New York time with friends

Tonight was our last night spending time with friends before leaving for our Christmas holiday. This is the first year that Chris and I have been together when we’ve been in New York City this far into December, and it’s been really fun seeing the city get decorated for Christmas and the general holiday season. It’s also been fun to spend extra time with friends we normally wouldn’t be able to see and enjoy Christmas with them, as well. We went out for some delicious Yunanese Chinese food in the East Village and went back to their apartment and played games until late. It was a relaxing, enjoyable, and stress-free evening.

When I used to go back home for Christmas, a part of my brain was stressed, thinking about the drama my parents would create around Christmas dinner preparation, who would prepare what, and who would offer to clean the dishes and the table or not. Now, when I think of Christmas, I don’t really think of stress and dread and negativity. I actually think about the stereotypical positive things that we’re “supposed” to think about. In my college’s Facebook group for “complicated family and friends relationships.” I relate less and less to the holiday stress that people express on it, even though I can relate pretty well to the other situations that are shared.

Tasting menus in New York City

Tasting menus around the world are really getting out of control. For what some people pay for their monthly rent, you could have a 12-16-course tasting menu at a beautiful restaurant like Eleven Madison Park or Per Se. So usually when I hear the term “tasting menu,” I already think it’s going to be in the hundreds-of-dollars range. It was shocking when Chris found Coarse NYC, a small restaurant in the West Village owned and managed by these British guys, which has a tasting menu that is only $69, or $89 if you want to include full wine pairings.

Every dish there was creative and beautifully presented, and the service was genuine, warm, and friendly. The chef came out multiple times to ask us how the dishes and wine were. It actually felt sometimes as though we were in his house eating food he was preparing in his own kitchen given the level of warmth and hospitality.

I’m not saying that $69 isn’t a lot to spend on food; it’s a lot to spend on food, but for the city, a “cheap” price to spend for a tasting menu given how crazy prices get here. I’m actually scared that this place may not last given how rent hikes often happen here and the scary two-year limit for the majority of restaurants in this city, even the spectacular ones.

Company holiday party

Tonight was my company’s holiday party here in New York. It was an intimate affair given that our office isn’t huge, and many of our colleagues work remotely to service customers. We rented out the back room of an Italian restaurant in the West Village and had a cocktail-style dinner with plenty of drinks, and the place was decked out quite festively.

As I was standing there with Chris and mingling with my colleagues and all their partners and plus ones, I realized that for the first time since I can’t even remember, I was actually engaging in a company holiday party where I genuinely respect and like the vast majority of everyone there. Sure, there are a few people I don’t particularly like and others who grate on my nerves when I’m around them for longer than 10 minutes, but that just shows I’m human. Every single person standing in this room right now actually means well. I don’t think anyone has some nasty hidden motive. Every person has a sense of integrity. Everyone wants to do what’s best for their role and their colleagues. I’ve never been able to say that before. It was a humbling and happy feeling. And Chris actually wants to be here and meet my colleagues, and they all seem to get along and have things to talk about. Because he’s so protective over me, he never wanted to meet or deal with the last people I worked with. It’s refreshingly not like that anymore.

 

Kamayan

Tonight, we celebrated our friend’s 33rd birthday at Jeepney, a modern Filipino fusion restaurant in the city. Although we had both been there for dinner before and the food and drinks were very good, it’s quite expensive for what it is, and with the Kamayan-style traditional meal we had tonight, which is served completely on banana leaves and eaten with your hands, it was even more expensive than what the website said. The video on the website was also misleading because it showed a whole suckling pig, and when we arrived at our table already set up with the food, there was no suckling pig. When I asked the server where the pig was, she said that the pig would have cost extra and was not a part of their restaurant’s kamayan meal (this meal is already $50/person excluding drinks, tax, and tip… so how much would a pig cost as extra?!). If that is the case, then why would they have that on the video on the kamayan page on their restaurant’s website? Isn’t that false advertising? Either way, the food was extremely good, but I just wish that we knew there was no pig beforehand. I felt misled.

Christmas window gazing

It’s been a small tradition to see the many Christmas windows that make up New York City this time of year, so today, we started with the Bergdorf Goodman windows, which have a theme of the major New York City museums this year. My favorite one was the one after the American Museum of Natural History, which depicted dinosaurs completely covered in sparkly rhinestones.

Christmas time in New York is a beautiful time of the year, even though in previous years, we’ve barely been here to enjoy it. The lights along Columbus Avenue and all the Christmas trees everywhere make the city so much fun to wander around. How done up all the buildings are along Fifth Avenue and in Herald Square are so impressive.

I wonder how much time and effort goes into creating and designing all these spectacular windows and displays… and also kind of feel sorry for the people who have to set these things up at wee hours of the morning and night for all of us to enjoy. So many people’s efforts go into all this for our enjoyment, and their efforts are often either forgotten or overlooked. I wonder if they consider Christmas time in New York to be that beautiful?

Company holiday parties

Tonight, for the first time since Chris started working at his company, we attended their New York holiday party together. It was held at a very swank venue on the Lower East Side, and they certainly made the entrance grand. There was an archway built covered in green vines and white roses, and the interior was quite similar, especially around the bar area.

The alcohol overfloweth, and the sheer variety of food was all over the place; a pasta table, a Chinese takeout table, a dim sum table, plus others that I didn’t even have a chance to take a bite of because I was already stuffed from the first couple tables. This is what the lavish life looks like, the one that people less privileged never even dream of seeing.

