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!

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“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

 

Madrid

What’s the best way to end an epic vacation? Plan a layover in a city that you’re pretty ambivalent about before going home. Thanks to our 23-hour overnight layover in Madrid, I wasn’t as depressed returning to the U.S. as I had been when leaving Positano and Milan earlier. I tend to get emotionally attached to certain places, so I look for ways to protect my heart.

Anthony and I didn’t want to waste our layover at a hotel, so our plan was to roam around the city and hop into different places throughout the night. Coincidentally, Spaniards are known for staying out late, so Madrid was an ideal place for this all-night venture.

We started in one of the most touristy parts of Madrid, Puerta del Sol, which means “Gate of the Sun”.  It was originally one of the gates in a huge wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. When we arrived, there was a mariachi band playing in front of an imposing statue, which at first made perfect sense, like finding a hula dancer performing in the middle of Waikiki. But then we remembered — hey, wait a minute, mariachi is from Mexico! Wrong continent, guys.

The area reminded me of Rome, with old buildings, cobblestone roads, and perfect uplighting. We stumbled into a tapas bar called La Antoñita and were led all the way back into a courtyard perfect for intimate meals. We ordered some charcuterie and a glass of rioja. Holy smokes, Spain, I finally get it. I understand now why Spanish ham has such hype. Our plate of charcuterie included jamón ibérico, which melted in our mouths and was nothing like those sad cold cuts you buy in American grocery stores. Jamón ibérico is made from black Iberian pigs in Spain and Portugal. After the fattened pigs follow a strict diet of barley, maize, olive, and acorns, the ham is salted and dried for two weeks, dried for another four to six weeks, then cured for at least twelve months. I would travel to Spain again just to eat more ham.

Jamón ibérico
Jamón ibérico

After wandering around the city and passing through the famous Plaza Mayor, we decided it was time for dessert and headed to Chocolatería San Ginés. This famous café has been serving chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894. It didn’t close until 7 am, making it the perfect place to hang out overnight. The interior felt like an upscale diner, with lots of mirrors, wood paneling, green velvet seats, and marble tables. The thick, strong, dark hot chocolate was served in a mug, and the churros were light and crispy. We must have sat there for hours, slowly eating our churros and noticing the waves of crowds trickling in throughout the night. The workers were so kind, always giving us free water and never questioning our stay. During our time there, Anthony taught me how to play Griddlers, a picture logic puzzle that he had been playing on subway rides back home. I ended up becoming quite addicted to Griddlers. He later told me that this moment was one of his favorites on our entire trip.

Chocolate con churros
Chocolate con churros

Eventually, we were too tired to even sit still, so we left Chocolatería San Ginés and continued our journey. It was extremely late by then — especially for us, as we’re usually in bed by 11 every night — and roaming around in a foreign but somehow familiar city felt surreal. As we were walking, we heard a huge truck racing down the street. It hastily swerved past us, and just as Anthony turned his head to glare at the driver, the truck stopped and started backing up slowly, straight into a huge awning. The truck knocked off the entire awning, which landed right on top of a woman sitting at an outdoor restaurant. Glass was shattered, and the woman was completely bent forward onto the table. She remained motionless as we cautiously walked toward her. Surprisingly, the woman eventually stood up and looked shocked more than anything else. It was a terrifying incident to witness, but as more and more people arrived to help her, we knew we could be of no use — especially with our level of Spanish — and left the scene. Surreal, right?

We made our way to Retiro Park, one of the largest parks in Madrid. It once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy but became a public park in the late 19th century. The night was windy, so we had to huddle together for warmth. By the crack of dawn, dozens of joggers were out and about, and we noticed how fancy the neighboring area is.

Streets in Madrid have signs with graphics on the buildings. This is the dancing street, obviously.
Streets in Madrid have signs with graphics on the buildings. This is the dancing street, obviously.

