Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Last day in NYC

on saturday, we met up with G and K and headed into Manhattan's Chinatown for a dim sum lunch. But this is New York City, of course, so it was no ordinary dim sum. It was kosher vegetarian dim sum at Buddha Bodai, bringing you all the guilt-free imitation barbecue ribs, pork and fake shrimp congee you could ask for, all made of tofu. interestingly, my favourite dishes were the straight up fried tofu, and the eggplant, which only confirms my theory that i don't really like things that are made to look and taste like other things.

afterwards we took a walk through what seemed like the whole world: the bustling streets of Chinatown seamlessly turned into Little Italy where barkers stood outside their restaurants shouting out their special pastas deals for the day, until we hit SoHo and its rows and rows of trendy shops and bakeries proudly wearing their gentrification like a lovely badge. that's where we finally arrived at THE MARKET, which is basically my idea of heaven, minus the price tags. Here, every weekend, dozens of artists and designers from all over the city set up booths in this great hall displaying their unique products. there were so many things i had never seen before. there were so many things i would have bought, if they weren't so expensive ($400 for a sweater? that's the price for innovation?). Although, who am i kidding. I still dropped a lot of dough anyway, telling myself that I was supporting the art scene.

in the evening, O and I made our way to the historical Stonewall in Greenwich Village where the celebrities from the Real L Word were putting on a lesbian comedy show. Stonewall Inn, of course, was the site of the famous Stonewall riots in 1969, which many have called "the single most important event that led to the modern movement for gay and lesbian issues" (at least that's what Wikipedia says). E was working the doors that night and had gotten us on the guestlist, so we got to check out the show a bit while large beautiful women in bright red dresses accused us of trying to steal their girlfriends (well, to be fair, maybe we were). Stonewall seems like a pretty happening place to hang out. It was packed full of people of all ages and all walks, and there were spontaneous dance parties popping up all over the bar.

afterwards we took E for some delicious soondubu chigae in Korea Town at at BCD Tofu House, a restaurant that O had been relentlessly talking about during my entire stay. miraculously they were able to whip up a vegan dish for the girls (while i enjoyed my real pork) and we got a chance to catch up with E, seeing how all sorts of things have happened since we last saw her (like the fact that she's getting married, for example, but only for immigration purposes).

We had made plans to do Korean karaoke that night (and bust out our Seo-Taiji skills) but by the time we finished our meal, the food coma had set in, so we called it a night early and went home to watch SNL, which is, i think, an important American tradition.

the next day was a long, long, long bus ride with a random stop in Albany (did you know that there is nothing to do there on a Sunday morning?) and now my back is firmly letting me know that it does not enjoy spending 24 hours on a bus. next time i go back to New York, it's gonna be by some other mode of transportation. like on a dolphin. (i'm not an animal rights activist)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Avenue A

Friday night we had dinner at Tiffin Wallah ( with L and J, who had been tricked into joining us because he did not know this was a vegetarian Indian restaurant. He was relatively good natured about it, noting that it wouldn't harm him to have an occasional meatless meal "once a year or so". Despite the meatlessness of the meal, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't understand a single thing on the menu, despite the helpful but short glossary on the back of the menu for non-Indian speakers, but I think that just made experience all the more authentic. I just pointed at random dishes and ordered, knowing that if it was vegetarian at least there was no chance of accidentally ordering stomach lining or baby cow thyroid gland. And it worked out well. I cried. Partly because it was so beautiful, mostly because it was spicy

Following dinner, we set off to sample the nightlife of the East Village, deciding on a bit of bar-hopping. Stops included:

•McSorleys, one of the oldest Irish taverns in New York, having opened in the 1860s. Being known for being this old means that you don't have to follow certain rules. Like health standards, because they claim that they have the same cobwebs and wishbones that hung there as the boys left for World War I. And also fire safety requirements, because I'm sure they packed way more people than their maximum occupancy limit allowed. However the law deemed that they must follow human rights regulations and so the bar finally allowed women to enter in the 1970s, being one of the last men-only bars in the city. It seemed like the kind of place you go for the atmosphere and the company (as opposed to the beer, as you only had the choice of light or dark beer), sitting down at tables with random strangers and striking up conversation. J told me he suspects the hat store next store stays open late so that patrons stumble in to use the ATM and be enticed to drunkenly buy hats.

