19 July 2016

The New Normal


Hey guess what? New York is hot. Like finally tank top weather — which I’ve been waiting for — but now that it’s arrived, it’s just making me dread going outside.

But venture forth I must, as my New York time dwindles to a close. In two more weeks I’m basically out of here, so it’s time to jam in as much as I can. First, there was Dhonielle and Sona’s book launch for their follow up to Tiny Pretty Things, which is called Shiny Broken Pieces. Instead of a traditional launch, they threw together an entire panel of ballet in YA themed authors. Note, the correct answer for best ballet movie is clearly Centerstage, and nothing else compares.

On Wednesday, went to Union Docs in Williamsburg for a showing of The New Black, Yoruba Richen’s 2013 documentary about the LBGT African-American community and their work to get marriage equality passed in Maryland.

Actually, speaking of movies, I’ve seen just a handful recently, and of all of them, the only one I can wholly recommend is Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s take on a Jane Austen novella. Kate Beckinsale is perfect in it, as a manipulative and scheming widow. Doesn’t this summer block of movies feel especially crappy? I have half a mind to watch The Neon Demon, but scarred by Only God Forgives, I’m hesitant to give Nicolas Winding Refn another chance. And aside from that, nothing is drawing me to the theater except as a respite from the heat.

So let’s talk books! I caught the tail end of Ted Chiang’s talk at AAWW, and he brought up this article, “The Strange Case of the Woman Who Couldn’t Remember Her Past — And Can’t Imagine Her Future.” It’s about a woman who leads a perfectly normal life, despite the fact that she has no episodic memory. Basically it means she lives perpetually in the present, with no access to previous memories or experiences. The article is great and well worth a read.

Also, if you don’t know Ted Chiang, he’s basically the Galactus of the scifi world, having won literally every award for his writing. And he so happens to be Chinese American, which is an important, if not defining, fact. Actually there are quite a few Asian American writers who have been dominating scifi, and I’ve been trying to get caught up on all their works. Ken Liu, you're next!

And I’ve recently been working through Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island, which is a fictionalized version of the White Terror era in Taiwan, from 1947 through 1987, when martial law was in effect. Having recently visited Green Island, to see the prisons where dissidents were incarcerated, the book holds special interest for me. And what Yang Ryan has done is pretty unprecedented, in taking a period of Taiwanese history that is often overlooked, and creating a compelling novel for English reading audiences.

Then there's Detention, an upcoming game from Taiwan-based indie developer Red Candle Games. Detention is also set during Taiwan's martial law period, and is a survival horror game with fantasy elements. "Detention draws on local Taiwanese cultural references to tell a unique and terrifying story." Check out the game trailer and I think Detention should be available via Steam soon enough.

Also, recently read Eddie Huang's second book, Double Cup Love, which was a decent follow-up, if you like to continue on his adventures, but mostly I'd only recommend it only to Huang completists. What I would recommend for all is his Huang's World Orlando episode, in which Eddie returns home for Lunar New Year to hang with his family. They cook up a storm, and Eddie's mom is the unquestioned star of the show.

Despite saying I never travel to beaches, I found myself riding two hours out of Manhattan to Fire Island last weekend. My friend got a car -- to have something to put in her car port -- and she's been trying to make out-of-town trips with it. I was commissioned to be the night driver and so I went. Getting to Fire Island is a bit of a trek, but it involves a ferry, which is always fun. And once there, I promptly napped the afternoon away before we had a super amazing seafood dinner by the ocean as the rain poured down over the roof. Summer 2016: Keep it beachy!

10 July 2016

Is This the End?

My de facto office has been Cafe Habana on Elizabeth Street. Not that I work there, but it’s where I meet everyone. Advantages: there are benches outside, there is corn inside, it’s a straight shot down 2nd Ave on a bike for me. Basically my range this summer has been “anything up/down 2nd Avenue or maybe off the L train.” Going across town to Chelsea or the West Village has been too much of a hassle, and Brooklyn, forget it!

Although I have been to Williamsburg more times than I can count over the past week — including a night with the douchetastic crowd at Freehold. Still, if we’re meeting up, it’s starting off at Cafe Habana and then probably a walk around Nolita. And of course I’ll buy a corn and then carry it around for a few hours thinking I’ll eat it but then I toss it in the trash. Food waster, that’s me!

