Hawaii

Food:

Some Hawaiian classics include kalua pig (shredded pork rubbed with sea salt and slow-cooked in an underground pit), lau lau (meat steamed inside taro leaves), and lomi-lomi salmon (fresh tomato and salmon salad, with Maui onions).

The poke trend is finally slowing down in New York, but that’s only because it was never real poke. Poke was invented in Hawaii and is completely different from the glorified salad found at fast-casual poke shops on the mainland. The raw fish (usually tuna, octopus, or salmon) should be marinating in sauce (usually soy sauce, salt, green onions, and seaweed) all day and served in a plastic tub, sold by weight. The most satisfying day you can possibly have in Hawaii is going to Foodland, ordering a tub of poke from the fish counter, and eating it on the beach on a hot day.

Malasadas are originally from Portugal, but when Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii in the 1870s to work on plantations, they brought these fried balls of dough covered in sugar, and they became an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine. Pipeline Bakeshop is the best place for them.

Shave ice is smoother than the shaved ice you find on the mainland. Waiola is my favorite. You can also add ice cream, azuki beans, and other toppings.

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Honolulu has the best Japanese food outside of Japan, so obviously there are too many Japanese restaurants to list, but here are some of my favorites. For sushi, go to Mitch’s Sushi (Obama’s favorite!), Kin Chan, or Imanas Tei. For onigiri (triangular musubis), head over to Mana Bu’s early and bring a few to the beach. Try Izakaya Gazen for tofu, Marukami Udon for udon, Inaba for tempura and soba, and Nisshodo Candy Store for some of the best chi chi dango mochi of your life.

Brunch: Plumeria Beach House at the Kahala Hotel (get the breakfast buffet)

Dim sum: Jade Dynasty (try the snow mountain buns — they’re just like the ones from Tim Ho Wan, but don’t make a fuss about them)

Korean BBQ: Yakiniku Don-Day (sit in the outside section)

Special occasions: Alan Wong or Senia

Ice cream: Bubbies — best mochi ice cream you’ll ever have!

Coffee: Island Vintage

Cookies: The Cookie Corner (so much better than Levain!)

Late-night dinner: Zippy’s (get a ZipPac at any of the locations around the island, like a local)

Coco puffs: Liliha Bakery is a diner, but everyone comes for the Coco Puffs, made of choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly with sugar.

Beaches:

North Shore: Where all the famous surfing competitions take place. The North Shore all the way on the other side of the island, so make a day out of it — explore the touristy but charming town of Haleʻiwa, pick up a sandwich at Storto’s and eat it on the beach, and stop by Matsumoto for shave ice after.

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Sandy’s: Obama’s favorite beach! If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be pretty dangerous out here, but of course that’s why people take pride in it.

Makapu’u: Named after the Makapu’u lighthouse on the cliff beside it, this beach is right next to Sandy’s

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View of Makapu’u Beach below

Lanikai: Best beach for photos! The sand is super soft, the waters are calm, and the two islands out in the ocean were just made for the ‘gram.

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Hanauma Bay: This is one of the most touristy beaches in Hawaii (you have to pay and watch a safety video before entering), but there’s a reason why — it’s a protected marine life conservation area, so you can actually snorkel with fish. It’s also gorgeous.

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Hikes:

Maunawili Falls: This is a very lush trail, so make sure to wear bug spray, waterproof clothes, and shoes with traction. At the end of the hike is a waterfall, so you can reward yourself  by taking a swim and jumping off cliffs if you’re feeling brave. Bring a change of clothes (or water bottle to wash yourself off) before you return to your car; you will get muddy!

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Koko Head: This is basically a Stairmaster, but the views of Honolulu are worth it the steep staircase.

Diamond Head: Yes, this is extremely touristy and you actually have to pay to enter, but come before sunrise and you’ll understand why.

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Mariner’s Ridge: I forget if this one is still “officially” closed, but you know what? Just hike it. The views of both Honolulu and the Windward Side are worth it. This is a fairly easy hike.

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Other activities:

Ala Moana: As someone who hates malls, I love Ala Moana. It’s the largest open-air mall in the world, and, while it does have chains, it also has some specialty shops and restaurants that you can only find in Hawaii, and sometimes there are cultural events and performances that occur here.

Hotel hopping in Waikiki: One of my favorite pastimes. I always make sure to stop by the Moana Surfrider (the oldest hotel in Hawaii), Royal Hawaiian (the pink hotel), and Halekulani (probably the classiest hotel in Waikiki).

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ʻIolani Palace: Did you know that Hawaii was once a kingdom? We actually have a fascinating history (I’m surprised movies aren’t constantly made about it), and Hawaii is still the only place in the country with a royal palace. You can tour ʻIolani Palace and understand why many Hawaiians still want sovereignty.

