International Programmes Travel

New York In Retrospect

During the summer, Jacquelyn went for a two-month cross-cultural internship in New York which gave her a glimpse of New York City’s idiosyncrasy, the sights and quirks that have charmed so many.

While packing for New York two months ago, I took extra care to include a pen and a fresh notebook with me so that I could write about my experiences in New York, the place brimming with artists, musicians, writers, and lovers. It’s been two weeks since I’ve returned home, and  only now am I starting to write about it. It’s not that there was nothing to write about; I’m not saying that it isn’t true, what everyone says about the city. Everything about the city oozes inspiration, every human and every encounter a subject bursting with potential as a subject to write on. Oddly enough, I could never find the right words while I was there.

Around every corner there is an artist painting things she sees, the things she knows from back home. I’ve met painters whose canvasses are simply old subway maps, graffiti artists who bring their kids along to show them that the best pieces aren’t necessarily displayed in art museums.


At subway stations, you have a guitarist, a drummer, and an accordionist, playing as if their life depended on it (for some perhaps it does), and life there is in the rhythm. The voices of buskers overlaying, sometimes harmonizing to the rattle of the subway carriages and the accompaniment of everyday life.


In the same carriages, I have seen a magician perform – where does he keep the rabbits?! While the handles were barely helping me keep my feet steady, dancers careened off the poles in the trains as if they exist for that very function.


Of course, who can forget the lovers. Be it at Central Park where the sky is too blue for words, or the quaint cafes along every street corner. Legs entangled, breaths quickening, eyes only for one. I’m romanticizing, but then again this is romance in the Big Apple. Far too often, I have heard America branded as too liberal, the place of loose morals and dwindling values. Personally, I disagree.


I love the way people express their feelings with such careless abandon. While there were scenes that were perhaps more than what my Asian eyes are customarily used too, more often than not I think it is simply wonderful. The young lovers who dive headfirst into everything with passion and the old married ones whose heartbeats have long been beating in sync. Straight couples who are free to love where they go and homosexual couples who are able to seek reprieve among people that have been more generous with their acceptance.


“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.” – Simone Beauvoir

There is so much to see, so much to hear, so much to do. It engulfs your every sense.  It leaves you breathless and yet wanting for more. Like a drug, you are addicted from the start; as a tourist with no obligations or responsibilities in that moment, its effects are most potent on you. Like a child clamouring for attention, it calls your attention to every detail and every happening. You find yourself in perpetual conflict, wanting more more MORE of it, but struggling to keep with its energy.

Every aspect of how the city functions hints at the fact that night and day are  inconsequential measures of time there. The subways run 24/7, Central Park concerts are held at the unearthly hour of 6 in the morning, and poets congregate for a slam at midnight.

Strangely enough, New York City’s narcissism (its need to be appreciated and experienced at every moment), is one if its biggest allures to me.

So writing, yes. There are definitely enough subjects to accommodate all  writers, aspiring or established. Yet New York City is perhaps best appreciated in retrospect, when the distance created by time lets you extract and examine the singular moments, just as how an archaeologist studies individual artifacts to rediscover the vast history of human bustle.

Travel guides can tell you about the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or even the  mishmash culture of the city, but to understand the life throbbing down every street and across every avenue, you just have to be at the crossroads of New York City yourself.


  1. Oh my god, this exactly. The art culture is so alive there, and I really appreciated how love is celebrated rather than frowned upon, coming from (Singapore). I miss that place.

  2. I really love your portrayal of the States, and your impressions. As I read along your article, I can personally felt the dynamics and freedom of the country. It is really a pleasure to read! No wonder my JC best friend is such a fan of America. Haha
    And I do feel the exposure to different worlds helps us understand ideas in life clearer!

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