In the daytime, the city felt different. Last night, we had been surrounded by shady study abroad students and late-night locals. Now we passed tourists and office workers starting their day. We spent the rest of our time in Madrid eating and sightseeing, napping in front of an opera house, and walking through palace gardens. We had more amazing jamón ibérico for breakfast at a cheap cafe, and then shared paella and tapas at a food market that felt just like Brooklyn. We missed Rick Steves, whose guide books had been so useful in Italy and Paris. I hadn’t bothered to buy a guide book for Madrid since we had less than a day here, but I regretted that decision, as we could sense the lack of commentary as we meandered through town.

Honey mustard bacalao, garlic pepper octopus, and bacalao with tomato and vegetables
Honey mustard bacalao, garlic pepper octopus, and bacalao with tomato and vegetables

By the time we had to return to the airport, I was emotionally ready to go home. Madrid had been more fun than I expected, but, at the same time, felt bizarre. It had put enough distance between Italy and New York, and now my heart was sufficiently protected.

My first day back in New York was beautiful, with clear blue skies, 80-degree weather, and little humidity. It was as if New York knew it had to impress me. When I left my apartment to go to work, I was faced with film trailers parked all along our street. In New York, you get used to your street being used for films, but, after being in awe of so many places the past few weeks, it was a nice reminder that other people are actually in awe of your home. The ease with which I was able to refill my Metrocard was much appreciated after struggling with other cities’ transit systems. And once I got onto the train, I relished the blast of air-conditioning that filled each car. I got off at my stop near Columbus Circle and was overwhelmed by how attractive this area is. As I walked to work, I noticed some European tourists and was excited for them. Glad to be back, New York!

Traveling is even better when you know you're coming home to the best city in the world
Traveling is even better when you know you’re coming home to the best city in the world

Tips for future travelers:

  1. If you’re like me and get emotionally attached to places, plan to have a long layover in a city that doesn’t intrigue you. In fact, make it a challenging layover like ours. Instead of getting a hotel room, we roamed around all night, so we were looking forward to a bed — any bed, even a bed back in America.
  2. Layovers are a great way to explore a city that you wouldn’t necessarily want to visit for its own sake. As long as you have at least five hours, I would definitely recommend leaving your luggage at the airport and finding the quickest way into town.
  3. You can control how long your layover is with a little trick that I learned while planning for my next international trip: I needed to fly from Manila to New York but noticed that most of the cheap flights had layovers in Seoul, a city that I would love to visit. Unfortunately, the layovers were just a few hours long. Since I wanted at least a few days in Seoul, I changed my search to a multi-city search: Manila to Seoul, and Seoul to New York two days later. For the same price of a flight from Manila to New York, I can now have my two-day layover in Seoul.
  4. If you want to avoid paying for a hotel on an overnight layover like we did, do a little research first. Make sure you’ll be in a city that is safe at night. We lucked out because Madrid is alive practically all night. Then, have some late-night places in mind that can be hangouts when you’re too tired to roam around. We didn’t just stumble into Chocolatería San Ginés; I had found it online and knew that it would be open all night and was a good place to hang out.
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¡Olé!

 

