NYC on an African budget

I am generally one of those people who are constantly leeching information off the interweb, and so I figured perhaps it’s time I gave back. After my trip to New York, coupled with my desire for my African brothers and sisters to get out and see more of the world, I hope that at least one person who lives in a country with a currency that is weaker than the US dollar will find this useful. Heck, if you are anything like my sister and me, and love a bargain, then as New Yorkers would say “I ghat’yu !!”.

 

Speaking of my sister, I have since made a deal with myself to never again go on vacation without her. While I admittedly am very organized and detail oriented, she takes it to a whole new level. Had we to be likened to items of clothing, I would be a peplum blouse and she would be a ruched one. We really are cut from the same cloth. I will elaborate some more on her ninja ways as I go along.

 

Flights

 

I have to say that we get a really raw deal in South Africa when it comes to air miles rewards programs. My little boy and I frequent Cape Town, and you would think that at this point we would at least have collected enough points to afford each of us a free flight. My sister, who lives in Canada literally got a free return ticket to New York through the rewards program run by Air Canada.

 

But since I am all about helping in this post, I shall move on from this, and just dispense the following advise in this regard. Google special occasions in the US (like Christmas) during which flights are potentially cheaper, watch the prices like a hawk, and pounce when you see a good deal. I flew Qatar Airways via Doha, both ways, and have to say that the times shown on the booking itinerary were generally an hour or so earlier or later than the actual advertised times on the airport notice boards. Whether this is something that has to do with the changes in time zones, and whether it is common to other airlines too, I cannot conclude,

but it helps to be aware of this fact. Also, when the layover in Doha will exceed 8 hours, then a transit visa is required.

 

Cost

 

We booked our flights towards the end of December, and my Qatar Airways return ticket to JFK airport via Doha cost approximately US$1000.

 

Where to stay

 

…But first, a mini tutorial on NYC. It encompasses five different county-level administrative divisions called boroughs, which have existed since the consolidation of the city in 1898. They are: Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. All boroughs are part of New York City, and each of the boroughs is coextensive with a respective county, the primary administrative subdivision within New York State.

 

Shout out to my sister for recommending (based on extensive research) Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Long Island. While there was much cheaper accommodation in Jamaica neighborhood, also in Queens, wherein is also located JFK airport, the hotel was close to the subway station, from which we were able to get to pretty much any place in the city with relative ease and speed.

 

Now in case you read in the previous paragraph “by Marriott” and got a little confused about how this could be consistent with the title of my post, let me balance you mzalwane, as Vusi Thembekwayo would say. Fairfield is not exactly like your Westin Cape Town (another Marriott hotel) but you know what, it works. What is really cool about it is the shuttle service they provide to the subway and a limited list of other places that one may request. This eliminates the need for Ubering each time to and from the subway station. Not to mention that if you are not data roaming and cannot access WiFi, then you would pretty much have to catch a cab if they are available in the area, assuming walking is not an option. In each instance, you would be spending more unnecessarily.

 

Cost

 

We also booked accommodation towards the end of December and paid US$792 for six nights for our king hotel room. This included complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, an exercise room  and the shuttle service.

 

Getting around NYC

 

As already alluded, we used the subway to get around. Obviously not on our first trips to the hotel though, since we were both carrying luggage and were still unfamiliar with the subway operations at that point. I paid US$51.57 for my Uber ride to the hotel, quite a steep fare, because I did not fancy the Uberpool option, and it was peak period at the time.

 

From the our second day, we were dropped off at the subway station by the shuttle and would get around via the subway. I should warn you that one easily covers a distance of a kilometre just walking from one part of the subway to another, or when changing from one line to another. That hopefully gives you an idea of the size of some of the stations and complexity of the subway networks. To paint a better picture, there are 36 rail lines in NY, plus there was some construction happening while we were there, meaning that some boarding points were diverted from certain parts of the subways to others. It is no wonder then that even New Yorkers also didn’t quite know where to go to board half the time, and as nice as they were, a lot of them couldn’t help us. We also found that there was generally a lack of visibility of the staff who were supposed to help people out around the stations. Quite surprising, especially considering the amount of tourist traffic NY receives.

 

Before we would leave the hotel my sister would map out our routes. She would take screenshots of the directions we would need to take, and this proved to be very useful.

 

Cost

 

One really different (relative to transport operations in South Africa) and great thing is that the subway fare is standard, regardless of distance. It costs US$2,75 per trip, and unless you exit the subway, that is all the money you will pay. Sometimes when changing lines, one has to come out of the subway and back in across the block or further, so it is important to ascertain that a free transfer is afforded on the ticket.

 

There is also what is called the airtrain which transports to, from and around all six terminals at JFK airport. That one costs US$5 per trip.

 

It is ideal to purchase weekly passes or other such tickets, as they work out to be cheaper than singles.