Skydiving: Honestly, skydiving anywhere else seems like a waste. It’s hard to top the views of the coastline.

Sea Life Park: It’s like a toned-down Sea World.

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Drive along the eastern coast for some of the most stunning views of your life. Just be careful!

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Christmas in the Most Cliché City in the World

Christmas in New York reeks of the worst clichés — huddled masses standing around Rockefeller Center to watch the tree lighting, frantic shoppers inside the gaudily-decorated Macy’s on 34th Street, and drunk 21-year-olds dressed up as Santa Claus puking on sidewalks — but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, too. As a lover of the holiday season but abstainer of mingling with tourists from Nebraska et al., here are my tips on how to inundate yourself with all things Christmas while still maintaining your dignity.

Ice skating: After trying almost every ice rink in the city, the only two that seem worthwhile are Prospect Park and Central Park. Prospect Park’s rink (Lakeside at LeFrak Center) is huge. There are two outdoor rinks — one covered, one exposed — that are connected, and the nearby cafe actually serves decent food. Central Park’s rink (Wollman Rink) is more expensive and typically more crowded, but the views of the skyline while you ice skate make up for it. Unsurprisingly, the worst rinks are at Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park due to their pathetic size, nerve-racking ratio of tourists, and strict no-photo policy — avoid them at all costs.

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Holiday markets: Originating in Europe, holiday markets seem made for consumerist Americans, so it’s no surprise that New York now has a bunch of them scattered throughout the city. The one at Union Square is where I always end up buying Christmas gifts, as many items are quite interesting and locally made. Also check out the Brooklyn Flea and the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park, and don’t worry about shopping on an empty stomach because each market has an obligatory food section.

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The Nutcracker: If you’re like me and must watch (or participate in) The Nutcracker every December, New York has some great options. Of course, you should watch New York City Ballet’s version at Lincoln Center at least once, just because the theater itself is so magical, but there are other (and often cheaper) alternatives. In fact, I’m somewhat intrigued by a show called Nutcracker Rouge  — “a blend of burlesque and baroque, in which Cherries strip down to pasties and the Arabian dance takes place on a pole, and not the kind found in the North.” This year will be my first time watching Moscow Ballet‘s production at King’s Theater, the newly-restored theater in my own neighborhood. If you’re feeling cheap, there’s always the free Nutcracker performance at Brookfield Place. The New York Times has a handy article on finding which Nutcracker production is right for you.

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Afternoon tea: While not necessarily a Christmas tradition, I’ve always thought of December as the perfect time for a cozy afternoon tea. My favorite so far has been at the Mandarin Oriental because the food is tinged with Asian flavors, and the views are some of the best in the city. This year I’ll be trying the afternoon tea at Crosby Street Hotel.

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Christmas tree: Tabletop trees are a godsend. They’re convenient enough for lazy Millennials like myself, tiny enough to fit into our New York apartments, and are just the right size to hang what few ornaments a recent transplant might actually own without looking sparse. Most neighborhoods have tree vendors on the sidewalks throughout the month, and for about twenty bucks, you can carry a bit of holiday spirit back to your home. We usually place ours on a table in the corner, have fun decorating it that night, water it once, and never think about it again until, like, March (seriously, it’s scary how long-lasting the trees we’ve bought in New York are!). We have a tradition of buying one new ornament a year, and it’s exciting to see our progression of ornaments each Christmas.

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Baking classes: One of my favorite things about Christmas is the excuse to bake too many gingerbread cookies. But what if you don’t have the necessary appliances, enough space, or even the will to bake on your own? Sign up for one of the many baking classes in New York! I highly recommend Mille-feuille for their intimate macaron, croissant, and éclair classes. You’ll make so many goodies that you’ll share half of them with your coworkers and still have too many for your own good. This year I’ve signed up for Meyers Bageri‘s kanelsnurrer (cinnamon bun) class — perfect for my upcoming Copenhagen trip! Also check out BakedBreads Bakery, Milk Bar, Butter Lane, and Magnolia Bakery.

