Friday, August 22, 2014


By Mansor Puteh

5.       Columbia University or the Big C.:

My first stop after getting the SIM card and cell phone is to go to Columbia University. I took the Number 1 local subway train which stops at every station. I did not care, as I had the time to spare, before I was to catch the late night Greyhound bus to Boston and on to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Washington DC and back to New York City on 15 April for my flight back to Kuala Lumpur two days later.

I noticed a changed scene in the coaches. There were now more non-Whites too, with many Muslims from many countries especially India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

I went to the bookstore and bought a college tee-shirt as a souvenir.

I then went to Dodge Hall and sat on the concrete stool outside to look at the building. I did not want to enter the Hall to go to the Film Division. I thought I would do that on my return from my trip around America.

Surprisingly this time there were many students sitting on the steps of the Low Library building and walking on the College Walk, as the sun was up despite the weather not so warm.

I met a female student from Saudi Arabia who did not seem to know what to do. Or maybe she was waiting for her next lecture to start. She helped me snap some shots of me holding the college tee-shirt, and could practice the English she was learning with me. Surprisingly, she did not look Arabic but Melayu.

After a while I went to the front of the Butler Library to sit there where I got some students from South Korea to shoot photos of me holding the tee-shirt.

I then pulled the luggage and went to Earl Hall where I remembered sitting in the lobby many times and going to the room where the Muslim Students Association of Columbia was. The door of the room was closed, so I could not introduce myself to whoever is in charge of the association now.

Beside the room is the office of the Jewish Students Association of Columbia.

I remembered how some of us Muslims from different countries prayed on the corridor outside of the office of the associations, with one of us calling the azan, and suddenly there was a commotion with some American students rushing down the stairs at the other end to check on the noise they were hearing.

They then saw the four of us praying on the corridor and left us alone to finish the prayers.

But this time, in 2014, most American students and the others, know more about Islam, and this is largely due to the flawed foreign policies of their country which had caused this to happen.

It is therefore ironic how the American government had actually educated the majority of its non-Muslim citizens on Islam and how to appreciate it more enough to see how the religion is the fasting religion in the country.

And the number of Muslims in America was a mere 100,000 in the 1970s, but today it is between six to eight million.

There were so few masjid in New York City in the 1970s, but there are about five hundred of them now.

There are Muslims everywhere including half a Muslim in the White House, who is a first-generation immigrant from Kenya.  

Even there are now men from Bangladesh who are selling nuts outside of the main entrance of the university where I decided to buy a packet, half of which I gave to the young American woman sitting in the station at Ditmars, begging for food and coins.

I said to her, ‘Take care’, and she said, ‘I will.’

I would say the same thing too to America. But I do not know if America will say as what she had said, the female White derelict who would rather wait there for hours than to find employment even to sell nuts or offer free newspapers to anyone who wants them. 

6.       Chinatown.:

I went to Chinatown stopping at the Canal Street station and was accosted by more Bangladeshi men who were working in the many souvenir stores, including a Chinese woman who said she was from Kuala Lumpur who spoke with me in Mandarin. I tried to speak in Hokkien and she said she understood.

And when I asked where she was from, she said, ‘Kuala Lumpur.’ I then spoke in Melayu and she could speak the language. So I took it that she was genuinely from the city and Malaysia. She gave me some discounts for six souvenir tee-shirts I bought to give to some people back in Malaysia.

Most of the Chinese men and women working in the stores did not seem to be able to speak in English that much or well; they are mostly from China or Taiwan who had just arrived to work there.

7.       Astoria, Queens.:

I lived for a few months in Astoria in the borough of Queens.

I liked this area. It was quiet and secluded.

There were some other Malaysian students and their families who were also living there, with some in apartments in a building owned by a long-time resident from Malaysia, who also operated a upholstery store further down the road near the bus stop.

Now the apartment has been sold to someone with the Malaysian having left the city and country to return to Malaysia.

And his store is now a convenience store operated by Bangladeshis with one of them who said he had worked nine years in Pulau Pinang, but he could not speak much Melayu.

He said his Chinese employer spoke English with him, but his English is still not so fluent or good. The problem being the Chinese man had spoken with him in his own version of English, which is pidgin English which is basically the translation to English from Chinese.

I returned to the apartment building where I used to live at with some friends and stood outside of it for a while taking photos and sending SMS to some friends who had also lived in the building and who are now back in Malaysia. It was three in the morning in Malaysia and three in the afternoon here, because the time difference between Malaysia and New York City is twelve hours with Malaysia ahead.

Many of the stores in Astoria where I used to go to buy food or stationery are now owned by Muslims with the convenience store now operated by some Bangladeshis or Pakistanis.

And there are a Pakistani restaurant called Rotti Dotti and the Astoria Islamic Center as well as the Bosniak (Bosnia) Islamic Center.

At the bus stop where I had to go to catch the bus, I would be standing in a small crowd of passengers who were mostly Muslims, with so few White folks who are now starting to look odd even in Astoria.

I decided to rent a room of someone’s apartment at the road near the place where I used to live at called 14 Place, for old time’s sake.

It snowed a bit when I was there two days with the temperature sometimes hitting zero Celsius and some wind chill factor causing my fingers to go numb.   

8.       One World Trade Center.:

The city authorities did not call the new erected tower, Freedom Tower after all, but One World Trade Center, which I could see even when I was being driven in the bus from Kennedy Airport to the Port Authority Terminal.

I visited this Center and joined the hundreds or thousands of visitors most of whom were foreign tourists to see the former sites of the North and South Towers of the former World Trade Center which came down on 11 September, 2001.

At the site or on the foundations of the two towers are now gaping holes which has water constantly flowing into it, with the names of the victims of the crash of the two towers inscribed on black marble.

I took many photos of the place and on my return trip to America and did some sketches, but forgot to do one at or of the Center. So there is yet another reason for me to return here.

I stopped by a stall on the sidewalk near the Center and bought a halal burger from a man who came from Cairo, Egypt.

The North and South Towers of the former World Trade Center came down in 2001, and the rise has risen but with a lot of new and exciting surprises, some of which I have described above.

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