•while we waited for a table to open up at The Bourgeois Pig, we stopped for a drink at Niagara which had a rock ad roll look to it with some not very rock and roll drink prices - but I suppose that's just New York. It was also a very happening places, packed full of girls with tattoos and men in blazers. J's friends arrived and we left him there to move on to the next stop, me and O and L (the three Korean musketeers)

•Although the prices at the Bourgeois Pig ( were no better, I really enjoyed the decor of this place. With its grand chandeliers and candelabras, plush red chairs and antique glasses, I really felt like I was in turn-of-the-century Paris, waiting for the burlesque dancers to come out. In fact, I really was waiting for the burlesque dancers to come out, because it was really the only thing missing. We ordered a champagne cocktail called the Marie Antoinette and drank from our cups with pinky fingers lifted, mentally appraising the antique decor. You don't mind paying such jacked up price so much when you're in a fancy schmancy looking place like this. It was a big tightly packed though.  By the end of the night there, O and I realized that we had both been accidentally playing footsies with man at the next table, thinking it was each other's foot.

•the final (commercial) stop of the night was a bar with the odd name Drop Off Service, a former laundromat converted into a bar. It had an excellent selection of beer (including Belgian Deliriums and Québécois Fin Du Monde - really !) and equally excellent crowd. Several drinks in, we three Korean girls felt no qualms about plopping ourselves down at a table where a punk couple had been enjoying their date and asking them endless questions about the best place to get a tattoo in the city, and theoretically, if we were going to commit a series of thefts (hypothetically), whether they approved of our plan of execution.

In the end, we did not get matching tattoos at midnight and instead we went back to O's house where the only theft we ended up committing (officially) was O's roommate's ichiban ramen noodles. That, washed down with a bottle of Prosecco, allowed us to fall into a deep slumber that was surprisingly comfortable, despite having to fit three (small) Korean girls in one bed. We slept until noon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brooklyn vs the rest of the city

Even when I woke up this morning I was already hungry. I washed down the rest of my momofuku strawberry milk that i'd forgotten to finish the night more, but by the time K had arrived at O's apartment along with her partner I., i was starving and excited to start the day. We took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, where I realized that it's usually on the subway that you find the most interesting people. There was a lady with flaming orange fake hair and unsettling makeup that was livid at K for no reason the rest of us could understand. There was a pimp-looking fellow with an old suit and a thick fur coat and a cane, but for some reason what I found most striking about him was the Discman he was listening to. I also saw a Hasidic Jew who wore the traditional black hat and black suit and gentle smile and very, very, very bright green socks.

We got off at the last stop and made our trek across the Brooklyn Bridge which, although nothing like the way I expected it to be, was a wonderful walk. I don't know why I expected it to be like crossing the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, although certain aspects of it really did evoke the same memories - the warm comforting sun, the tall buildings on either side of the shore - but it was certainly a unique bridge of its own. Unlike the other bridges I've walked across, the pedestrian walk was in the middle of the median, so roaring traffic framed your view of the waters from every angle. And it was busy, hectic and crowded, i suppose because other people had seen that it was a beautiful day and a beautiful way to get some morning exercise. It gave me an amazing view of both Brooklyn and Manhattan, and helped me see just how huge it was, all these tall buildings everywhere.

Once we arrived in Brooklyn we headed straight for Grimaldi's Pizzeria in DUMBO, the coal brick oven pizza place which S. had assured us was the "2nd best place to get pizza in New York" - and certainly the line up wrapping around the block proved its popularity. Grimaldi's tasted like American democracy to me, or at least what it should be. No reservations for special people, the same line for everyone, whether for take-out or eating in, because, as the old Italian man at the door asserted as a matter of fact, "The oven, it is what it is." He made seating customers into an effortless art, and despite the daunting line up into the restaurant, we found the line moved quickly and soon enough we were seated in the crowded room.

