The bright lights. The big city. The pulsating ebb and flow of hurried urbanites. The incessant hum of yellow cabs. The intermittent sirens of nocturnal fire trucks.
I arrived in New York City on a gloomy January morning. It was one of those mornings where the snow seemed to be the one doing the shoveling. Pedestrians scurried into every slide of an automatic door in search for temporary refuge from the cold. The terminal's ventilation circulated the aroma of hot coffee amid the crisp rustling of fresh newspapers.
Activity got knocked down a notch as an announcement broke across the hallway. Another snow storm is approaching. Not a very auspicious start, I thought to myself, as I navigated through a sea of weary faces to be greeted by heavy snow. In a couple of months, the snow would have melted to reveal the wrinkled sidewalks that had weathered the journeys of aspiring artists, hippies, and businessmen. But for now, the snow provided the ground with a clean white sheen; A blank slate to capture the stories of the many travelers who emerged out of JFK's vestibule that early January morning. I was pretty sure my footprints lasted a good 30 seconds.
"Brevity" I replied to a friend as we sipped coffee in a random café in midtown Manhattan. We had to let our legs recover from completing an obstacle course through twenty blocks: swerving past longboarders, avoiding street performers, and keeping pace with the Joneses of the Big Apple. The topic of the day was my experience in New York City and my friend had requested that I summarize it in one word. "No pun intended" I added, as he snickered at my response.
Before I knew it, the semester has passed. I had lived the life of a New York City college student. The late nights, the house parties, the dollar beers, the 20 cent wings, the Artichoke pizzas, the Halal food cart by the street corner and, of course, a fair bit of studying. Brevity, however, encapsulated more than just the mere temporal facet of my experience.
Nothing seems to last forever in New York City, yet everything does. Its streets are characterized by amalgamation. A building paneled with glass windows could be neighbored comfortably with one that appeared to be from the set of Gangs of New York. Every turn welcomes a new wave of experience. From the hodgepodge of dreamers who adorn the streets of East Village, to the bargain hunters of SOHO, to the rainmakers of Wall Street, everyone seems to fit in in this massively diversified demographic puzzle of sorts. On several occasions, I had observed the world pass me by. And as if on an assembly line, different people would flood the streets contiguously, sustaining the heartbeat of the city.
"Brevity" I repeated, affirming my conviction. It was a pleasant 70 degrees outdoors and the afternoon sun dominated the clear sky. The summer rays pierced through the café's windows and bounced off the slow-rotating ceiling fan, illuminating the books of inspired readers scattered around the expanse. I took a quick scan around the area. Within a 20 feet radius, there were people of at least five ethnicities. As paradoxical as it may sound, someone who has been around long enough would understand that the commonality among New York City's inhabitants are their differences.
I certainly did. A microcosm of the city itself, New York University, where I spent my exchange semester, was host to myriad individuals. Cultural diversity aside, the multitude of talents present at the school was just overwhelming. Undergraduates ran hedge funds, spoke seven languages, did African dance, and painted like Van Gogh.
Being immersed in such an environment for a semester was exhilarating. I seized the chance to learn a new language, meet people from different corners of the globe, and pick from the great minds of business. Fellow students were equally enterprising. For a huge swath of kids, social calendars were as much filled as time slots for discussion rooms.
Time became increasingly scarce, as the semester started to fire on all cylinders. Good time management became crucial, as I participated in case competitions and overloaded my classes. On most days, I would go to bed at 3am and wake up at 7am for school. Yet, I rarely felt tired. I guess I was empowered by the contagious energy of the city.
I continued to chat with my friend, reminiscing about the events that culminated to our conversation. By the time we joined the dots which led to that moment, the sun had tilted sideways, smiling cheekily upon the commuters who were just purged from their weekday enclaves. The crowd's momentum had changed in the blink of an eye. Everyone seemed to be cruising towards their destinations with steely determination. Their hurried steps betrayed their casual countenance. They probably knew that, in a couple of hours, the night would breathe life into their lives.
Yet New York herself never seems to run out of breath. Perhaps that is because she takes our breaths away.
Eugene is the co-founder of the mobile app Tripple, a global students travel community. Since its soft launch on 19 July 2015, Tripple has been presented to several universities across Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Singapore.