Destinations and Experiences

The Big Deal

“It’s the greatest city in the world.”
 
“New York. That’s the dream.”
 
“There’s something magical about it. It’s got this energy, you know?”
 
“You’re going to love it.”
 
There’s no shortage of praise for this metropolis I find myself in. Yet, I often find myself wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
 
On my jaunts through the city, whether to work, home, or recreation, I notice many things, or namely the absence of them. The lack of lawn, for instance. The absence of dumpsters, trash cans. 
 
Other indicators I’d typically associated with a clean, modern city. Basic hygiene. 
 
Mountains, open space — the city is crowded but in their absence it feels incredibly empty for me.
 
I notice the presence of other things: haphazard, rusted out cellar covers, piles of trash thrown onto subway tracks that start fires, fat rats racing through gutters, dogs pissing on overflowing garbage bags that line streets, cockroaches momentarily still, like shining, fallen leaves, before being startled into fluttering away to some unreachable crevice.
 
The presence of a flume of fake eucalyptus fragrance covering the smell of rancid rot. 
 
Smells. Everywhere. Smells.
 
The cold drip of in-window air-conditioning unit condensation that might be mistaken for rain if it weren’t for the overwhelming swell of humanity in need of climate-controlled interiors. 
 
And lots of strife, either in the form of survival or hustle, or sometimes both.
 
The woman who vomited on my leg in Chinatown, the crowd who stopped the subway in a race/alcohol-fueled confrontation, the cab driver who called out, “Hey, baby, wanna go for a ride?”
 
NO. Absolutely not. To all of the above.
 
“It’s the greatest city in the world.” Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
 
See: the soft, orange swells of clouds reflecting in their skyscraper mirrors as the sun dips below Manhattan. 
 
Mounds of earthy mulch and soil straining against iron gates, perhaps nurturing a bed of green shoots, the hopeful stock of an urban tree rising gray against its structured confines that shake loose flurries of yellow, white petals, ambitious blue-headed hydrangeas curtly nodding above buckling Brooklyn sidewalks.
 
Gardens embedded in abandoned lots. People making natural peace in their cityscape.
 
The skyscrapers themselves are building block collateral that, if not proof of having conquered something great, provide the grounds for magnificent conquest to occur.
 
I think of the summer afternoon on the rooftop, 50 stories up in the Flatiron district, Empire State building rising before us, with our 20-something intern from Korea on the eve of his departure for home, and what he said…
 
“New York has taught me to dream bigger.”
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Canterbury, 2013

Canterbury Station isn’t exactly the gateway

to glamor and stardom.

I saw a man vomit immediately after disembarking

the train. Cars careen past him and there’s hardly

room for casual pedestrians.

The mix of businesses the district supports are, at best,

odd:

A casino and hotel, a chicken lunch joint.

Perhaps most prominently, a pole-dancing studio

next-door to a secondhand and rare book shop. Both

are protected by metal security bars. Both

are hiring. Neither is ever open that I can tell. Not in the morning,

and not at night.

But those are side

notes. The warehouse is tucked away in an alley.

You never know what shadows follow you there,

nor who – what – is in the woods at the end of Close

Street.

It was the darkest part of winter, just before the solstice.

I stood at the crosswalk with the others –

the men in suits and professionally polished women,

the elderly Chinese toting groceries.

Then the lady with her angular black and blue hair,

fierce eyes and a leopard-print, velvet wheel she carried

across her arms.

No lights lit the street as we disappeared

deep in circus

where we

both belonged

and life lingers,

clad in tutus and dinosaur costumes,

fox tails, and sequins, and quite

a bit of spandex

moving through the motions

across myriad apparatus.

She removed the trench coat. Beneath

were booty shorts revealing

speckled, tattooed stars.

She hula-hooped and I

sank in splits.

The best was yet to come.

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Beijing, 2009

Sweat…

Remember when

the only reprieve

fell after dark,

lost in

noisy or quiet

hu tong 

— marked 拆 --

and humid

curiosity?