I love this kind of restaurant. No nonsense waiters who aren't going to chat you up to try to pressure you into ordering more food or tipping more, no nonsense prices, and not a lot of fancy trickery decorations like square plates or dim lighting - just a memorial tribute poster for 9/11, and an equally large poster of The Godfather, which did not really quell my suspicions about an Italian business that only accepts cash. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy, just the honest promise of good food. Watching the pizzas go by us and watching other patrons savour their meals was somewhat torturous to us, as we were ravenous by the point - almost like "painfully prolonged foreplay", someone remarked. When our simple thin crust pizzas of Italian sausages, pepperoni and sweet roasted red peppers finally arrived, we pounced on them like wolves. I. found himself dancing a happy dance in his chair and all coherent thought was blocked from my mind when the pizza hit my tongue. And suddenly we found that the three of us had eaten two entire pizza pies.

to deal with the satisfaction of our gluttony, we took a stroll down the harbour and through the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which, despite still being under construction, was a lovely urban parks, and the reason that "there are parts of Brooklyn that I don't absolutely despise," admitted I., who is a former Orthodox Jew born and bred in New York. Still I found the ominous Watchtower owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses to be unsettling, these giant silent buildings that loomed over the park and the Brooklyn Bridge, with many strange windows that you could not see into or ever see souls looking out of. Instead the only form of communication emitted at all was a giant billboard that read READ THE WATCHTOWER, as though it was a subway advertisement for a new bestseller book rather than a religious text. I kept feeling like someone was watching us.

By the time we were ready to leave, we found there was still enough time to sightsee a bit more, so we took the subway back to Manhattan, where I wanted to see Ground Zero. The last time I had been in this spot, the World Trade Center towers had still been standing, and my family had gone in and looked through the telescopes at the Statue of Liberty, wondering why the statue was carrying an ice cream. Now it was a giant hole in the ground surrounded by busy construction workers working hard to turn it into something that wasn't a hole in the ground. I've always wanted to ask my friends who live in New York what it was like to be there the day the world changed, but I've never done it because I feel like it's rude, the way you would never ask someone what it was like to lose their child to disease or some other private sorrow. Except this was a sorrow shared by an entire city, country. I stopped by the Memorial Site Preview center because I wanted to see what the grounds were going to look like, but instead found myself being drawn into the stories of that fateful day, matching where I was that day (in homeroom class at high school, with Sherman bursting in with the incredible news, his parents working in the city). I had to be pulled away.

We walked through the cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel, which was right across the street from Ground Zero. I'm not usually big on churches but I thought this one was particularly beautiful and dignified, and old for a North American church. We also walked down Broadway till we hit Wall Street, the financial heartbeat of the world. Wall Street was the ontological antithesis of hipster-happy Brooklyn. K told me that at night it's completely deserted because there's nothing to do here. Not unlike, I guess, Bay Street in Toronto, Sparks Street in Ottawa, or the financial districts of other cities. All these impressively stern buildings with those giant white columns that I now associate more with America than the Romans. People in suits walking right by panhandlers. I thought Wall Street would smell like money but strangely enough I found it smelled like street hot dogs. Which if you think about it, is just as American.

Manhattan in the evening

yesterday O and i met up for dinner with K and S at momofuku ssam bar (, one of those "top 50 restaurants in the world" that foodie S had recommended. Run by Korean-American chef David Chang, it serves what i'd call experimental Korean fusion cuisine - with North American prices. we tasted the veal sweetbread (yes i know what sweetbread is and i don't care, it was delicious), honeyroasted apple kimchi served with pig jowl bacon (!!), the famous steamed buns stuffed with tender-tender-tender pork, and a $25 plate of spicey ddukboki that left me feeling conflicted. on one hand, it was absolutely delicious. on the other hand, it was $25 and i felt my entire Korean ancestry laughing at me. oh well. this is nothing new. one time in the Netherlands, O and i were so desperate for Korean food that we biked for an entire hour, got lost, had her bike break down, had her piggy-back on mine, just to finally reach an out-of-town Korean restaurant that served chajangmyun for EIGHTEEN EUROS. sometimes you have to do it. this time around O was unlucky once again, thanks to David Chang's bad boy attitude of "No Vegetarian Options", faced with meat for the third time that day, a day full of baby cow thymus glands, leather purses, pork chajangmyun that she gingerly picked apart with her fingers to separate from her noodles.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, washed down with a Korean O.B. beer (what i call the tampon beer). Over dinner we caught up with each other, as it had been almost a full year since we had last seen each other and so much had happened since - we'd gone back to our respective schools, went crazy, graduated, traveled, wrote the bar exams, had our hearts broken and fallen in love again, moved back in with our parents and moved back out, started our careers. At the arrival of the steamed buns, S announced that he was ready to get married - he just had not yet quite made his mind up on who. after our dinner we headed to the momofuku milk bar attached to the restaurant, where i rediscovered the sweet innocent joys of strawberry milk. S got us to try the birthday cake truffles which launched us all into brilliant new religious experiences.

