Seattle, Washington

On the heels of a trip to the South (literally the weekend after), I flew to Seattle and stayed with an American friend I had made in Paris. Seattle had been on my list for a long time, but I had not yet been there. In truth, I’m not sure that I knew much more than a snapshot in my head of Pike Place Market and that it was a city on the west coast that I had never traveled to. I think I also learned about the Seattle Public Library in my Intro to Architecture class my first semester of college, and the buildings I saw for the first time on slides in a dark classroom gave me the desire to one day see them in person.

I opted for Air Alaska after booking and then cancelling a United Airlines flight that I had not initially realized did not include a carry-on. Did you know that regular (non-budget) airlines are doing this now? At the time I did not, but I have certainly become aware that many airlines have this type of ticket. They call it “basic economy” or some other such name that should actually be called “less than basic economy.”

Standing outside the Seattle Airport, I saw that my friend had texted me that she would be picking me up in her “dirty silver pick-up truck.” She was indeed hard to miss. I like my friends.

We dropped off my belongings at her new apartment, then walked to Pike Place Market. It was much vaster than I had imagined. I had thought it would be a fish and produce market, but beyond that there were halls of little stands and shops. We stopped in a Native American store.

DSC03450

Shepard Fairey murals always catch my eye.

DSC03440

The gum wall was… unique.

DSC03439

After a walk around the market, we went outside, where it was drizzling. Surprise… not. One of the items my friend had told me to bring was a rain jacket. I do not own a rain jacket, nor had it ever occurred to me to purchase one. However, apparently it is a Northwest staple, especially since they do not use umbrellas. My sister happened to have a rain jacket that I borrowed.

My willing tour guide took us past the original Starbucks, which I was more than happy to take a photo of instead of lining up to go inside.

I got good use out of that rain jacket.

Anna Sui, Scarves, Dumplings

In the fall I suggested to a date that we visit the Museum of Arts and Design on a Thursday evening, the weekly time that it is suggested contribution (I got all those free museum days down). I was interested in the exhibit on fashion designer Anna Sui’s work. I didn’t know much about her but had an inkling that the exhibit would be enjoyable based on my past visits to MAD and a few images of her creations. The World of Anna Sui was indeed a colorful walk through her different styles.

My date was drawn to her grunge looks because they reminded him of his high school days, whereas I unsurprisingly loved the room with feminine and whimsical pieces.

And how about this horse?

DSC04454

There was a wall of color themed inspiration boards that I took a photo of for possible inspiration in my own work.

DSC04456

We hopped to another floor for the exhibit Vera Paints a Scarf, which as you may have guessed, displayed… scarves. By Vera Neumann, to be precise. It was surprisingly entertaining to look at and comment on the displays, which in addition to scarves included her illustrations of patterns that gave insight into her design process; newspaper advertisements from the mid to late twentieth century for the scarves; and a video of a woman semi-seductively standing on a staircase demonstrating different ways to tie a scarf. We also spent an inordinate amount of time standing in front of a crossword puzzle silk handkerchief in a glass case to mentally do a few clues.

After, we had a bite from one of the dumpling counter underground in the subway station nearby. It’s nicer than it sounds, I swear. That hallway of eateries is pretty new, well-lit, and clean, and I had walked through it before but never sat at one of the public tables lining the center of the tunnel. And it’s, well, convenient, since it’s literally a few steps away from the turnstiles to enter the subway. Too bad I then put us on a slightly incorrect train, one that got us fairly close to our respective stations but was not the most direct route. But as I remind myself sometimes, though it is difficult to remember in New York City, life is not always about efficiency.

Durham

Driving back up from Charlotte (yes, I am still writing about a trip that happened in spring—this is why I have a blog and not an Instagram), we stopped at Durham for a few hours at my request. The night before, I had quickly messaged my friend who is from Durham and asked for restaurant recommendations. One of her suggestions was a barbecue place.

There was hardly anything around the restaurant besides an ice cream shop; we definitely wouldn’t have found it just driving down the main street. Perfect.

The spacious restaurant was almost empty on an early Monday afternoon. As hoped for, portions were generous with multiple sides so we could try southern fixins’.

DSC03404DSC03405DSC03410

Décor was blatant: pork comes from pig.

