05
Jan 17

NYC Adventures: 2016 Holiday Edition

While last year I went out of town, this holiday season out-of-towners came to me, which meant I got to see some New York sights I’d never seen before, and a few I hadn’t visited in a while.

The United Nations

United Nations

[Photo by Paul VanDerWerf, CC BY 2.0]

I worked near the United Nations for 10 years but never went inside. Last week was my first time. My friend Motoko from Tokyo and her son wanted a tour, and Ellen, my buddy in Boston, was kind enough to arrange it and to, of course, join in on the fun.

You have to go through quite a bit of security before getting inside. No wonder they ask you to get there an hour before your tour time. You check in at one location, wait in line at the main location, then put your stuff through metal detectors and go through a full body scan, just like at the airport. It was so similar, some people were about to take their shoes off.

Once you get inside, it’s worth it. The lobby is beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. That’s what I get for not having much memory on my phone.

The tour was interesting, but because I was sleep deprived, I didn’t retain much of it. What I do remember was the guide was credentialed up the wazoo. She spoke three languages (English, Japanese, and Spanish), had a master’s degree in international relations, and was fluent in English despite having come from Japan just two years ago.

She was also nice enough to translate for Motoko’s son, although that wouldn’t have happened if Motoko hadn’t noticed her Japanese name, or if Ellen hadn’t asked her to translate in the first place.

Grand Central Oyster Bar

I’ve been to the Grand Central Oyster Bar a couple of times before, but it’s been several years since my last visit.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, New York City

[Photo by Jazz Guy, CC BY 2.0]

That’s not my picture of the bar although we sat at the bar.

What I love about the place is that it’s a mixed crowd. You have tourists but you also have working stiffs who want to get away from their desks for 40 minutes and enjoy some delicious clam chowder.

Which is what I had. Tasty and filling and only $7.

The Met

Of course I’ve been to the Met a hundred times, but what I’d never seen before was a line that long. How long? It went out the door, down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk. It was a perfect storm of the early afternoon, the holidays and a chilly, steady rain.

Little do the hoi polloi know, there’s a semi-secret side entrance which is a million times less crowded. Another friend showed it to me and Ellen long ago, and it’s the only entrance I’ve used ever since.

Still, that didn’t keep the rest of the museum from being mobbed, especially the Impressionist wing. Our guests lasted half a dozen Monets, Degas, and Seurats before we took refuge in the cafeteria.

Peter Luger Steak House

A great thing about out-of-town visitors, besides the company of course, is that I end up doing things I never would have on my own. Such as dinner at Peter Luger.

If you want an old school New York experience and don’t mind spending a little dough, you’ll love Peter Luger. Perhaps its Brooklyn location has something to do with it, but I felt like everyone — the managers, the waiters, even the other diners — had walked straight out of some movie about NYC.

And the food was good too. We started with sliced tomatoes and onions, which is literally just that. What makes the dish is their sauce, similar to cocktail sauce but not tomato-y. We also got a single (massive) slab of bacon.

Unfortunately by the time our 16 ounce steaks came, I wasn’t that hungry, and could barely make a dent, although I had no problem finishing off our sides of creamed spinach and German fried potatoes, which were similar to hash browns.

It came out to about $80 per person including tax and tip, which may seem steep, but with all the leftovers and the experience itself, it was worth it.

Corner Cafe & Bakery

I’ve been wanting to try this place since I moved into my neighborhood little more than a year ago. New Year’s Eve morning, I finally did, and it didn’t disappoint.

I got the Southern breakfast.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

That’s three eggs, bacon, potatoes, a corn muffin, and fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce. A delectable way to finish out 2016.

InterContinental Barclay Hotel

Something else I don’t usually do is go out on New Year’s Eve. To me NYE is basically SantaCon without the Santa suits. But this year I found myself out and about, and I have to admit, it was a nice change of pace.

After helping Motoko pick up some provisions for her feverish son, Ellen and I ended up spending a relaxing afternoon at Motoko’s beautiful hotel.

While we charged our phones at the bar, we each got an old fashioned.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

It was very well made, and I got sufficiently tipsy. Plus the bartender was very nice and didn’t make us feel rushed.

I’d definitely return to the InterContinental Barclay bar just to have a drink and hang out.

Times Square on New Year’s Eve

Our relaxing afternoon came to an end when we headed out to meet our friend Aki. She and her boyfriend had a party later and were staying at a hotel for the night. Unfortunately that hotel was right near Times Square.

Getting from Midtown East to Midtown West on New Year’s Eve was like trying to climb over the Berlin Wall. But climb over it we did, mostly due to Ellen’s persistence. Like Aki said, I was about to call it a night when Ellen finally found a cop who let us through the barricades.

The hotel itself was pretty relaxing. We ended up eating discounted happy hour snacks in the lounge instead of trying to find a restaurant. The food hit the spot. Wings, pita and hummus, quesadillas, and a pizza-like flatbread.

At about 8:30 I made Ellen leave. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in that part of town close to midnight. We walked Aki and her boyfriend partway to their party and grabbed a cab at Columbus Circle. By nine, we were in PJs and watching Orange Is the New Black, my kind of NYE. I was happy that Ellen was so accommodating.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

The next day we headed back to the west side and had our first lunch of 2017. Pure Thai Cookhouse was an Aki find. It was packed but didn’t seem touristy, an excellent combination.

I got the special, a beef dish in a mildly spicy curry paste with a fried egg.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A yummy start to the new year.

