I actually had not planned to visit the United Nations on the first day. It was supposed to be one of the “B-List” places that I had written down. But I guess I lost my bearing around midtown Manhattan and somehow ended up walking in the east ward direction. Before I knew it, I see all kind of people of different nationalities all attired in suits and national costumes … and for some reason I could not figure out, all of them were carrying big, big piles of files.
I checked the street I was on against the map … and found that I was just half a block away from the United Nations. Oh well, since I am already here, I went on to visit the United Nations.
Unlike all over Manhattan where every square foot of land are built up with skyscrapers, the United Nations complex is located on a very spacious ground. The UN complex consists of a 38 stories Secretariat tower and the General Assembly Building.
The grounds around the complex had quite a number of outdoor sculptures donated by nations around the world. Perhaps the most poignant sculpture to me was the knotted gun (below). This one graced the visitor entrance to the UN.
There is also a section of the Berlin Wall on display too. Another one that I really admire is the gift from Japan … a simple Peace Bell which is cast from coins collected by children all over the world … and this coming from a defeated country during the second world war.
I signed up for the Guided Tour. I can’t remember exactly how much but I think it’s about $13 or so. We were brought on a tour around the General Assembly building.
We got to see the Security Council. The Security Council is perhaps the most powerful body of the UN. This is where their main task is to deliberate on peace and security. The Security Council is made up of 5 permanent members (victors of WWII) and 10 temporary seats. Can you name which countries that made up the 5 permanent seats?
We sat at the press area. From here I can see how old this facility is. The place is very clean and neatly maintained but the communications system and furnishing seems like they are from the 1970s. It was enlightening to say to least hearing how the Security Council functions.
This is the heart of the United Nations … the General Assembly. Almost 200 member states are represented here … and the beauty of this is that each member nation gets ONE vote … it does not matter how large, how populous, or how wealthy a member state is … each gets ONE vote. The decision made is by majority … so, in theory this allows states of just 8% to pass a resolution.
It was a really moving experience seated in this grand hall.
The UN is located on independent state soil … i.e. the land on which the UN stands in not part of the United States. They have their own stamps and all. It seems like buying UN stamps is popular with tourists … I did not get any. Anyway, the stamps purchased in UN can only be used if posted within the UN complex.
Like I said, the entire complex is really old and is in a dire need of renovations. It was just announced lately that the long awaited renovation which will cost something like $1 billion dollars will be kicking-off. The Canadian government had responded by offering the UN to move the HQ from New York to Montreal for roughly the same cost but with much more greater land for expansion. I think it would be difficult to have the UN HQ moved from NYC … but personally, I think it’s a great idea! Don’t you think?
By the way, there are no subway to the UN HQ. You either walk or take the bus. Me … I took the bus to The Grand Central Station. Tomorrow, I will have food featured on this blog … promise.
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If you are still in NYC you should definitely check out a couple of restaurants. One Vietnamese joint called Saigon Grill. There are a few of them around the city but I think the closest one for you would be the Union Square location. Then there’s Yuka, a Japanese restaurant that has an all you can eat special. Trust me the sushi is fresh; they’re serving you anything a day old or anything. The whole special costs $18!
I remember I nearly missed the General Assembly last time I went to the UN. Kofi Annan was practising his speech in the Assembly when I joined the tour. Luckily, just before we left the building, someone shouted at our tour guide and said that it was ready for us to see the Assembly… Phew.
Given how hostile our current president and his administration has been to the UN, I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaders hadn’t given Canada’s offer some serious thought. Unfortunately, the United States is one of only two superpowers remaining in the world and provides most of the military backing, not to mention a good chunk of funding, for its operation. For the UN to be effective, it needs to be situated in the US. There’s also no way the US would continue to maintain its current contributions to the UN were the UN to move to Canada.