What did you do over the Labor Day weekend? I went to Ikea. Woot! Oy! Conflicting emotions there. As always.
I moved into my new place last week (yay!), which meant I needed to buy stuff. I didn’t need as much stuff as I ended up buying, but some of it was needed. Well … ‘need’ is debatable. But what is undeniable is that Ikea has Swedish meatballs and I am a fan. Are they good? Eh. Are they cheap? Yes. Are they consistently the same worldwide? Close enough. Do I get Swedish meatballs each and every trip to Ikea? Oh heck yes. That is, if the line’s not too crazy long.
And ya know what? Now they’re nutritious! The meatballs are likely the same as before, but an order of Swedish meatballs now comes with vegetables. VEGETABLES! I have no idea when this became a thing, but I’m not a fan. What the heck is that green, yellow, and orange doing on my plate? Mon dieu! They’re cluttering the plate! So now, because I feel bad wasting food, I get guilted into eating vegetables when all I really want are the Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. Argh. Good thing Ikea also offers desserts, because chocolate cake is the perfect thing to wash down those bland veggies!
Sometimes I forget that New York City is a city of islands with easy access to water because I spend the far majority of my time surrounded by skyscrapers in Midtown or Lower Manhattan. But yes, Manhattan is an island. Queens and Brooklyn are part of Long Island (a rather giant island). Staten Island is an island. Only the Bronx is not an island … and coincidentally it’s also the only borough I’ve never been to. But there really is water everywhere. Which means beaches! And since it’s still New York, it also (sometimes) means art! Woot!
The Rockaways (Rockaway Peninsula in Queens) were pretty devastated during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so it’s nice to see how it’s recovered. Over at Fort Tilden is the site-specific installation Rockaway! by Katharina Grosse. Basically it’s an abandoned structure full of sand that got a spiffy red and white paint job. Cool. Kinda random, but still kinda cool. I mean, if it’s going to be abandoned, it might as well be pretty.
So far I’ve been to Rockaway Beach, which has a pretty spiffy new boardwalk, and Jacob Riis, which is less crowded with better/closer food options, but is harder to get to (we took the Beach Bus to Jacob Riis; Rockaway Beach is accessible by train). But getting out of the city in any manner feels AMAZING! And if I’m being technical about it, we never really left the “city” since we were in New York City the whole time!
Oh, and while at Rockaway Beach, we created a masterpiece. What do you get when a group of architects builds a sandcastle? Why, a ziggurat of course.
It’s fun to run around and splash in the rain. It’s refreshing to have a slight drizzle on a hot summer day. It’s calming to hear the pitter-patter of rain on your window while snuggling up with a good book. But it is super, super annoying to have the skies open up as you’re leaving for work and need to get to the subway to get home. Especially when it wasn’t forecast to rain until a few hours later, leaving many people (such as me) caught in pouring rain without an umbrella.
I could’ve joined one of the many groups I saw that were huddled under awnings trying to wait out the worst of it, but who knows how long I’d have to wait? So I braved the short trip to the subway station, because I could not wait to change into pajamas. And then I had to wait for what seemed like forever for the train to come on a crowded, humid subway platform. And then I got shoved into a subway car and was pressed up against way too many slightly damp/sweaty people.
Because in New York, rain means puddles galore, wet and slippery streets, lots of slightly damp strangers, and super crowded subways. And considering it’s the middle of summer (hot and humid), it’s the city (so the rain was probably toxic), and subway platforms have basically no airflow, it was kinda gross. So … that was a fun ride home.
Over in the Lower East Side is a restaurant called Cata, which, although not my normal vibe, is definitely yum. It’s a Spanish tapas place known for their gin and tonics and it would probably make a great date place. It’s somewhat pricey, but on par for restaurants of its level in the area. As I mentioned previously, I’m a fan of a good gin and tonic, and my friend H said that any fan of gin and tonics should visit Cata, so off we went.
And yes, their gin and tonics are pretty good. Quite a few untraditional options too. I had the Thai chili pepper gin and tonic, which was yum. And since it’s an actual restaurant and not just a bar, they had food, which was on point. We ended up sharing deviled eggs, chicken croquettes, and paella – all super yum. Loved those croquettes. I spent more than I thought I would, for not all that much food, but alas, such is the way of New York. Unfortunately, as good as Cata is, on my budget, it might be a while before I’m back!