I’ve trolled those few blocks around Nolita at least three times, and I still don’t actually know exactly where I am. Who am I without my trusty compass? Also, as if you had to ask, but of course I’ll all up on this Pokemon Go craze. I can’t stop talking about it, I can’t stop making people download it (Team Instinct/Yellow please!), I carry every single portable charger with me nowadays, and I’m waiting for all the features like trading to get into the game. My main worry about leaving New York is that anywhere else won’t have the density of Pokemon, gyms, and pokestops.

New York is the perfect city to go Poke-hunting and without the easily accessible walking spaces, I’m worried my collection will never be complete. So far my best place to find stuff has been at Pratt, where the sculpture garden was full of interesting stuff to look at. But enough about Pokemon…

The rundown the past week included Fourth of July celebrated from the comfort of my room, which just so happens to look over the Hudson River. Nice view, but my interest in fireworks is nil. So I just stood back while my cousin and aunt peered outside.

After going through a pizza, ramen, sandwiches, Cubanos, and salad phase, I’m now squarely into my diner life. I’ve eaten at three diners recently and while each experience was squarely a B- or a C+, I still loved it. (In case I’ve never mentioned it, Malibu Diner in Chelsea is my favorite one, because it’s got really the best food for a diner.)

I have dreams of just sitting in a diner, quietly reading or writing, but that’s happened zero times so far. I read that Rembert Brown did a lot of his Grantland writing from the old Bauhaus, which I can’t even imagine. I wish I was one of those people who could be productive at cafes or eating places, but mostly I just get all paranoid about the foodstuffs and potential spillage around my computer.

I've learned, over time, that the only way I can get any writing done is in a controlled environment that has little in the way of distractions (or dirt). So much for the image of a traveling writer who parks it all day in a cafe!

An epic half-rainy Saturday unearthed five straight hours of karaoke. To be honest, that’s not that much, because in Taiwan I’ve had people go karaoke for like eight hours. I couldn’t do that back then — due to the dearth of English songs — but I could have gone even longer on Saturday night. We started off with Madonna, whipped through some classic Eighties, got even deeper with the Eighties, moved onto ballads and lite R&B, and then had a sprinkling of Les Mis and Aladdin. Categories skipped that I hope to return to: pop, duets, alternative songs of the 2000s, Guns N Roses.

Till next time...

03 July 2016

For the Longest Time

So my friend's wedding happened, it was beautiful, it was in Bryant Park, and the respect you get on the streets for walking around in tuxes was certainly nice. People are so friendly when you’re dressed up! This was the first (and probably last) tux I’d ever worn. From what I can tell, the difference between a tux and a suit is the lapels. Also you’re supposed to wear French cuffs, and there’s fancier buttons and a bow tie involved.

Since my tux came very loose, I had to get the shit tailored out of it. Basically it was like I had to get a whole new outfit made out of baggy drapes. Upon recommendation of my friend, I went to Dejavu Tailoring in the East Village and over the span of two weeks went by a couple of times. Sometimes just to say “hi” because I’m trying to make new friends! And my new semi-friend — I asked for his Facebook, does that count? — pointed me to @TheSalon, where I got my pre-wedding haircut. So you know, I was at peak fancy and it’s all downhill from here. I kind of wanted to have a cummerbund though, since I'd never worn one before. Do they make cummerbund fanny packs?

It’s only the second time I’ve been a groomsman and once again I performed all my duties spectacularly. Actually I really had no duties, aside from just wake up on time and be there without complaining. With those low expectations set, I think I did my absolute best. Thanks K&M for having me!

One of these days someone will ask me to do a speech and I’ll be sooooo ready.