Here’s hoping that every day of 2017 is as delicious.


13
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Ramen

Only second to my obsession with museums is my obsession with ramen (as evinced by the many noodle photos in my Instagram feed). Since moving back to New York, I’ve had the chance to sample a lot.

Zutto Japanese American Pub

I welcomed myself back to New York with some spicy miso ramen at this Asian-fusion place in Tribeca.

ramen_zutto

While the flavors were good, the broth was only warm instead of piping hot — maybe because it was a sweltering August day. But even in the heat and humidity, I like my noodle soup to be hot hot hot. Plus at $14 it was a little overpriced.

However, my dessert, a mochi tempura (with red bean mochi and green tea ice cream) was delicious.

ramen_zutto_greenteaicecream

Recently, I went back a second time and asked for my tonkatsu ramen to be “extra hot,” and it came out much better.

Ramen Setagaya

I used to go to Setagaya regularly when I lived on the Lower East Side, and it’s still one of my favorites. This past summer I paid it a visit and had the spicy miso.

ramen_setagaya

It had a lot more flavor than the spicy miso at Zutto, but it was a lot saltier than I remember. Or maybe I’m just older and can’t handle so much sodium anymore.

Ramen-Ya

A find by my friend Aki, who’s a whiz at sifting through Yelp reviews to unearth good restaurants. We tried the West Village branch, where I had the shoyu ramen in pork broth.

ramen_ramenya

I don’t know if it was because I was starving, but it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had. The soup was very rich and flavorful without being crazy salty, and the pork was melt-in-your-mouth.

Naruto Ramen

After I moved into my new place on the Upper East Side, I noticed that there was always a line outside this place. Partly that’s because there’s only counter seating, but I suspected that wasn’t the only reason.

Finally, one day I decided the wait would be worth it. However, luckily for me, a seat for one opened up just as I got there.

I knew I should have probably tried the classic Naruto Ramen, but the Tan Tan, ground pork in a spicy sesame broth, sounded really good.

ramen_naruta_tantan

And it was. So good that I had it again the next time I went.

The third time I was with Aki, my partner in ramen. I decided to change things up and got the curry ramen. Again, delish!

ramen_naruta_curry

Naruto also has a spicy ramen which you can get mildly spicy (1) all the way to burn-your-face-off spicy (5). My first visit, the large Korean man next to me got the level 5. He had no problem scarfing down the whole bowl although he was sniffling and sweating the whole time. My second visit, a skinny white dude tried to order the same thing.

“It’s really spicy,” the waitress (who was Asian) warned him.

“I know,” the guy said.

“I mean, REALLY spicy.”

“I know,” the guy said, more weakly this time. “I eat spicy things all the time.”

I felt kind of bad for him, but I knew what she meant: this was not white person spicy. It was Asian person spicy. It was make-a-large-Korean-man-sweat spicy.

In the end, he relented and got the level 3. I didn’t see how that turned out.

Jin Ramen

Another Aki find. I thought the ramen at this spacious Upper West Side restaurant was quite good, and we liked that they offered a “less salty” option, which we both got.

The only downside was that the place felt crowded and super-busy. I guess I prefer counter-only seating, like Setagaya or Naruto, or just a few tables, like Ramen-Ya.

Totto Ramen

The chicken logo should have been a dead giveaway.

My friend Ellen and I had just finished seeing An American in Paris on a chilly night so we thought this popular Hell’s Kitchen joint would be the ticket. I was dismayed to see the broth was chicken only, but thought I’d give it a go. After all, I love chicken soup.

We had a short wait, but the restaurant utilized our waiting time efficiently by taking our orders while we were still in line. I got the chicken paitan with pork.

ramen_totto

Looks amazing right? Well, it was only so-so. First of all, it wasn’t just not-hot, it was lukewarm. In fact, the middle of the egg was cold, and the yolk was hard instead of soft-boiled. And while the pulled char siu was yummy, the slices were dry and, again, almost cold.

The skinny? I would go to any of these places again, except for Totto unless I were desperate, in which case I’d go out of my way to ask for “extra hot.”

 


05
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Museums

As you might know, I’m pretty much addicted to museums, and so after moving back to New York, I was especially excited to revisit some of my old haunts.

The Frick

An old favorite, I love the Frick because it’s small and easy to handle. Comparable to Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris, in my opinion.

The former residence of rich guy and union-buster Henry Clay Frick, the building houses Frick’s extensive collection of European paintings and sculptures, 18th-century French porcelain and furniture, and much more.

Plus who doesn’t love an indoor garden court?

The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is practically in my backyard, and because of that and its enormity, it seemed like the right museum to join.

met_egypt_1115

In recent years, the Met’s most popular draw has been its costume exhibits. Last year I saw Death Becomes Her, and in September, China Through the Looking Glass.

met_china_0915

I loved both although both times were complete madhouses, especially the latter since my friend and I saw it on the last weekend, which happened to be the Friday night of Labor Day weekend.

But membership has its benefits. In the future, I’ll be able to see all special exhibits during off hours, ie, without the hoi polloi. One I’m really looking forward to is the opening of The Met Breuer, which will house modern and contemporary art, and is located in the Whitney’s old space.

But the permanent exhibits are nothing to sneeze at. Although I’ve been visiting the Met for years, recently I saw two exhibits that I’ve never seen before, one on late Baroque interior design and one on medieval Spanish art. I also revisited Arms and Armor while listening to the (free) audio guide app.

