Love and Longing in New York

Selected from undergraduate college application essay to Columbia University. Read more.

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Walking is my form of enlightenment.
I live in Newark.  My city is generally ten degrees hotter than its neighboring environment.  The airport.  The port.  The downtown.  All are blanketed in asphalt that turns my city into a hot desert.
Tens of thousands of cars, and one of the largest garbage incinerators in the country, spew their fumes into my city.  Returning home, the smell of burning garbage often greets me.  As a child, I had asthma.
At night, I am alone.  Nobody my age lives in my neighborhood. From my front window, I see a parking lot for corporate commuters. From my back window, I see a vast parking lot for university students.  Both are desolate after dusk. As an infant, my first words were “demolition” and “truck.”  As a child, I never had play dates; my suburban “friends” feared my city.  As an adult, I hope to see my city’s vacant lots developed.  I keep on dreaming.
The streets of my city are not made for walking.  They are made for driving.  I walk.  I stop.  I wait.  Speeding traffic and interminable stoplights hinder my progress.
But I love walking in New York City.
When I walk, I am free to choose.  Each street guides me forward.  Each intersection is a choice.  Each destination is irrelevant.  When I walk, I sometimes choose a random order of directions, left, right, left, right, right, left, left, straight.  I see where they lead me.  I know not where.
When I walk, I am free to move.  I love walking on the High Line.  I float above the cars that prevent the city from realizing itself as a community.  I see the crowded streets twenty feet below.  I see the gardens on either side of me.  I let the verdantly landscaped path channel me forward.
When I walk, I am no longer alone.  I walk in the footsteps of the millions who passed before me.  I am one among millions, all of us on our separate voyages.  Lawyers.  Butchers.  Tourists.  Homeless.  We all walk alone.  Yet, we are together in walking alone.
When I walk, I see the world.  In Spanish Harlem, street fairs sell traditional Mexican foods.  In college town Columbia, well-dressed university students amble on their way to class.  In the Upper West Side, the shabby chic push their grocery prams.  In Times Square, tourists lug their large shopping bags from theater to theater, store to store.  Finally, after many neighborhoods, I reach the ceaseless bustle of Wall Street.  Tired after many miles of walking, I descend the subway steps.
When I walk, I achieve tranquility. I am happy.
One of my recent projects is painting New York City, neighborhood by neighborhood.  Each day, I choose a new district to stroll through.  Then, equipped with my miniature watercolor palette and notepad, I walk and paint.  I discover the city block by block.  I aim to capture a fragment of what I see through painting.
Like a pianist who memorizes music by heart, the flâneur (or urban pedestrian) embraces the street symphony with his soul and feet.  People’s voices and buildings serve different, but equally important, clefs in the symphony.  As le Corbusier wrote, “… first to look, and then to observe, and finally to discover.”  My countless urban walks enhance my passion for cities, their architecture, their history, and their planning.
Living in Newark inspires me to dream.  Walking in New York City enlightens me to walk.  I am ready to walk my next journey.

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Chinatown: a living neighborhood

View more artwork like this about my experiences walking in New York City.

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Chinatown is both static and dynamic: Static in its resilience against gentrification, dynamic in its cultural interplay between past and present, immigrant and American.
Everywhere in Chinatown, past and present intermingle. Dusty and decrepit Jewish textile stores struggle onward; their elderly owners wait to close up shop and sell out for millions to developers. By Division Street rests a former synagogue with an AT&T outlet on one side and a Chinese-language job agency on the other. Bustling bakeries and bodegas abut reminders of past immigration. Lyricist Ira Gershwin’s birthplace is still inhabited up the street, red paint flaking off its brick walls. Weathered brick tenements, serving successive waves of Germans, Italians, and Irish, still serve elderly Asians and urban “hipsters.” Chinatown is still a living, breathing being in constant flux.
On select corners sprout feeble tendrils of gentrification: a pricey café, a garish painted crêperie, a chic souvenir shop advertising “I love Chinatown” tote bags. This neighborhood is devoid of its youth; little children and wizened elderly remain. The rest have left to work in the America beyond the dense city. Beneath the Manhattan Bridge a sign reads in Mandarin: “Chinese-American special carrier to return infants to China.” The shabby A Train rumbles in the sky.
On the neighborhood’s fringes is the touristed Tenement Museum. The museum’s cycling documentary chronicles life on the Lower East Side. Black and white imagery flickers across the screen: Italians and Irish, Germans, and Jews, the immigrant experience, dreams of coming to America. It is all too convenient to reflect on the past and to conclude: That what was New York no longer is.  That its immigrant travails have now vanished. That overcrowding and grime is no more.
Much has changed. Much has not. The city awaits the next tide of tired, poor, and huddled masses.

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IMG_6173

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This high-density tenement on Eldridge Street is home to a myriad of businesses including:
– Third Brother’s Fuzhou Snack Bar
– Green Forest Internet Bar
– United Express and Lottery Tickets
– Universal Phone Cards
– Everything OK Job Agency
– International Job Agency
– Twinkling Star Job Agency

.Field Chicken

These frogs, marketed as seafood and known as “Field Chicken,” are sold for $5.19 each.