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Skip the Rockefeller tree: This is no shock to anyone, but Rockefeller Center during Christmas is grossly overrated. The tree is always lopsided, the ice rink is dangerously small, and the crowds are like Target on Black Friday. What can you do instead? Visit the tree at Washington Square Park. Watch the glowing musical stars inside the shops at Columbus Circle. Head uptown to Winters Eve for food, entertainment, and ice sculptures. Or gawk at the elaborate light displays at Brookfield Place.
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Noodle soups: New York is teeming with a wonderful selection of Asian noodle soups. Some of my recommendations include Ippudo (ramen), TsuruTonTan (udon), Sobaya (soba), Mew Men (ramen), Hao Noodle & Tea (upscale Chinese), Mr. Taka Ramen (ramen), Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle (cheap Chinese), and Nakamura (ramen). There is no other food that makes my stomach happier during this season.
Staycation: I love staycations. As a child, whenever my parents felt like escaping the city of Honolulu, we would drive an hour to the other side of the island to spend random weekends at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. There are so many reasons to take a staycation in New York. Maybe you want to stay out late in a specific neighborhood without having to take the subway home late at night. Maybe you’ve been curious about one of the hundreds of hotels in this city. Or maybe you just want a change of scenery. In the winter, especially, you may be sick of hearing your heater clanging all night. Or maybe your heater isn’t even on (if so, file a complaint to 311!). New York has so many fantastic hotels, it seems a shame to only let tourists use them. I took my first staycation last month, at the Ludlow Hotel, and it was such a lovely experience. I was able to stay out late on the Lower East Side and not have to take the 40-minute train ride back home in my heels. And the next morning, I was also able to hang out at one of my favorite coffee shops before the crowds arrived, since my hotel was right next door. For some advice on how to choose a hotel, read my tips here. If you don’t mind spontaneity, One Night is a new app that gives users access to low rates at New York’s hottest hotels (e.g., Ace Hotel, The Standard, Sixty Soho), starting at 3pm every day. The app also works in Los Angeles.
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Hot chocolate: My favorite hot chocolate happens to be from an Italian gelato chain called Grom because they make their hot chocolate by melting dark chocolate gelato and topping it off with thick, homemade whipped cream. There are three Groms in New York, but the largest one is in the West Village. Dominique Ansel, always playful and shamelessly Instagrammable, offers a Blossoming Hot Chocolate in which a marshmallow resembling a closed flower bud is placed in a cup of hot chocolate. Once it hits the hot liquid, the white chocolate cup encasing the marshmallow melts away, causing the marshmallow to expand and blossom into a beautiful marshmallow flower. Jacques Torres and City Bakery also have decadent hot chocolates (pay extra for City Bakery’s huge marshmallow!), and for those of you who don’t like hot chocolate, Chalait is a great place for matcha.

Miscellaneous events: If you still need more Christmas in your life, check out EventBrite and The Skint to browse random holiday-themed events around the city. Housing Works, one of my favorite used bookstores, hosts a quirky event in which dozens of writers and performers participate in a reading of “A Christmas Carol”. If you’re too intimidated to trek all the way to Dyker Heights to see the most famous, over-the-top Christmas decorations in Brooklyn, FreeWalkers offers guided tours. Lots of hotels and bars host ugly sweater parties, if that’s your thing. And Food52, my favorite online blog for foodies, opens a pop-up holiday market in Flatiron each December where you can shop for sophisticated kitchen accessories and watch cooking demos.

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Museums: Winter is an ideal time to go to museums — the sun isn’t beckoning you outside, and museums are a cheap place to spend hours in the warmth. The Met (pay-as-you-like), Natural History (pay-as-you-like), and MoMA (free on Friday nights) are obvious choices, but also check out the Whitney (pay-as-you-like on Friday nights), Brooklyn Museum (free on Saturday nights), Cooper Hewitt (pay-as-you-like on Saturday nights), the Museum of the City of New York (pay-as-you-like), the Rubin Museum (free on Friday nights), New Museum (pay-as-you-wish on Thursday nights), the New York Historical Society (pay-as-you-wish on Friday nights), Studio Museum in Harlem (free on Sundays), Transit MuseumMuseum of Chinese in America (free every first Thursday), the Brooklyn Historical Society (pay-as-you-like), and Museum of the Moving Image. Certain museums, like the Met, Whitney, and New Museum, have stunning views, so it’s like you get a bonus observation deck on top of admission.

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s hard not to feel the excitement in the city. If anything, think of this season as an excuse to watch burlesque Nutcrackers, perfect your macaron skills, and finally check out that obscene mall in the Financial District.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Congratulations, Tomato Head! Love, Curmudgeon

My brother Sam graduates from high school today and will be heading to Chicago in a few months to embark on a five-year architecture program. I’m not sure if this is normal for a sibling — especially one who hasn’t lived in the same house as her brother in years — but I feel as emotional as a proud, nostalgic parent watching her baby leave the nest.

Sam and I are nine years apart. Because of this large gap, we’ve never fought, never had to compete with each other, and spent half our childhoods like only children. I was an only child for the first nine years of my life, and when he was still in elementary school, I moved to Portland for college, and soon after that, I moved to New York and have only been able to see him about once a year.