I feel like the Met is a place you can visit a million times and see something new every time.

The Cloisters

While I’ve lived in close proximity to New York for most of my life, I somehow never visited the Cloisters until late last year.

Whenever I think of the medieval art museum, I think of my brother’s school trip there when he was a kid and his coming home with a print of its arguably most famous work, The Unicorn in Captivity, which hung on his bedroom wall for years. Seeing the tapestry in person was a little like seeing a celebrity.

The surrounding area, Fort Tyron Park, is also lovely.

cloisters_1115

Getting out there is a bit of a schlep. At first my friend and I balked at paying $6 for the bus ride, but it turned out to be worth it. The seats were super-comfy and the ride was pretty quick at less than 20 minutes. If we had taken a regular local bus, it would have taken more than an hour.

The Whitney

When I was living on the Upper East Side before I moved to San Francisco (otherwise known as “New York, Take 1”), the Whitney was my favorite museum. It was very close to my apartment, and my work ID at the time got me in for free. On hot summer days, I’d just go there and hang out.

Now the Whitney is in the Meatpacking District right near the High Line. It’s a beautiful space with an amazing view:

whitney_view_1115

I thought it was going to be insane with people when I visited over Thanksgiving week, but it actually wasn’t too bad.

While I still love the Whitney, because of its new location I unfortunately probably won’t be visiting it very much.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Another museum that’s close to where I live. I always enjoy it although I found the recent Pixar exhibit somewhat disappointing. I liked the How Posters Work exhibit better.

And the rest…

Since moving back, I’ve also had the chance to visit the Museum of Arts and Design (love the jewelry); the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn (at least the store and a weird movie about old health films); the Morgan Library (specifically, Alice: 150 years of Wonderland); and the Princeton University Art Museum, which by the way is always free.

But the NYC adventures don’t end here. Next up, food glorious food.


07
Oct 15

NYC Adventures: Gyms

Exercising with Good Housekeeping

Now that I’ve been back for almost two months, I’ve started to develop a new routine. I’ve found my go-to morning coffee spot, my favorite lunch places, and decent take-out. But not all of my routine is about stuffing my face.

Since August I’ve been trying different gyms, partly because I wanted to join one, but also partly because I wanted to see how long I could work out for free. (The answer: about a month.) Here’s what I found.

24 Hour Fitness (SoHo)

This was the first place I tried since there’s one very close to work, and I used to go to the one in San Francisco. They offered a free one-day pass, but of course you can’t just go in and work out. You have to meet with a manager who’ll give you a tour and the whole spiel.

I was prepared for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was waiting. And waiting, and waiting. At the time I thought I had to suck it up to get a free workout, but when I visited other gyms, I found that wasn’t the case.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, the manager — or rather, manager-in-training — came out. She was nice enough, but asked some strange questions. I had mentioned that I had belonged to a 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco, but that was a few years ago. Later she asked, “So when was the last time you worked out?”

“Sunday,” I said. It was Tuesday.

She looked utterly perplexed.

Did I look that out of shape? “Sometimes I use the gym in my parents’ retirement complex,” I explained.

Still looking confused, she smiled. “Oh, okay. It’s good to change things up.”

Number one, what are you talking about? Number two, there are other gyms besides 24 Hour Fitness, and even other ways to work out besides the gym.

Then came the spiel. The price wasn’t too bad. They were waiving the initiation fee (as a “special,” but I soon found that most gyms were running the same “special”) and offered different levels from about $79 to $99 a month.

“Which package would you like?” the woman asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I’d like to think about it.”

“What is it that you need to think about?”

Uhhh. “I just don’t know right now.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand. What is it about this gym that’s not meeting your needs?”

Maybe you?

Eventually, her boss showed up, and she give me the hard sell too. And again she asked, “What is it that’s keeping you from making a decision?”

Then I said, “I don’t want to feel pressured. I’d like a little time to think about it.”

At that point they finally backed off.

The skinny

While the gym is pretty nice with lots of equipment (even a punching bag!) and classes, and a decent good locker room (I didn’t get to shower since I hadn’t brought a lock), they were such a hard sell I was completely turned off.

On top of that, they had kept me waiting for so long, and never followed up. They were supposed to contact me about a three-day pass after I returned from Paris but never did. Not even an email.

In addition, the location isn’t the best. While there’s a club near work, there isn’t one near my apartment.

Equinox (SoHo)

Equinox is my all-time favorite gym. I was lucky enough to belong to the one in San Mateo because we got a group discount through work. It was beautiful. Very clean, especially the locker rooms. Plus the showers had Kiehl’s products. Kiehl’s! And they have these amazing cold eucalyptus towels which are so refreshing post-workout.

The Equinox here offered a one-day free pass, and I was prepared for a long wait and a hard sell. I got neither. The manager came out right away, and although of course he tried to get me to sign up, when I said I’d like to think about it, he backed off right away.

The skinny

Sigh. I loved it. The workout floor was noisier than the the one in San Mateo, but it was tolerable. The showers of course were amazing. And the Kiehl’s products and eucalyptus towels! Double sigh.

However, while there’s a gym right near work, there isn’t really one near home. The closest one is 10 blocks away.

But most of all the price. At $225 a month, even without the $500(!) initiation fee, it was just too rich for my blood.

Crunch (Bowery)

Like the other gyms, you can get a free one-day pass from Crunch off their website, and like at Equinox, the manager met with me right away and didn’t give me a hard sell. In fact he gave me a three-day pass. The only sort of irritating thing was that he kept upselling their personal trainers and this “flying yoga” class although I said a couple of times that I had done krav maga and was into boxing.