We stopped for a late evening drink at a bar down the street called the Ninth Ward, which had a great selection of beers (including Belgium's Delirium in its original bottle) and cocktails, including tall glasses of Hurricanes and Pimm's Cup, although they came at the hefty price of 12 dollars. Just as we finished up our drinks and had settled our tabs and gotten ready to head in for the night, G breezed in through the door, an hour late in his usual casual style. So we sat back down, took off our coats, and ordered another round of drinks while G shared with us the latest updates of his life. He had come with a girl who he assured us was "just his friend", which was also his usual style, and he had just moved from New Jersey into the city to hang around until his job started in January. It was a fun night of swapping stories and remembering our past adventures, missing our former lives on the other side of the world, and remembering how every single one of us in that particular group of friends were, although nice, absolutely crazy. mostly in a good way. always in an interesting way. fitting in well with the city.


The first thing that I did when I got to New York was fall asleep on O's wonderful paisley print sheet bed, so when I woke up at 10AM to the sounds of sirens and traffic, I felt like I was still in a dream. When O informed me that she is now dating a vegan anarchist from Brooklyn who has sleeves full of tattoos, and so now she no longer eats meat, I wasn't sure if it was still part of the dream. I met O, who is also Korean, while we were both studying at the University of Amsterdam last year, but she is originally from Orange County and is a Cornell Law School grad. She now works at a law office in the Empire State building, which she assures me sounds way cooler than it actually is, because historical buildings are, well, old.

O recently found out that she passed the very difficult New York Bar exam so she wanted to spend the day buying herself a bar gift. But first - what did I want to do? It's been over ten years since I last came to the Big Apple, so it was like exploring a new city for me. When we used to live in upstate New York, we used to come into the city on weekends to visit the World Trade Center and eat chajangmyun. obviously we couldn't do the former activity anymore but we certainly could do the latter.

So O and I made our way to 32nd Street, also known as Korea Way, to have some chajangmyun for breakfast (or lunch, as it was now 11AM). On our way, we came across the Veterans Day parade and had a chance to see the Korean War veterans march by, accompanied by throngs of Korean dancers and musicians banging their drums and blaring their Korean horns. It made for a pretty cool soundtrack to my first New York chajangmyun in over a decade.

After our chajangmyun breakfast/brunch/lunch, we headed for Madison Avenue for O's bar gift purchase, taking what I think was my first New York subway, I think possibly ever. There once we arrived, we perused through all these stores with expensive sounding European names like Bergdorf Goodman and Goyard and Louis Vuitton. There was a lot of fur and leather and references of baby goats that would probably give PETA indigestions. I began a game of "how many awesome guitars could I have if i stole and sold this purse" (Example: "This flesh-toned Givenchy purse looks like a vulva....and costs $2000.") After much advise from friendly gay salesmen, O finally chose for herself a cute black Yves Saint Laurent handbag, which despite my total lack of fashion knowledge, does charmingly reflect the new New York lawyer she is becoming.

After our Fifth Avenue shopping experience, we wandered through Central Park which was just lovely because of the sunny warm New York autumn weather that almost made me forget that i had been snowed in on Halloween back in Ottawa. There was a jazz band playing in one part of the park, which was charming. There was also a metal band playing in another part of the park, which was not as charming. All this greenspace right in the middle of the city with families strolling by and enjoying themselves reminded me and O of Vondelpark, back in the Netherlands. There really is something special about urban parks.

Afterwards we went to momofuku ssam bar with S and K. but I'll tell you about it later. Today K is taking me to Brooklyn, so I've been spending all morning listening to Brooklyn bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Vivian Girls. I have, however, decided against wearing jeggings out in public. But the awesome vintage boots are coming out.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

a 12 hour bus ride is a long, long ride.

i arrived in New York this morning at 7AM after sitting all night on the bus next to a large woman with no sense of personal space. guess i better get used to it. found my way to Olivia's place in Manhattan and immediately passed out for another three hours. now i'm awake and ready to hang out in the city. i swear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New York, New York

in two hours, i'm taking a break from my life and am taking off to New York City for a few days. there i'll have the chance to do my favourite thing when i travel, which is not museums galleries shopping but FOOD. and also reuniting with some friends that i have not seen in a very long time. friends are also important.

stay tuned!