Maybol He

New York City - the city that never sleeps. Yellow cabs line the street. During rush hour, the roads are paved with glistening strands of rubies and diamonds. The city has managed to pluck the stars from the sky and plant them on its skyline.

Some nights, I like to take a cab to Time Square. As the cab approaches Broadway and 42nd, you find swarms of people like ants on honey. Tilting my head up, I feel like a toad looking up from a deep well - walls of glass glare down upon me and just a small patch of sky shows through. Tourists light the night with the bright flashes of their cameras while couples holding hands take a leisurely stroll through the concrete jungle. As soon as I open the cab door and set foot on the ground, I am assaulted with sounds of cars, laughter, and conversations in innumerous languages. The air buzzes around me in excitement.

I have been transported to a different nature - one that is manmade. The surrounding skyscrapers tower above me, creating a canyon of neon reflections. The flashing bright lights replace the dark night sky with rainbow colors. The steep cliffs are not made of jagged rocks but of reflective glass panes. The size of the canyon seems to amplify as the reflections bounce from one gleaming tower to another. But just like any other jungle, this concrete jungle is a beautiful trap.

Sometimes, I find that I get lost in the synthetic nature we call New York. The city has something for everyone; SOHO, Madison Square Garden, Museum Mile, everything is just a subway ride away. Eventually, I start to forget that there is another world beyond this concrete jungle; I become consumed by the blatant messages of materialism that bombard me. I need to live in a cold, steely fortress 23 stories above ground. I need to buy everything I see plastered on billboards. I need to spend my vacations on exotic beaches. I need to drive a shiny sports car even though I will only end up stuck in traffic. And I need to work twelve hours everyday in a cubicle doing a job I hate so that I can afford everything else I need to buy. The city is filled with lost people slaving over documents in their cubicle instead of sharing dinner with their families. No matter how hard you work, there is always something else you need. People become so transfixed that all they see are the things they need rather than the things they have; all that is left is the city that never sleeps.

The buildings and bridges and streets seem so formidable that picturing the city as anything less than permanent becomes a ridiculous notion. And because this synthetic reality seems so permanent, we eventually accept that feeding our desire to acquire and consume is the only way we can be happy. The lights and billboards in the concrete jungle trap us in an illusion of fulfillment and an unending cycle of earning and spending. At the end of the day, you finally open your eyes to see that everything you own is fleeting and the things that really last have gone. The only way to step out of the cycle is to distance oneself from all the noise and lights and people.

Standing alone on the top floor of an empty office building, I feel like I can finally breathe. The chilled March air blows gently against my face and washes through my hair - I imagine this is how eagles feel just before they take flight. Ahead of me, the sun sets as the seagulls soar and dive in indiscernible patterns. Just below, the streets are lined with cars and people. Here on this rooftop, I remember what I truly want in my life. I want to watch the sun set over the city. I want to enjoy homemade dinners with my family and friends. I want to spend eight hours a day doing something I enjoy. I want a life that does not suffocate me. I want a life that is not an illusion.