The 4th of July is one of the most important dates in American history as it celebrates America's Declaration of Independence from the British Empire. It leaves me slightly confused; there's my British upbringing that makes me want to shout treason, but there's my Panjabi heritage that thinks, 'you did good America'.
July 4th, or Independence Day, is a time of being with your family and therefore there is an exodus from the city the weekend before. In fact, I did a day trip to Long Island on the Friday before, and the traffic leaving the city throughout the day was incredible. For me, July 4th was the perfect opportunity to see how New York City celebrated one of the biggest days in the American calendar.
Firstly, I have not been paid to write this article, but this is a product that I came across that I felt I had to share as it has made my stay in the United States so much easier. Revolut is a financial disruptor, one of a number of recent financial innovations succeeding in London. My job involves me staying up to date with global financial innovations, but it was a colleague of mine who introduced me to Revolut.
The company was founded in London in 2014 by a couple of Russian immigrants to the UK and its growth has been pretty incredible. The premise of Revolut is simple - its a global money app that allows people to transfer between a select group of currencies without charging any commission, a fantastic tool for anyone that exchanges currencies on a regular basis.
Ever since I can remember, I have attended Nagar Kirtans (Sikh processions) in the Midlands. In fact, the Midlands has the highest number of Sikh processions per capita in the Western world. There are countless small ones: Dudley, Walsall, Willenhall, Wednesfield, Tividale etc but growing up there were three large ones: Wolverhampton, Smethwick and Handsworth (Birmingham).
Politics split the Wolverhampton one into two and it was also a factor in the Smethwick one closing down after a decade. However, the Handsworth Nagar Kirtan has continued to grow in size and is one of the largest annual gatherings of Sikhs outside of India.
There are other large processions in England; Southall, Slough and Glasgow are particularly famous. Recently Canada has taken a leading role in Western Sikh culture, with Brampton and Surrey hosting two of the largest processions in the North American continent and by some measures as large as the ones in England.
However, the Sikh community in the United States has until very recently been very quiet and relatively small, at least on the East Coast (the West Coast has an established community based around Yuba City). Organisations such as the American based United Sikhs and the Sikh Coalition have begun giving American Sikhs a more global voice but when I heard about a 'Sikh Day Parade' in New York City, I didn't expect much, however, what I saw surprised me.
Airport Rating n/a
Reception of locals *****
Although the organisation that I am working for has offices in New York (where I am based), it has its headquarters in Washington DC, and it was a work related matter that gave me the excuse to check out the capital of the United States.
I decided to extend my stay over a weekend so I could get a chance to explore DC, and the city was unlike anything I had expected; both in terms of size and energy. I managed to see the majority of landmarks and attractions during my stay and I'm sure I'll get an opportunity to return during my time in the States, but for now, here are my thoughts.
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals ****
Florida is a fairly popular tourist destination for British tourists, but this was my first trip down to the Sunshine State and it coincided with Spring Break.
Most of my time in the United States so far has been exploring New York, but as I approached my second month I felt it was worth taking a trip elsewhere and exploring more of America whilse I'm here. With temperatures in New York consistently under 1 degrees celsius I felt it was the perfect time to go somewhere warmer.
I took a long weekend to make the three hour flight to Florida landing in Palm Beach and then taking a short road trip down to Miami.
Lessons from the Big Apple
It's been over a month since I've made the move to New York and it's beginning to feel like home. I've spent the first month exploring different parts of the city, doing the usual tourist things and trying to see a few things not on the trip advisor lists. Between my colleagues at work who have been incredibly welcoming and new people I have met in the city, I have managed to travel to a few different areas and see a few different things.
I've also taken long walks on my own to orientate myself in the city. I did a 15 mile walk one weekend and close to a 10 mile walk on another weekend and I feel like I finally have my bearings. I've only been to Brooklyn a couple of times and Harlem once and I'm yet to see any American sports. As I'm roughly 6/7 weeks into my stay, I'll probably update this list a couple of times as I see new things and explore new places.
What's it like for Sikhs?
Its not that bad at all...so far at least. Colleagues and other locals I meet do tend to ask me if I've had any trouble and sometimes seem quite surprised when I say no. Perhaps its the post Trump coming together that I've seen in New York but the locals are very welcoming. I didn't have any trouble coming into the airport from London, but I'll reserve judgement on that until I've flown a couple of times. Anytime that I meet up with new people, they are curious and open-minded, they ask questions about my long hair, and almost always seem surprised and pleased with the answer. People just generally seem to be very respectful.
There aren't as many Singh's walking around Manhattan as you'd see in central London and no where near as many as the Midlands but I've seen one or two. Surprisingly, it doesnt look like the Singh head nod has reached New York yet. Only a matter of time.
Airport Security *****
Reception of locals *****
Its been less than three weeks since I came to New York and its pretty safe to say its unlike anywhere else I have been. It's loud, dirty, polluted and I absolutely love it!
It seems like I walk into some political disorder wherever I go; it happened in Thailand, it happened in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Barcelona and now America. I got here less than a week before before Donald Trump became President and since then the city seems to be in almost a continuous state of protest.
In between the protests, I've managed to walk around a fair bit of Manhattan and managed to visit parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. The first thing I noticed was the size. The buildings are bigger, the roads are bigger, the cars are bigger, the people are bigger but the main part of Manhattan itself is quite small, surprisingly small actually. However, it manages to pack quite a punch for its size.
A trip to the US Embassy
Security Rating ****
Reception of officials *****
According to the World Tourism Organisation, the British Passport is ranked 1st in the world, and as I have written in the past it means that you can get visa free travel to more destinations than with any other passport in the world. Under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) you can get visa free travel to the United States for a maximum of 90 days. However, I'll be spending 6 months in America, therefore I had to take a trip to the Embassy to get my visa and it was an interesting experience.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.