The skinny

I really liked the gym. It’s kind of small, but it seemed like it was in good condition. The locker room was a little cramped, but the showers were nice. They had wood floors and Bliss products, which I love. I also liked the vibe. I went there on a Sunday afternoon, and it was almost empty and very peaceful.

However, the location isn’t the best. It’s more than a 10-minute walk from work and 10 blocks from home, which is fine in good weather but not bad. Moreover, the cost was a little out of my range: $104 a month, plus a $69 initiation fee.

Blink Fitness (NoHo)

The staff was super-nice and friendly. They even let you work out right away without a spiel, and although the spiel was super-short anyway.

The skinny

At $25 a month, Blink is by far the cheapest gym, and it’s fine if you want something very basic and don’t mind bringing your own towel (or buying one for $5, which is what I did). However, while there are plenty of machines, they don’t offer classes, and the locker room was REALLY small. Like, have-to-move-near-the-bathroom-stalls-to-rearrange-your-bag small. On top of that, there’s no location near my apartment.

David Barton Gym (Astor Place)

To be honest, I was a little scared of this gym because of the website, but they offered a free one-day pass so I sucked it up. AGAIN and unlike 24 Hour Fitness, the manager came out almost immediately and did not give me a hard sell. He gave me a tour of the gym (which was like if a goth club kid designed a gym) and that was that.

The skinny

It was pretty nice. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and a punching bag (which I worked on for about five minutes and was completely sore the next day). The locker room is huge and the showers decent (although not as nice as Crunch’s). However, it’s a little walk from work and about 10 blocks from my apartment. More importantly, at $127 a month, it was out of my price range.

New York Sports Club (Upper East Side)

Every manager I talked to at the other gyms scrunched up their faces at NYSC, and so before I even tried it, I was kind of against it. However, I still thought I should try it. They offer a 5-day guest pass for $5. I thought I’d get one for the one near work, but one day I popped in and saw how basic it was. So that’s why it’s just $19.99 a month.

I knew there was one near my new place, but I didn’t know how near until one night I was eating at Korean place one block from my apartment, looked up, and saw the gym across the street.

I popped in Monday night, and yet again, and I know sound like a broken record at this point, the manager came out right away, gave me a tour, and not too hard of a sell. While my guest pass had expired (turns out you need to start using it the day you purchase it), she let me work out for free that night.

The skinny

A decent gym. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and even a pool (although I don’t really swim). The locker rooms weren’t too cramped, and the showers are fine, although the water pressure is ridiculously strong. The whole place could be cleaner and newer, but the location is fantastic. It’s one block from apartment, and two from work.

And the price: it’s $69 a month for month-to-month or $59 a month if you sign a year-long contract. If you cancel the contract, there’s a $100 one-time fee. Also there’s no initiation fee right now. I don’t know if there’s always no initiation fee, but when I asked about any specials, the manager waived the $99. She also said the rest of October would be free for me.

The verdict

I’m going with New York Sports Club. The price and location are right, they didn’t do a hard sell, and the facilities are decent.

If I were rich, I’d clearly pick Equinox, with Crunch being my third choice. David Barton would be next, and then Blink. I have to say I’d put 24 Hour Fitness dead last because of my negative experience with the manager, although the gym itself seems perfectly fine.


19
Aug 15

NYC adjustment

I’m settling into life back on the east coast. After a few days at my parents’ house (which was somehow both relaxing and stressful), I’ve moved into a share in Brooklyn. While I’m doing fine, there are some things I’m still adjusting to:

The heat and humidity. I knew it was going to be bad, but I forgot how bad. Like can’t-sleep, about-to-pass-out-on-the-subway-platform, constantly-sweating bad. Meanwhile, it’s in the 60s in San Francisco (wah!).

The lack of open space. From my old apartment in Oakland, all I saw were trees, hills, and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. Then I’d see the ocean again on my bus ride across the Bay Bridge and on my walk from my bus stop to the Caltrain. Now while there are some trees where I live, it’s mostly concrete and buildings.

Studies have shown that nature is restorative. I’ll have to find another way to get my nature fix.

Not everybody knows my name. At the Starbucks I used to go to, many of the baristas knew me by name and knew my usual drink. Right now I don’t have that, but that may be just a matter of time.

Along with everything I’m adjusting to, I’m also grateful for a lot of stuff.

A place to stay. Looking for an apartment in New York from the west coast would have been possible, and commuting from my parents’ house (as well as staying with them for longer than a week) would have been a huge headache. Having a roommate situation set up in advance has made life a million times easier.

A place to work. Working from home is fine, but having an office to go to (with a not bad commute) is better.

Stuff to watch. This is very silly but having access to my Netflix and stuff is such a comfort. I can keep up my old routine of rewatching all of the Gilmore Girls, catching up on Doctor Who, and watching random anime and British mystery shows.

Friends and family. Of course this is the main reason I moved back. It’s really nice knowing that my parents and many of my friends are just a train ride away. By tomorrow I’ll be in Paris with a good friend, and when I get back, I’ll have the chance to catch up with others.

Now if only it wasn’t so damned hot.


08
Aug 15

Goodbye, San Francisco

cropped-baybridgeview1.jpegI’ve been planning this for several months, and now it’s finally here: my time to go.

