Hanging Out

These guys were laughing and having a good time while cleaning this building. Colleagues, good or bad, color one’s work day.

100_9657

I’ve lucked out with most of my colleagues at past jobs. At one company, when 6:00 p.m. hit my two peers in my department and I would slide open our metal desk drawers, break open the snacks, and share them while talking about difficulties encountered that day, which might be clients, co-workers, or situations. It was also the moment when our normally composed, professional selves dropped away and the craziness came out.

I fondly thought of that time as “snack and bi***.”

Our job was not rosy by any means—if we were having a snack at 6:00 p.m., you can imagine that meant we were planning to stay for a while—but working side by side and munching on a cookie while having a laugh made everything more bearable and sometimes even fun.

Welcome Back

On my recent bus ride back from Boston, I turned on my wifi as we entered New York City and inched in traffic on an elevated road with residential neighborhoods on both sides. A number of personal networks popped up, including:

Fu** off [asterisks mine]
I can smell your weed
Roaming pigeon

Ahhh New York.

Do Americans Eat Burgers Every Day?

When I am outside of the United States, people often ask me what Americans eat. Burgers? Bacon and eggs?

Well, the following is what my friends and I ate during my recent trip to Boston from a Friday afternoon to Sunday midday. Keep in mind that this is not our regular daily diet, as many of us usually eat cooked food at home, but this is an example of a weekend eating out with friends.

– Butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and a fried egg (I like fried eggs but have never understood putting one on top of anything, whether in French, Korean, or American cuisine)
– Duck salad with bleu cheese, dried cranberries, and apples
– Almond brioche
– Gruyere cheese croissant
– Coffee with milk and sugar (I am no longer in the land of espresso)
– Japanese buffet with lots of fish, sushi, delicate salads, and green tea soft serve (soft serve is a kind of ice cream and may be called something different in your country)
– Raw oysters
– Lobster roll (lobster pieces on soft, warm buttered bread)
– Cannoli
– Prosecco apple cider cocktails
– Pretzel bunny (a soft pretzel shaped like a bunny, in case you had a doubt)
– Smoked salmon and arugula sandwich
– Lamb and tomato chutney sandwich

Thank goodness my friends are gourmands, meaning we all love to eat.

I will admit that half the reason for making this list was so that I could relive my food pleasures. I am guessing that reading it is not half as interesting or enjoyable as eating it.

To note, I like a good burger once in a while. I probably have a burger less than once a month (except when I had two French friends visiting and they wanted to have burgers almost every day. At least we sampled different restaurants). I usually eat oatmeal or cold cereal for breakfast and only eat eggs on the weekends, usually fried or scrambled. I like bacon but only eat it about once or twice a year.

Buses and Bubble Tea in Boston

Back in the day, Greyhound buses between New York and Boston used to be $15 each way. So were the famous/notorious Fung Wah buses, which I never took.

Nowadays, prices vary more widely, so when I go to Boston I compare about five bus companies. The famed $1 ticket does exist, though they are spare and kind of random. Tickets can be up to $30 or more.

This past trip, I took one of the Chinatown buses, which was $44 round-trip and driven by a Chinese bus driver who spoke little English. People informally call them Chinatown buses because they pick-up and drop-off in New York and Boston’s Chinatowns. They are Chinese-run, and when you call their customer service, it is in English and Chinese.

Our bus happened to stop at a rest-stop at the same time as two other buses. I laughed. There was BoltBus, which its bright-red orange paint and big logo; Megabus, with an even larger logo on its double-decker vehicle; and us, an unmarked white bus.

101_0085

Boston was cloudy, cool, and rainy, but it felt good to be there.

101_0088

I stopped in a Chinese store full of knickknacks, paper lanterns, DVDs, and accessories. At its entrance was a not very welcoming “Hall of Shame,” which featured dozens of screenshots of shoplifters caught over the past few years. Okay then…

I walked around the corner to check out a coffee shop that attracted me on the bus ride in. The cashier asked me how my morning had been and whether I lived in Boston. I ordered a taro bubble tea and sat down with my rolling backpack.

An employee yelled my name, and I trotted up to the counter. “We have the bubbles, and we have the mix… but we don’t have the big straws,” he said. He asked if I wanted to change my order or get a refund. I didn’t bother asking him exactly just how far their straw distributor was and why they didn’t have a nearby emergency source. We were in Chinatown, after all, there must be a store that sold them…

I ordered a mocha instead and was a bit taken aback by the huge cup that arrived. It definitely required two hands.