The Party Makes It Official

10469699_10203685934445439_1970003201694366915_nOur engagement party was a success! Anthony and I started our Saturday in Flatiron for my Drybar appointment. Since blow outs seem like a pretty New York thing to do, and our engagement party would be one of the more important events we’d celebrate in New York, I figured a blowout at the indulgent salon was worth it. When we entered the bright yellow salon, we were given cookies and champagne. Not a bad way to start the weekend! Anthony did some reading on one of the plush chairs in the lounge area, while I was taken to the back to get my hair rinsed. Even Drybar’s sinks are fancy! Their sinks tilt so that you don’t have to strain your neck. After, I was seated facing a huge TV that was screening “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” It’s a pretty awful movie, but I guess there’s not really enough time for Ang Lee. My very sweet stylist gave me a “Mai Tai” blowout, which consists of loose, beachy waves. I loved it. The whole appointment took about an hour – longer than I expected, so Anthony and I had to rush to Dominique Ansel to pick up our cannelés. Each cannelé was individually-wrapped and sealed with a bright orange sticker. Next, we did our last errand: picking up some balloons. We power-walked through Soho up to Greenwich Village and bought two teal and two cream balloons at Village Party Store. And then that was it – time to party!10541415_10203707604267171_3789721448465323300_oWhen we finally arrived at Milk + Honey, the owner had been anxiously waiting for us. I gasped when I saw the place – it was perfect. Originally, I had assumed we would have a few tables in the back, while the front half of the space would be open to the public. Instead, the owner had cleared out the entire coffee shop and even purchased flowers, table cloth, and balloons for us. Milk + Honey is naturally stunning, so we didn’t need much decoration. Since it was a mild, breezy day, we were able to open the entire wall of doors instead of using air conditioning. I tied four balloons outside by the door. About twenty minutes later,  I heard our two teal balloons pop, so it’s a good thing we still had the owner’s balloons, which were safely tied to our vase of white roses.10517459_10203685933045404_2905696767098043544_nTwo tall tables with white table cloths were placed in the back corner. They held the gifts, our photo caption game, flowers, and cannelés. We moved some smaller tables to the center, creating four clusters.All of our guests arrived late, but I guess we should have expected that since our invitation said “5:00-8:00 pm” instead of just “5:00 pm.” I’ll have to remember for any future parties. As each guest arrived, we told them about our photo caption game. We had printed out four goofy photos of us and put them in black and white frames. Guests could come up with their own captions and write them on a piece of paper below each frame. Guests were also greeted with a quiz. They had to match Anthony and me to twenty different items, such as favorite food, dad’s name, past pet, and college major.10369914_10203685934005428_732186926216157866_n

10538640_10203685933685420_2064923005701910272_nTwo types of drinks were presented in punch bowls: watermelon juice and ginger mint iced tea. We were also able to order coffee beverages from the barista. Once our final guest arrived, we handed out our last game: a 4×4 grid containing a unique fact about each guest. Unsurprisingly, my incredibly sociable friend was the first to complete the grid, so she had first dibs on the prizes. The previous week, I had purchased $10 gift cards at three of my favorite places in the city: The Strand, Fishs Eddy, and Eataly.10514739_10203685934685445_2107985269799026384_nBy then, the food was ready. Staff sliced and placed our flatbreads and sandwiches on adorable pizza boards. I had printed out a menu of the food, so I placed that in an extra photo frame and put it at the beginning of our buffet. We had ordered two grilled flank steak panini, two grilled veggie sandwiches, two zesty chicken sandwiches, two baked salmon flatbreads, two asparagus and artichoke flatbreads, two roast vegetable and pesto flatbreads, arugula salad, and kale salad. Our guests told us that they loved the food.10514474_10203686137250509_534339499680164854_n 10462684_10203685937565517_2463063743483016658_n (1)As the meal winded down, we continued with our games. We went over the correct answers for the matching quiz. My friend got an impressive 19 out of 20 correct, so she chose the Eataly gift card. Anthony and I voted for our favorite caption to our goofy photos. One of Anthony’s friend won that one.10393685_10203685935885475_3849849720241798203_nOur party ended a little late, but everyone seemed to have a great time. Each guest was given a cannelé before they left. Despite coinciding with the second-to-last World Cup game, I’m glad our friends could join us to celebrate our engagement. It was a lovely, low-key night with good food and some of our favorite New Yorkers. 10384336_10203685938525541_8344648224710980006_n10552580_10203685933365412_79329159435758870_n

Hosting a Party in New York

I’m pretty sure engagement parties are more of an East Coast thing. I had never heard of them growing up in Hawaii, and neither has my Californian fiancé. When some of our New York friends found out that we got engaged, they asked if we were having an engagement party. (New Yorkers sure love their parties!) After flirting with the concept for a few days, I decided that – hey, we’re semi-New Yorkers; let’s have an engagement party. Anthony, always a good sport about my whims, agreed that it would be nice to announce and celebrate our engagement to our few New York friends, especially since our wedding is so far from now and on the other side of the country.

Anthony and I racked our brains for all possible venues around the city. We sent out emails to our favorite restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Our budget, though, seemed too small for the types of places we desired. I know this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but we quickly learned that renting space in New York is obscenely expensive.

