I am by no means an outgoing person. However, I love discovering places, which is why I chose to come to New York as an international student. While I was packing to move here from Istanbul I brought with me a pack of cards dedicated to discovering a city in an unexpected way.
Here’s how the game works: on each card is a task — some of them simple, some of them hard, but each one designed to get you to interact with your surroundings in a completely different way.
I decided to try some of these cards not only to look at New York from a new perspective but also to push myself outside of my comfort zone just a bit. The way to understand a city is not by going to the most touristic places, but by seeing the little things and interacting with people.
This was my week with the cards.
Monday: Choose a person on the street, make this person your guide. Follow them for as long as possible. See the city through their eyes.
Picking a person to follow is a hard task. While walking in Washington Square Park, I saw a woman in her mid-thirties with a cute polka dot skirt. I started following her, but after about five minutes, she decided to sit down on a bench. This was a bit awkward because I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I just stood there for what felt like 25 minutes. When I got over the initial shock of the lady abandoning me, I decided to pick another target. I chose a guy who looked like a college student and started following him. He was a slow walker, which was a huge problem for me because I am a fast walker. While struggling to keep my pace, I noticed him taking photos of the sky, and I saw a small rainbow.
I then followed him to Artichoke Pizza, which was lucky since I was very hungry, and this place is very famous among NYU students, so I wanted to know what that was all about. I saw that he ordered the artichoke pizza, so I did the same. I smiled at him while trying not to be creepy. Thankfully, he smiled back, and that made my day. There is something very reassuring about people who smile at you.
Following people is an interesting thing to do. You never know where they may take you and the best way to discover a place is through its people, because they are what makes a city special.
Tuesday: Ask someone where to find something really strange.
I was eating my lunch on a bench in Washington Square Park with my friends, and when I was in the middle of my third cookie bite, a man named Harris came up to us and started talking to us, completely unprovoked. He talked about his punk rock band from the ‘60s, his lifestyle and how he runs his own business. He was dressed like a rockstar/hippie hybrid, with dreadlocks reaching his waist and a bald spot in the middle of his head. He had a long beard that looked like it had not been touched in 10 years. He was talking so passionately about his band and his business that while eating cookies and trying to dodge his spit, I found myself seriously wondering what he did for a living. After his monologue on the punk rock scene of New York, I asked him where I could find something really strange near this area. He told me to come check out his business, and so I did.
As it turns out, Harris owns a book stand across from the campus Starbucks. He had an amazing selection of books and vinyls. I am still not sure what specific strange thing he wanted to show me, but he was kind enough to let me take his photo if I added him on Facebook (I did not), and let me check out the books if I promised to send more customers (which I did). Meeting different people like Harris is one of the things I love about discovering New York. I urge you not only to find Harris’s book stand and talk to him, but also to talk to people on the streets, meet them, hear out their stories, because they usually have some very impressive ones to share.
Wednesday: Ask someone to show you the way to their favorite place to get food. Go there. Once there, ask the waiter to decide what to eat.
After class on Wednesday, I asked one of my friends in my Global Writing Seminar class to suggest a place where she loves to eat. She was a person I never actually talked to, so this was a great way of making conversation. She told me to go to Okinii to get some ramen noodles.
Upon entering the warm shop on 216 Thompson St., the first thing I noticed was that the sushi chefs were smiling at me. After sitting near the window, I was given a menu which I kindly declined. The waitress was surprised, but she nevertheless waited for me to order. I asked her to choose my meal for me, which shocked her even more. After an awkward minute, she told me to try the miso ramen, because the flavors in the broth were delicious and it was her favorite food on the menu. I ordered it and loved it. It was delicious, it warmed me up and was like a party for my mouth. All the flavors came together to make something really delicious.
Friday: Find a line and stand in it until you get to the end of it. Explore the purpose of this line.
Lines. I am the absolute best when it comes to waiting in lines because I always know how to keep myself occupied. So, when I heard that there was a promotion where you can get a salad for a dollar in this place called Salad Bowl, I knew it was time to use my strange talent. I love lines for two reasons and two reasons only:
- You feel amazing when it is finally your turn.
- You meet new people while complaining about the length of the line.
A huge bowl of any kind of salad for a dollar is something any college student would like, so the line was huge. While waiting, I met a few people from NYU and asked them all the same question: “Why are you spending your Friday waiting here?” The answer I got was always the same: “It’s a huge bowl of salad for only $1!” I met people who were getting six bottles of free iced tea and people who were trying to find the most expensive salad so that they could profit even more. When it was finally my turn, I felt that amazing feeling of success I was talking about earlier and got my $1 salad. While leaving I looked at all the faces waiting patiently to get their salads.
Saturday: Find a flower or a balloon. Give it to someone in exchange for a piece of advice about New York.
I found a daisy on the ground and decided to use this flower rather than actually spending money on one. I found a lady who was reading a book in the park and approached her. It was a very scary moment because I did not know what her reaction would be. When I finally built up the courage, I went up to her with a big smile on my face and explained the idea of the cards and the article. Luckily she smiled and asked me what I wanted to ask her. I told her to give me a piece of advice about living in New York, in exchange for the flower. She smiled and said, “Never, ever stop in the middle of the pavement while people are speed walking, because people will literally tackle you and walk over you.”
This week was an interesting experiment for me. I learned new things about New York, but mostly I just enjoyed socializing with different people and getting a glimpse of their lives. I hope my experience inspires you to try things. New York has opened its gates for all of us. It’s our responsibility to walk on in.
Email Yasmin Gulec at [email protected]