In many ways, Sam is very different from me — and I believe this is at least partly due to the fact that he (and our parents) learned from my difficulties: he never ditched his numerous extracurricular activities; he doesn’t constantly misplace his valuables; and he found a clear passion at an early age. Meanwhile, I had a love-hate relationship with my 13 years of ballet and piano lessons; I’ve lost purses and cell phones and expensive jewelry as a child; and I’ve had so many passions throughout my life, from philosophy to art history to investment banking (hey, don’t judge! I had a cool AP Econ teacher!). My parents always did their best to cultivate every passion I’ve had, chasing after my random interests with all relevant knowledge and resources they could provide. Fortunately for them, my brother was a lot easier.

And, yet, I still see so much of myself in Sam. Siblings have such a distinctive relationship. Despite our nine-year difference, Sam and I grew up in relatively identical environments, in the same house, with the same heavily-scheduled lives stuffed with practices and performances and cultural events and too many AP classes. We both love big cities, took lessons from the same piano teacher, and got dragged to all the weekly events that my parents attend. We both dislike driving, almost as much as we dislike Republicans. It must be reassuring to my parents that even though we are from different generations, Sam and I are most definitely from the same parents.

What bonds us the most, though, just like with all other siblings, are our inside jokes. My most vivid memories of Sam involve us laughing together. Sam is goofy and clever, entertaining and easy to entertain. Laughing comes easy to him, and when we’re together, he brings out the goofiness in me. Regardless of how much time passes, we can still remember our inside jokes from years ago — the kind of jokes that don’t sound funny when you explain them to other people; the kind of jokes that our parents didn’t even try to understand when we were too busy giggling in the backseat of my mom’s car; the kind of jokes that bind two people together forever. Our goofy moments have been some of my favorite memories.

College is such a defining phase of one’s life. I can’t wait to watch Sam expand his mind with (and stress over) new architectural concepts, grow into someone both similar and different from myself, and continue to make me proud, goofy big sister.

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At the aquarium

“You’re from Hawaii? Why Would You Ever Leave?!”

If you read my post from two years ago, you know that all it took was one trip for Anthony and me to decide that we wanted to eventually move back to my hometown. After living in New York for almost four years, I’ve gotten used to East Coasters asking me, “You’re from Hawaii? Why would you ever leave?!” I’d been asked that question during college as well, but in New York, Hawaii is even more of a distant, exotic paradise, and everyone seems to want to trade places with me. Our plan is still to return to Hawaii — but most likely in the future (i.e., three or four years) as opposed to the near future (i.e., one or two years).

The thing is, I love New York.

I love the diversity here, and that’s saying a lot from someone who grew up in Hawaii. At work, I sit by a Chinese, an Italian, and a Jamaican, while my train is usually a mix of Russians, blacks, Hasidic Jews, hipsters, and — more recently — French tourists. You can find every type of cuisine and hear more languages than anywhere else.

I love that I can watch a trend start in New York and then spread to other lesser cities a few months later.

I love our subway system, which runs 24 hours a day and covers such an expansive area. I even love my commute every morning, during which there is absolutely no seat on the Q train, so I spend those 45-minutes standing — half awake, half asleep — in the corner. Sometimes, if I’m feeling perky, I’ll read a book. New Yorkers are probably the most well-read people in the country, and we have our subways (with no internet connection, for some reason) to thank for that.

I love that I’ve been here long enough to see restaurants come and go. Nothing is stagnant in this city, and though I’ve had to witness some of my favorites disappear, I’ve accepted that it’s part of the circle of life and certainly beats being stuck with the same sub-par restaurants forever.

I love that, even though most of my friends don’t live in New York, I’ve been able to see nearly all of them just because everyone visits New York at some point.

I love New York women. New York women are ambitious, always speak their mind, multitask productively, can dress impeccably for every season, and know when to put on their bitch face to ward off the cat-callers.

I love that I can walk (and jaywalk!) twenty blocks and not even notice, whereas walking one block in the suburbs seems agonizing.

I love that everyone is a foodie here. I even gave up my restaurant blog when I started living in New York because, honestly, I can’t compete with 8 million people.

I love the old architecture all over the city. I still find it breathtaking to walk through the Flatiron District or Soho and notice all the details put into structures centuries ago. On the west side of the country, things are more cheaply-made, constructed at a time when mass production became the norm.

I love New York pizza, from the trendy Neapolitan-style found at every mid-range eatery now, to the $3 slices that are exponentially better than anything you can find in the rest of America. Like gelato in Italy, you don’t have to do research to find a good pizzeria in New York; you can just stumble into the corner shop — and that is what makes New York pizza so great.

I love being able to recognize so many places in movies and TV shows — and not just touristy places on Manhattan. My street in Brooklyn, just like every street in this city, has been filmed numerous times since we’ve lived here.

I love how talented some of the subway performers are. If they were in any other city, they’d be huge, but in New York, they’re just nameless buskers.

