When checking in at Kaohsiung airport (KHH), the staff told me that I would have to reclaim my checked luggage and go through the X-ray again in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) which was my first transit in the USA. I wasn't sure why I had to do that even thought the tag on the luggage was labeled JFK New York, but I didn't ask. After more than 15 hours traveling, I was ready to use my priority pass to check in an airport lounge for relaxation, then I realized here was the place that I had to go through Immigration and Customs check insead of my final destination. Everything made sense to me while I was waiting in line at the immigration check points; that's why I've been told to reclaim my checked luggage in LAX but not JFK and why I would still have to go to the AIT to apply for a C1 Visa even if I was just in transit through the USA, a story that I was skeptical about when my travel agent told me. It seems all passengers are asked to go through Immigration and Customs check points at their first landing airports which means you have entered the USA at this point even though its maybe not your final destination. For those who just transit through, then can find their way checking in and going through the whole X-ray, security check process for departure to their next destination. I didn't have time to go to a lounge after the whole process; after another 6 hour flight, I finally arrived at JFK and thank god, I didn't have to go through the Immigration and Customs again.
I booked a super shuttle service that provides door to door ground transportation between airport and hotels. Given my arrival time and the service price (US$20/person), it seemed to be a great idea so I disregarded advice from one of my friends and stuck with the plan. I was happy to see a super shuttle's blue van stopped in front of the terminal while walking out of the building, the chauffeur put my luggage in the van, found me a seat and asked my hotel address. I showed him my reservation, he took a look then asked me to get out of the van and dug my luggage out of the back and told me that I should go back to the terminal and find a phone to call super shuttle for a van. I tried to call the number, 10 mins later finally someone picked up the phone and confirmed my reservation. I waited in the terminal for another 30 mins then a man showed up trying very hard to pronounce my name. I sat in the van and spent another 30 mins visiting JFK terminals 1-8 until the van was filled with other travelers. Luckly, my hotel was the first stop, I wondered how much longer those poor guys could bear to escort passengers to their hotels with the chauffeur. So if you ever take a super shuttle, don't reserve in advance, just jump on the first one you see and you'll save a lot of time. JFK transportation options: by Airtrain(USD$5) then subway (USD$2.5/entrance, USD$2.25/entrance); take the yellow cab to your hotel, it's a flat rate $45 plus tips; or you can take the New York Airport Express Service Bus to Grand Central Station (one way ticket USD$15) and then take a taxi/metro from there to your hotel.
After checking in at the Wall Street Inn, I collapsed on the bed thinking now I can relax but that was only to last about 2 hours when a kock at the door woke me. I didn't answer, then another kock. I thought they gave up and I could go back to sleep but then my locked door opened this time, and I saw a man looking in, and he saw me lying in the bed naked. The next thing I heard was sorry and the door closed. So much for a peaceful nice sleep. The next morning before I could even say anything, the reception desk clerk began to apologize to me and upgraded my room for the rest of my stay.
Without people in nice suits bustling around wall street during the weekend, downtown Manhattan is a lovely quiet area where you can find bistros set tables on Stone St when night falls. Two floor stone houses on South William St emit a medieval atmosphere that makes the area an ideal scene for modeling and movies. A few blocks away, the majestic Trump Building, skyscrapers and the high security fortified stock exchange center declare their status blatantly: a center with power to shake up the world's economy. Heading south to South St on the riverbank to Battery Park, joggers brought in energy to the city early risers, the smell of the trees in the park worked as a double espresso, I felt energetic and ready for my first experience in New York.
Given homeland security implementations and being one of the must see tourist attractions, a tour to the Statue of Liberty (operated by Statue Cruises ) usually takes a few hours just for lining up and going through security checks. So I decided to take a Staten island ferry which commutes between New York and Staten Island for free, and used my camera tele-lens for an eye-tour. A 20 mins free cruise gives you a closer look of the Statue of liberty and Ellis Island, where the "Kremlin style" looking great hall was the location where millions of immigrants waited anxiously for medical and legal processing.
New York Subway is one of the oldest (first operation in 1904) and most extensive public transportation systems in the world. Given its old age, I wasn't expecting to see a modern, clean and air-conditioning station, but I wasn't expecting to see the paint peeling off from the ceillings and walls crumbling in some stations either. The daily metro card for unlimited rides on subways and buses for $8.25 is a great deal, single ride is $2.5 $2.25, if you will take more than 4 rides of subways and buses, it's worth it, however, buying it was a challenge for me. You can buy any passes from the ticket booth except for the the daily metro card which can only be purchased from the machine and no one could tell me the reason. Some machines accept only ATM or credit cards, but somehow they wouldn't accept my credit card, so I had to find a machine that accepted cash. I put 20 in the machine and selected a daily metro card, but the machine refused my purchase because the maximum change reimbursement of the machine was $6. Then I tried to purchase two tickets at one time, one for my friend, but there was no such option that allowed passengers to purchase multiple tickets, at least I didn't find it, and the man in the booth ran out of change so I had to find a store to get change. I felt retarded for the whole process and I never wanted to spend my 10 dollar bills since.