DSC03406DSC03407DSC03408

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Durham was that a colleague told me she loves it. After lunch, we parked in what seemed to be downtown. It was very quiet. Thinking we might have missed something, we stopped in the tourist office, where we were greeted by a very friendly man. He was enthusiastic and cheerful. He recommended visiting the American Tobacco district, which was redone and included shopping. I asked what he’d recommend in an hour (poor guy). He directed us to the sculpture of the bull, symbol of Durham. I made note of directions, not wanting to get lost, and it turned out the bull was pretty much behind the tourist office.

Days later, back home, I asked my colleague what attracted her to Durham, and she said the restaurants and the breweries. Somehow I had translated that in my mind to a lively downtown. She, who is from the south, told me that it was a typical southern city.

On quiet Parrish Street there were some sculptures commemorating historic black-owned businesses, or what was known as “Black Wall Street” in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

DSC03411.JPG

A short drive away was a breathtaking gem—the Duke Gardens. Part of Duke University, it is free and open to the public (parking is paid). We could have spent a whole afternoon there, but we had to hit the road to drive up north, so my mom and I enjoyed a brief exploration of the gardens under the sun. I suppose drinking in a portion of those gardens is enough to last more than the standard walk.

DSC03412DSC03413DSC03414DSC03415DSC03416

NoDa

My road trip with family in May this year had a destination: Charlotte, North Carolina.

In Charlotte it was hot, unlike back home 650 miles further north.

We spent a few hours in the arts district, NoDa. Our walk down the street was a visual feast, with murals, trompe l’oeil, and a lady selling hand knit bikini tops and purses. We saw a bachelorette party on a “Trolley Pub” (a new concept to us). Later, the same women showed up at the place where we had fish tacos, a popular restaurant with surfboards on the walls and a bit of a wait. During the meal, there were several bearded waiters that kept us guessing. What is that term—facial hair bias? After lunch, my mom chatted up the restaurant hostess, who gave us stickers with the establishment’s name and logo on it.

DSC03351DSC03352DSC03353DSC03354DSC03355DSC03356I didn’t know what this mural meant, but it made me stop and consider.

DSC03357DSC03358 b
Mosaic bench. Is this a southern thing?

DSC03359

Fishballs, Warehouses, and Sunsets in Sunset Park

On a recent weekend, I explored Sunset Park, Brooklyn with a local. You may not know from the name, but Sunset Park is a neighborhood, though it also contains the park after which it was named.

Among several other immigrant groups, there is a large community of Chinese people. We had Fuzhou food at a small, casual place whose sign was only in Chinese (so don’t ask me what the name of it was) and whose menu was half translated into English (I guess they did what they could and didn’t bother with the rest). I am actually not familiar with different Chinese regions’ cuisine. To me, Chinese food is my mom’s home cooking and New York Chinatown food.

We shared fishballs stuffed with meat in a clear broth (I grew up with fishballs but had never heard of a meat-filled version); fried dumplings; short, fat noodles with squid; and sweet peanut balls in a bowl of hot water. The food was cheap and plentiful. The place was casual.

We walked to Sunset Park in the heat and took in the views of New Jersey and Manhattan and sat on the grass. After what must have been a few hours lounging, we headed out of the park, but not before taking a quick look around for elderly Chinese women dancing, which my companion had seen on other evenings. We only saw one woman slowly dancing by herself. Was she practicing before her fellow dancers arrived? I kept looking back to check, but she remained alone, inconsciente of people walking by.

Before continuing our walk to the water, we looked for a bathroom for me (story of my life). We passed a Catholic church that does activist work. I like visiting churches when Mass is not going on, so I asked if we could stop inside. I lit a candle. We both agreed that St. Michael’s Church was beautiful. And there was a bathroom! The toilet paper dispenser was so high that you had to reach up to the heavens.

DSC03849

All set, we went off the beaten path, down a street almost completely quiet besides a group of family and friends barbecuing on the corner of the sidewalk. We meandered deep into a stretch of silent warehouses. My companion said he wasn’t completely sure we were supposed to be there, but nothing was blocked off, and no signs prohibited pedestrians from wandering in between the blocks of buildings. We came to a nice view of the sunset and stood on a large plank of wood to see it over the fence.

We got on a slightly, though not much more, beaten path in a nearby new park called Bush Terminal Park. Here, families walked down the long path and stopped to view the beautiful sunset by the water.