(between Stanton and Prince Streets)
Lower East Side, New York, NY
I was living in Midtown, but my lease ended at the end of June and apartment hunting in New York is crazy, so I ended up not being able to find a place … even after looking at 20 or so places. Between the places that were completely horrible to the places that were too expensive or too far from the subway to the places that I hesitated too long on to the places that just didn’t pick me, I ended up scrambling to find somewhere to live two days before my lease was up. And voila, I found my current place!
So now I’m in Tribeca. But I have eight roommates. Yes, eight roommates. The location is great, but the apartment itself is a bit rundown and totally beyond illegal (rooms are way too small and only two of the nine rooms have windows), it’s a fire hazard with the wires daisy-chained the way they are, the circuit breaker keeps getting tripped (because it’s not equipped to handle nine people and multiple air conditioners), and the place is security-compromised because most of the girls don’t lock the front door. But ya know what? It’s strangely okay with me, because I know it’s temporary and I have a deadlock on my room door. It’s like a dorm for post-college girls or a long-stay hostel, and it is kind of fun to watch The Bachelorette with others, but I definitely feel far too old to be living in a place like this.
The image above isn’t from my current place, but rather from a place I visited during my ridiculous apartment hunt at the end of June. If you can’t read it, it says: “BEWARE Packages are Being Stolen / PLEASE Report Any Suspicious Activity!!!” and off to the side someone wrote “Me too! Just ordered horse shit (yes, really) and won’t share what apt I sent it to, so, thief … enjoy touching what you are :) shitsenders.com <not a joke.” ROFLOL. And ya know what? That place was far nicer than my current shoebox and far more expensive. And ya know what? They still got some major issues.
My new favorite sandwich is salmon and avocado. I used to be a turkey and colby jack girl, then I switched to tuna salad sandwiches, and now it’s all about the smoked salmon and avocado. If I phrase it like that, it sounds like I’m becoming more hoity or health conscious, but it’s really just that I’m discovering new foods and my palette is improving. I’ll still go for a good ol’ turkey and cheese every so often. But smoked salmon and avocado? Wow. It’s a revelation. The only problem is that in comparison to other sandwich options, it’s downright pricey.
When I first started working, I ate out every lunch, which in the Flatiron District equates to a serious drain on the bank account. Now I try to bring my lunch to work, but I still love Cafe Prague, because they’re amazing. And their smoked salmon and avocado sandwich (pictured above) is just TOO amazing. So yummy. But at $11.92 a pop (with a side of chips), it’s just too much for me. So I went to the grocery store, bought sliced potato bread, avocados, smoked salmon, and swiss cheese, assembled, and voila! My version (pictured below) is not as great as Cafe Prague, but for the budget conscious, it’ll do.
I’ve been back in the United States for about six months now, and although I find myself reminiscing about China, I have no regrets about leaving. Sure I’ll complain about how expensive things are in New York and how I’m much busier with work here, but it is so nice to feel like you’re at home.
For me, being back in the US means feeling like I belong, like I’m not an outsider. Not having to alter my speech into that dreaded Chinglish or hide my accent so people could understand me easier. It also means having access to great healthcare, and not worrying so much about food safety, or product safety, or water safety. It means being able to establish a routine, and not having to continually make friends. In Shanghai it was actually much easier to make friends, but only because people were constantly coming and going, so everyone was more open to meeting new people. But it got tedious. No one really lasts in Shanghai. Heck the city itself is in a state of constant flux/evolution.
I was recounting to a friend how I love flying, because I generally just fall asleep, so long hauls usually aren’t a big deal. But remember that one time I flew to Shanghai and got sick? I think that was mostly because of nerves. Because I was so terrified that I had just made a huge mistake by moving to China, and since I was already on the plane headed to China, it was too late and I was screwing myself over. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a good thing I ended up going to China. I learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I grew up a lot as well. I gained valuable work experience, made great friends, traveled to amazing places, and learned what I really wanted out of life. So even though I was pretty much convinced that moving to China was the wrong decision, I don’t regret any of it.
