New York, Day 2 – Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Chinatown

October 25, 2012 – Thursday

One of the few good things about jet lag is that we invariably end up waking in the wee hours of the morning and it seems like we have the whole day ahead of us to do stuff. Tourist destinations are also usually less crowded earlier in the day, and on this second full day of our NYC visit, we went to two such destinations: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

First, we started off with breakfast from the Tim Hortons that we had discovered the day before:

Tim Hortons, Herald Square, NYC
Breakfast at Tim Hortons (The KFC would come in handy later on)

Next, we went to take the R line from 34th Street-Herald Square to South Ferry-Whitehall Street. We had been on the subway when we went to Brooklyn the night before, but at that time we were chatting with our friend and exhausted from the jet lag and didn’t really pay attention. Plus, it’s a lot different figuring things out on your own versus relying and focusing on a guide (as opposed to your surroundings). On this morning, we did it ourselves and got a much better impression of the world famous New York City Subway.

I believe the train we were on was an R46. Interestingly, the linked Wikipedia page does not include the R in its list of assigned services, but a quick Google search will reveal that there are indeed R46 Rs. These cars were built in the 1970s and definitely had that feel to them. I wanted to take more photos but remembered reading about NYC subway etiquette somewhere, about not making eye contact with anyone (let alone photographing them), so I made do with the surreptitious shot below:

NYC Subway R Line
Be careful who you make eye contact with

We disembarked at South Ferry and said goodbye to the R46. It feels strange looking at the photo now knowing that only a few days later, the entire station would be underwater due to Hurricane Sandy.

Whitehall St-South Ferry Platform
In just a few days time, all of this would be submerged

From the station we walked through Battery Park in order to get to the ferry. After we emerged from the trees and walked over to the harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty in person for the first time. I felt pretty neutral when I saw it, even though I understood its significance. Maybe it was because it was too early in the morning, maybe it was because we’d seen so many tourist attractions already, or maybe it was because unlike those immigrants who came to America of their own accord to seek a better life and escape persecution back home, I arrived as an oblivious child, brought by my parents. Like going to Brooklyn the night before, my path to becoming an American was laid out for me, and all I did was follow. It’s human nature to appreciate less the things that are simply handed to you. Compared to the people who had to and wanted to make their own path, my first impression of the statue could never match theirs, and I can only imagine what it must have been like.

Statue of Liberty from Battery Park
Looks so tiny from here

We walked along the waterfront to the pier and waited in line to go through security and board the ferry. Our check-in time was 0900 (we purchased our tickets ahead of time online), and we cast off at about 0930. Seeing the wide open water and feeling the wind in my face, I was reminded of our cruise in Tokyo just a little over a month ago. Like Tokyo, New York is built along a river (more than one, even). We had noticed during the trip how so many major cities in the world are built along life-sustaining rivers: Tokyo with the Sumida, Paris with the Seine, and London the Thames. Now, we were sailing on New York Harbor, at the mouth of the Hudson.

For a New Yorker, the Hudson River probably conjures up certain images, maybe of home or something modern like driving across it (perhaps similar to what I would envision if someone mentioned “San Francisco Bay”). For me, hearing “Hudson River” conjures up images of Henry Hudson, early American settlers, and Indians. Of course, these are all images from history books, where I first learned of the existence of a Hudson River. Even now, if I don’t remind myself that I’ve actually been there, I still think of the history book Hudson River instead of the one I crossed on a ferry. First impressions can be pretty powerful.

Speaking of ferries, we saw a whole lot of them in the approximately 20 minutes it took to get to Liberty Island:

Finally, there it was, up close and personal. Regardless of one’s immigration background, standing under this towering statue brings a sense of awe and amazement. It’s already pretty impressive by itself if you think only about the workmanship, how humans shaped copper and iron into this sculpture and then moved it all the way from France. When you add in what the statue represents, these notions of freedom and liberty, that people are all created equal, that just takes it to another level. I can only stand and look at it with my mouth agape.

As much as I want to post all the photos I took of the Statue of Liberty, I am aware that photos of it are all the same. Therefore, I will post only one, taken at an atypical angle:

The Statue of Liberty
Welcome to America

Liberty Island itself was a pleasant experience, literally a walk in the park (it’s managed by the National Park Service, and if you like, you can take a tour with a park ranger). It’s not very crowded due to the way they stagger the ferry schedule, a great example of efficient crowd control. You can walk as slow or as fast as you want, check out the statue from different angles, check out the Manhattan skyline, watch the birds, enjoy the grass, the trees, the water, grab a bite to eat. We were leaning over the railing and enjoying the view when we noticed a seagull with its catch (looked like a rockfish). It swallowed the entire fish with a single gulp! Another cool thing we saw along the shore were some old bricks, marked “S&F. Co”. Googling around, it seems that the Sayre & Fisher Brick Company was once the largest in the United States. I wonder where and how these particular bricks were used?

We got back on the ferry and headed for Ellis Island. There, we spent about an hour walking through the museum, trying to imagine what it was like for those early immigrants. There was a sign that said over 100 million Americans today could trace their ancestry to people who had been processed at the island. That’s a third of all the people in the U.S. Crazy.

From one immigrant center to another, we made our way back to Manhattan and New York Chinatown. I thought it was very similar to San Francisco’s Chinatown, except Canal Street is a lot wider than Stockton Street. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Hong Kong Station and poked around outside looking at the menu. Some random guy came up to us and told us to give it a try. He seemed enthusiastic so we did. Turned out he was the owner! Later on, after sitting inside for a while, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was like “man, this place feels familiar.” I did a search and realized that they had shown this restaurant on TV during the Linsanity craze earlier in the year. You gotta love mainstream media sometimes: an ethnic-Chinese guy tears up the NBA and they set up a camera in Chinatown to show Chinese people watching the games and cheering. All you can do is shake your head and laugh.

New York Chinatown
Almost looks like SF

After a long morning and afternoon of sightseeing, it was time to retire to our apartment. We made sure we were fully rested before going downstairs for a late dinner. We had Korean again, this time at a place called Gahm Mi Oak, famous for its Korean beef soup. They bring you kimchi in a stone pot, cut it up in front of you, and then take the pot away. I thought they could have been more generous with the kimchi. Anyhow, the beef soup arrived and it didn’t really taste like anything (you’re supposed to add your own salt). At first, I added the salt sparingly, but I still couldn’t taste the soup. I figured since they give you so much salt you can’t be too stingy when adding it, so I dumped a whole mess of it in at once. Oops. Now the soup tasted like seawater. Well, chalk up this experience to customer ignorance.

We went home slightly thirsty, but happy after having had such a great day.

Next: New York, Day 3 – 9/11 Memorial, Friday Night In