Those of you who follow my blog (and know me in real life) know that I moved to San Francisco from New York back in the fall of 2009. I was lucky enough to have the support — financially and emotionally — to quit my boring corporate job and pursue writing full-time.

In the almost six years since then, a lot of good things have happened. My writing career has taken off. I found a job where I can put my love of words and stories to good use. I made some friends (MGP for life!). I learned how to throw a decent punch and an even better kick. I had the chance to travel to Paris, London, Madrid, and Barcelona, as well as Orlando, Seattle, L.A., Atlanta, Boston, and of course New York and New Jersey. I moved into a fabulous apartment with a gorgeous view.

But some tough things happened too. My grandmother passed away and my dad got injured (he’s okay now). A relationship ended. I realized I suck at making new friends and I missed the ones I already have. My parents keep getting older (how dare they) and I feel just too far away. That was when I knew it was time to move back home.

I’ll certainly miss the Bay Area. I’ll miss the weather — the mild summers, mild winters, and of course Karl the Fog. I’ll miss the calmness and seeing the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis. I’ll miss my fabulous apartment. I’ll miss the wild turkeys that live in my apartment complex, and the goats and sheep that graze on the grassy hill nearby. I’ll miss the million Asian restaurants (which seems silly since it’s not like I’m moving to Idaho). I’ll miss my new friends and being able to see my brother so easily. I’m sure there are a hundred other things I’ll miss, and which I’ll only think of later.

Change is scary, but luckily for me, some things will stay the same. I get to keep my job and work remotely. I’ll still be writing. The online me will still be here. I’ll still be watching tons of TV, running, and traveling the world (next stop, a return to Paris later this month!). But some things have changed, and not just the fact that I actually cook now (well, “cook”).

My writing is stronger. And not just my clip file. Before I left New York, I was having a hard time breaking into the writing biz. Now I feel much more confident. I’ve honed my skills and have a lot more contacts. Not only that, I’ll be back in the center of the writing universe.

I’m much better about being on my own. I’m pretty independent so it feels weird to say that, but for those few years I was living alone in New York, I wasn’t very good at being by myself. I enjoyed my alone time sometimes, but mostly I was pining for a relationship, which I had almost always been in one since I was 21.

These past two and a half years have really been the first time I’ve been completely on my own, not in a relationship, nor just out of one, nor starting — or trying to start — a new one. It’s been just me and my own interests and ambitions, and I’ve really enjoyed it (maybe a little too much).

I’m more appreciative. I was telling a friend that years ago, right after my divorce, when I was finally living my dream of being on my own in Manhattan, in close proximity to several friends whom I saw regularly, I was still lonely. I’d be coming home from a party, walking to my apartment, and I’d be filled with loneliness.

Now I want to shake that person and say, “What’s your problem? Don’t you know how good you had it?” because while now I’m very good now about being my own, it’s not something I want that all the time.

I’m excited to be the person I am now returning to a place I once lived. It almost feels like a do-over.

~ ~ ~

In a few days I’ll be on a one-way flight to Newark. I’ll spend a few days at my parents’ house in New Jersey before moving into my room in Brooklyn. Then just another few days later, I’ll be off to Paris.

My friend asked me if I feel like I’m ending a chapter of my life. I do feel that way, and I’m a little sad about it, but where one chapter ends, a new one begins. I can’t wait to see what it says.


26
Apr 14

Birthday trip recap

Hey look, I’m blogging for a change!

I realize I’ve been sort of terrible about keeping up here. There’s no way I can blog even once a week, but I figure at least I should be better about documenting my travels. I’ve gone as far as to go back in time and add a much more detailed entry about my trip to Paris and London last year based on some diary entries.

My latest trip was to New Jersey and New York last week for my birthday. Here’s a recap in excruciating detail.

Tuesday

My flight was supposed to leave at two, but it ended up not leaving until 5. While the weather was perfect in San Francisco, back in New Jersey it was apparently raining and very windy.

At one point they thought we’d leave at 3:30 and got everyone on the plane. Then the captain came on the intercom and said we weren’t leaving until five. At least they let us off the plane.

I was worried because I thought I’d miss the last train to my parents. My dad was the one who alerted me that the trains stop running after 1:45 and don’t pick up again until about 5 AM. I arranged it with YP that if I missed the 1:45, I’d cab it to his place. Then I checked the schedule myself and saw that the trains ran all night.

Assuming my father was mistaken, I told both my mom and YP.

Then I realized I was the one who was wrong.

I was looking at the afternoon trains instead of night. Duh.

I texted YP that oops, I got it wrong, and 1:45 was the last train.

Are you drunk? he texted back.

Anyway, I ended up making the 1:45 in plenty of time.

Wednesday

I got in a little work in the morning and then met up with an old college pal.

SN and I first met freshman year in Latin. We also lived on the same floor. After freshman year, we were always friendly but never hung out. And then after graduation, we totally last touch.

Then after I moved to San Francisco, SN found me on Facebook, and we’ve been in contact ever since. We always see each other when I return to New Jersey (she happens to live near my parents) and we even traveled to Orlando together in February.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying while I was home, we hit the gym together and had a yummy Indian lunch afterward.

I spent the rest of the day working, had a great homecooked meal with my parents, and then crashed with iPad and Hulu+.

I was pretty exhausted from having gotten in so late the night before and wasn’t affected by jetlag at all.