 101_0089

Five minutes later, the cashier who took my order came by with this.

101_0091

I was a bit confused. “Your colleague told me you were out of big straws,” I said. She held up a shallow wooden spoon to accompany the regular skinny straw.

It remained impractical to drink but delicious all the same.

101_0092101_0096101_0097101_0098

I hopped on the T (Boston’s subway system) to join a friend a few stations down. The city calls its metro card a Charlie card. As little as ten years ago, it was still using thick round tokens. Since then it has surpassed New York. Tap the Charlie card against a sensor and walk right through the open doors, thereby avoiding the “swipe again” prompts New York provides if you don’t swipe your card at the perfect speed.

Out of the station, I walked past a coffee shop and made eye contact with a girl sitting inside. Our eyes widened as our brains caught up to our initial instant recognition. Five years earlier, we had worked together in New York. We hadn’t seen each other since then. I knew she had moved to the Boston area, but I certainly didn’t expect to see her staring at me through a window on a Friday afternoon. We had a brief catch-up before I moved on. Later, I also found out that one of my friends lives above the café I had visited earlier. No wonder Boston always feels like going home.

People are Remarkably Observant

Recently I had a meeting at a company I had never been to. The man at the reception desk was pleasant, greeting me with a “Good afternoon.” I popped over to the restroom, and when I came back to sit in the waiting area, he said to me in a definitive, declarative tone, “I think you’re Asian.”

“I think you’re right,” I responded just as surely, as if we had solved a mystery together.

It’s not as if he had guessed some enigmatic characteristic; I’m 100% Asian and look it. I’m also not a rarity; there are a lot of Asians in New York and New Jersey, so he can’t have been surprised to have spotted one.

By now I’m used to these weird interactions—they take place all over the world—and as long as the other person is not being offensive, I go with the flow to see where on earth the conversation will lead.

I learned that this middle-aged Filipino man grew up in the Philippines and has been living in the States for 35 years. This explained his enthusiasm and desire to talk about my background, as people sometimes think I’m Filipina and Filipinos often enjoy connecting with their compatriots. This is true for other nationalities as well, of course.

Still, his opening line was funny, since it pointed to race rather than ethnicity or nationality. Can you imagine a receptionist saying to a visitor, “I think you’re black” or “I think you’re white”? It just wouldn’t fly, even if the two people were of the same race.

He told me that after several decades in the U.S., he was planning to move back to the Philippines next year. Just imagine all the Asians he will see every day!

French in New York

101_0122

The storefront on the left would not have seemed like wordplay to me if not for the jeu de mots on the right. The consistency in color, geometry, and design between the two facades further made it seem like they were playing off each other.

“Vin sur vingt” is a play on “vingt sur vingt.” Vin, as you probably know even if you don’t speak French, means wine. Vingt means twenty. In France vingt sur vingt, or 20/20, is a perfect score, equivalent to 100% in the United States. So this wine bar’s name promotes it as top-notch.

As for “the little beet,” well, beet spelled with ‘ite’ instead of ‘eet’ is a male body part in French—you can probably guess which one. The pronunciation is the same.

Please tell me I’m not the only French-speaker who finds this pair of storefronts chuckle-inducing.

Wondrous Worlds

How about traveling without traveling?

The Newark Museum in New Jersey currently has an exhibit up called “Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam through Time & Place.”

I am drawn to art that combines image and word. These two blue beauties are by Hassan Massoudy, who was born in Najaf, Iraq and now lives in Paris. They feature poems from centuries ago and bright wide strokes of paint.
165.newarkmuseum.2016a“Travel, if you aspire to certain renown, it is in roaming the heavens that the crescent becomes the full moon.”
– Ibn Qalaqis, an 11th century Egyptian poet

100_9968

“Oh friend, don’t go to the flower garden. The flower garden is within you.”
– Kabir, a 15th century Indian poet

This prayer cloth from Iran has mihrab, gate, and flower motifs.

100_9965Some of the museum’s permanent collection amused me, such as this “teapot goblet” from 1989 by Richard Marquis.

100_9971This glass and metal sculpture is called “Firebringer” and was made by Jon Kuhn in the early 2000s.100_9973

And the teapots, the teapots, the teapots!

