Monday, August 18, 2014


By Mansor Puteh

1.       Qatar Airways, flight to Kennedy Airport, April 1, 2014:

The connecting flight I took from Doha, Qatar to New York City on Qatar Airways, made me feel like I was not going to the city, but to New Delhi in India. Why?

The majority of the passengers were mostly Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs and Nepalese, with a Malaysian.

Some of the non-Malaysians could very well be neutralized American citizens or permanent residents, because they looked like they had lived in the city and America too long so that they did not look anxious to arrive at Kennedy Airport.

I had to be anxious not because it was the first flight I had taken to go to the city in many years, but because I was more anxious to see how the city would look like this time.

The last time I was in the city it was in April, 1999. I had lived in the city more than two years and had become familiar with it.

But the city had changed, not so much after 911. It had changed a lot on all fronts which I would soon to discover even before I landed at Kennedy Airport, and in the plane itself.

There were so few Caucasians. They looked small. They looked like the non-Caucasians who boarded the plane to New York City from Brussels, Belgium I had taken in August, 1978, when I went to the city for the first time to enroll at Columbia University.

The non-Americans and non-Caucasians or non-Whites could feel grander and more confident because they were in the majority then.

But not at this time, when they were so few of them, and they might very well be non-English speaking visitors to New York City and not American citizens at all.

2.       Kennedy Airport:

I remember walking out of the terminal building and being greeted by a representative from an American NGO which provided assistance to any student coming to the city, in 1978.

It was in the middle of summer then, but last April it was late spring but the weather was chilly; I was okay when I was in doors, but not so when I expose myself to the cold winds, wearing a thin summer jacket which I thought was good, since I had worn a thinner jacket at this time in 1999 and felt comfortable in it all the time I was in the city and country.

I also had to wear the half-gloves to keep the fingers warm before they start to freeze.

This time I did not seek their assistance as I knew how to handle myself. I only wanted to know how I could go to the city from the airport, like taking the bus like I did then.

Could I take the subway from there to the Port Authority Terminal (PTA)? Did they have such a service now?

At the immigration counter, I realized that there were also so few Caucasians lining to get their passports stamped. Most of them were very much like the composition of the passengers on my flight from Doha to here, people of color, of all shades and shapes with some women even wearing the chador and nijab.

3.       Times Square:

I am back at Times Square.

I walked out of the PTA to get to a store or some stores to buy things and also a local SIM card with a local number.

I also had to find food. And what surprised me was when I could get into one selling halal food, which also served the locals who are not Muslims.

I took a slice of pizza and soda – halal food, from the Muslim staff of the store operated by some other Muslims.

And I walked to the side a few stores away into a telecommunications store to buy a SIM card, and was welcomed by a Pakistani man.

I bought the card and found out that the second cell phone I had brought with me from Malaysia could not be used with the local American card. I ended up buying a small cellphone which could accept the SIM card, so I was on the way to get connected with some people in the country.

There were no Bangladeshi or Pakistani operating stores in Times Square in 1978, but now they are everywhere especially at the subway station entry points where they are seen selling newspapers or giving the free ones away.

4.       New York City, Now.:

This is New York City now, the city I had not known that well then, but I am growing keen to know more this time around.

I could not leave my luggage which I had to pull along to the subway station where I had to climb up and walk down escalators to get to the next train.

I could not leave it at the Greyhound station because they do not provide locker service because after 911 they feared this facility could be used by ‘terrorists’ to leave explosives.

In the end they decided to offer luggage storage service which charges nine dollars per day. I did not take up the offer as I only wanted them to keep my luggage for two to three hours which in the past should cost at the most one to two dollars which I thought I wanted to spare.

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