I love that, even though all New Yorkers think they’re the most important person in the world, in times of need, there’s something that bonds us together. I’ve experienced countless instances of the beauty and humanity of New Yorkers — because in the end, we’re all just trying to survive in this crazy city together.

I can go on and on about the things that make New York amazing, but most importantly, I love the life that Anthony and I have built together here. Being so far away from our family and many of our closest friends, we’ve been able to define ourselves and learn about each other more deeply than we would have if we had been surrounded by familiarity.

I love our little Brooklyn apartment, with its clanging heaters and no view, but with shelves full of worn books and cherished DVDs. Our kitchen is tiny yet surprisingly efficient and stuffed with appliances that prove how much we love to cook. On our walls hang historical maps of New York City, and on our fridge are magnets from various countries that we’ve explored together.

I love that we still find fascinating, quirky things to do in this city, even though we seem to have already explored it more than most New Yorkers. (I blame my obsessive research tendencies and Anthony’s ability to appreciate everything.)

I love that we wake up at the same time, even though I don’t technically have to be up for another hour, and always eat breakfast together. The more I see how other couples interact, the more I can’t help but appreciate our own relationship. It’s in the little things — the way in which we meet each other after work every day so we can catch the train home together; the way in which we communicate openly and respectfully, even when it’s hard for me; and the way in which we split household chores evenly (a man cleaning as much as the woman?! Imagine that!).

I recently visited Hawaii by myself. Though it was beautiful as always, it didn’t feel right. The main reason is because Anthony wasn’t with me — after all, it’s not the location but who you’re with that really makes a place your home. However, another reason is because I’m not ready for paradise yet, and I know I’d have been miserable if I had stayed in Hawaii.

Honolulu is certainly the best place to raise a family (New Yorkers can attest to that), and Anthony and I are excited that we’ll be able to raise ours there. We can’t wait to take our future kids to pristine beaches and stunning hikes every weekend, to feed them the best Asian food in the country, and to expose them to so many cultural opportunities that only a city like Honolulu can offer. However, I’m only 26, and neither of us is ready to start a family yet — especially when we belong in New York right now.

A hui hou, Hawaii. We’ll be back, just when we’re old (i.e., in our thirties).

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One of my favorite things to do in New York: picnicking in Central Park with my love

 

Defined by Our Family Traditions

It’s been four years since I last went home for Christmas, which probably explains why I’m so excited for next week. For the last three years, I’ve spent the holidays either with Anthony’s loving family in California, on a random trip to Toronto, or in New York when my parents decided to visit me instead. All three years had been fun, of course, but nothing beats going home. I imagine most of us feel that way. Despite the tragic commercialization of the season, this time of year gets two things right: a desire to be with family, and an appreciation (or at least toleration) of whatever quirky, incomprehensible traditions your family does.

Hosting Parties

My family used to host a Christmas party at our house each year. I would go all out for these parties — I’d play a series of Christmas songs on our Bösendorfer grand piano (I always saved “The Christmas Song” for last because it pulled the most heartstrings); I’d print out the lyrics and create little booklets for each guest so they could carol along with me; and I’d provide themed games and prizes (paid for by my parents, of course). Looking back on it, I must have looked so silly — a little precocious child, taking over a party of amused adults from my dad’s university. Our guests would spread out throughout the house, settling in the kitchen (for those who liked to watch my parents cook), living room, patio (for those who wanted to play pool), dining room, and TV room (for the less sociable guests). The enjoyment of our guests was always such a satisfying achievement to me, and my love for hosting parties has persisted.

The Nutcracker

I’ve performed in The Nutcracker just a handful of times, but almost any year that I wasn’t in it, I would watch it — either Ballet Hawaii‘s version at Blaisdell Concert Hall, or NYCB‘s version at Lincoln Center. Christmas never really felt complete until I saw the Snowflakes chaine-ing across the stage, as white paper “snowflakes” fell from the ceiling. The Nutcracker was one of the few times my company would hire professionals from around the world to play the really difficult roles (e.g., Cavalier, Sugar Plum Fairy), so students like me actually had the chance to perform with (and geek out over) ballet legends. I think all of us had a childhood crush on Joaquin de Luz, so when I saw him perform in Swan Lake a few months ago, I could feel the 14-year-old in me dying of happiness.

The Nutcracker is often looked down upon in the ballet world; it can be appreciated by people who don’t normally watch ballets, and there are enough easy roles that can be performed by nonprofessional dancers. Regardless, my ears still perk up every time I hear “March of the Toy Soldiers” and “Waltz of the Flowers”, even when they’re playing awkwardly at Duane Reade.

