Imagine, three weeks at sea, cramped like cattle in a steerage compartment, or freezing on the deck of a steamer from Southern Europe. Then through the fog, you see the statue of Lady Liberty and the skyline of New York. It must have been breath-taking for the 12 million immigrants who started a new life in America, after being processed at Ellis Island.
I’m English born, with an Australian passport who lives in Singapore, with a Brazilian wife, so I’m used to looking a people and culture through a fluid lens. I have visited the U.S.A before, but last week, was my first time in New York, and I was blown away.
I did not endure 3-weeks at sea, just a 24-hour flight that was first delayed and then cancelled. Using my Self-leadership, I was able to get another flight for my wife and I, only to have the airline ‘misplace’ our bags, resulting in arriving to -4C temperature with only our traveling clothes. Definitely a first-world problem!
Our first stop, after some emergency shopping for warm clothes, was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty is iconic, but what impressed me was the Ellis Island Museum. Earlier this year, I was giving a speech in South Africa and visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and his ANC brothers were incarcerated for 27 years. The feeling of being pulled back in time to experience the suffering was just the same. But at Ellis Island, standing in the huge hall where immigrants queued for hours, I could feel the anticipation. Anticipation of a new and better life.
I learned that the Ellis Island immigration officers, actually worked for the Ministry of Labor, and that they were actively wanting people to come to America, to build the country. In fact, 98% were accepted, many of whom entered New York – a multi-cultural melting pot.
“I’m walking here!”
New Yorkers are power walkers, which make sense because it takes about the same time to walk as to drive. Following my moving Ellis Island tour, my wife and I walked from Battery Park to Times Square, which is quite a hike! We were grateful for our warm coats as we braved the cold November wind and the constantly moving throng of people.
New York is a haven for people-watching, as well as people-listening. There are beautiful people, plain people, exotic people and outright strange people; and many of them are talking. So many people talking out loud, on the street or on the Subway, and I asked myself, “are they crazy, or are they talking on their phone?”, or in some cases, “are they crazy AND talking on their phone?”
A City that NEVER Sleeps
The noise of New York is not limited to people talking, there is a constant cacophony of sirens from fire engines and ambulances. When we returned from our walk, the McDonald’s restaurant, opposite our hotel, was on fire. We were alerted, as we approached, by the blaze of blue and red lights and the discordance of sirens from multiple emergency vehicles. Whilst providing some entertainment for us, as tourists, the native New Yorkers walked by, business as usual.
Who is a New Yorker?
As I eavesdropped on conversation on the street or in restaurant, I heard spoken French, German, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Thai and heavily accented English. As I queued for an early morning pastry and coffee, I realized that the ‘French Patisserie’, was in-fact, a Korean franchise. As I opened a US bank account with Canadian Bank, I noticed that I was using an Australian Passport, and the bank manager was from Bangladesh. This all must seem like heresy to White Supremacists, but I found the multiculturalism to be invigorating, not to mention, delivering a tasty breakfast.
Is this all part of a New York State of Mind? A heritage of Ellis Island? A tolerance for the multiple perspectives of humanity? A drive to be successful in the Big Apple?
A trip to New York would not be complete without a visit to a Broadway Show. We watched the Book of Mormon, a fantastic award-winning show, that takes an irreverent look at religion and how it’s spread.
Now it would be naïve of me to suggest that all inhabitants of New York’s five boroughs are tolerant and inclusive, but that certainly seemed the norm in Manhattan.
It’s all about business
The purpose of my visit was not just sight-seeing, I had come to be interviewed for C-Suite TV on my latest Self-leadership book, and take some meetings about future speaking engagements in the U.S.A.
The words of a stand-up comic we saw in a club off Times Square, stuck with me,
“If you can make it New York, you can make it anywhere.”
I don’t know if this is true, but New York is certainly an industrious city. From the Money Makers of Wall Street to the Ticket Sellers in Times Square, everybody seems to be hustling. I even noticed a homeless guy on 8th Avenue charging his iPhone!
After another 24-hour flight, via Dubai, we are back in Singapore. I don’t miss the cold weather, but I think I’ve been infected with a New York State of Mind.