Dear New York, Here Are 5 Things I Hate About You

Five Things I Hate About New York

*Today I’m sharing a unique guest post from my friend Sophie at Sophie With a Blog. I’ve lived in New York City for seven years, but I can’t tell you what it’s like to grow up here or how it’s changed. So I asked Sophie, a native New Yorker, to share her colorful stories about what it’s really like growing up in a city that many people romanticize. Enjoy! -Luxe*

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Hi, I’m Sophie and I’ve lived in New York City my whole life.

I walk fast, talk fast, and am really impatient but that’s nothing special around here. I don’t wear all black, smoke cigarettes with a side of Starbucks, or think that this city is the best place to live.

In fact, I could think of sunnier and less polluted destinations where the living is slow and the people are less hardened…I mean, driven. And yet here I am, still living in the same city with no plans to move elsewhere…yet.

A lot has changed in this city and I have a lot of feelings about it. Do you ever wonder why the world places NYC on a pedestal? Yeah, me too. To make sense of this whole thing I decided to make a list, as one does when feeling confused…and it ultimately led to me writing this letter. Specifically, a letter in which I list five things I hate about this city. It wasn’t easy but it did provide some clarification, or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself. If you’re curious, read on as I give you the 4-1-1.

Dear New York,

1) I hate that you have a specialized high school system, and I got bamboozled into thinking it was going to be special.

One day in the 7th grade, I learned that there was this “special” high school you could attend if you were smart enough and wanted to get into a good college. I was obsessed with doing well in school and wanted to get in. My parents weren’t “tiger” parents or “helicopter parents” by any means, but I think the pressure that I put on myself was from knowing how much my parents struggled in China. Not only because they were poor but because they were limited by their middle school education.

So my mom did some digging around Chinatown and found that there was this tutoring center that specialized in the exam. The tutoring lessons would cost over $1000. More than our rent. Will go into that later.

At the time my mom was making about $8 an hour (minimum wage was $6 in 2003) as a home attendant. My dad was making about $900 a month working as a cook in a Chinese restaurant. On paper they couldn’t afford these lessons, but they’re frugal and saved like it was their job, so they made it happen.

Ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom, my parents got a return on their investment and my Saturdays at the tutoring center was not for nothing. I got accepted into my second choice, Brooklyn Technical High School.

On my first day, I came home and cried. Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Cady is eating lunch in the bathroom?

I didn’t do that, but that would have been less embarrassing than eating alone. The school was huge, both in its size and in the number of students which was over 4000 at the time. Everyone seemed to know each other from their Brooklyn middle schools. I lived and went to school in Manhattan, which is the suburban teen movie equivalent to moving to another town and starting over. The problem with a large school and having to split lunch into four different periods, is that even when you make friends one semester, you might not see them at all the next. Unless, you had the same commute or lived in the same neighborhood. This didn’t create the most stable or consistent social support network. So oftentimes, I felt alone.

You might be thinking, what about hanging out after school? It seemed like everyone was always running off to go home and do their homework. Everything felt SO serious, as if a single bad grade could lead to losing the college choice of your dreams. Everything was college focused. We even picked a major to focus on for the last two years of high school. I was interested in fashion and writing for a magazine, but nothing related was offered as an option. So by the time I was 16, I was encouraged to put myself in a box, rigged by the fact that the options were limited in the first place. So I cast aside my interests for more “serious” pursuits into the social sciences.

Everything about high school felt like a means to an end. And so, I ended high school feeling like, I made it to college! The end. But it really was only the beginning. I didn’t know that, no one ever told me. So I carried this “means to an end” mentality into college and grad school. Instead of exploring different interests, I carried through with my high school interest in Psychology. I can tell you that, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree later, I have decided to not pursue Psychology in any way and am still trying to figure out a way to do what I love instead.

For reference, my younger brother (by 2 years) who went to a much smaller high school, ended up going to the same college as me, and has maintained a friendship with his core friends from high school. That wasn’t the case for me. Unlike me, he has fonder memories of his high school experience.