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All Purpose Flower Shop and Funeral Services

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This all purpose establishment advertises the following services:
– Weddings
– Conferences
– Concerts
– Gatherings
– Ceremonies
– Western Chinese Music
– Performing Arts
– Potted Plants
– Floral Arrangements
– Funerary Flowers
– Funerals and Birthdays

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Windmobiles

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This series explores movement. These sculptures made of paper, wire, and wood are powered by the wind. When placed before a light breeze, the pinwheels spin and power the sculptures’ cyclical movements. The bird will soar. The horseman will charge forward, lance at the ready. Each sculpture evokes the theme of movement.

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Pinwheel is the simplest in this series. A light breeze spins a three-pronged pinwheel, which vibrates a wire. The following sculptures are variations on this mechanism.

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In Ocean Voyage, the pinwheel rocks a sailing boat. Wind movement translates into wave movement.

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Liberty symbolizes the search for freedom. The pinwheel connects to a wire that flaps the dove’s white wings.

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Similar to Liberty, the pinwheel in Don Quixote’s Windmill powers the horse’s charging legs. Ironically, Don Quixote attacks the windmill that powers him.

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In Cityscape, two pinwheels power rows of zigzagging traffic. In this “snapshot” of urban life, movement is choreographed along mechanical lines. The city silhouette in background is made from paper. This white sculpture is illuminated from beneath with a light.

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This sculpture called Time represents the wheel of life. A hand-operated crank rotates a wheel and powers the moving legs of a walking skeleton. On the wheel, silhouettes of infant, child, worker, senior, cripple, and coffin spin round, symbolizing the repeating stages of life for each new generation. While the skeleton depicts death, the wheel depicts continuity. In contrast to the sculpture’s theme of death the human hand, instead of wind like the other sculptures, moves the sculpture and completes the metaphor.

Proposal for a space age house

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Space House is inspired from images of 1950s futurism and from architect Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for the ideal, modern home, the Dymaxion House. This circular model made of paper is three floors tall and fifteen inches in diameter. The house features large, porthole windows to better profit from the view and to evoke the large glass expanses of modern skyscrapers. In the heat of summer, blinds roll down over the windows to protect from the sun’s glare. The open floor plan permits occupants to design a home suited to their specific and evolving needs. The house is painted silver, circular, and domed to evoke the streamlined images of 1950s American cars.

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space house 3

space house 2

The Dymaxion House at night

The Dymaxion House at night

Port Newark

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Port Newark is America’s largest port on the Atlantic coast. On weekdays, hundreds of cargo ships deliver thousands of Chinese-made products to waiting trucks and trains. On weekends, the port is empty of life, an unintentional and empty urban monument to America’s economic might.
Click here to see a film featuring more of my Newark-based artwork.

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PLEASE BE KIND. DO NOT LITTER. FAPS INC. CARES ABOUT YOU.

– signage adorning truck depot

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Pulaski Skyway

When I left home to attend Columbia University, I knew the transition to college would leave me homesick for Newark. To remind me of home, I painted this watercolor panorama. Every night, in my dorm room, I gazed at this painting and traced the streets and buildings of my childhood memories.

Proposal for a pop-up park near the Flatiron Building

In front of Manhattan’s Flatiron Building is an unused, triangular spit of land bordered by three major streets: Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street. Every day, thousands of pedestrians pass and cars through this central intersection. This underutilized space with traffic on all sides could become a vibrant, public square. This park should reflect and respond to the dynamic and energetic neighborhood.
Pop-up Park creates a mixed-use public space that responds to users. Narrow metal panels measuring three by five meters roll out of a wedge-shaped storage container. Each panel serves a different function: bleachers, benches, bookshelf, public mural, basketball hoop, etc. When in use, the panels are alternated to adapt to multiple uses. When not in use, the panels slide back into their container, leaving an open communal space. The dimensions of each panel correspond to the perfect shape of the golden rectangle. This permits a functional yet aesthetic geometric composition to be incorporated into each panel. The park’s periphery is planted with trees to shade the communal area and to act as a visual buffer from the hectic city.

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urban park 1

urban park 2

Re-purpose shipping containers for affordable housing

Hundreds of thousands of shipping containers – each measuring eight feet wide by eight feet tall and between twenty and forty feet long – carry goods from China to America by ship. On arrival, these containers are often emptied and disposed of. Due to the trade imbalance, and the fact that China sends more products to America than America sends to China, it is often not cost effective or profitable to return these containers.
This project proposes recycling the shipping container’s flexible but durable steel frame as a building material. Each container is a component in the home: living room, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. Like Lego bricks, these lightweight containers have limitless combinations, allowing the occupant to design his or her own residence with any number of modular units that can be stacked up to eight stories high. The container’s natural durability, cheapness, and ease of movement make for a cost-effective and adaptable home.

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containerized living