Aside from that to wrap up my first month here, there was an ultimate Eighties / Nineties karaoke session with two of my favorite karaokers. It’s been awhile since we’ve all sang together. And fueled by tequila shots — none for me thank you — and just general joy, we blasted through our jams, new and old. Here’s a sampling of the night’s hits:
  • Billy Joel, “The Longest Time” (1983)
  • Phil Collins, "Against All Odds” (1984)
  • Alphaville, “Forever Young” (1984)
  • The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love” (1992)
  • Meat Loaf, "I Would Do Anything For Love” (1993)
My personal new go-to is “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. It’s in my range, vocally and emotionally. Bailamos! Also, I’m waiting for that special someone who can do a credible CeCe Peniston's “Finally.” (Is that even a fun karaoke song? Let’s find out!) And while we’re on the subject of singing, watch this twelve year old, Grace VanderWaal, on America’s Got Talent. It’s from last month but it’s worth a share because she’s just amazing.


Went to the NBA draft too, way up in the cheap seats. Watched the Celtics take the guy I didn’t want them to take, and then got bored and left by the latter half of the first round. Verdict: C+. Going to the draft isn’t that fun unless you know who’s being taken. Even with the ESPN app open to watch it on a screen and IRL at the same time. My advice is to just stay home, watch it on TV. And damn Danny Ainge for not taking Dragan Bender...

A week later, I cruised out to a thing for Chuck Klosterman’s newest book, But What If We're Wrong? He was in conversation with Wesley Morris, of Grantland fame and while the conversation they had was overall pretty good, I would probably have enjoyed it better as a podcast. It's just hard to sit there and watch people chat for an hour and a half these days isn't it? Verdict: Decent B.

Also, Klosterman is very tall, Morris is very short. That should make for a winning combination but Morris seemed to be off his moderator game. Very impressed with Klosterman in person though. He's got this nice ability to take an audience member's (inevitably) rambly Q&A and instantly summarize the question into something understandable. He'll listen and then go, "So what you're asking is <insert nice wrap up>." Useful skill to practice and emulate I think.
One of my very first podcast episodes (with Lilly!) was about Klosterman actually, concerning his intellectual douchebaggery. The thing is, Klosterman is super smart, and I do really love his writing and he always brings an interesting twisted perspective to things. So I change my verdict, Klosterman's not really a douchebag at all, with the possible exception that he's likely a serial mansplainer. But is that okay because he just knows so much?!

Last thing, if you’re into ex-Gossip Girl leads, sharks, and beautiful surf scenes, go watch The Shallows. Nobody would go watch it with me so I was forced to see it myself. Well naysayers, you totally missed out because Blake Lively versus shark was everything I wanted it to be and more. Since basically all of the current crop of summer blockbusters are kind of sucking right now, at the very least The Shallows will make you cringe and get nervous for Serena van der Woodsen’s well-being. Shaaaarks!

And this past Friday I hit up a New York beach for the first time, Long Beach, which was way far out there. I wouldn't normally have gone except my friend offered to drive. (I live right by the beach back home, why would I sit on a train for an hour to get to one?) Anyway, you try new things and you learn new things. Two word game changer: beach chairs.

23 June 2016

Marginalia

And now I’m fully in the swing of things, having gone so far as to fill out my Google Calendar with potential events. You know, things you think you’ll do but then pull out at the last minute? Like this Romy and Michele's Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance that I really want to go to — just look at those playlists! — but I know there’s slim chances of me making an afternoon dance party. Still, dare to dream.

As I’ve already covered my NBA Finals exploits, the other things of note I wanted to highlight was Eclipse, a play I saw on Wednesday. Actually I’ll just quote myself (how gauche!), from the fourth issue of Cool It Now: "Let's be real, you're never going to get Hamilton tickets. So what's the next best thing? How about the first all-black, all female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway? Eclipse is a play about four captive wives during the Second Liberian Civil War....the whole play was amazing, and Eclipsed will likely make the rounds, even if it's leaving Broadway soon. Just keep the play's name on your cultural radar!”

So that was Wednesday, and then on Thursday I hopped to AAWW again for a reading featuring Esme Wang, a writer I’ve been following online for awhile. Wang’s work is emotional, confessional, and often has a focus on creating while struggling with mental disorders, specifically schizophrenia. Her new book, The Border of Paradise, is partially set in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and I can’t wait to read it.