2) I hate that you let neighborhoods change depending on where the money is.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that my tutoring lessons cost more than our rent? Well, here’s a brief story of the beginning and the end of my rent-controlled apartment experience in NYC.

Picture it. New York City, 2010. You’re living in a two-bedroom apartment in Lower East Side Manhattan and rent costs roughly $700 a month. Your parents scored this sweet deal back in 1991, when they were introduced by your aunt’s friend who would eventually be your neighbor in the building.

Back then it wasn’t so glamorous or safe to live in the neighborhood. Your parents were scraping by to make rent since they both worked in Chinatown’s garment factories and got paid not by the hour, but by the piece. Fast forward, 9/11 happens and the garment factories shut down. By then your dad goes back to working as a cook in a Chinese restaurant and your mom starts working as a home attendant where she gets paid more than minimum wage. This opens up an opportunity for them to save even more than before.

Anyway, you’re about 18 now and you’re still living in the same apartment you grew up in. Your parents have their own room and so do you, but your younger brother isn’t so lucky and has to sleep on the couch in the living room. Now, your parents finally can make more than ends meet and are living comfortably. But they’ve got their eyes set on the suburbs. A backyard space for a garden? More than one bathroom to share between four people? A bedroom for everyone? And, getting to have a home they can call their own? They were ready to sign on the dotted line. They wanted 20 years of hard work to show for something.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, in the past year, you’ve been sharing your apartment with unwanted guests…rats. Moving to the suburbs was beginning to look a lot more appealing than staying in an infested and poorly maintained apartment.

By that point, Brooklyn was no longer in their price range. Chinese people were beginning to see Staten Island as a place where their money could be worth something, so that’s where they set their sights. Obama also offered an $8,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers so all the right conditions were there to make this a go. In less than six months of looking, they found something. And off you all go, about an hour away by train and bus.

Fast forward to 2015, you’re curious to see how much your old apartment costs to rent because you really miss the convenience of Manhattan. You blink and blink but the number doesn’t change. It now costs roughly $3400 a month.

If your jaw is on the floor…take all the time you need to process.

Gentrification happened. The neighborhood is hip now. The new, younger neighbors you started seeing a year before you moved? They either opened, worked, or created a demand for hip new restaurants, bars, and cafes. You didn’t see them as a problem then. But now you can’t help but wonder if those rats were a way to push people like you and your family out, to make way for people who could pay more for rent. To them this was “affordable”. But once they entered, the neighborhood became “up and coming”. NYC transplants get to call themselves “New Yorkers”. Even though the New York they’ve created and are living in, is nothing like the New York that was there before them.

Gentrification bothers me the most because neighborhoods change based on where the money weighs the heaviest. That money gets to make what was once unsafe and very uncool, a place that everyone wants to be a part of. This left people with a tough decision to make. Stay in this run-down place where you’re close to your ethnic community or be further away and live in a much nicer place? Not really much of a choice, is it?

3) I hate that you couldn’t appreciate the cultural food that was already there until outsiders called it cool.

Growing up, my mom would pack me home cooked meals for lunch. I was initially thrilled because I love real Chinese food, until my classmates told me it looked funny, smelled funny, and were just generally less than kind about it. Fast forward about 10 years and all of sudden things turned into “fusions”. Chinese food or Asian food in general is something New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers seek out because it’s full of flavor, exotic, and well, delicious.

Don’t get me wrong, I fall for these traps too. Especially when social media tells me dumplings and noodles are cool now. Last spring, I went to Mimi Cheng’s, the hip, new dumpling shop in Nolita. I posted a picture of it and didn’t expect to get this response:

The picture got 95 likes! The most I have ever gotten up until that point. Dumplings and noodles got the official social media stamp of approval.

My parents would call me crazy for paying $12 for 8 dumplings and $13 for noodles. They would tell me, I got ripped off. You can have a whole dimsum experience in Chinatown for four people with that kind of money. Also, for $3 I can get a pack of frozen dumplings from Trader Joe’s and have it any time. The fact that frozen dumplings are being sold at major supermarkets is a big deal! Growing up we had to go to Chinese supermarkets for that.

