i see paris

Anytime I told someone that this trip to France would be my first time in Europe, people were surprised. Is it that surprising? For the general population, probably not. But maybe because the New York population itself is more international, and those I interact with are more traveled and more privileged, so a trip to Europe for the first time at my age is surprising.

But there’s also something about architecture and architectural education that prioritizes learning from history (especially Western history), which makes a trip around Europe to see classic examples of “good” architecture almost a prerequisite. This means that every architect I know (and almost every one of my friends) has been to Europe—often as part of an architecture school study abroad program. I never did study abroad during undergraduate studies, because I just wanted to graduate and move on. And in graduate school, I got sent to Mumbai and Beijing (two cities of burgeoning architectural scenes with some pretty fascinating urban issues) to host workshops—and India and China are two of the few countries I had been to before. But somehow, until arriving in Paris this afternoon, I had never set foot in Europe, not even for a layover!

So yeah. Now I’m in Europe, here for my grand tour … of France anyhow. I’ll deal with the rest of the continent later.

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chilly chily april weather

What a great start to spring, eh? Technically the first day of spring was a few weeks ago on March 20, but if you’ve been in the Northeast, you’d never’ve guessed it. On the first day of April, the weather was beautiful (only a light jacket required). On the second day of April, it snowed (winter coat and snow boots). Since then, the weather’s ranged from the 30s to upper 50s, but it’s expected to hit 75F this weekend.

I know it’s boring to complain about the weather. I know it’s pointless to complain about something that no one has any control over. But it’s so frustrating! Mostly because I keep putting things away (like coats, sweaters, boots) only to have to take them out again, and my tomato plants are getting bigger and are starting to crowd me out of my own apartment.

possible union strike

I’ve lived in New York for over four years, so I feel like I know the city pretty well in the way that I have strong opinions on bagel shops and can rattle off subway routes and hate Times Square with a passion. But there are still quite a few signs that I’m not from the citythings that I’ve never experienced, that blow my mind and somewhat terrify me. One of those things? A union strike.

WHAT?!

Apparently my building’s staff (which amounts to less than a dozen people) have their own union. I didn’t know that. And apparently (according to a three-page letter every resident got from the management company today), that union might go on strike in a few weeks. The letter described what would happen in case of a strike: They’ll hire a security guard and we’ll all be issued security passes. Residents will volunteer to man the front desk. The trash compactor chute will be closed, so we’ll have to take trash out to the curb ourselves. And we can only receive deliveries if we’re home and able to collect it from the lobby (which basically means no one’s getting packages, unless they trek over to the distribution center).

So … um … WHAT?!

I don’t want to live in a building where the staff is on strike! That sounds totally unsafe and kind of scary, like a cross between being on lockdown (with guards out front and a single bottleneck entry point), and squatting somewhere (basic infrastructure but no services). I’d have to cross a picket line just to go home? As for what the issues are and why a strike is being threatened, I have no idea. Not a Scooby-Doo. But now I really, really want to know what’s going on.

holiday chocolate oranges

Howdy there! It’s been a while! Last I posted, I was on my way to Columbus, Ohio, in order to spend Thanksgiving in West Virginia. Then I spent Christmas in New York. And then New Year’s in Montreal. And let me tell you: Montreal was freakin’ cold. But I did learn that “Christmas oranges” are a thing in Canada. Basically they’re those little mandarin/clementine oranges … but it’s a traditionally Christmas thing in Canada. I learned this because A) I was traveling with a Canadian who was super excited when B) our Airbnb host left us a tray of Christmas oranges.

But this is not a post about a tray full of random oranges that were devoured while we huddled together in the warmth of a very cute apartment, away from the crazily negative temperatures out in Montreal. Why were we in Montreal in the dead of winter? Long story. Anyhow, I never knew Christmas oranges were a thing until a few weeks ago, but what I look forward to every time the holidays roll around are chocolate oranges. Yum.

Smash ’em against a wall, which breaks the ‘orange’ segments from the center piece. Then enjoy the taste of orange-y flavored chocolate, which is surprisingly delicious. And somehow these things are only found at Christmas. No idea why. Maybe it’s related to the Canadian orange + Christmas combo? I don’t know. What I do know is that I bought two and ate them in two days (I really should stop eating chocolate for breakfast, but those are the perks of living alone, right?) so now I need to buy more.

Hope you had a good holiday!

stuck in the airport … again

I usually try not to travel for Thanksgiving because the travel situation is always RIDICULOUS. But I figured, how bad could it really be? I budgeted way more time than I needed to get to the airport. I left work early and even took the train, multiple transfers and all (MTA subway to NJ Transit to AirTrain), to avoid getting stick in traffic. And for the most part it worked!

I got to the airport two hours before my scheduled flight! Security was slow but I still had plenty of time! I bought a Snapple! I responded to some last work emails! I was ready and waiting!

At this point I’ve been waiting at the airport for three hours and my flight keeps getting pushed back. Oh, and there’s a pigeon chilling out on the sign for my gate.

