A Trip to Consumerism (I mean NYC)

Last week, I went to NYC with my mother. She had spent about three weeks with me at Cornell and we decided to spend the last weekend of her trip in the city. I’ve lived in New York State for two years now, but I had never actually spent more than a few hours in NYC. I had only briefly been to Times Square and Central Park one summer afternoon. On this trip with my mom, we reserved an apartment through airbnb, bought a metro card and did all the touristy things in the city.

I was happy to spend time with my mother but I was disappointed with the city itself. I fail to see why this city attracts a large number of tourists. The museums and libraries are excellent and you could spend many days exploring them, but the average tourist doesn’t care about Ancient Greek art, Van Gogh exhibits and even less about modern art. How then, is NYC one of the top cities for tourism?

My mom and I went to see the empire state building. Once we were in the right location, I looked up and saw a tall building. I said, “Mom, that’s the empire state building”. We read about it in a book on the histories of Manhattan buildings. It was expensive to go up to the observation deck and it was too crowded. Then we went to Times Square. We waited for the sun to set, so we could see Times Square in all its glory.

We walked in and out of innumerable Times Square stores. The Hershey’s and M&M stores sell their chocolates in all shapes, colors and flavors you can imagine. They also sell everything from clothes to pillows and random souvenirs with their logos on them. I wondered who really wants to wear a Hershey’s dress or cuddle with an M&M pillow. A kids’ toy store had a whole section of iphones, ipads and ipods. There were many clothing stores that offered discounts, still the price for even the flimsiest piece of clothing was in three digits (in dollars). What made it worse were the “Made in India*” tags. (*replace with any developing, Asian country where textile workers continue to work in unsafe conditions and live in poverty.)

Tired and hungry, we looked for a place to get dinner. For a place that attracts thousands of people every night, there were surprisingly few dining options. It is difficult to be vegetarian, health conscious and bank balance conscious with food there. Every street had little cafes and bakeries, but I can’t call pizza, bagels, muffins or croissants a meal. Streets were dotted with delis but I can’t expect a deli to have good vegetarian food. My mom and I found Mexican restaurants diet and pocket friendly. Chipotle was the only Mexican place we found around us in Times Square but it was very crowded, so we ended up at an expensive, Indian restaurant. This pretty much summarizes our experience of food in NYC.

After a filling dinner, we returned to Times Square. It was dark above, light all around us, and there was a sea of people. As we sat down at one of the tables outdoors, I was overwhelmed by the larger than life ads. There were ad-people smiling and laughing and conveying that I could be like them if only I shared a Coke with friends, bought a new Apple product, wore Urban Outfitters clothes, watched some new Broadway show, used T-mobile service and drank Dunkin Donuts coffee. The consumerism was obscene. Why do so many people around the world spend their hard earned money to come to NYC and see advertisements on huge screens, feel obliged to buy random Hershey’s products and eat unhealthy, overpriced “food”? I don’t even see how it makes for meaningful time spent together for families on vacation since you can do pretty much the same at any local mall, thanks to globalisation.

While I was on my mental rant about materialism and vowing to avoid such sight-seeing again, my mother was amused by the advertisements and the myriad people around us. As she observed some older women in traditional Indian sarees, even Indian families we had no relation to seemed familiar to her. She was both fascinated and repelled by the women with American flags painted over their naked bodies and whom you could pay to take photos with; by people whose bodies were covered in colorful tattoos.She wanted to sit there a little longer, but it was over 10pm and our environment disgusted me.

A subway ride took us back to the apartment. NYC seems plagued with consumerism, which I most despise about the United States. It confounds me how a society can evolve to the point where it is more concerned with the quality of its material possessions than its food! In a place called the food capital of the world, I struggled to find moderately priced, healthy food. The saving grace of the city is its public transportation system, although decrepit. All of the United States seems built for cars, not people; NYC is a welcome exception here. However, I cannot argue that NYC is built for people either.

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