I’m sure Mimi Cheng’s would have been noticed and appreciated by locals, but what took it to the next level of stardom was being validated by outsiders. This validation from mainstream American culture is what’s frustrating. Why aren’t the “original” mom and pop shops in Chinatown considered pioneers? Probably because their packaging and marketing isn’t made for outside approval, it’s for the people in the know. Either way, at least cultural food is being appreciated. All I can say to the haters from the past who are haters no more is, welcome to the other side.

4) I hate that you encourage living in bubbles.

I celebrated my 17th birthday with my friends in an Olive Garden, specifically, the one in Times Square. Let me explain. New Yorkers rarely leave their neighborhoods and if they do it’s for work, school, or friends. Usually, neighborhoods contain everything you will ever need so it rarely makes sense to leave. Spending most of my time in the Lower East Side meant that anything above 14th street felt foreign to me. So foreign that I didn’t know if being up there was considered cool or not. I didn’t grow up eating non-Chinese food aside from school lunch, so McDonald’s was the furthest we ventured out. Money was tight and McDonald’s was something we could afford to do for birthdays and celebrations. The luxury was being able to eat American food, and because it was more expensive than eating at home. Keep in mind, this was the age before internet on cell phones were affordable, before Instagram’s influence, and before Yelp was a credible source of where to eat. So when it came time to plan my 17th birthday, my friends and I only knew the big brand restaurants we saw on TV. I was also just trying to fit in, so Olive Garden happened.

These days, I find myself in another bubble yet again. But I’m happily in it because I love my neighborhood. We have Austrian food, Chinese food, Thai food, Mexican food, and everything in between. I have now solidified my own taste but am also willing to leave my own bubble every now and then. Like when we (my husband and I) make the trek to Staten Island to visit my parents and visit our favorite Trader Joe’s, track down the Carpe Donut truck in Prospect Park for the best apple cider donuts, go to a halloween party in Long Island City at MoMa PS1, or do an insane Escape the Room in midtown for a friend’s birthday, and the list goes on. With Yelp and Instagram, there’s always incentive to leave the neighborhood…even if it’s just for a night.

5) “I hate that I don’t hate you at all, not even a little bit.”

All those things I said about you is true. But I guess no place is perfect, not even the one regarded as the best of the best. You welcomed my parents when they arrived here from China with no money and created an environment for them to work hard, save, and buy their first home. You made me considerate, driven, and forever a dreamer. In a city that is so fast-paced and often abrasive, you make me appreciate the kindness of others, my friendships, and the moments I get to share with the people I love. Above all, you made me realize that home isn’t a neighborhood because they’re forever changing. Home is something you feel and something you find for yourself, even in a city you think you already know.

Do you live in the same city you grew up in? If so, how has it changed? What have you always wondered or assumed about New York City? Do you love it or hate it?

Liked this post? Visit Sophie at her blog.

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  • Frugal Asian Finance

    Wow this is such an inspiring story! I think it’s amazing that you got into Brooklyn Tech. Hubby and I have a targeted high school in mind for our son (3 yo), and we just can’t stop dreaming about it. I will keep tutoring centers in mind. They obviously did a great job in your case.

    I’ve been to NYC a couple of times and loved how vibrant the city was. Food is my most favorite thing about NYC for sure. 😉

    • Hi! Thank you so much! I really owe the inspirational part to my parents. It sounds like your son is already set up for success with you and your hubby so invested in giving him the best 😉

      Food is definitely one of my favorite things about this city for sure!

      Thanks again for reading this 🙂

  • Really wonderful post and story! I’m a NYC transplant, having only moved here for law school, and it’s really great to be able to learn about your experience growing up here. The specialized high school experience sounds incredibly intense, even as someone who went to a highly competitive public school (but not a magnet program).