100_9980

The Ballantine House is a section of the museum that features American period rooms. This dining room had so many pieces on the table, from silverware (three forks for each setting), plates, and goblets to cherubic figures and tiny fancy salt shakers.

100_9976100_9978100_9979I have a time and space machine in driving distance from my house. The Islamic world and Victorian America can be done in an afternoon.

New Hampshire

The Sunday of our girls’ trip to New Hampshire, four of us remained after breakfast. We had said goodbye to my friend’s cousin the night before, and the mother-daughter team headed back to Vermont post-pancakes. The rest of us took a walk and chatted about our concerns back home, once in a while stopping to notice the icicles, sunny path, and partially frozen lake.

101_0056101_0057101_0059101_0060

Then we piled in the car to drive back down to Connecticut, where we would split for our respective trips home.

101_0062101_0064

At a gas station, while my friend nourished the car I ran out and got excited by these scenes that reminded me of early to mid-1900s American painters like Edward Hopper and Grant Wood.

101_0065101_0066

Climb Every Mountain

In the light of day, the New Hampshire outdoors was much less scary. To put it precisely, it was spectacular.

101_0045101_0046101_0049101_0052

We got dressed and packed some snacks in preparation to hike Mount Monadnock. My friend good-naturedly laughed when she saw me standing in the living room (not touching the wood stove) with my red purse tucked under my arm. You should probably leave your purse, she told me, offering to put anything I needed in her light drawstring backpack. I handed her my water bottle and stuffed some tissues in my pocket, feeling quite exposed and yet free without my phone, camera, wallet, and other daily accoutrements. Later, when scrambling up a boulder, I mentally thanked her for making me leave behind my shoulder bag. I might not have come back with it.

Are you sure you’ll be warm enough? she asked, looking down at my jeans. I have leggings underneath, I assured her, wanting to show that I wasn’t completely helpless.

The young man in the booth at the entrance to Monadnock State Park handed us a map of the hiking trails and advised us that some of the paths might be a bit icy. When we were actually on the mountain, slipping and sliding on portions of the trails, we laughed at his understatement.  I’m sure it had seemed like no big deal to him from his booth.

The mountain’s landscape was varied and quite beautiful. It was at times rocky, sloping, steep, sunny, icy, melting, and surrounded by trees. There were few people hiking, as it was the end of winter, and well, parts of the trail were iced!

At one point, as we entered an area that we heard someone ahead of us exclaim as very icy (I believe his exact words were “ice dungeon”), a group of boy scouts coming in the opposite direction told us which was the best way to take in order to avoid the slipperiest part. There was something truly reassuring about being guided by boy scouts, no matter that they were children less than half our age.

Two hours later, we breathed in the sight at the top of Mount Monadnock.

During the descent, we took a slightly different path, and I looked back multiple times to take in the still cascade of rocks that we had hiked down. I borrowed my friend’s phone to snap a couple of photos. It wasn’t a sight I was going to see tomorrow.

 IMG_2970IMG_2971

We completed the hike in four hours. Up until now I’ve only been a sporadic hiker; I have nothing against it, I’ve just only done it when the opportunity comes up. I haven’t incorporated it into my lifestyle, which more often includes attending French events, visiting museums, running through the library and pulling books off the shelves to devour, walking and biking through the city and suburbs, and eating. That doesn’t mean they’re activities incompatible with hiking.

I felt good that I didn’t fall behind the group, more than half of whom had hiked many more times than me, and that I wasn’t the only one whose body ached the next day. “That was more intense that I thought it’d be,” one girl said, and I was glad to agree, otherwise not being sure if this was all normal for them. A couple of them were wearing hiking boots, after all.

I now see the appeal of hiking—the nature is beautiful, and though there are marked trails, it still demands that you make strategic decisions to move yourself forward. A steep set of boulders has multiple notches, and depending on which you choose, your ascent will be easier or harder. The weather and the state of the trails that day change how you need to tread on them. Making your way down a semi-icy incline, it may be helpful to grab onto the adjacent tree trunks, but you have to keep in mind that a tree may not be firmly rooted. The activity is really an exercise in body and mind.

I can’t promise that I will be organizing a hiking outing anytime soon, but the next time someone invites me, I will enthusiastically say yes. I might even toss around pro vocabulary, like “CamelBak” and “trail mix.”

Have you been hiking? What about it appeals or doesn’t to you?