Thursday

After working for a few hours, I went out to lunch with the parents at what is now my favorite Chinese restaurant in the area. It specializes in little juicy buns, or xiao long bao, of which we had two servings. I also made sure to have noodles (long noodles for a long life) since it was almost my birthday. (Pork with mustard greens, in case you were wondering.)

Lunch was pleasant. Then I made the mistake of telling my parents that SN tried to set me up with her mother’s doctor, who is Chinese, 38, and “nervous around women.”

Deal breaker for me. Not so for my mother.

As usual, she was like a dog with a bone. “I have a sixth sense about these things,” she said. And, “If he’s nervous around women, that means you can trust him.” Finally just to shut her up, I said fine I’d exchange emails with him, which I have no intention of doing.

Later, she tried to get me to give her SN’s phone number. “Why?” I asked.

“For things,” she said.

“What things?”

“Stuff.”

The conversation wasn’t exactly like that but it might as well have been. Needless to say I didn’t give my mother my friend’s number.

After lunch we did a little shopping, and then at home I did a bit more work before my high school pal AY picked me up for dinner.

We went to happy hour at this steak place — food and drinks for $7 each! — and had a great time chatting and catching up.

Friday

Finally, I was off to the city.

I took a late morning train and still felt jetlagged and groggy so I got a coffee for the ride. There is something so lovely about drinking a coffee on an almost empty train – that is until the coffee went through me and I had to pee in the worst way.

First stop was SB’s, who was kind enough to treat me to a yummy Japanese birthday lunch. Next was coffee and writerly-talk with a librarian/writer friend, and finally YP’s.

That night we saw The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe. It was good in an old-fashioned way although some of the dialogues seemed to go on for much longer than necessary, and the audience’s laughter was disproportionate to the only mildly amusing jokes.

When we left we saw a line of people waiting for Daniel Radcliffe to come out. There were some kids, and one grown man clutching a Harry Potter book.

Oy.

I love Harry Potter too but not that much. 

Saturday

Saturday was activity-packed. First, YP and I went to the Met and checked out this exhibit, this one, and all the butts of the Greek and Roman statues.

We also walked around Central Park and met AY at the Houdini Museum.

“Museum” is actually stretching it. While there were some very cool artifacts, it was basically 2/3’s of a magic shop. At least it was free.

Then because for me it’s now a New York tradition, I wanted to go to the High Line, which turned out to be the worst idea ever.

The time to go is when it’s about to close, not right around lunch time on a gorgeous Saturday on Easter Weekend. It was wall to wall people, and while it wasn’t hot, the sun was very strong. Plus I was hungry. About to go insane, I kept darting around and speeding ahead of slow people, not even caring if YP and AY were keeping up.

Finally reaching covered food area was such a relief — sustenance and shade, hooray! I got some barbecue — pulled pork, beets, pickled cucumbers, potato salad — while AY and YP opted for Mexican.

For dessert I got a decadent ice cream sandwich. The cookie part was red velvet was the inside was cream cheese flavored ice cream. I ate two-thirds of it and then thought I couldn’t eat anymore. I gave it to AY, but before she could get at it, I finished it anyway.

After we got off the High Line, YP said he was pooped and begged off. AY and I started to walk along the water — but the sun was killing me again. We ended up just going to YP’s place, chatting, and drinking up his delicious grapefruit soda while waiting for him to finish at the gym.

Eventually we met up with him at this coffee place, where he gave me a tarot card reading. I won’t go into details except to say that overall it was hopeful and positive.

For dinner we ate at Cafe Blossom, which is vegan. It was very good. I always think vegan places aren’t going to fill me up, but my pasta and brussel sprouts was more than enough. In fact I couldn’t even finish them. I was glad when YP and AY ate my leftovers.

Sunday

Another activity-filled day! First up was the Easter Parade. YP dressed up as, guess what, a rabbit. It was less mortifying than in Paris. At first people barely gave us a second glass, but as we got closer to the parade, that changed. I heard one woman exclaim to her kids, “Monsieur Lapin!” and it was as though we were back in France.

At the parade itself — which I had pictured with floats, but really it’s people just walking in the street dressed up or not dressed up — people couldn’t get enough of YP-as-rabbit, and kept asking to take his picture.

That picture, by the way, has gotten over 70 likes and 30 comments on Facebook, mostly YP’s friends.

Next up was a reunion lunch with a few college buddies. I saw one friend recently when I was in Seattle but I hadn’t seen the others since before I moved to San Francisco. It was lovely catching up with everyone and eating yummy Chinese food.

That night YP, his sister, and I had a ramen noodle dinner. Yay, more birthday luck!

Then it was an early night in. I was pretty pooped from the whole weekend, and we both had to get up early the next morning, YP to go to work and me to catch an early train so I could go back to my parents’ and work.

We watched Bob’s Burgers, which was super-fun since we both love that show, and a couple of episodes of the new season of The Americans. HOW HAVE I NEVER WATCHED THIS SHOW BEFORE?!? A new addiction.

Monday

Then I was heading back to New Jersey. While the station was crowded, the train was pretty empty since it was a week day and going in the opposite direction.

It was a leisurely day: some work, a nap, some working out, and a delicious dumpling dinner with my parents.

Tuesday

I got in a little work before leaving at one to head to the airport. For some reason the train was packed. What the hell? Why weren’t people at work? Anyway, I got to the airport super-early like I always do, but luckily my flight was not delayed this time. In fact, we left a little early and landed about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. And since I hadn’t checked anything, I was lickety split to the BART, where I had just a one-minute wait.

The travel gods were indeed on my side that day.

