this side of Paradise

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NYC skyline still darkened Tuesday night, a day after the storm.

I’m in my room right now writing this post. The same room that never lost power, water or internet the whole time Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on the rest of the city/east coast. Yesterday, instead of staying inside for warmth and safety as advised, I decided to go for a run, go out for food and even walked 40 blocks to watch a movie. While I walked around in an attempt to get fresh air and work off the weight I must have gained from the sedentary Sandy lifestyle, I also wanted to see how the rest of New York was doing. From where I was and what I saw, New York seemed to be untouched. Midtown/uptown was buzzing, tourists were aplenty, cars were stuck in traffic, people were even in costume for Halloween.

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midtown gridlock

But like this article from the Guardian mentions, Hurricane Sandy left behind two New Yorks. One now dry but dark, and the other basically normal. Needless to say, as thankful as I was, I felt bad and bit selfish.

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10/31/12 Grand central station- more like a museum than a mass transit station

Today I woke up to updated news of the Sandy recovery including notifications from a linkedin group and an email from a professor about ways to volunteer, give back and donate blood. I was lucky that I didn’t have to evacuate or budge for Sandy even though i was fully prepared to (with a “go” bag and all) but I knew that was not the case for many others.

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With class being canceled and no motivation to do the pile of work for the time being, even though an overwhelming sense of fear and doubt washed over me, an even greater sense of obligation to help and do something productive inspired me to act. So, I dressed as comfortably as I could and I filled up two bags with what I had to give and what I could carry. 3 Bottles of water, one big jug of water, a towel, two sweaters, box of saltines, hand sanitizer, socks, trash bags, surgical gloves, emergen-c, tape, sharpies, a deck of cards, cups, even a stress ball. Not much, but it’s something.

I hailed a cab but then realized it didn’t make sense for me to pay $20+ to go help especially when that money could be donated. So I walked, with bags in hand, about 5 avenues and 15 blocks until I saw a police car stopped in a deserted street. An officer outside was talking to another officer in the car. I apologized for interrupting and asked “I’m trying to go downtown to chinatown to volunteer and donate somethings- would you/could you give me a ride?”

To my surprise, he said yes.

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Officer Jason, was kind enough to drive me to down to Canal street. On the way there, we talked about about random things from how he lost power over in Long Island, to what I was planning to do after graduation, to how people go off to places to Haiti to volunteer even as our own hometown/country needs assistance. He also told me to be careful and get home before it gets dark as people are getting impatient and desperate- a volunteer apparently got beat up earlier trying to help.

I was so thankful and touched for his help, especially because the officer he was talking to was supposed to be relieved to go on his meal break and because just 20 minutes earlier, I had asked another officer in a parked car (doing nothing) who had no problem saying no to my request. Thank you Officer Jason, and apologies to the other officer. 🙂

Chinatown as I know and love it was deserted. There were no exotic smells wafting, no crowds of people holding red chinatown bags, no chatter of Chinese or foreign languages, not even people selling counterfeit goods. There were maybe a few people loitering and a few small stands selling whatever they had to offer- vegetables, fruit but it was paralyzed otherwise.

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I reached the location of the Hester Street drop off location and needless to say it was a bit hectic. There were several volunteers unpacking and organizing supplies and food. People were in line trying to get what they needed, officers were directing people off the streets, there were even people sitting inside a room lit by a few candles. Some bikers came all the way over to drop things off. Children were walking around clutching a half empty bottle of water or a bag of halloween candy. People were very depressed and desperate looking, sitting around idly or playing cards in the area. I ended up giving the heart shaped stress ball that i never used to a woman with a dog that wanted to play. It was really nothing, but she said “thank you. You’ve all been a real help. thank you”

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“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ”- Aesop

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After I did what I could, I walked around.

That restaurant I ate dinner at just a month or two ago? Closed. That store I had always passed by but never went into? Empty. And Soho? Deserted.

Anyone who was in this area downtown was either bored, curious or wheeling their life in a suitcase/bags looking for food and electricity. In an area usually filled with both car and foot traffic, there were very few people around. Down here, you heard the occasional car pass by if any. It was quiet and I was in downtown New York. If that’s not weird, I don’t know what is. I didn’t even hear the click of the “walk” signal, because all traffic lights were out.

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little italy,deserted

As I walked up, I started to see huge lines for bus stops and hear and see more people. Union square park was closed off because of trees that had fallen during the storm. Union square, where people usually are bustling about was slower than usual. I even saw 3 blocks worth of army trucks and soldiers at one point.

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free charging station

If I were to describe New York on any given day, I would describe the crowds of people walking 30 miles per New York minute, the screeching of subway cars underground, the traffic, the smell, the food, the bikers, the lights, the energy. Perhaps I’d even mention the people who haul carts filled with empty cans and bottles for the 5 cent deposits or the rickshaws that ride around.

I didn’t see or experience any of that downtown today. In fact it was only until I reached about 30th street that I regained full cellphone service and “civilization” again. Go past the empire state building into Midtown and above and the New York that you come across on any given day is there. It’s there but different.

I love New York. Even though it can be smelly and mean sometimes, I love it. To see the people of New York and the city itself bruised upsets me. If there is anything that I learned today though, it’s that life goes on. It has to. To run, you need to stand up. This recovery won’t be a sprint but rather a marathon and it won’t be possible without support, cheering, help and awareness.

As this city slowly but surely recovers I hope and can’t wait to see the city’s beauty and humor restored because New York isn’t New York without downtown to balance the uptown. It isn’t New York without a Saint Marks to coexist with Saint Patricks Cathedral, the same way there needs to be an Upper East Side to go with the Lower East Side, an NYU with Columbia, Soho with Saks.

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people in Chinatown circling around a store’s generator waiting for cellphones to charge. Kurt Wilberding for WSJ

I love New York. We all do. But this road to recovery is very real.

So have fun. Be fancy. Be ridiculous. Be happy. but

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”- John Wesley

and most importantly, be safe. be warm. be thankful. 

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from my instagram

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”-Charlie Chaplin

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from my instagram

Everybody has something to offer. Use your time, passion, skills and willingness to help all New Yorkers in need following Hurricane Sandy. Help, donate or volunteer at:

NYC service

Red Cross

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