Happy Thanksgiving?

two hands, warm coffee

I always get an Americano. Anytime I go to a new restaurant or new coffee shop, I always look over the menu and mull over the options. But at this point in my life, I know what I like, and at New York prices, I’m not going to risk my limited funds on something not good. So yes, more often than not, I’m sticking with the good ol’ standbys. In coffee terms, that means an Americano (black) or a simple drip coffee (black).

Since I am in New York, where culinary options (and options in general) reign supreme, I will sometimes order outside my comfort zone, but generally only if it’s a specialty of the establishment or comes with a good recommendation from a friend or someone who knows my tastes. I’m just not one to experiment with my food. And after all, how can I properly compare two restaurants if I’m not getting a burger at both? It’d be unfair to compare a rib-eye steak with a salad (especially since I don’t like salad).

Two Hands Café
164 Mott Street
(between Broome and Grand Streets)
NoLiTa, New York, NY

blue apron v. being green

Wanna try Blue Apron?

I’ve turned downright domestic. Dear self, what was your Friday night like? Oh, nothing much, just cooked. And baked. And vacuumed. And did laundry. And re-potted my tomato plant. And planted green onions. And built a rocking chair. No joke.

Stop me now.

So. My sister gave me one of those free trials for Blue Apron, and I was like: Cool, I’ll sign up! No grocery shopping! No lugging heavy bags ! I can try new recipes! I’ll eat healthier! And it was pretty cool. The food is good, I learned new things, tried new things, and all was well.

I stuck with it for a bit, but now I’m planning to cancel the service. Why? Because Blue Apron is an extravagance. I’m not so busy that I can’t go to the grocery store, veggies and meat are far cheaper elsewhere, and there are a million and a half recipes on the world wide web. And Blue Apron’s excessive packaging drives me nuts. So much packaging! Oy. Of course the cardboard and all those plastic containers can be recycled, but you know what’s better than recycling? Not having it in the first place. Plus, that Nordic Ice gel stuff that does a great job keeping the meat cold? Blue Apron’s instructions for disposal are to empty the gel into the trash, which just makes me feel all cringe-y inside. It’s nice that everything is so well packaged to keep the food fresh (although many a tomato has been found squashed at the bottom of a package), but it’s truly excessive. No thank you. I’ll go to the grocery store.

Over the years I’ve become more eco-conscious, although I’m still a far cry from a tree-hugger. Living in the big city where there’s lots and lots of people and lots and lots of concrete, I value the environment so much more than when I was growing up, where space and fresh air were aplenty. Have you ever stood on a black asphalt street on a sweltering New York summer day and smelled the *lovely* in-your-face smell of hot piles of trash, oozing with rotting food? Yeah … well, enough of those days and you’ll start thinking that everyone needs to waste less, recycle more, and compost more. And why not? You can’t possibly be that busy not to.

eclipse revelation: what the heck am i doing?

On Monday, the moon covered the sun. Here in New York there was no full eclipse, no moment of complete darkness. As I was busily working away in the office, the world out the window seemed same ol’ same ol’. But a bunch of colleagues went to hang out on the street outside, so I joined them. And I put on a pair of those special glasses. And I saw the eclipse, the partial 71% that we got. And it looked like darkness and fire. And all I could think was: wow. Wow. And then I thought: What the heck am I doing? Was my careful editing of that marketing text really so important that I was almost going to miss the FREAKING ECLIPSE?

Some days, days like these days, I wonder: What the heck am I doing? I’ve always tended towards apathy, but it’s getting ridiculous. In a span of six years, I moved from Texas to Shanghai to New York back to Shanghai and back to New York again, all in the search of new challenges. And now? The standard answer is that I’m in New York because I love New York (and I do), and that it’s the best mix of homey Texas and chaotic Shanghai (and it is), but being in New York also means that I don’t have to anything outstanding, because there’s so much going on already that it’s easy to just go with the flow. New York means I can use words like ‘adulting’, wear nice clothes at my nice job, have a glass (or three) at French wine bars, blend with all the other aimless millennials, let all my ambitions and plans slowly fade away, and pretend that I’m right where I ought to be.

But what happened to all that other stuff? Have I *gasp* settled? No more. I’m going to revive this poor little blog. I’m going to take up freelance work. I’m going to get back into creating, shaping, thinking, writing, discussing, learning, and being out there. I’m going to be me again … the me I want to be. That’s what I’m going to do. So thank you moon, for blocking out the sun. It truly was amazing.

(Note: That’s not to say I’m going to give up wine and stop being occasionally superficial … I still am a millennial after all.)

new york apartment no. 8

Last week I was talking to a colleague when I mentioned I was moving over the weekend. Her response: “AGAIN?!?!”

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! I am now on my eighth New York apartment, my fifth in the last 1.5 years. But I promise this will be the last. Pinky swear. Each place has its own special New York story attached to it, so … how about a highlight reel?