I got back to my apartment before 10, and while I missed the east coast and my friends and family there, I was very glad to be back in my own place.


27
Apr 13

An East Coast Birthday

As expected I had a mostly great time on the east coast. I say mostly because my parents and I ended up spending all of Friday afternoon at the emergency room.

First off, let me say that everything turned out to be fine, but we only knew that after hours of waiting and tests.

That day we were up early to take my dad to the doctor for an exam. We expected to be done by lunchtime, and then I’d head into NYC around three so that I could meet up with YP in time to go to parkour class with him. Things didn’t go as expected.

My dad fainted during his exam. My mom and I were waiting in the car – the waiting room was crowded and stuffy – when we saw an ambulance and paramedics pull up to the doctor’s office.

“Who could that be for?” my mother wondered. We shrugged it off.

Several minutes later, a nurse came out.

“Is he done?” my mother asked.

That was when she told us he had passed out.

“What?!” my mother cried, jumping out of the car and scurrying with the nurse back to the office.

We found my dad sitting in the exam room, surrounded by paramedics. The doctor and one of the paramedics explained that it was probably a normal reaction, but that we should take him to the hospital to get checked out.

“I don’t want to go,” my dad said, but we convinced him otherwise. As they loaded him into the ambulance, he looked very pale and out of it. I was glad we were going.

My parents kept thinking we’d be in and out in an hour. I knew that wouldn’t be the case, but I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did. We were there until about six thirty.

Like I said, everything was fine, and it was a tremendous relief to learn that. Although waiting around for hours was annoying, everyone was super nice. The nurses, orderlies, doctor, everyone. And I was really glad I happened to be there. If I had heard about it afterward or during, I’d have felt so helpless and guilty.

It’s tough when your parents get old.

I ended up heading up to NYC after dinner and got to Brooklyn after 10 (I was still on west coast time so I wasn’t too tired). I was meeting YP at his sister’s. I walked into her apartment to find a group of people sitting in the dark. I thought they were watching a movie, but then YP snapped on the lights and everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

I was indeed surprised, especially since I recognized only two out of the five people there.

But it was such a nice gesture on YP’s part. He brought out a platter of cupcakes lit with candles and everyone sang. It was lovely.

Riding the subway to and from Brooklyn, I realized how much older the population is in my neighborhood in San Francisco. I’m no spring chicken, but the New York subway seemed full of youngish, cute and artsy men, while in SF I don’t see that as much. In my ‘hood, it’s all baseball-cap wearing douchebags, 100 year old Chinese men, aging hippies, or drunks/drug addicts.

The next day YP and I met AK, my writer/library school friend, at the Met. We saw several exhibits, including Photography and the American Civil War, which I found fascinating. And as tradition goes, I visited the Greek hall, namely a specific site.

perseus_rear

I saw the Buddhas too. I’m not a complete degenerate.

Afterward we walked around Central Park. The weather was very nice all weekend. A bit chilly and windy but sunny. Plus all the trees were in bloom.

centralpark

That night we met up again with YP’s sister and another friend, and saw Oblivion. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t good either. Mostly it was boring, and I fell asleep several times. Also, the whole time I kept thinking how much younger Tom Cruise’s love interests were. One I kept thinking was like his daughter because her coloring was similar to his.

The next day I met my college pal SB for lunch. On my way there, I saw a mother and daughter, who couldn’t have been more than eight, in matching fur vests. Ah, the Upper East Side. I got to see SB’s husband and daughter, too, briefly, before we headed out for a yummy Asian lunch.

I was meeting AK for coffee near Union Square and was planning on walking. SB walked with me most of the way before heading back.

Another strange sighting was that apparently the lobby of the main Pfizer building, where I used to work, is now a bank. I don’t know if the whole building is a bank now or just the lobby. Either way, weird!

AK and I had a very nice chat, and then I headed back to YP’s.

I was pretty pooped so we had a relaxed evening. A walk on the Highline (another NYC tradition for me) with this view of some very cool graffiti –

graffit_highline

– and an Indian dinner.

Another NYC tradition is that YP gets me hooked on a new TV show. Last time it was Revenge (which has gotten really stupid since), this time: Hannibal. It’s well-done, and I love Hugh Dancy (aka Mr. Claire Danes) and all the actors, but it does make me think, Goddamn, there are a lot of serial killers in that town. We also watched a French movie to get in the mood for our trip to Paris in a few weeks. Again, I fell asleep several times, but from what I saw it wasn’t very good. YP and I both thought Isabelle Adjani was wholly unconvincing as a diva-starlet.

The next day, Monday, I headed back to SF. Surprisingly the flight back, which is longer, felt shorter. I watched TV and slept. Across the aisle from me was an adorable toddler who kept grinning at me and saying, “Hiiiii!” I wanted to kidnap him.

By the way, on the food ordering system, I noticed the option to send a drink, snack, or meal to another seat. I thought it was for parents to buy drinks and meals for their kids. I see I’m going to do well in the singles world.


17
Apr 13

Happy Fucking Birthday to Me

nyfc

I turn 41 tomorrow and I’m going to New York Fucking City. That is all.


22
Nov 12

Thankful

Although it was for a bad reason, I had a very nice visit in New Jersey.

If you’re behind on the whole parents-saga, you can catch up here. The short version is that while on he was on vacation in Taiwan, my dad tripped, fell, and fractured his right pubis bone in three places. This means his mobility is pretty limited. I wanted to go see him and my mom right away, but there was the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to deal with, then winter storm Athena. Finally, last week, I was able to go.

