Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A visit to the Audubon Plainsboro Preserve

The suburbs are pretty boring, but at least they’re closer to nature.

The Audubon Plainsboro Preserve is a huge park just a 15-minute drive from my mom’s. It’s even closer to where we used to live ā€” seven minutes ā€” and I kept wondering why I never knew it existed. That’s because it wasn’t established until 1999, several years after I lived there, and was previously land owned by a company called the Turkey Island Corporation as well as the Walker Gordon Laboratory. Over the years, the county purchased more land until it had amassed over 1,000 acres.

It’s really beautiful:

My friend Aki and I had a great time walking and chatting. We had gotten there early to beat the heat, and so at first there weren’t too many people out. Whenever we got near anyone, I made sure to put on my mask.

At one point we took a rest by the water:

Something Aki asked me was if I would ever move to the suburbs. Pre-COVID-19, the answer would have been a definitive no, but now things are so different. If I’m almost always working from home and rarely venturing into the city, why pay all this money for a Manhattan apartment? Why not move out here for a bigger, cheaper space near nature? Then again, who knows what things will be like a few months from now, or even a few weeks from now. But it’s definitely something to think about.

Jun 20

My niece’s dol

In both Chinese and Korean cultures, a baby’s first birthday might involve a big todo. Zhua zhou in Chinese and doljanchi (or dol for short) in Korean, the ceremony involves dressing baby in traditional clothing and having her grab an object that will supposedly determine her future.

My brother and sister-in-law went the Korean route since I think it’s a bigger deal in Korean American culture, and my sister-in-law, with help from her mom, actually knows how to set it up.

Originally my mom and I were supposed to fly out there, and they were going to have a big party, but obviously those things didn’t happen. Instead we got to see the whole adorable thing on FaceTime.

My niece looked so ridiculously cute in her hanbok and jobawi. She also had this look on her face like, “What the hell is going on?” There was a beautiful set up on a table with cake, fruit, candles, and my niece’s name spelled out. They took some pictures (my mom and I on the iPad) and then it was time for my niece to pick an object.

The choices were a gavel (for law), a karaoke microphone (for entertainment I suppose), a stethoscope, and money. (No pen or paintbrush haha.) And what she went for was … drumroll please …

The stethoscope!

We all cheered when she did, and then she just looked at all of us like, “What the fuck?” and pretty much froze. But on the second time, she also grabbed it so we just went with that.

The next part of the ceremony was the cake smashing. Again she was so adorable sitting there in her skivvies (so they wouldn’t have to deal with sticky, messy clothes) looking confused. Instead of a whole cake, my sister-in-law made banana muffins with yogurt frosting so my niece was able to grab each one to very slowly check out before smashing them. Her mom ended up helping her eat a little, and then my niece also kept holding the muffins out to her mom to share. DEAD OF CUTENESS.

I wonder if in the end it was better not to have a big party. My niece might have been completely overwhelmed with all these people staring at her and cheering. Regardless I’m so grateful that my mom and I were able to watch it together.

Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Made it to New Jersey!

After all the hubbub with the bus I usually take to my mom’s, I didn’t even take it. Turns out they have a very limited schedule right now: just two buses a day on weekdays only. I can only imagine these buses are completely packed, or else have such limited seating, you might not even be able to get on.

So I decided to take the train instead. I was pretty fucking nervous. I was thinking I’d take the subway, which I haven’t taken in three months. That meant dragging my suitcase up and down stairs and refilling my subway pass, two things that weren’t a big deal pre-pandemic but which now filled me with anxiety.

Then I thought, Fuck it, and took a Lyft. Not that that didn’t worry me too, but it turned out to be a great decision. The car came lickety-split and was very clean. The driver had put up a plexiglass divider between the front and back seats, like in a taxi, and I took care of my own luggage.

Driving through the city, I saw lots of people walking. Many stores were also still boarded up, which was weird and depressing.

I got to the station hella early, 6:45 for a 7:15 train. There were more people on the platform than I expected, but it was pretty easy to remain distant from people (although at least one idiot decided to walk back and forth, getting too close to everyone).