    • Thank you, thank you! To be honest, NYC transplants who manage to stay through all the insanity of this city and have career success is actually very inspirational to me. It’s always a good reminder that a combination of dreaming, hard work and determination pay off. I didn’t even realize how intense my high school experience was until I went to college and realized that all the students were complaining about the intense workload meanwhile this was something I already was used to in high school…so I guess it was good for something haha.

  • Danny

    What a great post and story! I was actually at the restaurant in the photo you posted under point #2 just last week haha! Anyway, my wife also grew up in Chinatown (I was a suburb boy), but definitely agree with everything you’ve said from listening to her and her family’s stories over the years. I spit out my coffee from laughing so hard about your comment regarding Mimi Cheng’s. You’re totally right that there are so many great dim sum restaurants in that area that deserve so much more love than they get. The one thing I would add is the love/hate relationship I have with the food markets down there. Great food, but tough dealing with the crowds.

    • Thank you, Danny! It sounds like your wife and I might have some stories to share! Love that you spit out your coffee from laughing, that is my ultimate goal in writing haha. I will have to say that you are right on the money about dealing with crowds. As a New Yorker, I love the authentic food but the crowds are a true nightmare, which explains why I often stay away. Maybe for Chinese New Year, I will put on my big girl pants and brave the crowds to revisit that restaurant in my picture. Or I will order out since Brooklyn seems a long way from Chinatown these days.

  • Eddie

    Wonderful post and loved the Ten Things I Hate About You reference. Tbh I saw it coming and it was rich nonetheless !

    • Thank you so much, Eddie! Figured it was a fitting since I have such a love/hate relationship with this city 🙂

  • Sophie, I loved this! I’m not an NYC transplant though I do visit family there a lot (Chinese who also eventually moved out of the city) and I agree so much has changed there since the 90s. It seems to be a common experience for us city girls, as reading your post reminded me of my own home city in the Philippines.

    I grew up being asked the stupidest questions (“Do you sit around a campfire at home?” “Do you wear a loincloth in your off time?” “Is there a McDonald’s there?”) yet it’s one of the biggest cities in the country now with all these transplants making stuff so expensive, the traffic problems, and so on. But like you, I’m grateful to my city for giving my parents the success they worked hard for and the memories I had there (including the specialized school I eventually moved out of mid-high school lol). The love-hate is real.

    • Hi Daisy! Thank you so much! The 90s were really such a different time. Ignorance is so frustrating! I’m so sorry that you were bothered with such questions when they could have just asked what your experience was like instead of painting it for you. Haha seems like you’re doing just fine moving away from that school 😉

  • Done by Forty

    Sharp post. We’ve only visited NYC but can appreciate the change you’re talking about. My wife and I are serial migrants, so I unfortunately am likely contributing to things like neighborhoods gentrifying. It’s a shitty consequence of mobility.

    • Thank you! Yea, I think changes in neighborhoods are inevitable. I wonder if there is a way of changing a neighborhood to include the people already living in it.

  • I loved this post! It’s so interesting to read about your perspective as a native New Yorker.

    I just moved to Manhattan from Toronto and the native NY’ers I meet usually ask me how I like it here vs. Canada. When I tell them how much I love it so far they always look surprised/skeptical (the “just you wait” look haha) and say that they’re over it because they’ve been here too long. I get it though, because that’s the same way I feel about Toronto since I lived there almost my entire life. But most people who move to Toronto from other places generally love it…

    Your first point was also interesting to read about because that’s something I’ve noticed here, at least in my area – the high school kids are incredibly focused on grades and getting into the “good” schools (Columbia, etc.). It’s funny to sit in my local Starbucks and hear them stressing and gossiping about people’s SAT scores. Very different and more competitive vibe than what we have in Canada.

    • Thanks for reading this 🙂 Haha there definitely might be a honeymoon period with NYC, I guess only time will tell. I feel like living in one place for too long can have that effect-I know I crave a different pace of life but I also have an unreasonably high expectation that everything can happen in a NY minute haha.