Camping by the Tree

The tree of choice for my family was usually a six-foot Noble Fir. We’d dedicate a few days to decorate the tree, each night bringing out a couple of storage bins filled with ornaments collected over the years. Some years, we even set up a tent by the tree and slept in the living room together while Christmas music filled the vaulted ceilings. It was our version of camping. I don’t know which one of my parents came up with this crazy idea (probably my dad), but I ended up writing about this experience for my college application essays. (Admissions Office of Reed College, did you find this endearing??)

Baking Gingerbread Cookies

It’s my job to help bake gingerbread cookies. We use a recipe from an old, disintegrating cookie cookbook that my parents have had for ages. These are still the best gingerbread cookies I’ve ever had — soft, chewy, full of spices, and exponentially better than those store-bought or pre-made dough versions. Baking these cookies takes the whole evening. It involves sifting flour, using a KitchenAid mixer, rolling out the dough onto a huge marble slab, and refrigerating balls of leftover dough to be used for another batch. Even our icing was made from scratch, using meringue powder, water, and confectioner’s sugar. The best part, of course, was decorating the cookies. Our cookie cutter collection has expanded over time, and our containers of decorations are a sight in themselves: sprinkles in every color imaginable, gum drops, mini M&Ms, sour belts, etc. My friends would look forward to when I’d bring cookies for them on the last day of school before winter break.

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Ready for decorating!

Analyzing the Neighborhood

My family always dedicated a night to Honolulu City Lights, a month-long event that features elaborate Hawaiian Christmas decorations all over Downtown Honolulu, but what I enjoyed even more was walking around my own neighborhood with my dog Smoothie. Christmas decorations are a great way to learn about class hierarchy. I grew up in a neighborhood in which residents tend to be either upper-middle class or disgustingly rich. If you’re like my family, your house probably has subtle (or not-so-subtle) decorations that you’ve amassed from department stores over the years. We have glowing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger statues standing around a spiral Christmas tree in our rock garden, all of which are linked up to a timer so that the lights turn on automatically when it’s dark outside.

But then there are the other homes in our neighborhood that remain completely dark and devoid of Christmas decorations. These are not the mere million-dollar houses that I’m used to; these are the mansions that cost tens of millions and function as vacation homes to the elite who have their parties in Kahala and hire valet parking for their guests — much different from the wholesome parties my family throws! Growing up, I’ve seen families forced to move out, while speculators swoop in and knock down the older homes in favor of ostentatious estates that will be visited a few times a year.

Oh wait, we were talking about Christmas traditions…

Christmas Eve Dinner

Our big dinner was on Christmas Eve, and my parents usually cooked something like paella or grilled shrimp and honey-glazed ham. I’d spend the afternoon making a menu for our dinner, using any construction paper, snowflake stickers, glitter, and stamps I could find in my bedroom. I still make menus for every special meal, even when it’s just Anthony and me.

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One of our Christmas dinners (and my menu on the right)

Opening Our Presents

On Christmas morning, my brother and I would wake up — usually earlier than on any other day, of course. We were allowed to check our stockings, which hung by the oven because Hawaiians don’t have chimneys, but we weren’t allowed to touch our gifts under the tree until after breakfast. When I was younger, Christmas breakfast was probably the fastest meal I ate all year. When I got older, however, I would try to play it cool by taking my time and pretending that I wasn’t looking forward to opening presents that much. When we finally got to open our presents, the four of us would take turns, and one person (usually my mom or me) would write down where each gift came from so it would be easy to write thank-you cards later.

The traditions we grow up with define the type of person we become. My traditions explain why I know all the words to more Christmas songs than I care to admit, why I really want a KitchenAid mixer even though our tiny kitchen in Brooklyn doesn’t have the counter space for it, and why there is a collection of menus on our fridge — a great way to document exactly which wine we liked that one Thanksgiving, by the way.

Appreciate the random traditions your family does. Anthony and I have already created some of our own Christmas traditions since moving to New York: afternoon tea (this year we’re trying the one at the Mandarin Oriental), buying one symbolic ornament a year for our tabletop tree, and gift shopping at the holiday pop-up market in Union Square. It will be interesting to see which traditions from our families and from our time in New York will live on when we start our own family down the line.

May you all be stuffed with good food, warm memories, and traditions (old and new) this season!

Is Maturity Just Realizing that Your Childhood Dream was Wrong?

Years ago, my dad told me something along the lines of “Those who’ve had good lives tend to end up where they’re from.” At the time, I was in the midst of my decade-long obsession with New York, so I brushed his words of wisdom aside and didn’t think about it again until recently.

About a month ago, I visited Hawaii. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but this week-long trip changed my life–and Anthony’s.