Another concern was having to pee. Usually when I travel to my mom’s, I immediately use the bathroom before boarding the bus or train. Now I didn’t want to use a public restroom, assuming it would even be open. But I made sure to drink only one cup of coffee and the bare minimum of water. Surprisingly I was good, and didn’t have to pee too bad the whole way.

The train was pretty empty, and the few people on board sat spread out. It was actually quite peaceful. Mask on, I listened to a podcast and watched the scenery go by. And the train arrived on time! That NEVER happens. Leave it to a pandemic.

I had told my mom the wrong arrival time so I had a little bit of a wait. I didn’t mind. The station in NJ was very quiet. There were like two other people waiting. Again, there was some idiot who was walking and had to walk right near me. What the fuck dude, the whole place is empty. Besides that I enjoyed soaking in the sky and trees and grass.

It was wonderful to see my mom for the first time in three months, but again a little frought with anxiety. We both wore masks and I sat in the back. Of course everything looked the same. I don’t know why I expected things to look different.

The moment I got home, I jumped in the shower. Then I tackled the beeping smoke detector. It’s been beeping for a few weeks since my mom isn’t able to reach it. I thought it was going to be a pain in the neck to change, but it turned out to be pretty easy. I simply put in one of the batteries I had ordered, and it actually stopped beeping!

The theme of the day: things I thought were going to be stressful turned out to be not that bad.

Jun 20

Black lives matter.

Proud to have helped edit this essay. ✊

Jun 20

COVID-19: A plan to leave (temporarily)

I’ve been extra anxious lately. Because of the looting (the store hasn’t been hit, at least not yet), the curfew, the oncoming summer and along with that, the idea of being cooped up in my hot apartment day after day.

Until recently I’ve actually been pretty okay staying at home. It’s been cozy. But now I’m starting to feel claustrophobic.

I emailed the bus line to my mom’s, asking when they thought they’d start running again. I didn’t expect to hear from them at all, but then I did: June 15. I was so happy to hear that, partly because it’s not too far away and because it’s perfect timing. My niece’s first birthday is June 18, and my brother and sister-in-law are planning on FaceTiming her dol, a Korean tradition in which a baby picks an object that supposedly determines her future. I figured if I’m at my mom’s, we can watch it together.

Something to look forward to.

May 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A decision made for me

Recently I’ve been wondering if I should go to my mom’s house in New Jersey. I especially wonder when I see, say on Instagram, someone else visiting their parents in the suburbs. However, I’m hesitant and nervous. What’s public transporation like? Is it safe? Also, and more importantly, God forbid I’m an asymptomatic carrier or pick up something during my trip and give it to my mother.

Finally, the other day, I checked the website of the bus I usually take for any travel advisories. There was nothing, but then I saw that my bus line, and many lines, weren’t even running.

Of course that doesn’t make it impossible for me to. I could take the train. But that station is about 20 minutes from my mother’s while the bus stop is literally walking distance.

A decision made for me. It’s really a huge relief.

May 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Art from home

Something I’ve missed a lot during lockdown is going to museums. I’m a member of the Met, and would go at least once a week, sometimes twice. What’s helped are the great videos from the Frick, of which I’m also a member. To be honest, I didn’t go to the Frick as often as I go to the Met. The Met is closer to where I live and there’s just lot more to explore. But the Frick has been KILLING IT in terms of content during COVID-19.

Cocktails with a Curator. The museum launched this series shortly after quarantine started. In the videos, which come out every Fridy at five, the curator (either Xavier F. Salomon or Aimee Ng) pairs a cocktail with a piece of art from the Frick collection. The cocktail usually has something to do with the art work’s subject or where the artist is from. Then they talk about the piece, its history and geography, and the artist. It’s so delightful and educational.

Travels with a Curator. In this Frick series, which comes out on Wednesdays, the curator talks about a museum or piece of art in another country that has a connection with the Frick. (Although there is no cocktail pairing, I usually have a drink anyway.)

The Frick Five. These interviews are fun too. Xavier or Aimee interviews a fellow curator at another museum, always asking the same five questions. The videos come out every other Tuesday.

