slog on.

In Search Of The Day Til We Get A Slice

I have been blinded by the sparkles
that bounces off of the Big Apple
that comes from the shining gems and ‘scrapers
of those who have made it
while we the many have to remain content
with the sights we get from lights above,
dreaming of the day that we, too, get a slice

To learn that
the crunch of the bite
are the sounds of those trodden underfoot;
the sheen of red
is painted with the blood of those sacrificed;
in payment for a slice.

Three lunar years later

Three lunar years ago, I shot myself into the air, through space, and landed on the other side of the planet. There, three Lunar New Years missed. Will I miss the next one too? With an adventuring spirit, I thrust myself into the unknown.

Having left home, it seems I have cut myself adrift, with very little means to go back. I am still floating, rotating, and have yet to gain enough gravitas and inertia to propel myself anywhere. How can I go back home in this state?

There will be no triumphant return, only stony silence and static white noise.

I have been dreaming dreams of various places back home, it seems almost uncanny; unnerving. I don’t know what to do.

In the mean time, I remain in stasis, as my life support slowly flickers lower.


Touching story, beautiful journalism

nytimesprojPhoto credits New York Times, from the Invisible Child

It is not very often that a piece of journalism moves me, and I can say that the Invisible Child, a project that follows the lives of Dasani, her parents, and seven other siblings, as they struggle with poverty and the trap that is shelter housing. Immediately, Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc comes to mind, where she took over 10 years to follow the story of two women as they struggle with love, drugs, and prison.

However, Invisible Child is no mere tear-jerker, even as its tales are raw and moving in its simplicity, and the attention to detail makes the scenes real to the reader. Invisible Child expertly weaves together some of the very complex ills that plagues New York City into one coherent story, namely:

  1. The bad the homeless situation in NYC is. With 22,000 children homeless in the city, this is the highest it has been since the Great Depression. It also talked about how mayor Bloomberg exacerbated the situation with his policies when he took office.
  2. g2

    Infographics credit to New York Times

    Income inequality, neighbourhood inequality, and the encroaching gentrification that hems the poor in, as they squeeze them out.

  3. The ongoing tensions between public schools and charter schools, as the latter are often better equipped with computers and equipment, attracting richer students, even as they share the same grounds with the public school. This leads to worries of segregation and discrimination of the poorer-off public school students.
  4. The helplessness of the poorer trapped in their poverty, as they are beholden to drug habits, stuck in their social immobility due to a lack of skills, lack of financial responsibility education such as knowing the importance of saving, etc.
  5. The injustice and deplorable conditions shelter residents have to put up with, from those who are supposed to help them. Shelters subject their residents to unsanitary and downright unsafe conditions (story talks of a baby who died because there was no air-conditioning), as well as the constant fear of sexual assault that goes on in these places.
  6. The resilience of the human spirit we see in the protagonist, Dasani. Even as the story paints her a fighter, it also shows her clinging on to her childhood as she is forced to grow up to take care of her seven younger siblings, and at times, her parents.

I would highly recommend anyone to read this piece of amazing journalism, and it has truly made me proud to have embarked on this journey. Even though my path to journalism has yet to take off, it is shining pieces like these that pull me through, in hopes that one day I too may make a difference by telling stories like these.

I would also recommend people read the author’s notes, as they are highly informative and show how the stories is pieced together, especially given the multitude of statistics in the story.

Sunny-side up

I left a land of forests evergreen
for leaves that die ruby.
I jumped out of a balmy heat
and into winter’s vindictive freeze.
As roiling skies tumble a dismal grey,
painting our emotions flat,
I sit by my window sill
looking to the distant heavens
hoping to catch a glimpse of that same sun
that must be shining brightly down upon
that tropical paradise of unchanging seasons
from whence I came.

But I remember
sitting by a window sill,
boiling in a tropical heat,
looking out of the frying pan, at that same sun
that must be shining warmly down upon
that continental paradise of changing seasons
where I now sit.

The most complicated Chinese character food chain in New York

Image credits to Wikipedia

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the most complicated Chinese character, Biáng. With 57 strokes, it is used in the name of a dish from Shaanxi, the Biang Biang Noodle (Biáng.svgBiáng.svg面). Note how even copy-pasting the character from Wikipedia results in the character’s inability to be displayed normally alongside the noodle character. Also, this word is not standard Chinese, so typing it into Google translate will not yield anything, nor can the online keyboard from Google yield this character. Speculations of the origins of the word include that it is the sound people make when munching on the noodles, or that it is the sound the dough makes when the chef pulls the dough and slaps it against the table. Some concluded that it was merely made up by a noodle store.

For anyone wondering “Where do I even begin to write this character??” here’s a nifty video (below) to help you out.

However, I’m not just here to talk about the “biang” character. I’m here to talk about Biang making its ways onto the shores of New York. There has been a Xi’an Chinese food chain, called “Xi’an Famous Foods,” that’s been popping around New York. They’re known for being cheap, with good portions, and offering the rarely-seen Xi’an cuisine, which often includes meat skewers, cumin lamb buns, and of course, biang biang noodles.