Finally, one surprising bakery fit our budget: Dominique Ansel. Anthony and I were both shocked, as Dominique Ansel is easily the trendiest pastry chef around, and his bakery is located in the pricey West Village. However, a gracious contact at the bakery said their Greenhouse would be perfect for a party of our size, and would fit our budget. We were ecstatic. The Greenhouse is an enclosed, air-conditioned room in the back of the main bakery, with seating for up to 20 people. The next weekend, we met with our contact at the bakery, which gave us the perfect excuse to eat some Dominique Ansel goodies. The Greenhouse is very sleek, with metal furniture, a glass ceiling that fills the room with light, and hints of bright orange.dom dom 2After eagerly pre-ordering enough pastries for our menu, we were given an updated invoice. I finally understood what “sticker shock” is. While the initial price of renting out the Greenhouse fit our budget, the pastries and beverages added up quickly. Plus, I had forgotten about gratuity and tax. In the end, the final total was twice as much as what we had planned to pay. We woefully had to decline Dominique Ansel and look elsewhere.

Fortunately, I received an email from the owner of one of our neighborhood coffee shops. Max apologized for taking long to respond and said we could host our party at Milk + Honey. The following weekend, we walked down to Newkirk Avenue to discuss the details. Milk + Honey is a beautiful coffee shop that I’ve been to a few times before. It feels very Brooklyn, with exposed brick walls, a vertical plant growing on one side, a wall of French doors open up to the bustling neighborhood, and fantastic Counter Culture drinks. When I had first emailed Milk + Honey about hosting our party there, I immediately wrote the place off because it was so spacious that I assumed it would easily be out of our price range. However, when we visited, Max said he could work with our budget – which would include the cost of food and drinks, even though he usually charges three times as much for the space. I’m still not sure if it was because he pitied us, or because he found us charming, but we were eager to work with him.milk3 milkandhoneyWith the venue finally set, I could go forward with the rest of the planning. I ordered our invitations from Paper Source, which has stationary shops all over the country. We chose a simple design called “Ampersand” in the color “Peacock.” I appreciated that our names were the focus of the invitation – not flowers or diamonds or birds. And while we weren’t really thinking of what our wedding colors might be, Peacock sure is pretty…IMG_20140621_112937The rest of the party planning was easy, thanks to years of practice hosting Christmas parties for my dad’s office at my house in Honolulu. Back then, I was always in charge of entertainment. I would create Christmas-themed games and play Christmas carols on our grand piano to which our guests could sing along. For our engagement party, Anthony and I came up with three games: one to play in the beginning so our friends could finally get to know each other; a matching game called “Jenn or Anthony?”; and one that involves creating captions for goofy photos of us. While we couldn’t host our actual party at Dominique Ansel, we did return to the famous chef for individually-wrapped cannelés as party favors. Although I’m not a fan of roses, I passed a bouquet of white roses on my way home and thought it fit the occasion perfectly.IMG_20140710_081205The days leading up to our party have been a whirlwind of last-minute decorations, such as photos and balloons. In the end, I’ve learned that everything will usually work out, even for a somewhat naïve, hopelessly-in-love couple trying to plan a party in an overpriced city. We’re excited, and we hope this Saturday is a success!

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?

Gone Are the Days of 820 Fifth Avenue

Apartment hunting is the perfect activity for someone [slightly obsessive] who likes to research, shop, and organize. Since I’ll still be over 5,600 miles away from New York until June 6th, I’ve been doing the only things I can do right now: learning as much as I can about different New York neighborhoods and browsing current apartment listings online to get an idea of what to expect when I can do something. I’ve signed up to receive emails every morning from PadMapper.com, informing me of apartments that fit my requirements (studio for under $1100). These emails are encouraging, if not a little painful because I must kiss each apartment I like good-bye.