I went to drop off holiday gifts in the Bronx earlier this evening that my colleagues and I gathered, and I thought about the kids around this city who don’t even get a single Christmas gift, and the single one they do get, they relish for the rest of the year. The disparity between the haves and have nots always seems to be more striking to me around this time of year, and it was most apparently traveling to drop off those gifts in the Bronx earlier this evening to then travel to the holiday party tonight.

Steaming pho

I met with a friend tonight at Madame Vo, which is one of my favorite modern Vietnamese restaurants (next to Hanoi House) in Manhattan that I’ve discovered this year. We both made the mistake of getting our own pho bowls, which were so gigantic that neither of us fully finished all our noodles (and definitely not the broth). Broth this rich and flavorful has been elusive to me in New York City, where I’ve always felt that the pho broth was sub par or acceptable at best. Some places are watered down; others are greasy. Others satisfy the craving but don’t do much more than that. The pho broth at Madame Vo, like at Hanoi House, is rich, layered, complex, and brimming with star anise and charred onions. You can actually taste these flavors when you take time to sip and enjoy the beauty of the broth.

I was in broth heaven tonight. I wish I could have this every week.

balloon filled with flowers

My hair stylist was going off on bad parenting tonight. She recently had an extremely paranoid customer come in who was pregnant, and she hated being in the salon; she said it was bad for her baby, the fumes would harm her unborn child, and she constantly rushed my hair stylist, said if she spent an extra minute or two more than absolutely needed that her child was going to be at risk. My hair stylist wanted to strangle this woman. My hair stylist, who is actually my age, has a 5-year-old daughter. She worked in the salon until the week before she gave birth, and her child is just fine.

“There are too many stupid parents out there who just lose their shit and cannot handle life,” she said to me. She shared with me her most vivid memory as a child in Palermo: she was eight years old, at a festive street fair with her mother where so many of the children were getting helium balloons that were filled with flowers. Suddenly out of nowhere, a mother comes running with her child cradled in her arms with a blue face. Apparently, the child had bitten the balloon, and it exploded in her mouth and resulted in a huge part of the balloon getting stuck in the girl’s throat, so she was suffocating. The mom went ballistic and had no idea what to do… so she screamed over and over, “My girl is dying! My girl is dying! She’s suffocating to death!” My hair stylist’s mom went into action mode: she ran up to the mom with the blue-faced girl, opened the girl’s mouth and pulled the balloon out of her throat and mouth, and the girl immediately starts coughing… and is just fine.

“All she had to do was pull the balloon out of the girl’s mouth, but she couldn’t do it because she just immediately went into panic mode and didn’t allow herself to think,” my hair stylist said. “That’s too many parents today, everywhere. Just use your head and it will be fine!”

Do more, be more

Tonight, I was sitting at the Argo Tea at Broadway and 22nd Street, chatting with a Wellesley prospective at her admissions interview… with me. I honestly don’t give much money back to Wellesley, so I figure one small way I can give back is by being a Wellesley admissions representative and doing admissions interviews. My time is worth money, right?

She started out quite timid and awkward in both speech and body language. She began by making a lot of statements and not knowing how to back them up. I wasn’t quite clear on what she stood for until we got to the subject of public health, which is an area of passion for her. Her high school sounded very diverse and had a variety of classes that I would have loved to take when I was her age: public health, sociology, Latin American history, engineering (okay, I wouldn’t have loved to take that last one). But once we got to the topic of public health, of her awareness of the disparity merely across public schools in terms of educating on topics ranging from menstruation to birth control to STDs, of her anger that so many kids grow into adults and have no idea what a pap smear or gonorrhea are, she really shined and was her authentic self.

She talked about wanting to pursue public health as a career, and how her parents, typical Asian immigrant parents, told her it was a terrible idea, and why spend all this time and money going to school and then come out making nothing? “Other people pursue these careers and end up just fine,” she said to me. “I’ll be okay. I just want to do something I’m passionate about that can help others. I don’t want people to be unaware of things they should be aware of.”

The last week has made me think a lot about self-awareness and what we all stand for as individuals. What are we all passionate about and care about? And this led into the conversation I had at dinner at my apartment tonight with my friend, who lives just a few blocks away. He told me he doesn’t think there are enough people who are consciously thinking about how they can contribute to the world more and be better people. That’s… sadly probably true. Most people are so unaware that when you point out the most obvious things about them, they immediately go into denial and reject the idea before they’ve had even ten seconds to think about whether what we’ve said could be true. We’d be a better world if everyone consciously spent more time thinking about their own self-improvement and how to take action on that. He joked that it probably would be a great religion because there’s really no religion either of us could think of that focused on self-improvement.

The level of delusion that most people have is so ridiculous and depressing. I think the idea of a religion based on self-improvement would be offensive to them.

Flying home again

It’s my fifth time on a plane in the last two weeks, and I’m tired. I don’t want to fly anymore. I just want to be home. I always want to travel, but there’s always a point of time when I am away from home when I just want to go back home now. I don’t think I have felt this way almost ever until the past year: during one or two moments in Taiwan in July, likely when I was sweating buckets in that God-awful humidity I thought, I would really love to be back in New York now. During moments in New Zealand where I was vomiting, I would have preferred to be vomiting in my own toilet. And this past Friday in San Francisco, I just wanted to go home and be in my own bed. San Francisco no longer feels like true home to me. I feel like a visitor when I go there. I don’t really feel like I belong.

And within hours of going back to my apartment in Manhattan, what did I end up doing? After unpacking, eating dinner, seeing a show, and coming back to the apartment, I ended up in my happy place: my kitchen — to prepare breakfast for the next day for our visiting guests. My kitchen in my apartment is my happy place. It feels good to be home and to have my luggage put away.