On my flight back to the US (or rather to Vancouver first, then the US), I slept like a baby. Well, I slept like a baby after the turbulence died down and they moved me from a squished window seat to a free row, but I probably would’ve slept like a baby regardless. No nerves or mini freak-outs whatsoever. Moving back to the US? Definitely the right decision. No questions about it.
When I was living in China, I met a ton of non-native English speakers. Not only Chinese people, but also a lot of European foreigners, many of whom had a very tenuous grasp of the English language. Some of their English was near-native. Some of their English downright sucked. But even if their speech was flawless, spelling and written grammar often proved massive hurdles.
I’m not disparaging them in the least. Goodness knows my Mandarin is merely decent and my French is just a step above abysmal. To even know (or attempt) a second language is a massive feat—one that many, many Americans don’t even bother trying. So when I got a letter from A, a French woman who has lived in China for a really long time, I couldn’t help but smile at her opening: Hei.
I’m guessing she was going for “Hey.” The funny thing is that in China, “Hei” that would actually be somewhat correct. “Hey” is a loanword that many young people use, and when written in Chinese, the character 嘿 (hēi) is used. The character is basically just a sound word/interjection that places a 口 (mouth symbol) next to 黑 (word for the color black), visually representing the sound (but not meaning) of the word for black. And when written in pinyin (romanized), it’s h-e-i.
So basically, it’s kinda like playing telephone. From English to Chinese to Chinese-tinged Franglais, hey becomes 嘿 which becomes hei.
Somehow I keep ending up in Gowanus, which is a somewhat icky/industrial area of Brooklyn that is super cool these days. But still … it’s Brooklyn. And I’m a Manhattanite. I had lived in Astoria and Flushing for a bit, but I far prefer Manhattan. To me, Brooklyn is a faraway land, although it is pretty cool.
Case in point, Brooklyn Glass. Went there with some friends last night, and 25 dollars got you a handmade glass and free-flow wine or beer, which is a pretty decent price. It wasn’t so much an “event” as a fun time to drink, chat with friends, and watch people making things out of glass. It was super cool to see them pull and warp the hot glass, while trying to guess what they were making. Apparently it was supposed to be a high-heeled shoe, but it didn’t turn out all that great. And weirdly there were quite a few people wearing tie-dye (see the tie-dye shirt/toga in the above picture) … definitely a sign you’re no longer in Manhattan!
The place also holds classes, which sounds pretty neat, but probably not something I’d actually do. There are just too many other fun things to do in this city! That aren’t all the way out in Brooklyn! The only downsides of the evening were that the trains routes were weird (as they are often on the weekend), which meant a super long trek to get there, and there was some smoking, which (combined with the heat and alcohol) caused me to feel faint and we left a bit early. But yeah, still very fun.
I have a thing for carousels.Ever since I had back surgery in high school, I can’t ride roller coasters. I was never that fond of roller coasters to begin with, but once that option was taken from me, I just really want to ride a roller coaster. It was even more Tantalus-like because I lived about five minutes from Kings Island (I could see their fireworks from my backyard), and when my high school physics class took a field trip to Cedar Point, guess who rode the merry-go-round again and again and again?
Anyhow, I learned to love merry-go-rounds and carousels and have made peace with the fact that I will never ride a roller coaster ever again. No matter. While roller coasters rely on screams and thrills, carousels are works of art. Take for example the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. It was built while I was in Shanghai, so I hadn’t heard of it until I was interviewing for jobs. The firm I was interviewing at (but who didn’t get back to me until I had been at my current job for a month already – what’s up with that?!) had worked on the project and they showed me a video of it … and I was mesmerized. So when my sister was in town, I dragged her down there and we rode the carousel.
Totally awesome. Lights, colors, trippy music, and fun for all ages. It was a bit pricey at $5 for a 3.5-minute ride, so it’s not something you could ride on repeat without going broke, but I’d definitely go again.
SeaGlass Carousel seaglasscarousel.nyc
Battery Park (entrance at State and Water Streets)
New York, NY
Open Daily, 7 AM – 7 PM