 

Food

 

Definitely opt for accommodation that comes with breakfast, as this will save on costs. Take along fruit and water to sustain you as you do your sightseeing. There are a plethora of eateries to try out, some of which include Jack’s Wife Freda, The Shake Shack and the Ethiopian vegan Spice Rack.

 

My sister and I would generally only spend on a late lunch meal, and would sometimes have snacks at night, if necessary. American food portions tend to be very generous, so do not worry about how you will survive on just two meals per day. And besides, you will generally find that simple meals in NY equate to what one could buy at fancy restaurants in SA. I imagine that this is enough of a deterrent to spend a lot on food.

 

Cost

 

US$20 per head was our limit on food per day, and in fact, we hardly ever spent more than US$15 per day.

 

And finally, free stuff to do in NYC

 

The business model whereby a lot of free things are offered up at sites as a means to lure crowds seems to have been employed quite extensively in NY. Mementos are sold for varying price ranges and numerous eateries and other shopping places are also found at these sites.

 

Some of the “free” stuff we got up to and places we visited include 5th Ave and Boulevard high street shopping, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island (Statue of Liberty visible en-route to it), 911 Memorial Museum (admission free on Tuesdays from 5.00 pm).

 

A final word of caution: be careful not to try to do too many things as this may be more exhausting than it is relaxing, thereby defeating the purpose of vacationing.

 

Now go out there and see NY, and remember to always wear comfortable shoes!

 

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When enough is enough…

When I started on this post a few weeks ago, at the end of an exhausting work day, my initial thought was to title it “Why I Love Consulting”. That would have been coming from sarcastic place though, and since sarcasm does not look good on me (or so I’ve been told), I decided against it.

 

Often times I find myself wondering whether this place at which I spend majority of my awake time, is “it!”. I get that I need to earn an income, but Geeslike!

***Warning: this material has the potential to crush the hopes of aspiring and wet behind the ears consultants ***

Teachings on customer service provision sometimes seem to imply that part of it involves lying down and allowing any and everyone to walk all over you. Why does it have to be that way though? Why should people have to go on these rampage ego or power trips..?

 

Recently, I called out a colleague at a client site for having addressed me inappropriately. He pretty much shouted at me, and then had the audacity to say that that is how he speaks. Had this incident happened very early on in my consulting career, I probably would have let him get away with it, opting to go and cry it out in the nearest restroom.

 

But, when one has taken time to try to understand people, then you appreciate that in certain instances retreating or shying away from taking a stand is not necessarily the “best” thing to do. Operative word being certain. Calling out my colleague was me pointing out that while I understood his frustration, such disrespectful behaviour was inexcusable, in my books.

 

It could also be argued that my saying to him “…you don’t have to shout at me..” was not effective either since telling someone to calm down often fires them up all the more. He did back down though, however I am convinced that it was more because of the fact that he was shocked at the fact that little old me actually took him on. Some people are just privileged that way.

 

Being the complex beings that we are makes interpersonal relationships very challenging. Giving love denotes love for self first, since we cannot give of anything we have not. A fundamental example of this is often misunderstood and sometimes misconstrued: Our time is one of our most valuable assets, so how we choose to spend it is very telling.

 

In like manner what we allow in our interpersonal relationships has the potential to devalue our notion of self, whether consciously or subconsciously. Referring back to the incident described earlier, addressing what I deemed to be disrespect was effectively me drawing the line on unhealthy behaviour and mentalities that I try to refrain from. Shouting, in this instance denoted an elevated self impression of this individual in relation to me. Perhaps he is of the idea that some people are created/born more equal than others.

 

Ultimately, there is often no one size fits all answer for what is right or wrong when faced with a situation, particularly one that escalates real fast. However, I believe that when we take the time to learn and understand our own characters, the one thing about us that is constant, then we would have made great strides. The rest is simply figuring whether whatever is oncoming is in line with our character, and fielding off what is not. All the while exercising patience, empathy, introspection and analysing. Simple enough right!

 

Go on then, find that line. Then you will probably be able to answer the questions on whether the places you go to spend your time or relationships you are in, are “it!”.

 

 

 

 

 

Flashion

I have heard it said before that one will rarely find bookshops at malls situated in areas inhabited predominantly by black people, in South Africa, and maybe by extension, all of Africa. This statement lends me to ask a question to my fellow black African folk: given a choice to either buy a book(s) or a
Carvela
, which option would you go for? Feel free to respond via the comments section.

 
While choosing a Carvella, LV, Gucci etc, over a book is not in a bad thing in itself, I would like to think that a lot of you will get my point. If not, then maybe the following scenario will paint a vivid picture.
Luvuyo (not his real name), a university graduate with a relatively well-paying job, has a seemingly promising future. Those who know him will attest to his very expensive taste in clothing, and the fact that he always drives the latest “top of the range” Golf. He lives and works in the Cape Town city center, with a lot of his down time spent splurging at fancy hangouts in the city.

