baby, it's cold outside: chicago & new york photo journal

My travel addiction is fairly well-documented (you can check out the travel tag if you're curious!), but I actually haven't explored much of my own home country. In fact, I think I've visited more foreign countries than I have U.S. states. I've wanted to go back to New York since I worked there two summers ago. And so, half out of frustration at direct flight prices and half out of wanting to travel as much as I could while I applied for jobs, I ‎booked a trip in two parts: first to Chicago, then New York.

My mom decided to join me for the Chicago portion, since we've never traveled together, just the two of us, and neither of us have ever been there. While my mom is from the East Coast, she is cold-averse, and I'm a born-and-raised Californian still readjusting from the Southeast Asian climate, so here's a lot of pictures of us freezing in 20°F weather.

DAY 1: CHICAGO

We leave mid-afternoon.‎ We both look equally ridiculous, her in a down jacket and me in the same red fleece I wore every day to work, waiting outside in 80-degrees-and-sunny weather. Our Uber driver, John, drives a Tesla, and impresses/terrifies us by driving with his eyes shut for a couple of seconds while the car is on autopilot. As impressive as it is (and gorgeous), I don't think I'd drive one even if I could afford it, for the same reason I have a BlackBerry. I dislike touchscreens. I like the deliberate, precise action of pressing a button; touchscreens always feel hazardously sloppy.

The San Diego Airport is actually really nice now, a fact that's kind of crept up on me in the past couple of years. It seems it's going the way everything in San Diego is: always too nice to call it "gentrification," but upscaled and renovated regardless. I think San Diego is coming into its own as a city. It's always been a vacation destination, luxurious and beachside, but now it's even more classy and sophisticated, and it's just starting to get more hip. I wonder if in a decade or so it'll be as happening as one of the big cities like San Francisco or New York. It's kind of amazing that I can note these changes just in my short lifetime alone, but it makes me excited, because I've always had a passionate love for my hometown and I'm happy to see it getting the credit it deserves.

The flight to Chicago is short, only two and a half hours. As we approach the city, I notice delicate, lacy crystals decorating the windows. When we land, I'm surprised to find that the air temperature is okay. That is, until the wind from Lake Michigan hits us. Holy. This California girl was not prepared for this. We check into our hotel, the Omni Chicago. It's really nice, and it's right in the heart of downtown, with a view of the lake peeking through the buildings. We venture outside to pick up some food and essentials from Walgreens, which are on practically every corner, like Duane Reades in New York. Actually, the city itself looks a lot like New York, but shorter. The Magnificent Mile could be mistaken for Fifth Avenue, with the pretty, intricate buildings made of glossy marble and mirrored almost-skyscrapers that reflect the hazy glow of streetlights and Christmas lights still wrapped around the trees.

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We've figured out that the wind is from the water, so we've taken to running through intersections to avoid the cold air from cross-streets that lead to the lake. I kind of want to explore more, but it's late now and eerily quiet (not to mention very cold), so we go back to the hotel and sleep.

DAY 2: CHICAGO

We wake up and go down to the waterfront. To our surprise it's like a beach, with waves lapping on the sand and the endless sky stretching overhead. It's even colder now. My body is okay, but my fingers and ears are practically frozen. I feel an uncomfortable pressure mounting in my eardrums and it's giving me a headache. How the hell do people live here?! This is apparently the warmest winter Chicago has had in 150 years (33°F in the afternoon), according to the locals. I think you really do have no other choice but to acclimate. My friend told me it takes two months for your body to get used to a place. And after six months in 90°F weather, it's like stepping out of a warm shower and into an ice bath.

We pass a lot of Northwestern buildings, which are integrated right into the city, like NYU is to New York. A quote on the archway of the business school stands out to me: "If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed." We notice a lot of salt scattered on the sidewalks to prevent them from freezing—purple salt, Northwestern colors.

People are so nice here. Almost suspiciously nice. I keep forgetting that we're in the Midwest. Everyone I talked to adores Chicago, but could never quite articulate why. My friend Saliq explained, "It's because on both sides of the coasts, you've always got your snobs in the big cities: New York, SF. But everyone is friendly in Chicago." And it's true! Everyone is so polite and friendly and conversational. It reminds me of San Diego that way. My mom is from the East Coast and I'm not much of a small-talker, so we're both a little bit unprepared for it. But we appreciate the kindness.