Some summer:

Alien was the sun

that hung red;

comfort was in the egg tart

or soft steamed bun,

side-street draws

beside scorpions

and hearts on sticks.

Solace is in the neon lights

that dance on dark waters

in the night.

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January 17, 2015

Greetings, my love!

The morning I moved to Brooklyn the ground was littered with unopened condoms and empty wrappers of Hershey chocolate bars. What transpired that led to this trash trail is a mystery. I can only assume that my new neighbors know how to party.

Your family went above and beyond in ensuring everything surrounding my move went smoothly: We tightly packed the mini-van with suitcases and groceries, and they effectively packed my stomach with several months worth of dim-sum in a single meal after risking stops in “NO PARKING” zones and much block-circling.

My new roommate is German. To celebrate our living arrangement, she further packed my tummy with schnitzel and beer, and another roommate filled my head with talk of Taiwan.

Now I am very full, very sleepy, very content — though I hope your parents did not notice the indiscreet condom and chocolate litter.

Love,

Me

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Eat and Drink

Chili Ice Cream in Jiaoxi, Taiwan

I wanted a night out on the town … Like, a let’s-be-wild-and-eat-a scoop-of-ice-cream kind of night on the town. Things started to heat up when I stumbled upon this shop during my search for excitement — a mecca for spice diggers.

It’s tacky. It’s touristy. It’s trite, but I had to try. How could I refuse the friendly looking mascots out front?

 

Very angry. Very intimidating, yet welcoming. Photo | Shayden

Actually, they’re a little frightening, but not enough to dissuade me from taking a gander at the menu, which had a variety of flavors and spice levels to choose from …   Continue reading

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Destinations and Experiences, Language and Culture

A Little Hike in Jiaoxi, Taiwan

Antsy to escape the city for a spell, I headed to Jiaoxi, as per the recommendation of the gentleman I sat beside on my flight to Taipei. At the time, it was exactly what I needed: a spot to unwind and be alone, but present in the energy of others. It was also a good test of my Mandarin.

A perfect place to meditate. Photo | Shayden

I studied Chinese language for four years. As the kids say, the struggle is real. Or, it was. When I first started learning, I couldn’t decipher one character stroke from another. Tones sounded like confused musical notes, and grammar was completely 麻煩, ma fan, troublesome.

But that was not actually the source of the difficulty of learning. The greatest challenge has been overcoming my self-consciousness associated with communicating in Mandarin, and announcing to the world, “Yes, I DO know Chinese!” Continue reading

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Eat and Drink

Curry Fish for Lunch at Misan

Listening to bumping Burmese rap and watching this gentleman play an hockey-style game when I was the only customer. Photo | Shayden

I suppose it’s rather early for lunch. But it’s 11 a.m. I’ve been up since 4. I’m hungry.

I wander past the same road I walked upon this morning and stop where there’s a menu that’s invitingly tourist friendly. Lots of pictures. Even words I understand. Typically, I’d avoid such a place, opting for something that doesn’t look so touristy, but at the moment I don’t mind.

Burmese rap music is blasting. There are posters for liquor I doubt I’ll indulge in. A couple of guys sit shirtless, playing a game that from a distance looks like air hockey with small tiles launched across a slickly polished table.

They see me and quickly pull on shirts and cut the music. I want to tell them, “It’s okay. I like the beat!” But I’m not entirely sure that would be appropriate. I hear relations between men and women are still quite formal, and relations in general are very respectful and polite.

One, with a hip ear piercing and camo top and shorts, tells me to sit anywhere I like; the other, clad in a short-sleeved chambray shirt and a traditional basu skirt brings me a menu and bowl of peanuts once I’ve chosen a seat close enough to the road that I can watch its stirrings, but far enough that I feel secluded from the dust.

“What do you recommend? What do you like best to eat?” I ask.

“Curry,” he responds. “Fish or pork.”

“I’ll have the fish curry and a lime juice, please.” Continue reading

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