I’ve also enjoyed some of the Met’s videos, in particular this one about Blind Orion and this one about conserving a piece of Islamic armor. I’ve also been devouring ones from the National Gallery in London. The ones I’ve been watching are 30-minute live talks about one piece of art, usually a painting. (The audience is almost always full of gray-haired people, retirees I imagine. Watching the videos makes me wish I were a retiree in London.) There are a ton of them and they are all good. Of course some are better than others, but I’ve enjoyed all of them. The ones I remember really liking were the ones on Van Gogh’s The Sunflowers and Hans Holbein’s Christina of Denmark.

Hopefully someday I’ll be able to see these works of art in person again.

Apr 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Quarantine birthday

Ironically it was pretty social.

Last year I spent my birthday on my own in Taipei. It was very significant because it my first big solo trip, it was my first-ever return to the country where my parents grew up, and it was just weeks before my dad passed away.

The whole time I was away we exchanged emails. I loved telling him what I thought and what I had seen, and he was delighted when I visited his alma mater. I’m only sorry he and I never had the chance to talk about my trip in person.

This year was obviously very different. I was kind of glad the pressure was off to do something because, well I couldn’t! I did talk to a lot of people though (a lot at least for me): FaceTime with my brother, sister-in-law, and their adorable little girl; a call with my mom; a Zoom call with buds Ellen and Sandy; and a Duo call with some college friends.

It’s the most social birthday I’ve had in a long time.

Mar 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Anxiety

I might have mentioned before that in addition to this public blog, I keep a private journal. In there is like every detail ever of most of my days, and looking back over the last few weeks, I noticed a few repeating highlights:

Buying groceries. Not having enough food is stressful, but going out to buy food is also stressful, especially when stores are cleaned out or there are other anxious people around.

Running. Although the weather is still chilly, I’ve been getting out and running again. It makes me feel great physically and mentally (although people don’t know how to move out of the way in the park). Also, I don’t think I mentioned I quit my gym way back in October after they tried to raise my rate to $100 a month. No thanks! So I’m kind of used to running outside a lot although I was slacker this winter.

Drinking. Like everyone I’ve been drinking more. On Sunday I made something called a Brutal Hammer though at less than half of what the recipe called for. Still it got me pretty wasted: I ended drunk-renting a Harry Potter movie and then passing out for 90 minutes. Not good.

Trying to keep busy. I’m continuing to do work for the store and picked up some freelance articles with a previous boss. I’m extremely grateful to have projects to do.

Cleaning. Normally I hate cleaning my apartment, but I’ve been doing it like crazy, especially the kitchen which really needed it (ick).

FaceTiming with friends. Another thing I normally hate. But I’ve been into it lately. It makes a difference to actually see a human face.

Mar 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Lockdown is here

Yesterday my boss decided to close the stores.

On Saturday we had our last event: what was supposed to be the opening reception for the newest art exhibition. However, with coronavirus fears we decided to make it a virtual tour via Instagram live. I was nervous that people might show up, not having gotten the message that the in-person reception was canceled, but no one did.

Originally the curator was going to have an after-party at a nearby bar, but obviously that was canceled too. Instead she was kind enough to treat a small group of us to dinner. The bar was super cute and also super empty. We were the only ones there, and it felt all weird. However, it was still fun in a way and the food was yummy.

I went to work yesterday and everything was strange. The area was just deserted and of course we had no customers. Finally that afternoon my boss decided it would be safer to close up shop temporarily.

I was anxious to stock up on groceries. The Whole Foods and Duane Reade near me were pretty much cleaned out. I heard that the Chinatown grocery stores were well-stocked because, well, racism so I went there after work. They had a lot but not as much as I was hoping. I wanted to get a zillion bags of frozen dumplings, but there were only three left. I snagged those and also got two boxes of Japanese curry (cheaper than at the Japanese grocery store I like), one big bag of instant matcha latte (also cheaper than the Japanese grocery store), and four pork zongzi. Anxiously I hightailed it back home.

Iā€™m a little worried about not seeing anyone for a whole week. I’ll have to make an effort for a change to stay in touch with people.