Since moving to New York almost two years ago, this was my second time to visit Hawaii, and Anthony’s very first since he moved east with me. Our trip was filled with beautiful beaches and hikes, fantastic food, reconnecting with old friends, and, most importantly, spending time with my family. It was a perfect vacation–and yet, it wasn’t a vacation. This had been my former life, and being there again, as usual, made me feel as though I’d never left. The only difference was that I had now been living in my dream city with an awesome boyfriend and a new appreciation for my hometown.

During the end of our trip, I hesitantly implied to Anthony that it would be so much easier to raise our future family here. He laughed and said, “I’ve been trying to hint at that this whole time!” The fact that both of us had come to this realization relieved me–and excited me. Are we really considering moving back to Hawaii? Am I really considering leaving New York, the place I’ve been obsessed with for most of my life?

On the plane ride back home, I contemplated our decision and why we had come to it. Our experience in New York has been great, but we are inevitably changing, and as we grow older, our priorities shift. They must.

The week after our trip, Anthony proposed. We were at one of my favorite parks on Manhattan, lounging on the grass after a luau-themed brunch in Soho. I cried, of course, and said “yes” between joyful sobs. His proposal–and my acceptance–wasn’t a surprise. It shouldn’t be, as we had long known that we would eventually get married. Besides, who proposes when they aren’t completely sure of the answer anymore? Perhaps the only significant changes that have occurred due to our engagement so far are: 1) I wear a stunning black Tahitian pearl ring, 2) Our families and friends feel old, and 3) We can finally fantasize about our future family without feeling like we’re jumping the gun too much.

This third fact leads to the suspiciously impeccable timing of our decision to move back to Hawaii to start raising a family. So, why, exactly, am I planning to ditch my dream city for the place that I had been so ready to leave when I was a teenager?

The main reason is that my family lives in Hawaii. I still don’t know any other family that remains so culturally and intellectually stimulated, cooks as well as they do, and dedicates such a large portion of their lives to the underrepresented. Anthony also has some relatives on the island, which works out perfectly. I don’t know how anyone raises children in a country of abominable maternity leave policies without help from family. I’ve read dozens of scandals concerning nannies, so my ability to entrust anyone besides relatives with handling my children has depleted.

When I think about those I know who have grown up in New York, they attended the best schools and are currently doing fairly well–yet, they are almost always heavily-medicated and come from divorced or separated families. That lifestyle may work for others, but I do not want to raise my family that way. Since life in general is easier in Hawaii, raising children the way I want to raise them (i.e., attending the right schools, participating in extracurricular activities, constantly going to various cultural institutions) does not seem so out of reach. I really don’t have the time or energy to make sure my child gets into the perfect preschool that will dictate whether or not they end up in a high school with metal detectors.

People seem happier and healthier in Hawaii. It must be the sun, picture-perfect scenery, and mild climate. I didn’t know that depression–the mental illness for which one can be clinically diagnosed–actually existed until I moved to the Mainland for college. Sometimes when I’m on a subway in New York, I look around and wonder why everyone isn’t crazy. New York’s environment is conducive to going insane.

On a more superficial end, and it may just be my imagination, but people seem more attractive in Hawaii, too. I don’t know if it’s all the racial mixing, natural tans, yearlong access to free outdoor activities, or the fact that Asian influences make everything look better. New York may be the land of supermodels and well-dressed professionals, but Hawaii has naturally beautiful people.

Sure, New York has tons of cultural events like Hawaii, but everything is hyped-up. You have to compete with 8 million people for anything worthwhile. When we were in Hawaii last month, my parents took us to an Okinawan festival. The event was at a college campus a few minutes from our house, so we drove over about fifteen minutes before the event and were able to spread out on the grass with a perfect view of some of the most interesting dance performances I’ve ever seen. This is typical of the events my parents took me to growing up, and it wasn’t until I moved elsewhere that I realized what a privilege this was. In New York, if an event is actually free, there are hour-long lines, and you can forget about being able to leisurely park yourself on the grass with an ideal view. If you don’t want to be treated like cattle in New York, you have to pay big bucks or know the right people.

Also, I don’t know if it’s because Hawaii takes pride in its “Aloha Spirit,” or if Hawaiians just treat me better, but people somehow seem much nicer in Hawaii–and that feeling makes such a difference in a society in which trusting others is crucial for survival.

Of course, not everyone has had the same experiences I have had in Hawaii, and I completely understand why many leave the islands. If, perhaps, my parents hadn’t exposed me to so many great things, or I had grown up in a different neighborhood, I probably would feel very differently. Each experience we have defines who we are and who we want to become.