SOHO is a plate of delicately balanced ratatouille, a thriving and robust area where you can find almost anything in different corners: from art galleries that are hidden in the alleyways to little italy and Chinese communities; from street stalls to luxurious boutiques; from exotic restaurants to commonly seen salad bars in convenient stores, fusion is the spirit of the area. On Spring St, Evolution (11:00-19:00) sells all kinds of unique natural history collectibles inculding butterflies, beetles, fossils, seashells, skulls, skeletons, medical models, and tribal art etc. items that are usually only seen in museums whereas Hollister settled on Broadway have 2 half-naked men with great profiles standing in front of the gate, as fashion model advertising. The variety of SOHO makes it one of the best tourist attractions in New York.
Summer is an outdoor season for New Yorkers, street fairs are held mostly on weekends in various streets throughout April to November, if you are interested, visit Mardi Gras Productions' website for schedules. I came accross the East Side Summer Festival on Lexington Avenue, and was pulled in to the crowd by the smell of BBQ from the first stall. Most of the vendors were selling food and drinks, some were selling bags, jewelery, knick-knacks, etc. I even found the F.D.N.Y. 40 truck set a tent there selling their 100 years of service T-shirt to raise funds. A slogan from the organizer says: "N.Y.C. streets are paved with gold", the street fair was a fun outdoor activity especially if you were the one "paving it".
Time square is always crowded because it's the center of where all broadway theatres and TKTS are located (there is also a satellite TKTS located in the South Street Seaport). TKTS sells unsold tickets on the day of performance for many broadway shows for 20-50% off the box office price ($3 service charge per ticket will be added). An electronic sign displays what shows are available for that day. TKTS only accepts cash and traveler's cheques and they don't accept reservations, so go early as the tickets may sell out quickly. If waiting in line is not your thing, you can also google search broadway show tickets and book discout tickets online via agencies such as the BroadwayBox.com, but the real bargain is the lottery tickets of each theatre. To get one, you have to show up at the theatre that you are interested in around 17:00-18:00 and wait for staff to give you a paper to write down your name and address then put it back to a box. Theatre Staff will pick the lucky winners who can spend only about $25 for the show. The number of reserved seats (usually about 20-30 seats) for lottery and when they do the lottery (around 18:00) depends on each theatre. I went for the Hair show lottery but I wasn't in luck so I checked with TKTS but they didn't have tickets for Hair that day.
I was not ready to call it a day, so I went to one of the top 10 tourist attractions--the Empire State Building and that was a nightmare. I waited in line from the 1st floor to go to the second floor of the building where the observatory ticket was sold. I followed the line and went through the security check (tripod is not allowed, because there is no room for it, you can deposit it at the security) and back to the line again until finally I made it to the audio guide rentals where it seemed to be the end of the waiting. I asked the staff where I could buy the ticket and they pointed at the crowd about 100 meters back. I still haven't figure out how I could miss the booth by following the line? The staff showed me a fast pass to buy tickets and came back. To get to the observatory I had to queue with the crowd to go through a stage for snapshots where they took a photo of you and photoshoped it into the night view from the observatory as a souvenir before reaching the elevators that took me to the 80th floor. Again, I was back in a line at the 80th floor waiting for elevators to take me 6 more floors up to the observatory. When I finally was at the 86th, I had to fight my way out to the observatory. It wasn't anything like the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle', all I saw was skulls in the background of blurry New York City lights. I stayed for 15 mins and fought my way down. Back to 80th floor, I couldn't help feeling schadenfreude as those who took a snapshot on the 2nd floor were lining up to find and pay for their photos. I spent 4 hours in that build for a 15 mins glance over New York City in lights. I took a clip with my new DSLR Nikon D90, so enjoy it, and if you really want to see New York City from high up, a recommended alternative is the Top of the Rock.
I went to central park for Alpha Blondy and the Solar System's free concert that was held at the summer stage on July 19, from 15:00-19:00. It was Sunday, I met my friends in the Time Warner building and had lunch together at the beautiful Hudson Hotel. Before the concert started, I took a chance exploring this New Yorkers' playground. I loved the fact that every park in New York regardless of their size has the smell of florae (well, I admitted that I only went to two parks in N.Y.C.) that creates an enchantment that seperates the city from nature. After a long cold sunless winter, it's not suprising to see people turn into suntan afficionados, however, a scene of hundreds of people stripped to get suntanned in the park still amazed me. A book in hand, gentle sunlight on the skin, lying down on the soft grass, you could even smell the aroma of fresh mowed lawn, it should be a leisurable and sexy summer feast, the huge crowd in the park, however, made it feel like walking to a meat rack, there was nothing sexy about it. Roller skating, Juggling, musical performances, carriage tour, cycling, Jogging and even a carousel, these are familiar sights of the central park. Energy flowed in the park affecting everyone, I saw a granny dancing with the music that was being performed by a drum group and I thought that's the spirit to live a life by. It was a long queue to the concert, so we sat on a rock under a maple tree near the summer stage listening to Alpha Blondy's Jerusalem, I felt blessed.
Before heading to JFK to pick up my rental car, I walked across the Brooklyn bridge. Whoever designed the bride was a genius. Cars drive on 2 lines blacktop on each side whereas pedestrians and bicycles on the wooden path in center of the bridge that was elevated gradually from each end. Steel wires that hold up this suspension bridge extend from two stone towers create a beautiful geometric pattern, no wonder it is one of the popular scenes in movies.