The starkly Midwest quality that sets it apart from New York or San Diego is that there are almost no Asians. I count maybe a handful of them walking around. It's very strange, coming from a high school that was 30% Asian, a university that was 25% Asian, and a business frat that was 90% Asian.

We take a Hop-On Hop-Off bus and ride around the city. There are people from all different places: St. Louis, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, New Jersey. We pass the Ritz-Carlton, where apparently Oprah used to live until she moved to (where else?) Santa Barbara. Our tour guide asks us where we're from. He laughs when we say San Diego, and says, "Well, if it makes you feel better, any other normal year, you would be knee-deep in snow. Thanks to global warming, it's like spring right now!" This, of course, is not very reassuring to someone whose ears are currently freezing off.

We get off at one of the stops and walk to Lou Malnati's, Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza. At first, I didn't know what kind of place it was and I didn't know it was the name of an actual person, and was half-convinced that the name was a play on "Illuminati" (Italian...Illuminati...kind of reasonable). I would be a great pizza restaurant namer. As the story goes, Uno Pizzeria was the first restaurant to create deep-dish pizza, but when they wanted to start franchising it, Lou Malnati split off from Uno because they weren't using his sauce. So Lou Malnati's ‎is top quality.

We go to The Bean next. As we're walking, it starts flurrying! Not quite snowing, just little flakes gusting around the streets and then disappearing; tiny white pieces of fluff.

I've only seen real snow a couple times in my life, so this is exciting. My mom is not quite as enthused. It's strangely not as cold as it was before. You would think that the ice falling from the sky would...you know...I don't know. Weather is weird.

Baby's first snow!

Baby's first snow!

The Bean was only brought to Chicago in 2006, which is wild, because the words "take a selfie with The Bean" would have made no sense just eleven years ago.

How you BEAN?

How you BEAN?

It's just as beautiful in person as it is in picture. I love that its real name is Cloud Gate, because the architect wanted it to reflect all the glory of the Chicago skyline in its smooth, mirrored surface. It's a marvel in itself.

Our smiles were literally frozen on our faces

Our smiles were literally frozen on our faces

We go to the Art Institute of Chicago. Even the foyer is a work of art, with high glass ceilings and crisp wood floors.

Daybreak Express (1953), 16 mm film

Daybreak Express (1953), 16 mm film

The coolest thing is seeing a stone head from the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, which you may remember from my Cambodia blog post. It's surreal seeing something that I saw in person in a museum, as a part of history. I am so lucky.

There's this one part in the middle of the museum with gorgeous marble staircases and tall, Grecian columns. It's #designgoals for sure.

I really love the impressionism collection, mostly because it's the largest one in the ‎world apart from The Louvre. The Louvre!

"I just let my brain rest when I paint flowers. I don't experience the same tension as I do when confronted with the model. When I am painting flowers, I establish the tones, I ustdy the values carefully without worrying about losing the picture. I don't dare do this with a figure piece for fear of ruining it." —Pierre Auguste Renoir

"I just let my brain rest when I paint flowers. I don't experience the same tension as I do when confronted with the model. When I am painting flowers, I establish the tones, I ustdy the values carefully without worrying about losing the picture. I don't dare do this with a figure piece for fear of ruining it." —Pierre Auguste Renoir

There are so many famous paintings by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, and Van Gogh, which is so cool because even if you're not into art, you're always kind of in awe of these paintings that are so perfectly preserved, hundreds of years later, touched by famous hands.

"This small oil on a thin wood panel is one of 24 painted  studies Georges Seurat made while conceiving the large, celebrated painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte ... Although at first the panel seems close to the larger canvas, its 20 or more figures have little to do with the final composition. The trio at right, for example, with the elderly seated figure, was completely rethought in the final composition, in which a man in a top hat and a woman walking a monkey convey a sense of grand solemnity and wry humor—a sophisticated irony that is completely absent in the clumsily positioned figures of the oil panel."

"This small oil on a thin wood panel is one of 24 painted  studies Georges Seurat made while conceiving the large, celebrated painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte ... Although at first the panel seems close to the larger canvas, its 20 or more figures have little to do with the final composition. The trio at right, for example, with the elderly seated figure, was completely rethought in the final composition, in which a man in a top hat and a woman walking a monkey convey a sense of grand solemnity and wry humor—a sophisticated irony that is completely absent in the clumsily positioned figures of the oil panel."

Self-portrait (1889)

Self-portrait (1889)

Sky Above Clouds, Georgia O'Keeffe

Sky Above Clouds, Georgia O'Keeffe

The last exhibit is Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art. It's not quite as interesting as the other exhibits, but I always love the statues.

We see Men are from Mars–Women are from Venus LIVE! at the Broadway Playhouse, a small off-Broadway show, which is based on the book and not at all what we expect. It's a one-man production, with the main actor doing all the voices and characters and acting out the stories of him and his fictional wife navigating the trials of dating and marriage. It's a little dated, but I guess that's expected from a book that was popular 20 years ago, and this actor deserves a Tony.

DAY 3: CHICAGO

Our first stop today is Hoosier Mama's Pie Shop, recommended by my great-grandlitto, and I'm in love from the moment I see the cute little pie-shaped sign outside.

It's kind of a hole-in-the-wall, just a tiny shop tucked away with an unassuming seafoam-green storefront. The decor is adorable: vintage posters, empty pie tins, chalkboard art, and little vases of flowers.

Mom and I order the chicken pot pie, and make conversation with a couple next to us tasting pies for their wedding. Did you know you could do wedding pies?! I didn't, but I've already decided that my future wedding will have pie instead of cake.

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For dessert, the waitress recommends pie flights. Pie. Flights. There are no words for how excited this makes me. It's literally the cutest thing in the world. She cuts three little slices from mini pies and puts them on a plate. I love it so much. I don't even know why. I order apple and sour cherry, chocolate chess, and espresso cream, and my mom orders the same but with PB&J instead of the espresso. All of them are so delicious. This was perfect. My day could end here and I would be content. I think one flavor of pie would have gotten monotonous; I think three tiny pieces was the ideal amount of pie.

We decide to take the Hop-On Hop-Off bus again, this time to Skydeck Chicago.

I realize Chicago is actually a very iconic city. It's famous for a lot of things. What do you think of when you think New York? Times Square, the Knicks, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the Frank Sinatra song, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Fifth Avenue, cheesecake. San Francisco: the Golden Gate Bridge, clam chowder, cable cars, Ghiradelli, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz. Chicago: deep-dish pizza, Chicago dogs, the Cubs, the blues, Oprah, The Bean, Abraham Lincoln, the Sears Tower. I'm a bit sad that San Diego doesn't really have anything that it's known for. Someday we'll make it big. Someday.

It's even colder today. Actually, it's warmer, but it feels colder; I don't even understand how that's possible. What is weather. But it's so cold and my skin is so dry that I feel as though I may crack into tiny pieces at any moment.

SkyDeck Chicago is awesome. 1,353 feet and 103 stories tall, and made of glass. It's the eighth-tallest tower in the world and the tallest in the Western hemisphere. But the pièce de résistance is The Ledge, which is actually three tiny glass boxes that protrude out from the top floor of the building. You can sit in them and take a picture, and you're a quarter-mile off the ground. Pretty wild.

We grab Chicago dogs for dinner, shop around a bit, go back to our favorite Walgreens, bring some snacks back to the hotel, and watch The Help. Mom and I are not cut out for cold weather.

DAY 4: CHICAGO

It's already our last day in Chicago! We had a plan to go to this cute little café for breakfast, but we simultaneously remember that neither of us likes breakfast food. In fact, no one in my family really likes breakfast food, I think because my mom always made us actual meals for breakfast (soup, pasta, etc).

So instead we go to Giordano's, another famous pizza place. Even though it's 11 am, people are already lined up to order. I think Lou Malnati's is still my favorite, but it's still leagues better than any deep-dish I've had anywhere else.

We eat quickly, then hop on the train to the airport. My mom is San Diego-bound, and I board my flight to my next destination, overflowing with excitement, to one of my favorite places in the world: New York! 

I get there and it's even colder. Dear lord. I didn't even know that was possible. It's approximately 21°F, but the "Real Feel" on my phone says 1°F. Lovely. Apparently, this is just a cold snap—New York has also had a mild winter as of late, and just a couple of days ago it was 68°F at night, warmer than it is in San Diego right now. But that makes no difference to me at the moment.

DAY 5: NEW YORK

I meet my grandparents in Chinatown for dim sum late morning. This sounds casual, but it's really not. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am very directionally-challenged, and may or may not have once ended up in Brooklyn trying to meet said grandparents.

The new Q train station is beautiful, and apparently a really big deal. It goes everywhere, like directly to 42nd (where was this when I was working here two years ago, hmm?) and to Union Square. It's amazing. I feel as though the city has opened up to me. It's so clean, germ-wise and design-wise. It's all-white stone with high, arched ceilings and Chuck Close mosaics decorating the walls.

My grandparents are so cute. They keep every picture we've ever sent them framed in their apartment, and they always enjoy seeing me and my sisters. The first thing my nai nai does when she sees me is pull a scarf out of her closet for me to wear, and she keeps fussing over the split tail of my jacket, worrying that I'm not warm enough.

My grandparents' wedding picture

My grandparents' wedding picture

Our topics of conversation are limited, because of the language barrier. They always tell me to learn Chinese. But they speak Cantonese, so even if I did learn Mandarin, I wouldn't be able to communicate with them. I understand tiny bits of Mandarin, like a two-year-old, and I can generally grasp what the topic of conversation is. But when they speak to each other in rapid-fire Cantonese, I have no idea what's going on.

We order everything that passes by. My yeh yeh keeps asking me what I want, but honestly I have no idea what anything is, and I don't really have a preference, so I just let them order. They always overfeed me, so I always expect to be uncomfortably full of Chinese food and tea when I leave.

"Oh no, I'm full," I say, after being offered another round of what I think is pork.
"Full?" my yeh yeh says incredulously. "Nooo. You're the youngest one here!"

But Chinese food is so heavy...

I tell him I'm looking to move to a big city. "I like it here," I explain. "But also San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, etc."
"Don't move to Chicago!" he says, panicked. "It's too cold for you! How about Alaska?"
"But...that's even colder!" I say.
"Yes, but they only work seven months out of the year," he says seriously.
"I would freeze in Alaska."
He chuckles. "Yes, probably. Maybe not Alaska."

So cute 😭

So cute 😭

Chinatown is bustling on Sunday morning, with everyone running errands at the markets and haggling over fish. It's always an experience. There's something about the dirt and the colorful signs that's very aesthetically pleasing for some reason.

Two guys on the train home start talking to me about my BlackBerry (say what you want; it's a great conversation-starter). As it turns out, they're from Chicago and are in New York for business. We talk about Singapore and strange laws, high rents in cities, and the benefits of Chicago vs. New York. They offer to give me a tour the next time I'm in the city, because they're leaving today (if only my trip itinerary were reversed!), and we exchange numbers. Chicagoans are so nice.

I meet up with Daniel and Rekha, two of my best friends from high school, which is so surreal because Daniel just moved to New York around the same time I moved to Singapore, and now all three of us are here, in the same city, on the other side of the country!

We have every intention of going to MOMA, but somehow instead end up at Momofuku Milk Bar, which is wildly famous in food circles but tucked away on 56th street behind a nondescript door. It's a cozy, hipsterish space complete with rainbow chalk-lettered menus, lighted pastry display cases, and a neon-pink milk sign. Christina Tosi has kind of been my culinary idol ever since I read an article back in 2011 on the woman behind the famous cereal milk ice cream, and I love her even more now that she's judging MasterChef (but @Milk Bar please let me redesign your website; your bakery deserves better than hot pink Comic Sans).

The pastries at the Milk Bar are amazingly unique; their signature ice cream was inspired by the slightly-sweetened milk left after a bowl of cornflakes, and all of the other treats are equally as inventive, like chocolate chip passion fruit cake truffles, crack pie, and cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies. They're basically what would happen if you let a five-year-old design a boutique patisserie menu.

We opt for the "b'day truffles," because I love all things cake batter: vanilla rainbow cake mixed with vanilla-infused milk, coated in white chocolate, and rolled in rainbow cake crumbs. So. Good. They're doughy and sweet and taste like childhood.

Since it's Rekha's first time in New York, we go to Columbus Circle and split a little mini pastry flight from Maison Keyser (dessert flights appear to be the theme of this trip; I officially want to be a pastry chef now), which consists of an espresso cream puff tart, a raspberry cream tart, and a passion fruit-glazed tart. It was perfect.

The Plaza!

The Plaza!

We go to Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue, because why not? It's gorgeous inside. We're surrounded by brightly-lit glass display cases containing brilliant, sparkling-fire diamonds nestled soft velvet cushions, and gorgeous chandeliers dripping crystals decorating the high ceilings. It's stunning. I read an article recently (that I can't find the link to) about how Tiffany's is pretty unpopular with millennials because of its old-fashioned charm and somewhat outdated ideals. It represents opulence and luxury and a classic "heavy" feel to its decor (fun fact: Tiffany Box Blue is a trademarked color). But millennials don't really want that, so Tiffany's is actually redesigning a lot of its stores. I want to take a picture, but I feel like it would ruin the delicate balance of the wondrous place that is Tiffany's.

Holly Golightly said it best:

Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.

We also go to Trump Tower, which is exactly as you would expect and pretty much the opposite of Tiffany's. Whereas Tiffany's is all cool and silver and delicate, this is a monstrous solid gold mass with actual SWAT teams marching around with AK-47s inside. It's terrifying. Also equally terrifying: being two non-white females and not knowing how many people potentially hate us. It's a very uncomfortable feeling. The whole building disgusts me, from its ugly eyesore of an exterior to its garish, poorly-decorated interior. As Vanity Fair writer Tina Nguyen excellently quoted in her scathing review of Trump Grill: "a poor person's idea of [rich]."

We meet Daniel in Times Square, and wander around like the shameless tourists we are.

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And then we get dinner at Melt Shop, which I once saw on Food Network and have been obsessed with ever since. I order a truffle gruyère grilled cheese with tomato soup with a pickle on the side. And honestly it's probably one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. Holy. Just the truffle oil makes my mouth water.

We hang out and talk until it closes. I love having conversations with them, because all three of us are highly-opinionated people and that leads to some interesting arguments. We are afraid of being in an echo chamber, though. We're fully aware that we were all raised with relatively similar backgrounds and we're not particularly seeking controversial discussions when we talk to each other. But sometimes it's just fun to talk about our mutual hatred of things.

DAY 6: NEW YORK

Good morning, Upper East Siders. Rekha and I go to brunch at The Penrose for brunch, which we both agree is way more hipster than both of our lives combined. Cocktails served in mason jars? Check. Typewriter? Check. Wooden barrels and trunks for decoration? Check. Lots of dishes with kale? Check.

Fried chicken sandwich, goat cheese and kale omelette, and a side of pickles

Fried chicken sandwich, goat cheese and kale omelette, and a side of pickles

We decide to go to a bar afterward, because we're both on vacation and we often forget we are over 21 and why not? We find this place called Duke's, which looks like a classier TGI Fridays, all college flags, vintage signs, and neon lettering on the walls; arcade games and trivia cards on the table, and drinks decorated with mardi gras beads (okay, actually, I don't know what TGI Fridays look like, but this is what I imagine they look like). We make friends with this very nice bartender who's our age and just moved to New York from the South. I always wonder if bartenders actually like talking to people or if they just consider it a part of the job. I remember when I worked in retail and had to greet everyone very perkily and laugh uncomfortably when people asked if they could get a discount when their item didn't scan. But she's really friendly, so we talk to her for a while. "Do people normally come in at this time in the afternoon?" we ask her. She tells us yes, sometimes, but mostly it's regular customers that have a habit of drinking at 1 pm. Oh.

Voodoo juice (peep the gummy shark!) and a Texas mule

Voodoo juice (peep the gummy shark!) and a Texas mule

Rekha leaves to see a taping of The Colbert Report, so I meet my friend Tia (who you may remember from our adventures together at Smorgasburg two years ago) at her apartment, which is right next to Central Park, so we take a walk around.

All the trees are bare and there's a stillness in the chilly air. It's nice. I kind of like the quietness. It's a rare thing in Central Park, but the serenity makes it feel like we're walking inside a beautiful, static postcard.

We walk across the park to the Upper West Side and get Levain Bakery's chocolate chip walnut cookies, which are the stuff of legend in culinary/food blogging circles.

These cookies have a cult following, and for good reason. They're giant, softball-sized cookies with a scone-like texture. Lightly crispy on the outside, thick and chewy and soft on the inside, stuffed with warm, gooey melted chocolate and crunchy walnuts. These cookies are unreal, especially with a cold glass of milk. Ugh. I don't even like chocolate, but I finish my cookie in 12 seconds flat.

Since I know no other way to bond with people than to eat, I meet my friend PMO at Carroll Place, this lively Italian gastropub, in Greenwich Village. I haven't seen PMO in forever, so it's so cool to catch up with him in New York! He works for Major League Soccer, which is pretty rad. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is pretty cool, this cozy Harry Potter tavern-esque place with soft lighting and colorful bottles lining the walls. It's so dark, though. Is that old of me? Why do I need a flashlight to see the menu properly? What am I going to do when I'm 50 when I already have these problems in my early 20s?

One random thing that never fails to fascinate me about New York: the places. Greenwich is pronounced "Grenich" and Houston is pronounced "House-ton." I have never understood this. I go back to Tia's apartment and we hang out drinking wine (okay, it was sparkling fruit juice) and talking until we sleep.

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DAY 7: NEW YORK

It's a rainy day in the Big Apple, so Tia and I go to the Plaza Food Court, which is like a fancy version of Smorgasburg in the equally fancy basement of the Plaza Hotel. Tia gets a crepe and I get a lobster roll and clam chowder, which is kind of an aggressive breakfast move, but completely worth it.

We also get a slice of green tea crêpe cake from Lady M, 20 layers of mille crêpes layered with fluffy green tea pastry cream, which I've seen on Instagram and around New York so many times but could never justify buying (friends that will validate all of your eating habits > everything).

We meet up with Daniel again, this time in the Meatpacking District. The Meatpacking District is really cool, because it's so hip and high-fashion now, but a couple of decades though, these cobblestone streets were filled with blood from all of the slaughterhouses that occupied it. I have mixed feelings about gentrification, but you have to admit that's pretty cool.

J.Crew fall collection

J.Crew fall collection

We stumble upon Ample Hills Creamery, which I've definitely been recommended before, or seen on a BuzzFeed list, and despite the 40°F weather, Tia and I split an ice cream flight (anotha one).

I can't even remember which flavors we got, but the standouts were the Coffee Toffee Coffee (exactly what it sounds like) and the Snap, 'Mallow, Pop!, which was basically Rice Krispie Treat ice cream. Amazing. Don't get the mint, though. It was the only flavor we didn't like. It was a disappointmint. God, I'm hilarious.

Ice cream flight!

Ice cream flight!

West coast represent...olé

West coast represent...olé

We hang out a bit and then head over to Chelsea to see the High Line, an old railroad line that was converted into an above-ground public park.

"Sleepwalker" (2014)

"Sleepwalker" (2014)

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It was one of my favorite haunts in the summer, because the weather is hot and people are walking around drinking Blue Bottle coffee and eating ice pops, or relaxing on the wooden lounge chairs that overlook the river. They have movies at night in the summer, too.

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It's just a really nice place to be, and I love how they took what little space they could find in the city and put in a park. There's also the Low Line, which is an underground park, with trees and everything, but we don't know where it is and I'm pretty sure it's not finished yet. But it's on my ever-growing list of places to visit in New York.

We walk down by the Hudson River, which is really beautiful at sunset and you can see all the way to Jersey.

"I can't feel my face rn"

"I can't feel my face rn"

Generic Romantic Comedy, coming soon to a theater near you

Generic Romantic Comedy, coming soon to a theater near you

And then we head to Chelsea Market for dinner. I get Taiwanese beef noodle soup, hoping it's half as good as the Chef Hung one that Conrad, Sam, and I had twice in Taipei. Unfortunately, it is not. It is good, but after you've had the real thing, everything else is just mediocre.

We go to Washington Square Park and meet up with Rekha's friend, and Daniel decides to play a "game" where he tries to find it from memory, which means I am left watching helplessly with my GPS in hand while Daniel leads us around Midtown insisting it's "right around the corner" (it is not, and we take several wrong turns before we find it). It's so crazy hanging out with my high school friends in New York. My favorite people in my favorite place. It's like worlds colliding, which always makes me stupidly happy. It's also crazy that we're 23 years old and still doing the same dumb things we did in high school, like running around a city trying to find something from memory. It's like spontaneous midnight beach hangouts 2.0.

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Washington Square Park is in an awesome, central location, and it's right next to Bobst and a lot of NYU buildings so that's where the students hang out. We originally mean to get boba since there's a Kung Fu Tea somewhere, but we somehow end up at one of my favorite dessert places ever, Spot Dessert Bar in St. Mark's Place, which I've literally been obsessed with ever since my friend Caren introduced me to it three years ago. I actually take every single one of my friends to this place, because I will make any excuse to go here.

Their desserts are a work of art. The dessert "tapas" are seasonal, so they're always changing, but they're always so beautiful and innovative, like Oreo berry cheesecake that looks like a plant or Thai tea crème brûlée. They make other dessert places seem so boring in comparison (sorry Extraordinary Desserts). My favorite is the Molten Green Tea Lava Cake, which is honestly the perfect dessert. It's super-rich from the green tea and chocolate, but not in an overbearing or overly sweet way, and it's paired with a nice green tea ice cream and decorated with crunchy little wafer ball things. So cute. And the presentation is just unreal.

Matcha Lava

Matcha Lava

Milky Puff

Milky Puff

It takes a really good dessert to get me to each that much chocolate.

To top off our trip to New York, we meet up with our friend Ben, who also moved here recently. We go to Beer Authority, which is this really cool craft beer restaurant. I get a peach beer, which is surprisingly good, and Daniel and I split the mac and cheese, which is amazing.

TPHS forever

TPHS forever

It's kind of nice to catch up as high-school-friends-turned adults. It feels very adulty. But it's also nice to know that some things never change, and we're still the kids who were on Falconer and played in the school band together. Growing up is honestly the strangest thing. I'm still not quite used to it, after 23 years. I don't know if I'll ever be used to it. But I feel like, in a weird way, that keeps me young at heart (like I don't already sound a million years old). I honestly think the secret to real happiness is always maintaining your sense of wonder. Because if you can't be delighted by the little things in life, then what's the fun in that?

DAY 8: NEW YORK

As the final, essential stop in our trip, we get Shack Shack for lunch in Midtown.

Rekha catches her flight back home so it's just me, Tia, and Daniel, and we hang out in Union Square for a bit, and then go to Central Park.

It's an absolutely gorgeous day out today, nothing like the insane cold when I got here just a couple days ago. We go to the castle on the lake, which, as it turns out, is now a meteorology station, and laze around on the rocks.

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And then it's time to go home. Lyft is a nightmare because of work traffic, so I take a very stressful train ride to the airport and make it to the gate with around 0.2 seconds to spare.

I see this poem on a poster on the train to the airport, and for some reason fall in love with it:

"Subway" by Billy Collins

As you fly swiftly underground
with a song in your ears
or lost in the maze of a book,

remember the ones who descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite,

to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone.
Remember as you come up into the light.‎

And thus ends my tour of the Iconic Cities of the Midwest/East Coast (still need to go to Philly and St. Louis and back to Boston and D.C. again). I had so much fun, and it's been such a whirlwind of a vacation, and a nice little break after working for six months. As much as I love San Diego, a part of my heart will always belong to what I refer to as my second home.

There's a very old-world charm about New York that makes it so appealing, but there's also so much happening, all the time. It's part of its aliveness that I've been enamored with ever since I was little. I think that's why the "Subway" poem resonated with me so much. New York just makes you feel like the entire world is open to you with possibilities, and that's what I love about it.

A couple of my friends have told me recently that they used to want to live here, but not anymore. But I'm convinced I belong in this city. This is really where I want to be, where I need to be, at least for a little while, and I think I've always known that.

So, hopefully I see you very soon, New York. Until next time.

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HAPPENING MEOW