Besides getting attached to apartments I can’t have, I’ve also been doing a lot of research for neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, this has led me to creating a list. I’ve finally been able to narrow it down to six neighborhoods (down from 14!) that I’d consider living in, each reflecting a mélange of influences, such as my own memories from past visits, suggestions and advice from friends, and online descriptions. The current list is as follows:

  1. Fort Greene, Brooklyn: My friend Shani took me here on my first time in Brooklyn, and I immediately fell in love. It was exactly what I thought Brooklyn should be. I had been impressed by its anomalously perfect balance of grit and comfort, home to artists and professionals and everyone in between. Apparently the neighborhood is frequently studied by sociologists, who are just as intrigued as I am by its remarkable racial and economic diversity and integration. With access to most subway lines and located on the northwest portion of Brooklyn, Fort Greene is easily my top choice.
  2. Astoria, Queens: Astoria is an up-and-coming neighborhood, with lots of rentals, waterfront views and parkland, easy access to Manhattan, and, most importantly, a mouthwatering selection of cuisines. Nearly every avenue has managed to develop an array of authentic family businesses, from the Greeks on 31st Street to the Brazilians on 34th Avenue, and national chains are crowded out by local ones. Streets known for specific cultures? That has to be a good sign!
  3. Clinton Hill, Brooklyn: Adjacent to Fort Greene, this tree-lined area prides itself on its brownstone blocks. Hopefully those Pratt kids are going home for the summer and leaving some nice studios for me. It’ll also be nice to be surrounded by an arts community.
  4. Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Yeah, I know. I judged myself for putting Williamsburg on the list, too, but I keep forgetting how large this neighborhood is. It’s not just for hipsters!
  5. Jackson Heights, Queens
  6. Long Island City, Queens

(I’m not as passionate about the last half of my list so I didn’t bother to go into detail.)

In case you didn’t notice, everything on the list is either in Brooklyn or Queens. Gone are the days of 820 Fifth Avenue. That eighth grade dream of mine vanished as soon as I first visited New York years ago, when I realized that stuffy granite wasn’t really my thing. Besides, Brooklyn is the brunt of so many jokes on Gossip Girl (yup, I watch Gossip Girl – non-ironically, even!), how could I not want to live there?

Brooklyn when I went in the winter

[Non-]fleeting Passions

I’m not going to pretend to be unique in this endeavor. By moving to New York, I’m doing what countless Americans (and non-Americans) have been doing for centuries. New York is the land of opportunity; it’s where immigrants go to start a new life abroad, where the young go to find themselves, where the ambitious go to make it big. If New York was not the land of transplants that it has been since its very beginning, it would not be New York today.

For those who know me well, you’re probably surprised that it took me 22 years to move to New York. I’ve been obsessed with the city since I was twelve (I blame all the Law and Order I used to watch as a child). In high school, I carried a foldable map of Manhattan in my uniform pocket and memorized the street names on my spare time. I even designated a dream apartment – the entire twelfth floor of 820 Fifth Avenue.

When college came around, family and friends wondered why I hadn’t applied to any schools in New York and instead chose one located on the opposite side of the country. I spent those four years at a school that I somehow survived, in a city that I eventually learned to love (Portland, I desperately miss your coffeeshops and adorable neighborhood restaurants now that I’m back in Honolulu). I figured I’d go to grad school in New York after a short year-long, post-college break, so I spent the fall of 2011 slowly doing grad school research — specifically for NYU, Columbia, and New School — and trying my hardest to become passionate [enough] about urban planning.

Anthony and I had only been going out for slightly over two months when he told me that he had been sitting on an idea for a while: he would move to New York with me when I get into grad school. I loved the idea. That day, I thought long and hard and finally admitted to myself what I didn’t want to believe: I was using grad school as an excuse to move to New York. Like many of my passions, my goal to study urban planning was fleeting.

With no institution supporting me, it seemed as though I no longer had a valid reason to move. Then I realized – what am I talking about? People move to the City all the time, for much less than a decade-long obsession. The very next day, I asked Anthony if he’d come to New York with me even if I wasn’t going to school there. Without any hesitation, he said yes.

Eventually we agreed to set mid-June (yes, the hot season) as our moving date. After spending two weeks in the Bay Area, we’ll be landing in New York early in the morning of Wednesday, June 20. It’s less than a month away; let the countdown begin.

Obligatory I ❤ NY shot, taken the last time I was in the City, with my friend Sam in 2009

P.S. You can follow my aforementioned boyfriend’s own blog at YoungManWentWest.com. He’s been working on this blog since moving to Hawaii after college about three years ago. Eventually (hopefully soon!), he’ll be changing it to YoungManWentEast, so keep an eye out.