City Hospitality

June 1, 2008
By Charles Zheng, Mason, OH

City Hospitality

On a bright early morning, I wake up from my deep sleep. After my usual breakfast of Quaker Oats, my mom leads me out of our tiny two-room apartment, and into the streets of our neighborhood, Harlem. The weather is warm, and a nice breeze is blowing smoothly. Some time later, I am sitting in the smooth and hard seats of New York City subway, my four-year-old eyes darting around nervously, looking at all the different people sitting and standing. The subway begins to move, and after a spell underground, we rise up to a bridge. Looking out the windows, what was just a few seconds ago a deep black becomes the glorious New York skyline. The towering skyscrapers, the bug-like cars lined up in a traffic jam, and the dirty sky burst into my view. At our stop, we walk up a flight of stairs and blend in anonymously into the streets of New York City. We pass a homeless man sitting against a store wall. And of course, I can never forget the pigeons, scattered along the streets looking for bits of food.
My mom leads me inside a building with a playground next to it. Down the hall, I enter a room, and my senses spur to life. I had never seen so many kids all together. While my mom talks to some lady, I begin to get nervous, sensing something strange is going on. My mom says good-bye and begins to leave, and my eyes well up. I don’t know what to do, or even where I am. The lady tells me, “Welcome to your first day of school, I will be your teacher.” She calms me down, and leads me to a table with crayons, where I am destined to spend the day drawing cartoons with Carlos, Diego, and Rachel, three kids who I just met. In a span of maybe two hours, I had gone from feeling homesick to feeling at home, and having fun. This day really showed me despite some initial fears, the city was warm and accepting of people, no matter who you are, and where you come from.

I was born in Queens, when my parents had barely lived in the US for a year, and spent the first five years of my life in Harlem. New York is the home of the Yankees, my favorite team ever since. It’s home of the many subways I took daily to preschool, and to a myriad of cultures, people, and events—some of which I had the privilege of experiencing in the first five years of my life, such as going to Madison Square Garden, and playing on the playgrounds of Central Park. The walks in the streets, trips to Central Park, and seeing so many different, friendly people were everyday occurrences in my early childhood.
When I was five, my parents got new jobs and decided to move upstate and out of the city. In the eleven years since I left the Big Apple, we have long adjusted to the middle class life. Only a long time later did I realize the situation we were in back then, living in a cramped apartment, and having to eat free meals from school. But I would not trade these experiences for anything. For one, they make me appreciate the conditions I enjoy now. But most of all some of the passions I’ve developed in New York City stay with me today: the Yankees, pride and appreciation of diversity, and the city. I left New York over a decade ago, but my time and memories made in that wonderful place will never leave me.

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