A Trail of Two Cities

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When New York City, September 11 happened, I hadn’t thought it was personal. I was stunned, outraged, and grieved, like lots of people around the world. But with London, March 22, I began to suspect that there was an evil intent to include my wife and me specifically as targets. Happening some 15 years apart, the two incidents now seem suspiciously designed to mar our memories of our two favourite cities in the world, outside of Singapore.

You see, New York City and London are our “honeymoon” cities. In plain English, this means that we had spent parts of our honeymoon in both cities. Oh, we weren’t two rich kids out on a spree. We were merely a newly-wedded couple who capitalised on a company- sponsored training stint which required me to be in both cities, one after the other, 3 weeks in New York and I week in London.

My bride joined me from my third week in New York. On weekdays, she explored the city by herself during the day, while I worked in the carvernous offices of my company in William Street, right next to Wall Street. She teamed up with me on her exploits in the evenings and on weekends. It was the same arrangement in London, where Leadenhall Street/Fenchurch Street became my daytime focus for a week. In truth, my wife was honeymooning, and I was on a busman’s holiday, But we didn’t mind. We were young and in love, and thankful for the opportunity to be where we were.

Despite our shoe-string budget, we managed to see and savour a lot of both cities. We didn’t have much money, but had megawatts of energy, and through a combination of buses and the Subway, the Tube and leg-power, we managed to get around to most of the tourist sights . We stuffed ourselves on hotel breakfast buffets, chomped on cheap streetfood where available – hotdogs were plentiful and affordable all over the streets of New York. I joined my colleagues in the company cafeteria for lunch, which my young bride skipped some days. We did get hosted to a few fancy dinners, including one at Mayfair, and another at the East End. One particularly memorable event was a cricket match in Kent to which we were chauffered in a golden Rolls Royce equipped with a private bar, with champagne and finger-food to boot!

By a stroke of luck, some would say, although in hindsight, we attributed it all to God’s Grace, we were, in both cities, installed in hotels with star ratings way, way above my pay grade (as an executive trainee, I was bottom of the corporate food chain.) The New York Hilton on the Avenue of the Americas, and the newly opened Tower Hotel next to the Tower Bridge became for us our honeymoon hotels. My honeymooning wife had the rare opportunity one day to witness from the bedroom window the bridge of the Tower Bridge drawing open to allow a ship to pass!

Over the years since that summer of 1976, we had been back, regularly, almost yearly, some years more than once, for various purposes, work as well as pleasure. Mostly I went alone, sometimes as a couple, occasionally with one or both of the kids, on college –hunting trips for instance, and a few times on family vacations. These visits tended to have a US bias in the 80s, and 90s, and early 00s. Wherever our ultimate destinations in the US, New York was always a necessary and compulsory stopover.

In the Big Apple, since those early lean and hungry days, we had subsequently spent a fair amount of time and a small fortune enjoying theatre shows and pre or post-shows dinners, patronising the many jazz-clubs in or near the Village, and visiting the countless museums spread across mid or up-town, trudging around Chinatown, looking for familiar eats, touring Harlem and sampling soul-food, or wandering around in Central Park, circling Manhattan in a ferry, or climbing to the tops of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I had even spent a whole week hunkering down with relatives in the belly of Chinatown itself, commuting uptown from and back to Canal Street station each evening in order to catch a Broadway show.

And I recall vividly riding one of the ‘supersonic’ elevators up to the top level of one of the World Trade Centre towers, and on another occasion having tea at the café up there, aptly named  “Windows To The World.” About a year or so after both towers had been brought crashing down, I went with our son to pay homage by walking around Ground Zero.

The son, by the way, had wanted to check out Drummers’ Collective in the city. Earlier, he had paid his respect to Drummers’ World in 46th Street, spending more than half a day there. A number of years earlier, I had accompanied his older sister to check out Columbia and NYU. Although offered a scholarship at the latter, she had gone on to a college in Boston. But for her sophomore year internship project, she did arrange for an industrial attachment with a film editing studio near the TribeCa area, which required her to stay in the city for a whole summer, and me to rent her a loft for the period. Her mother did get to enjoy the apartment with her for a whole month. How multi-tiered and firmly bound are the Soh family’s ties to the Big Apple!

To be continued