Thursday, April 12, 2012

First World Country, Third World Subway

There are so many exciting things about being back in New York City - the endless choices of fresh food at Trader Joe's, seeing normal girls on the street who look like they've stepped out of Vogue, window shopping in NoLiTa, Central Park on a gorgeous sunny day.  I know I sound like a golden retriever, but there are many reasons to love New York.

And then there's the subway.

N/R line at 34th Street

It gives India's slums a run for their money
After using Hong Kong's pristine and timely MTR - where I could eat off and sleep on the ground, I feel like I'm in a slasher movie when I'm in the subway here.  In three short months I've already experienced the following:
  • a group of teenagers eating after-school snacks (chips, granola bars, candy) on the train and brazenly throwing the empty wrappers on the floor of the subway car
  • the smell of a homeless man on the train which has literally emptied the car (suddenly I remember the #1 rule of riding the NYC subway - an empty car is a bad - not a good, thing)
  • getting followed up and down the platform by a strange man who is creepily smiling at me
  • being absolutely terrified when I get off at my stop and see a teenager in a black ski mask pass me to get onto the train
  • sitting in a dark tunnel between stations...for 5 minutes...with no announcements...knowing I'll now be late
This is all in addition to people begging you for money, no cell phone service and rats scurrying around on the tracks.  When summer rolls around, you can add sweltering heat and a foul smell to the mix.

The upside?  When the 3-piece mariachi band or 3-man barbershop quartet (triplet?) visit your car and their music is so peaceful you almost forget you're in Return of the Living Dead.

Math in Reverse

Let me start by confessing that math has never been my strong suit.  Apparently reacclimating to the US dollar is another thing I'm not so good at.

As an expat living in a foreign land, you learn to take the price of something and convert it into your home currency.  $1 USD = ~$8 HKD, so my brain got to the point where it would automatically divide everything by 8 to see what the actual value was.  Otherwise I'd be looking at an $8 bottle of Diet Coke or an $88 t-shirt from H&M and thinking "Jesus, that's expensive."  Now, if I was living in Sydney, that *would* be the actual value!

Anyway, the problem I'm facing now is that my brain is still doing it...and I'm back in America where things are listed in USD.  So, I got a check recently for $6,000 and immediately devalued it to around $1,500.  I was in J Crew looking at a $120 sweater thinking, "$12?! It must be on sale."  

Not sure when my brain will finally accept that it's back in the land of the US Dollar.

Step one will be to stop referring to things in US dollars.  I was telling a story to some friends over the weekend and I said something along the lines of "...and it cost 40 US dollars."  My friend Al says, "You know you don't have to specify the currency; we all assume you mean US dollar."

Who knew that one thing I'd not be able to let go of was the freakin Hong Kong Dollar?!