      There’s definitely a desire and a pressure to get into a brand name school which baffles me now but made so much sense then. SAT scores, # of Advanced Placement Classes, are all fair game for comparison…so interesting to know that students are still so concerned about it.

  • NZMuse.com

    Oh man, basically all these master bullet points basically apply to me and Auckland! And seriously, f- fusion food, what is that BS?! (Re dumplings, at the Chinatown places used to be like 20 for $10 but now everyone has discovered them everything is going up to $13 or so and I’m so annoyed haha. My neighbourhood isn’t amazing for food but it’s improving – we don’t have to venture far for much … except ramen and yum cha)

    NYC is quite possibly my fave city in the world and if I had an easy guaranteed way to spend a couple years there I’d jump. But I cannot see myself settling anywhere but here, despite the prices and traffic there really is no better place on earth for me.

    • Wow, I never knew that was the case or Auckland! It really is so frustrating when simple food gets crazy expensive for no reason. I would venture for ramen any day. I’ve actually contemplated going to yum cha for Chinese New Year this year but pictured the crowds and I think I’m wimping out…and the best places are a trek away from where I live.

      I know what you mean, sometimes I dream about living in other places but think about how I would miss the conveniences of NYC- I guess I can’t imagine living anywhere else, for now.

      Thanks for reading this and taking the time to comment 🙂

    • Anni

      This resonated with me so badly – I grew up in Auckland (born and raised) as the daughter of Chinese immigrants (came with blue collar money and eventually worked our way into true middle class status via some hard travel for work choices). I remember going to schools where I was literally the only asian child and I would be asked to befriend all the new asian kids because I was the defacto speak the language child.

      Fast forward to now, after going back for a family visit in 2017 I was blown away at the housing bubble (parents bought a modest fixer upper for $290k, is now worth over a million which is insane), the immense increase in traffic and the kind of conspicuous wealth I have only gotten used to in the US where I’m now living. What was kind of a real shock to me was how so much of this new moving money was from extremely wealthy asian immigration and the resulting huge boom in asian run/inspired businesses and what a big shift that was from the wave my folks came in a few decades back.

  • GYM

    This sounds like the complaints I have about Vancouver! It’s getting so expensive to live here and I’m not really liking what’s happening to the city.

    I think we all romanticize NYC (including me!), the last time I was there was Novemver 2009. I experienced Black Friday, a Manhattan wedding (my cousins) and even bumped into my rap idol Nas filming a music video- Blood Diamond-outside of my cousins wedding venue!!

    • Thanks for reading this 🙂 I’ve never been to Vancouver but I’ve heard people say that it’s a pretty awesome city to visit. Bumping into your rap idol in NYC doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Sounds like you have some amazing memories from just one trip here. It’s so funny, I always thought I would see so many more famous people because I live in NYC but it hasn’t happened nearly as often as I, or most people, would think. Maybe NY-ers walk too fast and miss those moments haha.

  • I can definitely relate to this post as an Chinese-American raised in NYC. Funny thing about Brooklyn tech is I sometimes regret not going there even though i got in. Went to a small school in Queens and didn’t like my experience. I guess the grass is always greener right?
    Gentrification is a difficult issue. I still remember when my parents drove to chinatown to go grocery shopping and send me and my sister to Chinese school and passing by Williamsburg…it was not a place you’d want to stop. Things definitely have changed. There’s good and bad. I sometimes daydream about leaving NYC for a place more affordable (especially) housing costs but it’s tough to leave family…plus it is a pretty awesome city.

    • Hi Andrew! Thanks for reading this 🙂 That’s so interesting, I will say though that grass is definitely always greener and schools aren’t one size fits all kinda situations but it’s really hard to know that when you’re 13/14 years old.