Most Xi’an Famous Foods chains are hole-in-the-wall kind of establishments, with nothing to write home about for its decor, ambience, or any of the other bourgeois things people talk about when assessing eateries; Xi’an Famous Foods is a no-nonsense, eat-yer-food-and-get-out kind of place.

So when that chain introduced Biang!, their upscale version of their chain restaurants (replete with a spiffy website!), serving the exact same menu, one wonders what is the point. Even more important, one wonders if they would jack up the prices, given that Biang! features mood lighting, air-conditioning, nice brick walls and made itself the kind of place you would potentially bring your date to. Well it seems that Biang! does have some slight variation in their menu, offering some food items not usually available from the laminated pictures of the food stuck onto the walls of its lesser chains, so were one so moved to go all the way to Flushing (about 40 minutes from Manhattan), one should go just for a taste of Xi’an, if not to just take a picture of the signboard with the most complicated Chinese character in existence.

Veni, vidi, left with no Pokemon


It was a geek overload over the weekend: not only was there the New York Comic Con, but it was also the launch of the new Pokemon game, Pokemon X/Y.

Let’s talk the Pokemon launch.

There was a launch event going on from 8 PM to 12 AM, where people in line can get their hands on the game. I’ve been waiting a long time, even obsessively checking Reddit forums for all the spoilers about the game (I effectively knew all the Pokemon there were in the game even before the game was officially released). I was most definitely going to the launch event to get a copy of the game.

I met up with a couple of friends, where we decided to play some Mario Party before going to the event at the Nintendo World store at Rockefellers Center. Friendships were broken inevitably, as people who play Mario Party are wont to do, but we left at 8 PM.

The queue had already circled around the block. Thankfully, but virtue of us being ninjas, we managed to ninja the line (cut the queue) just a tad.

So from 9 PM, we stood there, as I racked up so many Streetpasses, the Nintendo 3DS feature that allows one to exchange profiles with each other that can be used for the 3DS’s minigame, Mii Plaza, and I spent about 3 hours of non-stop trying to clear the Streetpass — it was honestly the first time I felt exhausted by it, when ordinarily I’d have been thrilled for any Streetpass.

At midnight, the line started moving. Rejoice! I was physically closer to getting a copy of the new Pokemon! Getting closer now, cleared a couple more Streetpasses, turned the block, great, is that the facade of the building??

Alack! Just as we were about to reach the front, someone came up the line with this news:

“I’m sorry, but from this point on, you’re not going to be able to get the game tonight.”

My heart swelled up from excitement, and promptly shattered into a million pieces.

I waited three hours in line with all that hype and was to leave the place empty-handed? There were mixed messages floating around as another person said that it is likely those in line with us would get the games, provided we wait perhaps another three to four hours or so. Meanwhile, those who had been waiting in line since 5 PM were gaily enjoying their stupid Pokemon games and stupid Pokemon launch event swag.

In consolation, they gave out Pokeball game card holders and some posters. I was not very consoled. But I left anyway, because I haven’t had dinner.

Experiencing Darshan?

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I went to the exhibition “Darshan” at the Clampart gallery. The word “Darshan” means “sight” in Sanskrit, but it is used in the context of receiving “spiritual vision,” or the moment of theophany. It is a way of being able to see the divine directly through a medium, be it art, sculptures, landscapes, or great people. Some call it “divine inspiration,” but I like to think of it as the moment of being in awe  in sublimity in the presence of great spirituality.

It can be akin to being taken by the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, a sort of event that happens in the consciousness.

I went to the exhibit hoping to receive that experience, where it claims to recreate that connection one gets in a Hindu temple through the images, incense and invocations, but sad to say I was sorely disappointed.

The pictures on the wall were highly masterful, that’s for sure. All but one of the pictures was not photoshopped or digitally touched, and every element in the frame was the result of real people posing and the arranging of props. That was highly impressive, and the attention paid to detail was delightful.

However, it failed on delivering anything close to any experience I’ve had physically stepping into a Hindu temple.

There were incense urns but not incense lit, and the gallery room was sterile and too white. There was not even anything of the sounds one encounters in a temple, and the gallery felt claustrophobic. Temples are usually designed to impress by vastness of scale, with high ceilings elaborately decorated and such.

Image credit to Wikipedia

Very often, it is the gopuram of a temple, or its monumental tower at the entrance gate, that begins the process of darshan for me rather than just the idols itself.

To think that the darshan of a Hindu temple is received solely through religious images is highly lacking — it involves the sights of the images and colours, the smell of incense and the age of the temple, the sounds of other devotees and occasionally prayer but also the sound of tranquillity, and especially, the touch of cold stone against the bare feet, the grind of dust against one’s foot.

Also, I think that using that faux-devanagari (Hindi) script was a let-down. It’s like using faux-Asian scripts in Chinese restaurants or something.