No. 1: Upper West Side
During my first year of grad school at Columbia (and my first time living in New York), I lived with three other girls in an amazing fourth-floor walk-up (oy) that had washer and dryer in-unit. I signed the initial paperwork for the apartment while traveling around China, without having met the roommates and without even having been to the neighborhood, and ended up spending about 50 RMB at the Beijing hostel for internet access and scanning. The four of us got along great, had many shenanigans, and frequented a local bar called the Ding Dong Lounge. I experienced my first earthquake in this apartment. And an overactive heater meant that my room (and only my room) would easily surpass 80 degrees, and I’d be in a tank top and shorts with the window open while snow fell outside.

No. 2: Central Harlem
In my second year at Columbia, I lived with a charming Dutch girl with a lot of food allergies for one semester and a boisterous German girl who drank a lot of red wine for the second semester. This is where I holed up during Sandy and Nemo and where the liquor store guy at the end of the block knew my favorite wine. Oh, and we were illegally subletting because it was an affordable housing building. And the glass of the building’s front door got broken in. And we once heard gunshots. And my neighbor’s recently-released-from-prison husband would pee in the stairway because she wouldn’t let him move back in. And I locked myself out once, but then my neighbor oh so helpfully “opened” my door for me.

No. 3: Astoria
This was a summer sublet where I lived with two 20-something professionals. It was my first summer in New York, and I survived it with a ceiling fan, table fan, and open windows. But really, I survived by spending a lot of time outside exploring New York, drinking too many delicious frappes, being off in China, at my internship in Chelsea (often after waiting 30+ minutes for the stupid NQ train—back when the Q went to Queens), or at Columbia (because I just couldn’t stay away).

No. 4: Flushing
After two years in Shanghai, I returned to New York with no job but high hopes, so I stayed in Flushing while job searching. And honestly? It felt like I never left China, since I was still surrounded by Chinese people, I ate a lot of Chinese food, and things were fairly cheap (in comparison to Manhattan). For the first month of working, I dealt with hour-long commutes and a lot of cockroaches.

No. 5: Herald Square
Kitty corner to Macy’s, my room was a few floors above the Gap, and this place was LOUD. There was street noise all day and all night, and tourists were everywhere. The building had a fantastic-looking lobby, but the rental floors looked like an outdated hotel with dingy lighting, long narrow hallways, and the occasional waft of pot smoke. Its saving graces were being right by the BDFMNQR trains, and having Koreatown a few blocks away.

No. 6: Tribeca
This was basically a glorified flophouse, with nine girls living in a totally illegal yet rather spacious apartment. When my Herald Square lease ended, I wasn’t able to find a more permanent situation, so I ended up at this month-to-month place, which I found two days before I was due to move out. My room was one of the only two rooms that had a window, and it was tiny—it fit a twin bed with about a foot of walkway to the side. One girl (an aspiring model/actress from Ukraine) lived in a room accessible only through the bathroom. No one ever locked the front door, the circuit breaker got tripped almost every day, and while it was fun at times (reality tv binge watches), it was also pretty gross. More “hostel” than “sorority house.”

No. 7: Hell’s Kitchen
My two roommates were other 20-something Asian girls who were very entertaining (lots of drama, but not amongst us) and it was actually kind of great. My room was a bit on the small side but got great light, and we were on a higher floor so I would often hang out on the terrace with a glass of wine and watch people working late in the office tower across the avenue. The building was located a few blocks from Central Park, near a whole bunch of great restaurants, and we had the nicest doormen.

No. 8: NoMad
Time will tell, but with a great view (see above) and easy walking distance to work, so far things are looking good for No. 8!

brunching and the swing of things

For some reason I’ve let this blog just slide on by. Sadness. So now that I’ve been in New York over a year, am busy as heck with work but otherwise fairly settled, and it’s SUMMER again, here’s to getting back into the swing of things with a nice, simple, easy post on one of my favorite topicsfood. And not just any food, but brunch food.

Before moving to New York I always associated ‘brunch’ with ‘after-church Sunday brunch’ or ‘late breakfast brunch’, but in New York, brunch is something altogether different. It’s typically an hours-long meal with friends that implies, a) it’s the weekend, b) you woke up when the sun is already high in the sky, and c) there’s day drinking involved. Granted, alcohol isn’t required for a successful brunch, but at Vynl, one of my go-to brunch spots (due in part to not being overly crowded, having solidly good food, and being within walking distance to my house), I highly recommend their frozen mimosas. Yum. I’ve heard Vynl has a good happy hour as well, but I’ve only ever been for brunch, so to me, Vynl is a solid brunch place.

Last weekend I went to Vynl with my roommates for brunch. They went to the gym beforehand, while I slept in and met them later. Despite having just worked out, they ordered the chicken and waffles, and the chicken chilaquiles, and I, who has never been particularly health-conscious, ordered the biscuits and gravy (pictured). Oh so yum. Isn’t it amazing how good food makes you so easily forget your diet? Not me (because I’m not a dieter), but I find it such a sight when girls in workout gear are chowing down … I guess it balances out?

Vynl
756 Ninth Avenue
(between West 50th and 51st Streets)
Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY