postcards from new york, no. 3: summer camp
Well, it’s certainly been awhile since I’ve written one of these! It felt especially timely because earlier this month was my second anniversary in New York—I mentioned in my last postcard that I didn’t feel like a New Yorker, but now I feel as though I’ve truly settled. When I’m back in California it feels very much like a temporary visit, and I think of New York as “home” now, which is a strange realization.
But I’m still just as much in awe of it as ever. Sometimes on gloomy days at work, I’ll look out the rain-dotted windows and see the clusters of buildings rising out of the mist, people and taxis darting around the streets. Or I’ll feel the warm slant of sunlight on my skin and see people relaxing mid-day on rooftop gardens under the bright blue sky and think, Damn, I’m so lucky.
I moved to a temporary apartment in Chinatown, which is amazing because it’s a great location, but it’s also a six-floor walk-up and a two-minute walk to three different boba shops. The latter sounds like it would be a good thing, but it’s actually terrible for someone with no impulse control and pretty much cancels out the six-floor walk-up. But I will say that I’m much happier in this apartment, thanks to escaping a terrible (and quite literally dirty) roommate situation and being a seven-minute walk away from my favorite dumpling spot in the city and a 15-minute walk away from both Target and Trader Joe’s. Originally, I was thinking about moving to the West Village when this lease ends, but now I’m seriously considering staying in Chinatown, just for convenience’s sake. I personally would rather be near Hong Kong Supermarket than Chelsea Market, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Writing this a whole year after my last one means I’ve once again witnessed the glorious (if short) transformation from winter to spring. It’s seriously magical, watching all of the trees bloom to life and the color palette of the city completely change in a matter of weeks.
And now it’s summer again, which means spending as many of the impossibly hot and lethargy-inducing hours of the day in air-conditioned places as possible. But on the plus side, when I spend a lot of time at home, I notice that I actually enjoy cleaning quite a lot, which is surprising if you knew me at all as a child. But now I’m really into Friday Night Chores, which I’ve mentioned before, and I’ve recently started cleaning the bathroom when I need a clearer headspace. It just feels so cathartic and comforting. And I think I just like the feeling of knowing that I’ve organized at least one thing in my life since the rest of my life is a mess; at least my apartment is clean and it feels like a fresh start.
Plus, summer means warm nights with a light breeze and some really spectacular sunsets.
I’ve visited lots of museums (more on this later), but I recently went to The Frick Collection and I was absolutely amazed that I’d never visited before. It’s a whole other level of museum—it’s in a billionaire’s former mansion so it looks appropriately ornate, with rich carpets, stone walls, and velvet drapes, with casual Monets and Degases adorning the walls. It’s the kind of place where the furniture has curved legs painted gold, the ceilings are made of carved wood, the baroque paintings are as large as the walls themselves, and the marble stairs are draped in carpet, with wrought-iron bannisters and intricate candelabras lighting the way.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures of anything except the atrium, which was gorgeous, but it was disappointing because the special exhibition the day I went was stunning. It was dedicated to Luigi Valadier, an Italian artist that created amazing miniature replicas of buildings out of colored marble and precious stone, and was the first American exhibit to do so. His best works were called desers—one was housed at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the other at the Louvre in Paris—a phonetic play on the word “dessert,” since they were placed on the table upon it being cleared after a meal, table centerpieces of miniature ruins designed for European aristocrats (and if that isn’t the most aristocratic thing you’ve ever heard then you...live a very different life than I do). The most complete one was from Madrid and was housed at The Frick and it was a sight to behold—a circular ring of blue and green columns with creamy white stairs, two caramel-colored arches and two obelisks of red and green stone flanking the sides. Everything was meticulously placed on a floor maid of swirling red, green, and blue marble, almost floral in design. It sounds beautiful, and yet my description of it is extremely poor compared to seeing it in person. This is what one of them looks like; it’s around nine feet long in total.
The Met is an old favorite of mine, but their special exhibitions lately have been killing it. There was Jewelry: The Body Transformed, which ran from November of last year until this February, and the Met Gala’s much-discussed Camp: Notes on Fashion.
The jewelry exhibit was particularly interesting. Each section was dedicated to the ways in which jewelry transforms the body for particular consumption. I liked that it was arranged by type, rather than by culture or time period; it was intended to show similarities despite those things. It was described as “a series of vignettes,” where the groupings were supposed to tell stories. From jewelry used to preserve corpses in Ancient Egypt to jewelry designed to make noise in order to call upon spirits in New Guinea, jewelry has always served a purpose. The sections were named according to purpose—The Divine Body, The Regal Body, The Transcendent Body, The Alluring Body, The Resplendent Body.
The narrative of museum exhibits is something I’ve always paid attention to since I talked with a strategist at an agency in San Francisco. Prior to becoming a strategist, she’d worked as a curator for the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, and part of her job meant arranging the exhibits to tell stories and educate visitors. Creating narratives around a point of view with bits and pieces of information is something we do a lot as strategists, and going through the jewelry exhibit, I really admired the story that the curators had put together around the universal appeal of decoration. Also, did you know jewelry predates cave paintings? Because I definitely did not.
The Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit was also really interesting, mostly because of the sheer outrageousness of it all.
I wrote a little bit about it in a recent Minute Thoughts, but I enjoyed seeing it again—I’ve gone three times now, all with different people. Quite possibly my favorite fact about Camp is that Susan Sontag dedicated her essay to Oscar Wilde, because the man was quintessential Camp (Vox wrote a great piece on it here, but honestly just look at him). I don’t think enough people know how hilarious he is, because I feel like everyone read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school, but in my opinion The Importance of Being Earnest is a criminally underrated gem.
And at my little cousin’s request, I accompanied her to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which was...unexpectedly hilarious. Maybe because I’m not well-educated on dog breeding and showmanship, but I had no idea it was in New York (I’d always assumed it was in London), and I was surprised that it was like...a legitimate event. It even airs on Fox Sports. Not joking. The show began in 1876 in the same place, the Westminster Hotel, which is now Madison Square Garden, and has endured the Great Depression, two World Wars, and 9/11. It seems as though no threat, foreign or international, will deter people from prancing their dogs around for fun.
They parade all of them out, in two long lines on either side of the arena, and then show them one by one, citing some facts about each breed while judges examine the dogs and trot them around. I don’t know how the announcers comment without laughing (a sample: “Its profuse eyebrows suggest the look of a worldly but amiable Frenchman.” That is a real quote about an actual dog). The dog owners also have to run with the dogs, which is also quite funny. There was also a moment during the intermission where the entire stadium sang “happy birthday” to a 102-year-old WWII veteran. I adored all of it.
I’ve tried to make an effort to be more involved in communities, like my strategy ones and women-only ones like Ladies Get Paid and The Cosmos. I was a mentor for a career development festival and went to a strategy megaclass with some of the most well-known strategists in the world (more on this later). I also went to The Cosmos Night Market and an event at The Wing for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’ve always liked going to these events I find around town—lectures, screenings, workshops, book discussions—and I usually go alone, because I’m there to learn. But sometimes I forget that one of the best parts of college was talking about what you’ve learned with other people. So as difficult as it is for an introvert, I’m trying to be a little bit more social at these things. It’s a process.
Gwendolyn came to visit, as her last hurrah before she moves to San Diego! I’ve begged her for two whole years to come and visit me, but this was the first time since I’d moved here, and it was for a good reason. I’m so excited she’s moving to my hometown. When I graduated college, I only had two friends left in San Diego because all of my UCSB friends were from LA and the Bay, but somehow I now have many—Chianna is there, Gwendolyn is moving there, Josh has moved back home, and Rekha’s at UCSD now.
We went for tea at The Met (I feel like I drag all of my good friends to afternoon tea at some point in our friendship), did an escape room, and went to Smorgasburg (of course). It was a great weekend. But now I’m also excited to go back home knowing all of my friends are there for me.
I’ve also eaten a lot, which is a surprise to absolutely no one. Back in January, I did Restaurant Week with my friend Sunny and we went to Astor Court at the St. Regis where we ate ridiculously fancy plates like tuna tartare, champagne risotto, and blue crab ravioli. It was delicious, but I don’t know if I’d go for it not during Restaurant Week. But it was one of the most decadent dining experiences I’ve had in my life. I don’t know how people eat like that all the time. Sometimes, you just want In-N-Out.
I finally tried those fluffy Japanese pancakes that are all the rage now. These were delicious. The pancakes were okay; I think it was mostly the novelty of them being so fluffy, but the pancake batter itself was nothing special. I vowed to try and recreate them. But what made them was the thick, custardy vanilla sauce they were smothered with, and the pile of sugar brûléed to a crisp on top. Spectacular. I found out when I went to Smorgasburg again and Tia ordered them that they’ve since changed the formula of the vanilla sauce (something only Tia and I would notice) and it’s a lot eggier now, which I don’t dislike, but the other sauce was much better. And now I don’t have a tasting reference for when I try to recreate that, which is disappointing.
I also decided to deviate from my normal Matcha Lava Cake at Spot Dessert Bar and got the Matcha Waterfall, which is a little dense whipped cream-covered matcha sponge cake, and it was delicious. They had a raspberry one for Valentine’s Day, and Kevin and I went when he visited me, and it was even better than the matcha one—piled with luscious whipped cream and dusted with some dried raspberry powder for just the right amount of tanginess.
And speaking of...perhaps the biggest news is that Kevin moved to the city in February! It’s so nice having him in my favorite city because we can actually do things together in person (what a concept) like searching for the best truffle fries in the city or cooking a recipe I found on a food blog or going to bar trivia. It’s even nice to just walk around together, something I missed when he was in LA. He lets me wake him up at 4 am to watch Bastille perform in Central Park in the pouring rain, and I let him take me to baseball games. As it turns out, Citi Field is really beautiful and baseball games are actually pretty fun when you have absolutely no stake in either of the teams. Me, Kevin, Quincy, and PMO watched the Cardinals vs. the Mets together, and it was rad—I don’t think I’d gone to a baseball game since my family would go to Padres games at Petco Park with Josh’s family maybe 15 years ago. Am I...becoming a sports fan? What’s next? Will I start watching football games? Time will tell (probably not, but I have become very invested in soccer lately—the Women’s World Cup was just *chef’s kiss* and I’m fully obsessed with Alex Morgan).
He’s also always willing to do really nerdy things with me, like wake up early to go to The Met’s members-only summer morning hours or accompany me to Trader Joe’s not to shop but just because I want to show him all of my favorite items. But by far the nerdiest thing we have ever done together was go to Punderdome, which was recommended by my coworker at Madwell. It’s a Brooklyn-based pun competition. That’s right. A pun competition. It was just three hours of people telling puns, but the structure of it is actually pretty genius. Contestants are given a minute and a half to write as many pun as they can about a certain topic, and then they take turns delivering them. I was thoroughly impressed with their creativity and quick thinking. During intermission, they chose an audience member to go up against a reigning champion, Beat Bobby Flay-style. He got a minute and a half prep time and she got zero prep time, and they went head-to-head. The finals was two of the highest scorers of the night going against each other, like a rap battle, and it was hilarious because every time someone delivered a particularly clever one, the audience would go “OOOOH” really loudly, just like in a rap battle. It was great.
His family visited for the first time, and we had so much fun showing them the High Line and Central Park. We walked 42 miles over the course of four days...we effectively walked the length of Manhattan four times. In this heat. Ridiculous. But I suppose the Saturdays that we spend doing absolutely nothing but staying inside and watching Netflix (we adore Kim’s Convenience and our latest obsession is Los Espookys which reminds me a lot of What We Do in the Shadows, both thematically and humor-wise) probably evens it out.
Mia, who I first introduced in my 2018 Year in Review, is also doing well. She’s definitely a spoiled little cat—she’s now taken to yelling very loudly (“Moooom?”) every time I come home from work late, demanding to be fed. For some reason, cats can tell time very well, and she knows when her meals are overdue. She’s very cuddly now; whenever I’m lying down on my bed she’ll come and snuggle into me or pat my leg with her paw asking to be petted, and this may not seem very affectionate, but it’s a million times better than how she used to be. She’s very tolerant of being petted now and likes the base of her tail scratched and her belly rubbed, which is apparently a little unusual for a cat. She’s also taken to stealing my silicon sponge out of the sink when I’m not looking and chewing on it, which I’m not as happy about.
She also loves Kevin; she took to him right away and now she’ll sometimes rest on him when he’s lying down, which is dumb because she didn’t do that until like six months in for me but whatever it’s fine. Not bitter at all.
Next month marks the one-year anniversary of her adoption, which I’ve also decided will be her birthday, since she was born in the wild and no one knows her actual birthday. I’m so excited. I was going to bake her a little cat-friendly cake, but I was disappointed to find out that cats lack the taste buds for sweetness so they aren’t as excited about sweets as dogs are. And she would absolutely murder me if I tried to put her in a party hat or a sweater. So I’ll have to find another way to celebrate. Maybe a whole chicken leg or some yogurt. Cats are not difficult creatures to please.
But! In honor of my second year in my favorite city and to prove that I do actually get out of the house, I’m posting my master list of things to do, eat, and drink in New York. I think I was among the first of my friends to move here from California, so a lot of people ask me for recommendations and this is what I always send them. I’ve spent a full two years curating this list, marking each place on a Google Map and making note of all the little things to know as you explore each place, and I’m really proud of this version because I finally organized it into Airtable, which makes me unreasonably happy.
I first moved to New York in 2017, with one suitcase, just a couple of friends here, no apartment, and no job. It was a whirlwind for sure. But this list is a reminder of everything I’ve done and loved over the past couple of years; the way I’ve made this city feel truly mine. So this is my gift to you and my personal pride and joy (feel free to share around).
And if you’re ever in the city, don’t forget to come say hi :) I’m always down for soup dumplings.