There are definitely many reasons I’ll miss New York. The best thing about this city, hands down, is its public transportation. This is the factor that always seduces me into never leaving the city. I hate driving and am absolutely terrible at parking; I have dented/scraped my mom’s car far too many times. Even though other American cities boast decent public transportation systems (e.g., D.C., San Francisco, Boston), none of them comes even close to the efficiency and scope of New York’s subway system. New Yorkers who complain about MTA have clearly never had to depend on the public transportation systems anywhere else. I also love walking. I walk a lot regardless of where I live, but New York is the only place in which I feel at home walking everywhere. People in other states only walk to exercise or to get their dogs to poop.

Another thing I’ll really miss is the abundance of esoteric fitness programs. I currently get my exercise fix at two places throughout the week: 305 Fitness and Alvin Ailey, both of which will probably never exist in Hawaii for a while. 305 Fitness is a dance-cardio workout that involves strobe lights, a live DJ, and highly-energetic instructors. Alvin Ailey is a progressive dance school at which I can select from an array of classes such as Afro-Cuban, adult intermediate ballet, and Horton. The workouts at both places are tough and inspiring, and I will be very sad to leave them.

In the end, Anthony and I will probably be in New York for at least three more years, as it will take Anthony that long to complete the process of professional certification. After that, we’ll see how we’re feeling. A family won’t be happening for a long time, so right now all we can do is enjoy New York to the fullest. Anthony and I followed a dream, and we’ve succeeded. He is finishing up grad school at the best school in the entire state, and I have a salaried job that gives me freedom, respects my interests and skills, and, most importantly, can support both Anthony and me. New York is perfect for twenty-somethings, and I pity other people my age that live anywhere else in the country.

With my (now) fiancé by my side, I know I’ll be happy in either place. We’ll see where life takes us.

Hawaiians or New Yorkers?
Hawaiians or New Yorkers?

En Pointe

I was never very good at ballet. I danced at Ballet Hawaii for thirteen years, beginning in a pale blue leotard and just learning how to plié at the barre, progressing to a demure black leotard and perfecting my pas de bourrée, and finally culminating in a leotard of any color –a privilege given to those who have made it to the highest level– and doing fouettés rond de jambe en tournant. As someone who isn’t gifted with natural turn out, flexibility, or turning ability, it didn’t take long for me to accept the fact that ballet was merely an extracurricular activity and would not turn into an eventual career.

However, an extracurricular activity is a weak term for the role that ballet had and still has in my life. Growing up, I continued to take lessons due to a variety of forces: friends, parents, and an unwavering respect for the greatest dance in the world. Thanks to ballet, my circle of friends expanded beyond schoolmates. Class, to an eleven-year-old, unsurprisingly functioned as mostly a social affair, as some of my fondest memories of ballet consist of playing games before class, gossiping during class, and going shopping after class. In a way, the relationships formed while learning a choreography that relies on each individual dancer are more personal, more instinctive than those formed while sitting at a desk facing a teacher in a classroom at school.

My parents encouraged me to commit to just a few activities outside of school because “one must develop, not just dabble”; and so, ballet lessons, piano lessons, and even art classes in the summer persisted throughout my childhood. This commitment to… commit is something I value even more so now. Ballet and piano, my two most consistent extracurricular activities, define the way I view and appreciate the world.

I stopped dancing ballet as soon as I started college — and ballet is not something one can just pick up again after years of inactivity. Regardless, I still catch myself pirouetting in the living room, doing grand jetés through the hallway, and standing on demi pointe when washing the dishes. I even attribute my ability to walk briskly [and in little to no pain] in four-inch heels to all the years I spent dancing on the balls of my feet.

Ballet is basically doing everything your body is not supposed to naturally. I’d argue that no other form of exercise or dance [for, is ballet a sport or an art?] comes close to the same level of physical activity and grace that ballet requires. Constant criticism from instructors, judgments from other dancers, and, perhaps most acerbic of all, one’s own insecurities can undoubtedly scar a malleable teen. I don’t know any friends from ballet who aren’t at least a little hesitant to eventually send their own daughter to ballet. Yet, in the end, most of them probably will — not just because parents tend to replicate their own lives through their children anyway, but because, after practicing technique after technique, performing in concert halls alongside symphonies, and setting their standards of refinement so, so high, anything else would just seem like a cop out.

You can spot a dancer a block away: her steps are more agile, her posture is better than average, and she can pull off tights way better than you can. Every time I wander around Lincoln Center, a little part of me always feels a twinge of jealousy as I watch ballet dancers, in their neat buns and Capezio bags, saunter off to another day of dancing at NYCB. However, this jealousy always becomes overshadowed by both my happiness that, for at least a short time, I was once learning what they have accomplished, and by my awe that they, in a world of bent knees and flexed feet, made it to the top.

Dancing Balanchine's "Serenade," one of the most beautiful choreographies I've danced
Performing Balanchine’s “Serenade,” one of the most beautiful choreographies I’ve ever danced