Here are all the things I’m thankful for from that visit:

An 11 AM flight. I discovered it’s the best time to fly. You’re not getting up ridiculously early, or waiting around all day to go.

Economy plus for $60. “Economy plus” are seats with more leg room. I really had no choice: there were only middle seats left by the time I checked in, and one aisle in the very back row (which I’ve sat in before and which totally sucks, between the cart bumping into the seat, and people feeling perfectly fine leaning on your seat while they wait for the bathroom, and then pseudo-apologizing with, “Well, you’re right there,” as though you moved the entire row in front of them).

A working computer. I added a lot to my novel.

Free airplane TV. Helped pass the time quickly. I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was beautiful and sad, but not depressing.

Being near the front. Quick deboarding!

Having no checked luggage. Quick exit!

Working trains. I expected the trains to be a mess. My dad sent me an email saying I’d probably have to take one train to Rahway, then change for another. Turned out there were trains going directly to my town (as told to me by the very put out guy in the booth – sorry to disturb your sitting there doing nothing!). Even the 20 minute wait went quickly.

My mom’s food. This is one of the highlights of visits home. I inhaled delicious dumplings and many bowls of chicken soup with Chinese herbal medicine, which, I swear, cured my cold. My dad, the skeptical scientist, also said it seemed to be helping his leg.

My parents’ wireless internet. For a long time, they resisted, but a few years ago we managed to convince them to set it up.

Netflix and Hulu Plus. Hours of entertainment for me as my mom watched her Chinese and Korean shows on the main TV, and I was up at all hours from jet lag.

A workplace that makes it easy to work remotely. I spent much of my time at my parents’ working, which was enjoyable and kept me busy (ie, no boredom).

My parents let me help them with some household chores. Since I couldn’t do anything directly for my father, I was glad to be able to fix the ceiling light in the kitchen (even with my mom yelling at me the whole time I was on the ladder), change a ceiling light bulb in the living room, bring the recyclables out, unjam my dad’s printer, and some other random things my parents weren’t able to do.

My friends. Unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to see a bunch of friends while I was there. One night I had dinner with a college chum whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, my first time. It was very good and the decor was lovely.

Saturday I went into the city and saw my college roommate and former Upper East Side homegirl, SB, for a lovely, chatty breakfast; and former co-worker YP and library school classmate AK for a tour of the Brooklyn Museum.

Sunday I had coffee with high school friend AY, and during that time long-time bud ES texted that she was on her way home. Woot! ES and I had great time grabbing dessert that night in Princeton. Afterward we hung out in my room like we were still in high school, and I showed her my krav maga moves (totally at her request).

Good weather. While it was freezing at night, when I was in the city, it was sunny and not too cold, perfect for walking around.

A good night’s sleep. After a few restless nights, one of almost no sleep, and a busy day in NYC, I was finally able to sleep for a good long stretch Saturday night, and promptly got on east coast time.

My dad’s spare laptop. Unfortunately, my work computer went kaput.

A good memory. Also unfortunately, I hadn’t backed up the latest version of my novel, so everything I added on the plane ride and since then is probably kaput as well. But I had dumped some of it in a Google doc, and I think I remember the gist of the rest. Not word for word, obviously, but sometimes that’s better. It’s like revising.

A three PM flight. Again, I didn’t have to get up too early or rush out.

A thick book. I was worried that I’d be bored on my flight back because 1) my computer was busted, and 2) my TV didn’t work. For some reason, on this flight it wasn’t free, and I was willing to pay five bucks, but my TV couldn’t read my credit card. Luckily my book kept me pretty occupied.

Good headphones. I borrowed MB’s headphones, which while aren’t noise canceling, do a good job muffling outside noise. Luckily for me because across the aisle was a crying baby. He slept a lot, but he also screamed to hear himself scream and cried. As we deboarded, the lady who sat next to the baby complained to me in Chinese about it, which I thought was rude. I mean, it’s a baby. He can’t help it. It’s not like a bratty kid who should know better.

Time zones. Gained back three hours! Was in my apartment by 6:30 PM. Ate the food my mom had packed for me, and passed out by 9 PM.

Part of me feels like I wish I stayed at my parents’ for Thanksgiving, but another part is glad to be here. I love how the city clears out for a holiday.

Oh, and another thing I’m thankful for:

Electricity. Last night I came home to half the lights in our building out. I panicked, but discovered our lights worked. However, all the clocks and other things plugged into outlets didn’t work, so I thought some power surge had shorted out everything. I called the building manager, and he said power on half the block had been out all day, which sucks but made me feel better. It wasn’t just our building. I called the electric company, and got a recording that they were aware of the problem, and it would hopefully be fixed by 10 PM.

MB came home and further discovered that actually the outlets on one side of the apartment worked. He thought it was a blown fuse, but we didn’t know where the fuse box was. So we just grabbed some dinner, and took a walk to Union Square and back. Because some outlets worked, we were able to watch TV.

Then at 10 to 10, all the power came back on. For about five minutes. Then all the power went out. ALL. Fuck. Then a minute later, half the power came on again, the other half of our apartment. Ridiculous. Finally, everything came back on.

All of that means we weren’t able to get Thanksgiving stuff yesterday (because our fridge wasn’t working). But luckily Whole Foods is open today, and MB has volunteered to go on his own to get provisions, for which I am perhaps most thankful of all.