Also during the reading, a new writer I was introduced to, Wei Tchou, shared with us her Tiny Letter about Wendi Deng, aka "the world's most perfect woman.” Sign up with me and stay up-to-date on the former Mrs. Murdoch!
And last Saturday I went to a local B&N for Dhonielle and Sona’s book panel, as part of B&N’s inaugural YA book fest. (And in a month is their debut party for Shiny Broken Pieces, the follow up to Tiny Pretty Things). Afterwards we trekked, well Ubered, to Shanghai Cafe for some Chinese food. And after hanging out at yet another great NYC secret bar — Genuine Liquorette, which served wonderful music —we cleaned up with more Chinese food at Congee Village. Verdict: Chinatown Chinese food is greasy! But we knew that. Sigh, I guess you can't have Taiwan back again... Unless you go to Flushing! Please someone take me to Flushing?

Exactly a week later I found myself at Parkside Lounge, waiting for my friend’s DJ to spin. It was a long wait, as he didn’t come on until 2AM or so, and in the meantime I just sat on the sidelines, not moving. It got to the point where my friends were worried I was sick or something. “Nope, nope, just old!” I wasn’t feeling the middle set and had to conserve energy for the old school hip hop that was sure to come. And when it finally did, we got in a good hour or so of fun and finally I got some good proper dancing in.

Maybe this will portend more summer dancing, otherwise I’m not sure what I’m even doing with my (night life) here. Note: The usual crowd at Parkside is not one we like, but the once a month party is old school hip hop and had some amazing throwback jams.

Oh, popped by the Brooklyn Makers Market on Sunday, and bought a handy pouch with an egg on it, but otherwise passed on all the jewelry and various other tchotchkes. One guy was selling pens shaped like disembodied eye stems and eyeballs. No thank you!

20 June 2016

Finally, and Good Riddance

What were you doing when LeBron re-ascended the throne? I was surrounded by like twenty TVs in a previously raucous Golden State bar. Oh how the Cleveland fans emerged from their silent bubble after Kyrie hit the game clinching three over Steph. Fifty-two years between championships is basically a lifetime, so I guess I’m happy for Believeland.

Up until GM7, I was cheering for the Warriors, but after a piss poor GM6, I switched allegiances and wanted LeBron to win. Mainly to just get him out of the headlines, and have this “Cleveland hasn’t won…” storyline out of the way. Make no mistake, I have no love for the Cavaliers. I mean, I hate/fear LeBron, wasn’t sold on Kyrie as a star, pray every day the Celtics don’t trade for Kevin Love, and basically have cheered against the Cavs for years. But if it takes LeBron making the greatest comeback in Finals history to get him out of my life, so be it. Congrats King!

Trying to watch big sports games in New York is always an exercise in scrambling. Most people don’t have big enough apartments, or a large TV, to invite people over. And since I hate sports bars, my ideal setup is just to have a handful of people in a quiet space. For example, I watched GM5 at my friend’s hotel lounge down in Tribeca. It was just three of us, with the occasional stop in from some of the staff. The television was large and the room was quiet, it was glorious.

Here’s where I watched all the games for the 2016 NBA Finals.

  • GM1: Landed into JFK airport, flipped on League Pass, and watched the Warriors dismantle the Cavs from the back of a cab. Then turned it off to get Korean chicken wings in the East Village.
  • GM2: Went to a friend of a friend’s apartment in Flatiron after watching The Nice Guys, and ate pizza and Italian food for a home style viewing experience.
  • GM3: After going to last week’s AAWW thing, I watched the first half at a Five Guys on my phone and then went to meet my friend cross town. She was watching it with a bunch of her younger co-workers, who were streaming off an illegal Reddit stream. Also, there were bongs.
  • GM4: Trekked out to Long Island City for my friend’s combo pizza and watch party. Cleveland lost and we thought the series was basically over. No surprise: Pizza parties are the best!
  • GM5: The aforementioned hotel lounge. So quiet we could’ve taken a nap. Ate McDonald's cookies to power up for the second half. Both us and the Warriors petered out by the end.
  • GM6: A Cleveland blow out as I sat around at a Times Square area bar, trying to squint across the room at the televisions. USA was playing Ecuador too, and half the bar was split between basketball and soccer. Not ideal.
  • GM7: Reserved a table for eight at Campeon in Union Square. There are almost TVs on every square inch of the walls. The place was packed, the volume turned up high, and DJs spun during commercial breaks. It was like we were at the game. For a big sports event, this was the perfect viewing experience. High recommend.
So yeah, that’s how you gotta scramble around if you’re devoid of a regular spot to watch, and also don’t like to be around rowdy drunk people. At first I was thinking how this long ass series was ruining my New York social life, but upon consideration, the games did provide a good reason to gather random groups of people together and hang out. Now I guess we'll have to just focus on Game of Thrones... Until that ends too.