DSC03850DSC03851DSC03853

A walk to the end of the park led us back onto the sidewalk and past a mural in Spanish that we pondered a bit before peeking at the de Chirico-esque view by the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which I recognized from a prior visit with friends and which took on a magical quality in the evening. Then it was onto the subway for me to pack for an international trip.

DSC03854DSC03855

Charlottesville

In spring I was Charlottesville, Virginia for a few hours on the way to North Carolina. Those not familiar with that region (including myself) probably know it for the white supremacist rally in 2017 where one person died. Americans may remember learning in school that the city is historical and that presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe lived there. Southerners know that it is cute and charming; that’s what my friend who is from Florida told me when I asked where I should stop during my road trip with family, anyway.

The Downtown Mall, a pedestrian street, was indeed adorable. Only mid-May, it was a hot day in the south.

We had lunch, popped in and out of a few shops, and strolled down the street.

DSC03333DSC03347DSC03336DSC03338DSC03337

This drugstore had a soda fountain in the back. Notice the mortar and pestle above the sign.

DSC03346

This compact carousel was “operated” by a man manually pushing it! I was endlessly entertained.

DSC03340

I loved this wall with the First Amendment etched into it. Words about freedom of speech overlaid with chalk writings and drawings by the public.

DSC03341DSC03344

I left a message too.

DSC03343

Small Thrills

Recently I realized that I have become comfortable being uncomfortable. Sometimes I am socially fluid; other times, not. But I usually don’t let the possibility of being uncomfortable prevent me from doing something. If anything, I am glad that there are still new frontiers to cross.

I am not someone who seeks thrills in roller coasters or skydivers; these everyday encounters outside my comfort zone are what send a tingle to my soul.

I wonder if I gained an ease with not understanding what’s going on from living in a country where the language was not my native tongue.

Earlier this year, a friend invited me to join her and her friend at a concert by a Ukrainian pianist. I hear “piano concert” and I go.

I arrived about an hour early after having spent hours at my friend’s Galentine’s Day party in Brooklyn. It was cold outside, so luckily there was a nice waiting space inside the cultural center where the concert was to take place. I munched on the bagel and homemade chocolate doughnut with heart sprinkles from the party.

My friend and her friend showed up, and we chatted a bit before finding seats. It turned out that the concert was a performance of old American songs, some little known and others recognizable. In between pieces, the American singer and the Ukrainian pianist explained the background of the songs and the influence between the United States and Europe over that time period.

Afterward, we stayed for the little reception. The reason my friend’s friend had heard about this concert is that her daughter had gone to the same music school as the pianist. She is Russian, and my friend is Kazakh and speaks Russian (in addition to Kazakh and French). Within a few minutes, I realized that almost everyone attending the small recital spoke Russian. I stood with four or five people as they conversed. My friend didn’t say much but clearly understood everything, and once in a while she’d translate for me. Being in that environment kind of tickled me since it was such a surprise. Saturday night with a bunch of Russian speakers after an intimate concert of American songs—why not? I love these kind of “random” events. It felt so cultural, and maybe even more special to be an outsider—that is to say, not typically part of this community. In another way, I did not have the impression of being an outsider at all—I felt that I belonged there.

DSC03204

New Yawk

Overheard this month:

“A $600 pair of shoes. Hah!”
– An older woman walking through the bus station, exclaiming to herself. Amen, sistah! I’ve never spent anything close to that amount on an item of clothing.

“Don’t be ashamed to cry. Crying is good.”
– A man to a man who sits on the floor of the subway staircase landing every morning. Casual conversation (no one was crying).

“An elevator full of women of color at [company I work at]. I dig it.”
– Young black woman. There were seven of us in the elevator, six young black women and me (Asian American).

Sure, sometimes I witness negative or disturbing interactions, like the other night when I saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk screaming and crying while a man stood next to her and two police officers tried to handle the situation. We’re constantly bumping into people’s pain and skirting around it. It’s nice to encounter positive interactions too. In the span of one week I saw a woman laughing aloud, a man encouraging the expression of vulnerability and emotion, and a woman who infused positivity in an elevator of strangers. There are reasons to hope.

Pink

When my sister and I were kids, my mom was dismayed that our favorite colors were purple and green, respectively. Isn’t part of the fun of having two little girls dressing them in pink?

Maybe her love of pink sank into my penchants subconsciously, because as an adult I found my wardrobe becoming pink and red.

