Sunhay is a rising Junior and is interning in Queens, New York at the Women in Need Center, which primarily serves as a shelter for Asian women in crises.
I walk fairly fast. Not like speed walking, but brisk with long strides. You can tell I have someplace to be, a destination that is pulling at me. Except that destination is an illusion that I have made up in my mind. I don’t actually have to be anywhere at any time if I don’t want to be.
And yet, I continue to walk. Past the stores filled with golden hues and ruby tiles, past the cafes filled with laughter and sometimes cigarettes, past the big red sale sign, past the Washington Square Park with the two saxophonists, past the Washington Square Arch with the street dancers and music coming from what seems to be a virginal. I walk past all these things, wishing I had stopped a few steps too late. I’m already past the scene, and can’t bring myself to retrace my steps.
I’m so self-conscious. I’m so fuckin’ aware of how I feel.
There are two aspects of New York that make me feel uncomfortable. Firstly, I hate entering and exiting poor and rich neighborhoods one after another. I hate how you can almost smell how rich someone is here. You wonder if the sales person is judging how much you can afford as soon as you enter a store. I look into huge glass buildings and at the people running on treadmills and wonder what their lives must be like—to possess a gym membership worth a thousand dollars. They are mostly white with even whiter teeth.
And then there are the tourists with their fanny packs and overlapping rolls of fat, the tough guys who lean against store fronts and alleyways smoking a few, the cashier at the corner store who speaks with a Korean accent. And there’s me.
How mercilessly might others shove me in a box as I have everyone else? But I can’t help it. It’s glaring at me—these stock images of the American life and dream that I hate. Who am I? This person who lives on the upper east side of Manhatten, in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother and brother?
There are nuances to everything I see, but it’s just too tempting to ignore all of them here. It’s borderline fascinating and sadistic.
The second issue has to do with my insane desire to be different from everyone else around me. It’s insane because I’m the type of person who marvels at how similar people actually are.
My point is, I hate feeling like an anonymous face in a crowd. I feel like New York defines the people who live there and not the other way around. Granted, it probably feels like that because I’m new here, and I’m trying to make this place feel like home. But the idea of New York keeps poking my ego.
Like when I go to the Museum of Natural History and the guard asks me where I’m from and tosses me a curious look when I say Manhattan. Did he mean to ask me what my ethnicity was?
Or when I say Manhattan and an acquaintance asks for more specifics. I give her the street and avenue as I hope to dear God that she doesn’t know the place. “Oh, there! My grandparents live near there. I love that area of town.” It’s unnerving when so many people know so much about your neighborhood.
I like the feeling of knowing something no one else knows, being somewhere no one else knows, doing things no one else knows. Maybe it’s an inferiority complex.