      Yea, I actually lived not too far from the Williamsburg bridge…it was rough back in the 90s for sure. I agree, I too have the same daydream but it really is so convenient to have all my family in one city. And, I’m always glad NYC is where I grew up…wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • I was born and raised upstate, but visited the Bronx regularly to see my grandparents. We didn’t leave their neighborhood so I didn’t get to know NYC until I got to college and was out of my parents’ grasp. In one week I fell in love with this city and the affair rages to this day.

    I’ve been a nomad since graduating college, but in all of my moving around I’ve never been able to move to NYC for longer than three months at a time. Still, I consider it the happiest place on earth and my adopted home. I do hate the neighborhood changes that have happened over the last 20 years. Brooklyn ain’t Brooklyn anymore. Seeing what’s happened to Bed Stuy breaks my heart. Even with the changes there is no place I’d rather travel to (except for right now because it’s flipping cold AF).

    • Hi! Thanks for reading this 🙂

      You should see what non-New Yorkers are calling Bed-Stuy these days…they pronounce it as Bed-Stoy…it could just be not knowing any better so I can’t hate too much but it does make me cringe.

      I’m with you on wanting to be anywhere else but NYC at the moment. The city is wonderful during the milder months-if we are so lucky to get a Spring and Fall.

      This city is great in all of its conveniences but this week is really making me question how I’m going to make it through this cold AF winter.

  • Hi Mica,

    Thanks for reading this 🙂 Sometimes I love being a tourist because you can see the best parts of any place. It’s also important to diversify my experience when I travel too but who doesn’t want to experience the nicer things.

    If you ever do visit, come in June and July when it’s just beginning to warm up and it’s not quite crazy humid out yet. It’s a beautiful city to just walk and explore if the weather allows it.

    I agree, I always love an insider’s perspective!

  • I can relate to being in one city my whole life as well. I was born and raised in San Francisco and still living in this great city of mine. But I also have the same complaints about SF as you with NYC. Although I appreciate SF being so desirable with so many opportunities, good weather, and a great tourist city, it has caused the cost of living to be so expensive especially in neighborhoods where it wasn’t considered desirable 10-15 years ago.
    I’ve been to NYC three times with the last visit about 10 years ago and I thought it was what I imagined: fast paced, huge buildings and big crowds. But the one thing I regret from those trips was that I didn’t get a chance to visit the other boroughs outside of Manhattan. I’ve been to Bronx for a Yankee game and Queens for going to JFK but that’s it.

    • Hi Kris,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

      I have family in SF and I haven’t visited yet. I have heard about how expensive it is to live there and it seriously blows my mind. I think it must be all the people making the big tech bucks there that make it appear like all people can afford to pay exorbitant prices for things. It seriously leaves the people in the lower and middle class with such a dilemma. I certainly saw this in the old neighborhood I used to work in where grocery stores would be so expensive because the wealthy people living there could afford it. This left people living in the projects with limited options-I mean the neighborhood barely offered anything for them, they were basically forgotten.

      If you ever visit NYC again, you should definitely check out Brooklyn! I know everyone talks about Central Park but there’s Prospect Park in Bklyn-perfect when the weather gets nicer. You can also rent a Citi-Bike and tour the neighborhoods. And I’m sure there’s so much to see in the Bronx and Queens too!

  • prosperlyway

    It’s great to hear from a local New Yorker; I don’t run into those very often. And your story is so humbling.

    I moved to NYC almost 4 years ago, with the intention to stay for 2-3 years. I grew up in a rural area, so I never thought I would stay in a big city for a long time. I have moments where I want to move out to somewhere with more space and cheaper housing. But then when I visit people outside the city, I find myself wanting to go back.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me! Always want what I can’t have. But there’s no doubt that there’s something special about the city.

    • Haha thanks, local New Yorkers are hard to spot these days-even I sometimes wonder where everyone went.

      It’s so interesting that you only planned to stay for 2-3 years. I’m always fascinated when people make the big move to this city because it can be such an abrasive and aggressive environment. Maybe you’ve stayed as long as you have because there’s something here that makes you feel like home. I’ve lived in this city and had to redefine what “home” feels like on multiple occasions.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment 🙂