 
Unpacking Luvuyo’s budget reveals the fact he actually has no budget for such an extravagant lifestyle. What is worse is that his bank statements show him dipping into his overdraft every month. Luvuyo is incurring debt (also known as money that is not ours) to finance an asset (which in fact is a liability) whose interest is at a premuim rate of 18%.

 

Now, my fellow Africans, what is wrong with this picture? Kanye West, in one of his songs, talks about how he has always had a passion for flashing. I would like to think that this statement is somewhat true for a lot of us black folk in that we tend to “over invest” in things that will not necessarily improve our livelihood.

 

Upon further investigation, it would seem to me that this phenomenon exhibited by a lot of our people is based on our perception (or more appropriately, misperception) of social identity. We believe that our consumption habits determine our value in society. It therefore comes as no surprise that we are often more concerned about “kotini” than we are about investing in things that will ensure a fairly comfortable future for ourselves and our families, thereby uplifting our communities.

 

This change in mindset is especially imperative because this system of things is such that we (blacks) are often taking off on the back foot, where a lot of things are concerned. This is the reality.

 

Therefore, as a means to hopefully get you all started on working towards acquiring wealth, I leave you with The Rich Dad aka Robert Kiyosaki’s 15 Must Have Financial Education Lessons . I found this resource to be quite enlightening. As those in the Twittersphere would say #StayWoke

Then and now…

In my last blog post I related what an epiphany my trip to Poland had brought on. Further to the point on “getting with the times”, I would like to pick your brains further around some then and now scenarios.

As parents, we [with good intent] sometimes try to live or perpetuate the life we either missed out on or were “successful” in, through our children. This is often evident in such cases where politicians beget politicians, lawyers beget lawyers, athletes beget athletes, and so on.

For a lot of parents whose childhood was lived in the pre independence era, the dream is often for the children to become doctors, teachers or for them take up one of the professions that have been around since yester year and can be found on the “you’ve made it when you are..” list.

Drawing a parallel from Prince Ea’s “dissing” the education system, is it not equally an injustice to have the expectation that our children aspire to what we deem to be virtuous lives and career paths, in these vastly different times that we live?

Surely nowadays, having a large family is no longer commonplace or encouraged for that matter, even in African families, correct?

Is it not tyrannical that some companies still provide pension plans, as opposed to provident funds? While these plans may have been relevant in the past, where people actually stayed at one company until they retired, what one person in what is called the Generation Y actually stays in one job for anything more than 5-7 years at most? Show me one person, and I’ll ask you “Y”?

In conclusion, let me just emphasize that I am not “dissing” the attempts of well-meaning parents to help their children live out their best lives. We, as parents just need to be careful that we do not beget children that grow up to be dissatisfied adults who spend the majority of their adult lives thinking “What if?”.

Note to self: perhaps I should embrace my three year olds love for beat boxing and start investing in a drum set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more you know, the less you realise you know

I recently got to visit the beautiful city of Warsaw in Poland, and might I add that this was the first trip outside Africa, let alone Southern Africa, that I had made. The experience was quite an eye opening one, and while I acknowledge that this would obviously be the case when one is travelling from a third to a first world country, it goes beyond just that.

What became very real to me from the get go, albeit that I may have heard it paraphrased before, is that the more exposure one gets, the more they realise how little they know. Another way to look at it is to simply say that a lack of exposure “kills” a lot of us.

In his article for GQ , Tom Goodwin writes about how we don’t need to teach our kids to code, but rather to dream. He gives an account of why we should be living our lives inside out, rather than outside in. The conversations I had during my stay with people from different parts of the world drove this point home. One individual related how he had recently made what I thought was a drastic change in career, having gone from working as a sailor for rent, to a consultant in the Information Technology  (IT) space.

The inverse, living life inside out, can be likened to what Prince Ea describes in his video on how the frigid education system sometimes judges fish on their ability to climb a tree. Specific notions are handed down to children on what characteristic traits they need to possess, what schools they need to attend and what subjects to take up, in order to end up doing specific kinds of jobs.

This by parents who obviously want to ensure that their children end up making something “meaningful” of their lives, more so in instances where the circumstances are challenging. By the same token, there lies a risk of prescribing a one size fits all cookie cutter lifestyle for very differently wired individuals.

In my observations, I am also aware of some of the differences in the realities of first and third world countries. For the most part, these seem to lend us in a position where, in third world countries we are not exposed to lifestyle alternatives, such that our mindsets are not open to the idea of taking the road less travelled.

