Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 11 - Not so bad

Issue 11 - 18 June 2005

It's time to respond to a little viewer feedback again. Last week's entry may have been a little dark (a few of you picked up on that one), reflecting the fact that it was at least a million degrees both outside inside my office. This week's weather is back more to normal, and so life is a little better now. In fact this leads me to the next question which many of you ask - is it really so bad (and have I had any good experiences here)?

This is of course an excellent question. A colleague of mine said to me this week that New York always seems so exotic when viewed from the city you grew up in, assuming of course that city is not New York itself (thanks Mr T for the quote - you have won a free subscription to this newsletter for your contribution). He is right - I grew up in Auckland with US TV shows on the box, thinking there would be nothing cooler than to live here. At the same time, I also very much wanted to live somewhere in Continental Europe and learn a language there. All of these things seemed distant dreams at the time, and in the big scheme of things, most of the things I wanted to do as a kid have come to pass (apart from being a professional cricketer - that one appears to have eluded me). So I shouldn't complain.

The purpose of these pages is however to let you see the life in New York which you don't get to see in the movies or on TV. Now, I would have thought that anything based on the daily life of a middle manager in a huge bank would be about as interesting as a radio interview with Paris Hilton's shoes, but you're still reading after 11 episodes, so I figure there must be something you like about it (beats me what though).

Putting my natural cynical nature behind me however, here are a few good things about living in New York:

1. Most things are in at least a rough form of English:

Now, I really loved living in Zurich, and learning some rough Zeugling-Deutsch was one of the best parts of it (the skiing was pretty good too). That said, there is some real comfort which comes from the fact that I don't have to psych myself up before calling the telephone company to complain about having no service for weeks on end. In the end I could pretty much make myself understood in Zurich over the telephone, but I sounded like I had the IQ of a New York driving license assessor when I did it. Here at least I can use big words, reasonably comfortable in the knowledge that I know what they mean (as opposed to NY driving license assessors who seem to have vocabularies limited to single-syllable words which eventually culminate in FAIL).

I'll save my rant about the American egomecentrical desire to dumbercize and confuzerate with the inventification of nonexisterist-neuvo words for another week. This is the positive blog after all.

2. Bookstores:

Bookstores in Zurich were (1) almost entirely filled with books in German; and (2) very limited in their selection no matter which language you spoke. Orell Fuessli on the Bahnhofstrasse typically had one table of overpriced junk fiction, two or three history or outdoor pursuits books, and at least two entire floors dedicated to US political memoirs and self-help books on things like how thinking positive will get me a $62m golden parachute when I finally get sacked (it is of course all rubbish - the real route to getting a $62m golden parachute is discussed in this excellent NY Times article - but I didn't give it to you).

Bookstores here are better than libraries. That's actually because libraries don't let you talk or use mobile phones while reading, and they don't have a Dean & Deluca coffee shop on the ground floor. Bookstores here seem to actively encourage the grazing approach to book shopping - they figure if you nibble enough of every tree on the Serengeti, you'll eventually find one you like enough to buy. Libraries have some work to do here to keep their market share I say.

3. Taxis:

It's [insert here any stupid hour after too many drinks which would make your mother blush] in the morning, you are so blotto that you are just asking to be mugged, and you can't work out even with the assistance of the helpful street numbers which direction might be home. In Zurich, this meant a walk home, or a Taxi ride which cost more than the UN oil for food programme. In New York, you look hopefully up the street, and if there isn't a taxi coming, that's because you're looking the wrong way up the one-way street and they are driving away from you. There are a lot of taxis, really cheap taxis, who know how to get to where you live, so long as you can remember where you live. And they're yellow - very yellow. You've got to be asleep or leaving a bar in another city if you can't find a big yellow taxi in less than 60 seconds.

4. Restaurants:

In New York, it's hard to find a bad restaurant.

In Switzerland, it was way too easy.

In New York, bad restaurants go broke FAST thanks to the crippling rental costs.

In Switzerland, the food was rubbish in most restaurants, but everyone seemed to accept it. After 6 years, I never understood that bit.

5. New Yorkers:

Love them or hate them, so long as they don't work for the DMV, New Yorkers are very funny people. They have an earthy sense of humour, and they genuinely seem to enjoy the everyday. Everyone has their own life, their own characters, and they are all a little crazy in their own way, so that they can live here. They may not know it, but they are actually very happy to be here.

6. Go on, it's pretty cool really:

I work on Wall St (well, in a building called Wall St Plaza at least), we live opposite the largest gold depository on the East Coast, we walk past a movie crew every other week, we can see the Hudson from our balcony, and that's without mentioning a single tourist attraction elsewhere on the island. On Thursday last week I was sitting at the table of the Board Room on the 40th floor of our headquarters discussing the quarterly press release with the CFO for the world's largest brokerage firm by market capitalisation (OK, along with 50 others, but there were a lot of people in our firm not sitting at that table - and it is a swimming-pool sized table!).

Don't get me wrong - there's plenty to moan about. Aber endlich ist es nicht soooo schlecht.

I guess it's not sooooo bad.


A quick one - over the past few decades the tools of golf have fundamentally changed, with metal woods, balls with better flight, carbon fibre shafts, long-handled putters and so on. In a survey published last month, the effect of these massive advances on the average golf score in the US was exactly..... nothing. No difference at all. Not even a little bit. So if you duff a shot with an old (wooden) wood, chances are you would have duffed it with a metal wood as well. I guess it's not the tools that make a good carpenter.


Sincere thanks are due to the die-hard Auckland rugby supporters, who were big-hearted enough to burn the Super-12 final between Canterbury and NSW on to DVD and post it to me. I watched it within minutes of receiving it last week, and there are few things which could make a distant red-and-black fan so happy. Fortunately Kim was off climbing until late in the evening, so I was only annoying the neighbours (who, unlike Kim, are probably not from NSW) each time Canterbury scored. I may well have already known the score, and read every report on the internet, but nothing beats seeing your team win a final.

So, to all at Tomo St, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I'll have to find a way to butter you all up enough to get some copies of the Lions tests now!


And now for the light entertainment:

Camping at Hammanasset Beach, Connetticut, with Andrew and Willa. I constructed the badminton net and the BBQ - Kim (of course) erected the tent. Reflecting the qualifity of the workmanship (and perhaps the use of Chinese plastic components), the badminton net was the first thing to fall down.

The beach itself - it may have been very warm, but not in the water! Count the swimmers....

A lesson in how to turn your toes blue. Piha is like a hot pool compared to Long Island Sound in June.

The new and improved terrace, after Kim's careful attentions. Note the grass, home-made planters, and ageing cricket bat (which serves as an excellent door-stop). The plants are Tomato plants, and are Kim's experiment for her course (as well as future red things in my salad).

On our walk this weekend - we did the "Five Bridges and Three Boroughs" walk. Starting at 60th St and 2nd Avenue, over the Queensborough Bridge, to this spot in Queens, looking back at the UN Building and the BB.

Then along the Queens foreshore and over the Pulaski Bridge to Brooklyn, through the Polish district in Brooklyn to Williamsburg and over the Williamsburg Bridge (pictured) to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

From the Lower East Side, down to Chinatown and back over the Manhattan Bridge, which looks down on the FDR here, and a pretty cool place to play baseball (these guys looked pretty serious).

After the Manhattan Bridge, we picked up the Brooklyn Bridge at about the same place in Brooklyn, all the way home, 9 miles (14.6 kms), and four hours later. Certainly an interesting walk, and probably the first time I have been in Queens and Brooklyn without fearing for my life. There are some nice parts after all....

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