This coming Thursday I’m attending the NBA Draft at Barclays Center. While tickets seem overpriced for something that would be far better to watch on TV, this is a rare opportunity. The Celtics have the #3 overall pick, plus two more first-rounders and four second-rounders. We’ll be in the action all night! Plus, for a mere $50, who knows when I’ll get a chance to go to a NBA draft again?

For the record, assuming Danny Ainge doesn’t trade away our top pick, I hope he swings for the fences and drafts Dragan Bender. Boom or bust baby, boom or bust! And if Ainge somehow trades that #3 pick for Jahlil Okafor I'm gonna cry.

09 June 2016

The Town

Here we are, one week into New York, aka another summer! My first take upon arriving last Thursday was that it’s a cesspool here, as I biked down toward the East Village on 1st Avenue. But I tried to remember that’s what I always feel when I get here — especially post-Taiwan and having such clean subways and stuff. With New York, you take the good with the bad and a few whiffs of garbage and drunks wasn’t going to diminish its greatness. As a Lucky Peach article comparing SF versus NY food stated, "People move to New York to be plugged into the pulsebeat of the world.” I needed to feel the pulse.

After a weekend of co-ed bachelor party stuff, mainly consisting of a burlesque show at Duane Park, I was ready to dive into some of New York’s cultural offerings. Oh, this time around, I’m subletting a room in Stuy Town, which is located between 1st Ave and Avenue C. Stuy Town is a private residential village, six blocks high by three avenues deep, and filled with massive brown buildings where nice Manhattanites are silo-ed in. It’s a bit far from most of the subway stops but my summer plans are to just Citibike everywhere so no matter. (While I probably wouldn’t live here full time, my sublet is only for two months so I figured I would want to be in the city at least.)

If there’s any restorative for my joy in the city, it’s biking up and down the streets at night. 2nd Avenue bike lane, you're the best!

On Tuesday night, I went to my friend’s open salon at his School for Poetic Computation. Brandon, who’s actually my classmate from Taiwan, has also moved here from overseas concurrently with me, and is engaged in this ten week course. (The school's motto: "More poems less demos.”)

The salon featured a variety of artists, coders, video game makers, and other speakers who were sharing their works. It was a packed room and it made me think of how just about any niche interest in New York can bring in a crowd. That’s the beauty. Plus the crowd was quite diverse, filled with minorities and women, which was a pleasant surprise.
And then last night I went to a reading at AAWW, after biking up to the Flatiron and picking up dumplings and boba on the way. Hua Hsu, of Grantland and The Atlantic among many others, was introducing his new book, and the co-guests were stellar. Jon Caramanica, music writer for the New York Times. Ashok Kondabolu, formerly Dapwell from Das Racist. Plus Kiese Laymon, whose work I’d been following for years. (Laymon couldn’t make it unfortunately.) It was an all-star lineup and even with all that, I found myself there by way of Esther Wang, a writer I’ve only recently started following on Twitter.

Again, packed house. And a thought provoking event. I didn’t stick around afterwards because I rushed out for a hamburger and to watch the GSW-CLE game, but I’ll be back next week for an event with Esme Wang.
And I guess that’s what I’m talking about, that stuff like this doesn’t happen for me elsewhere. Maybe it’s there, maybe I’m not digging hard enough, but in New York things are just easy, accessible. There’s too many things that bring my various interests together. Of course this is weighed down with the inconvenience of living here, and the high cost, but that's just part of the package isn't it?

My stated goal this summer was to revamp my circle. Find some community, find some new friends, get inspired, get some work/writing done. And underpinning that is to find out where to stay for the next few months. I guess it’s a beginning. Again.