In a third world South Africa, the scales are such that some are able to afford first world living, while others live in the squalor that is often depicted in the ads aired in first world countries, by nonprofit and charitable organisations requesting funding. Having had the little exposure that I got from my trip and sitting somewhere towards the lower end of this scale leaves me in a predicament somewhat:

I realise that I have to shift my mindset from the one I inherited on “how to make it”, to one of adaptability. A change is as good as a holiday, even though my trip was work related.

This means having to prioritise exposure, colouring outside the lines, or better yet, not seeing the lines, all within reason. With the little disposable income I have, some of the “things” I would ordinarily buy, should now fall second place to “experiences”. For a great number of us, catapulting ourselves into this mindset, and going against the grain, is unthinkable, and sadly is our downfall.

I have a great interest in innovations that use tech to make life easier, and would dare to claim that investing in experiences would sharpen one’s entrepreneurial skills. I will write about some of the brilliant innovations I saw in Poland and other parts of Europe in posts to follow, but in the meantime I dare those who would try, to go out there and see the world!

Run your own race

As we all huddled at the starting line, there was an announcement made that we were just ninety seconds till starting time. I was mighty excited to be taking part in this year’s Platteklip Charity Challenge, more so for the charity part of it.

As we took off I curbed my desire to also run off like a lot of the athletes were doing, and instead opted to take it easy alongside my teammates. I figured they were much more knowledgeable than I was about this hike, especially since they had done it the weekend before.

About a quarter of the way, my mind was already playing its usual games on me. If there is anything I need to learn in my new journey towards being a marathon runner, it’s to not listen to that little voice in my head that constantly tells me that I’m tired and should stop.

At about halfway from the top, my colleagues stopped to wait for me. I had slacked quite a bit due to the fact that I needed to stop several times to either remove or put on my sweater again, because the temperature would change very suddenly and drastically. I was also really tired at this point , and was really glad when one of my teammates offered to tow me. At this point I was thinking to myself that there was no way I was going to be able to go up a second time, let alone complete the minimum three climbs.

We got to a little waterfall, and decided to drink the water from it. As I stood in the waterfall and felt the light showers from it gently splatter on my t-shirt, I was an awe of the splendour of our city. For that moment, I forgot about how rough the hike had been for me only seconds prior to that point. My exhilarating moment was short lived though. No sooner than we left the waterfall was I brought back to the reality of what the situation was.

About ten minutes later we reached the summit, and again as soon as what had been seven hundred or so meters of steep mountain suddenly changed to level ground, my mind immediately forgot, yet again, of how agonising that last stretch has been. The agony of that last stretch had been exacerbate partly also due to the fact that I was getting cramps in my calves.

As we went down the cable car and engaged in light hearted chatter, I was very much apprehensive of this second hike we were about to embark on. My teammates reassured me that it would be so much easier the second time around, seeing that we would be knowing what to expect. Somehow, that did not offer me much comfort.

Now into the second lap, having stocked up on refreshments, I decided to come up with a mantra that would see me complete my second ascent a lot quicker. My mind was just not really cooperating though, and with every step I took, I felt my mental aptitude get depleted rapidly. As much as I tried to focus on the splendour of the view beneath me, and the fact that I was doing something I really enjoy, and contributing to the betterment of children’s lives, I found myself stopping to catch my breath every twenty or so steps, and this distance lessened with the very steep ascents. It also did not help that there were other participants of varying age groups that overtook me ever so often. Seeing their race tags with three or more clip holes, illustrating the fact that they had done as many ascents really discouraged me. I then had to make a conscious decision to not focus on the racing, but to just complete the three ascents I had set out to do, at my own pace.

With every climb the niggling pain in my left knee got worse, and the occasional cramping in my calves only made my mission all the more challenging. It amazed me even the second time when I reached the top of the mountain and made my way to the cable car, how the memory of the anguish I had felt just moments prior suddenly vanished. As soon as I got to the bottom I was revived and excited that this would be last time I would be going up. Sadly however, my knee was no longer cooperating at all, and as soon as I started to climb, a sharp prickly pain would hit every time I bent it.

This now meant that the “one foot in front of the other” recommendation I had heard from so many who had overtaken me would no longer work. I now had to step forward with my right foot and use that leg to balance while I pulled my left leg, all the while trying to keep my problematic knee as straight as possible.

Fast forward to about two and half hours later when I eventually made it to the top again, and at that point I was feeling all sorts of emotions ranging from elation, exhaustion, and I found myself half crying and half laughing, and involuntarily lifting my hands in celebration of that victorious moment. As I rode down the cable car for the last time with the other participants and tourists, I overheard a lot of the participants saying how they were still going back up for a least two more laps. I, on the other hand, when asked if I would still be going  up again, would shake my head and respond, “…the knee has spoken…”.

As the cable car descended to the bottom of the mountain, I looked out in total admiration and awe of the city, smiling at the thought of having accomplished what has to be one of the greatest achievements of my life thus far. I had done it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My heart