Seeing New York through the eyes of a tourist
Roughly eight million people live in New York City, and each year the city is visited by nearly 50 million more. That’s about six times the number of people who live here, and it turns out that most of them have very different experiences from residents. For example, they take tour buses, crowd Times Square, go to the top of the Empire State Building, and take ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And while I have often found myself in or traveling through Times Square in the 12 years I’ve lived here – it’s difficult to avoid, no matter what you’re doing – I’ve never been inside the Empire State Building, and until recently I’d never been to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. As part of Scholastic’s Virtual Field Trip to Ellis Island, I was able to make a real trip there, and I finally had the same experience that thousands of visitors from around the country and around the rest of the world have each day. I walked through the halls of the history enriched immigration museum, as well as standing feet away from 151-foot tall green lady.
As I sailed back across New York harbor on the ferry, I wondered what had stopped me from making this visit earlier. And then I wondered: do Philadelphians go to visit the Liberty Bell? Do Parisians climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Do Cairo’s residents visit the Great Pyramids?
It made me realize that tourists experience a place in a completely different way from the people who live there. And while there are many New York tourist destinations that I’ve never been to, there are others, like the Museum of Modern Art, that I go to all the time. But for me, many of the treasures of New York are more personal. They may be less famous but, to me, they’re no less special. They are “my” favorite places to go, “my” spots in Central Park, “my” neighborhood taco truck. I know that I’ll likely hear some of my favorite musicians, depending on which subway stop I go to. Or I could be anywhere and hear some of the most outrageous conversations or bizarre interactions between people.
The tourists have their must-see destinations, as they should, and I have mine, but it’s obvious that we’d both benefit from some crossover. I’m sure that they’d enjoy some of what I consider to be my New York, even if it isn’t as famous as theirs. And I know that I’ll be making a trip to the Empire State Building soon — to see what all the fuss is about.
Check out my interviews with Ellis Island Park Ranger Katharine Crane and the Superintendent of Ellis Island and Liberty Island (which includes the Statue of Liberty), David Luchsinger!
Photo: The Statue of Liberty (Photo: Dante A. Ciampaglia)