Photo of the day: MEET 35 OF MY NEW FRIENDS FROM INDIA – Through my friendship with Ajay and Ankur Bansal of the India Unexplored travel agency in India, I get the sheer joy of showing stary-eyed students the city of their dreams. Since they come from all parts of India, the reaction to New York ranges widely from bewilderment, confusion, to the thrill of recognizing places from their movies and music videos.
The children in this group ranged from age 8 to 15, so therefore their reactions varied greatly. The group always is divided into the expected subsections. The cool pretty girls, the science geeks, the way too cool coming-of age guys dressed as ‘NYC’ as possible, the introverted, the shy and the terribly obdeient to parents and tradition. It amuses me greatly to watch this predictable age old tradition and dividing up carry on. Can you pick out who is who in this group photo?
On Sunday, July 7th we first visited the Statue of Liberty. The high rate of security overwhelmed them a bit at first. To watch their eyes grow wider and wider as the boat drew closer was endearing. Some children just grow very quiet and look studiously up at her. Here she was! The statue they had seen in every movie, “Did you see ‘I Am Legend’?! That movie was cool!” I always point out to them that the statue is not standing still as it first appears, that she is breaking the chains of oppression at her feet and is moving forward towards freedom, “Oooooh!” I always ask – do you know what the 7 points in her crown represent? “The 7 continents” is the most frequent answer as opposed to the correct answer, the 7 seas. I then ask them to take 2 American pennies out of their wallet to show them just how thin her copper skin is, there is always amazement at that. Despite the oppressive heat wave we took the time to make sure everyone got that one special photo with Miss Liberty – you know, you get on your knees and photograph upwards so that friends and Miss Liberty are all in one shot. Then it’s the race for the gift shop. “I wanted more Liberty Statues” one adorable girl exclaimed. I assured her, once we got to Timers Square, there would be dozens including many live ones for her to choose from!
Next it was on to the 9/11 memorial. More stringent security. Since half the group was of such a young age, I had to explain the whole tragedy to them and the importance of the site. Many had thought the waterfalls would be above ground “you know, like Niagara Falls.” I told them to look up and imagine 110 floors of people working at their desks possibly about to loose their lives. Silence and bewilderment came over their faces. ‘But why?’ their faces seemed to say. How do you explain terrorism to an 8 year old? I tried in the gentlest manner possible, trying to explain “hate”. Many also sought to touch the ‘survivor pear tree’ and felt it was a true miracle.
Since they wanted an American lunch, where else but – McDonalds on Broadway with the live piano player, this was very exciting to them. They were like kids in a candy store. Very happy and very placated. We then walked around the City Hall area and waited for our bus to take us to the Empire State Building. What was incredible to them was that it was built in just 13 months. “That can’t be sir? It is not possible to construct such a thing in so short a time.”
Out of respect, I am called “sir” – it is endearing, an old age culture of respect and a bit surreal. Some dared to call me “Sir Hans” but that was tried by only 1 or 2 of the older boys. Imagine this soft little voice calling you “sir”, it warms you heart to the fullest.
The Empire State Building was the third time they were subjected to the heavy ‘welcome to New York security’, this is how our lives have changed. Security guards took away a golf ball from a little boy. I was furious and in disbelief. I had an umbrella which I could have dropped down as a missile, but this little boy’s NYC golf ball he had bought for his dad was confiscated?!? (I bought him another one at twice the price, but I was NOT going have this be his memory of the Empire State Building!) Once we got to the top, having come from the other side of the globe, I was asked if that land mass to the west was Canada – I had to explain, no…”it’s Jersey”.
Our final stop was the much requested Times Square. The ooohs and ahhhs were abundant. Each older student was required to hold the hand of a younger student. I lead the group holding up an American flag they could follow, we were quite a parade. “Sir! This is where we should have spent the whole day!” Most of them just wanted to shop, try on Nike sneakers and buy as many I ♥ NY t-shirts as possible, and oh yes, and buy many little mini Liberty statues.
Here is where our culture differs greatly from India’s. We made our meeting point by the red glass TKTS stairs. As we waited I looked in their bags and would ask them “so – what did you buy?” Many of them responded that they had not bought nothing for themselves, but something for their sister, father, brother or mother. It was truly humbling. One little girl was so proud that she had bought a red, white and blue teddy bear with big eyes for her little sister, “I know she will like this very, very much.” I couldn’t have loved them more in that moment. Now it was time to head back to their hotel in Long Island City and continue their NYC adventure Monday . . .
FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Is King Kong really real? Where does he live now?” asked 8 year old Kavish Singh with thoughtful wide eyes and wonderment. I had to bite my tongue from laughing and remember I believed in Santa Claus till 5th grade, so it was with a smile I tried to explain that it had been an animated doll – he seemed disappointed.
MEET 59 OF MY NEWEST FRIENDS FROM INDIA! – Three years ago my friend Ajay Bansal took one of my NYC tours while I was working for a horrible private touring company which wasn’t very “receptive” to their guests. Ajay left that company and came to me privately to lead his student tours through New York and it has been a joyful relationship ever since. This spring 2013 tour was comprised of 52 gifted students (all boys) and 7 chaperones. Their eyes were filled with wonderment and eager with anticipation, hanging on my every word. As with most children abroad, their only concept of America and New York is through movies, videos and commercials.
Their naïveté is adorable – upon seeing the Empire State building the youngest ones asked “Ooooh, is that the World Trade Center?” “Where is the Liberty Statue?!” “Can you see movie stars on the street?” “Have you met the president?” “Do you live in a penthouse?” I simply fell in love with all of them. The age range was from 13 to 18, so the group ranged from total innocence to hip hop wanna-bees. But one thing they all have in common is a stringent politeness. It took me a whole day to stop them from calling me “sir’ and we finally settled on “Mr. Hans”.
It was a full three day schedule including: the Empire State Building, bus tours, a harbor cruise to see Miss Liberty, The 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, the United Nations, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (who knew they had a Bollywood exhibit?!), the Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!) and of course M&M World in Times Square. It was a busy schedule. As we toured through the city several quotes come to mind:
“What are all those white boxes in the windows?” = air conditioners.
“The water coming from the sky is definitely making me wet.” = rain.
“Was King Kong really right here?” = no…that was a doll (the little boy seemed rather disappointed.).
“Is that Canada?” = no, it’s New Jersey.
“Will it snow today, please?” = no, it’s too warm.
“This food is most pleasing” = ‘delicious.’
We may laugh at some of these comments but they are terribly endearing. To have had the privilege to spend time with such innocent, polite and loving children made the tour such a joy. All the sights excited them, I think the big ‘hits’ were the Liberty Statue and the wax museum. They were fascinated that are streets are filled with such diversity “in our country – everyone looks the same.” But above all that, they had only one consuming desire and that is – to shop! (Head phones seemed to be atop most of their lists.) So Best Buy was their main goal.
Their next stop is on to Washington, D.C., and then on to Disney World. Not bad, huh? It was hard to say goodbye to them, but same time next year, I’ll have some little boy tug on my sleeve and say “Sir . . . how far is Best Buy from here…?” I look forward to that already.