The first time I realized that I had developed a style was around sophomore year of college. I bought a sleeveless red shirt with a lacy crocheted trim around the neck in a secondhand store. When I got home, in my closet I saw my dark red sleeveless dress with lace for the neckline. Without realizing it, I had bought an item I basically already had.

Since then, I have gone through other color phases—black, gray, navy blue—but I still have a lot of pink and red in my closet.

Naturally, when I heard about the Museum at FIT’s exhibit “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color,” I emailed several friends I thought would be interested and asked if they’d like to join me. Being the kinds of friends I have, they were enthusiastic, and we planned an outing.

Several of us had been to the museum together for “Fairy Tale Fashion” a few years ago when our friend was visiting from Boston. Since then, I keep the Museum at FIT’s exhibits, which are free, on my radar.

This time I got in the spirit of the exhibit, wearing a pink coat, pink scarf, and pink purse, which wasn’t too far a stretch from my normal outfits.

After viewing the exhibit “Fashion Unraveled” on the ground floor, we went downstairs for pink, pink, pink.

DSC02923

DSC02925DSC02926DSC02927

DSC02928DSC02929DSC02930DSC02931DSC02933

DSC02934

Does anyone remember this dress? I saw it at Sotheby’s pre-auction exhibit in Paris a few years ago! Now I know who bought this John Galliano. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly knowledgeable of high fashion, but I guess I do get out there. I would not have thought that not only would I see the same dress in Paris and New York, but also that I would remember it.

DSC02937

DSC02940DSC02941DSC02942DSC02944

Speaking of connections, I was surprised to see a caption featuring the book Pink Sari Revolution, which was sitting at home waiting for me to read it. A few weeks earlier, I had borrowed it from my local library after a quick browse of the nonfiction shelves and finding the book flap summary interesting. When I picked it up, I had no idea whether it was well-known. Now I was even more intrigued to read this book about a women’s movement in India.

DSC02945

There was also some vintage children’s clothing to illustrate that in the early 1900s, pink was actually seen as masculine, a boy’s color.

I remember that in grammar school, most of my classmates, boys and girls, said their favorite color was blue (or were some of them pretending in order to fit in?). Mine is still green, but from my wardrobe, you’d think it was pink.

Year of the Pig

The Lunar New Year began earlier this month, on February 5. I sometimes mention it in conversation leading up to the day, which leads people to ask how I celebrate. In recent years, I don’t have a particular “big” tradition. Instead it’s the “little” practices that I observe—wear red, eat three meals, have long noodles, don’t cut your hair, don’t clean (that should be done the day before), and other dos and don’ts. This is all to attract good luck and avoid bad luck in the coming year.

My paternal relatives in China get together for a large, multigenerational gathering at their regular restaurant to celebrate the Spring Festival, as they call it. It’s quite a different experience here; my immediate family doesn’t have relatives nearby, and my parents separated some years ago. So every year is different.

A couple of years ago, a friend who is from the same region my family is from (the Fujian province in southeastern China) organized a weekend meal in Chinatown with some of her French friends and me. It was nice being with her because she knew what to order.

Last year, my colleague and I had dinner in Chinatown and then dessert at a new place with piled-high Instagram-able desserts. Bright streamers littered the streets.

DSC01907DSC01908
DSC01909

The weekend after, two friends and I attempted to see the parade in Chinatown, which was extremely crowded (I wouldn’t seek it out again unless I knew of a good spot where there was breathing room), then had lunch before they went off to watch “Black Panther” and I took the subway to the Flatiron District to meet two French friends who were visiting New York City.

This year, I had dinner with my dad the day of and lunch with my mom the Sunday after. In between, I suggested to a date that we visit the Museum of Chinese in America in Chinatown and have dim sum afterward.

Every year, at least one person in my family (nowadays half the time it is me) seeks out tikoy, a sticky dessert that is called many different names depending on what Chinese dialect you speak. And tikoy isn’t a Chinese word, actually, though it comes from one—it’s what people in the Philippines call it. We only know of one bakery in Chinatown New York that makes it the way we like it. To prepare it, we take it out of the round aluminum pan, slice it, dip each piece in egg, and fry them. When heated, they become gooey with a slightly crispy outside.

I guess I—no, we—celebrate Chinese New Year more than I thought.