I woke up early Monday morning to loud rain. It was an hour before my alarm and it looked miserable outside. Had it been a nice morning, even if it were cold, I would have thrown on a sweatshirt and run to Domino Park for one last look at the city. I would have sat there in peace, the occasional jogger or dog walker few and far between, staring at the Manhattan skyline, lost in thought. I would have looked toward One World Trade, trying to remember how it all began.
I would have walked back. Leisurely, savoring the brisk air, and memorizing the quiet storefronts. I would have picked up coffee and a bagel on the way back. Not because that was any part of my New York routine, but because I can, one last time. I would have done all of this before dutifully returning back to the apartment by 9am, sending off some final emails, gathering my things, and and calling a car for JFK, the first time I’ve been in a car in nearly two months.
But none of that happened. Instead, I woke up bright and early to the pattering of rain on my window. I lingered in bed before giving up and sending off those emails earlier than needed. I changed, did some final tidying up. Made my bed, for once. Made breakfast, for once. And then called a car for JFK, the first time I’ve been in a car in nearly two months.
I didn’t really get to think about leaving New York, not in the dramatic way I had hoped. Even in the car, watching the skyline fade behind me as we drove deeper into Queens, I was actually quite tuned in to NPR, and not lost in thought about leaving the city. It didn’t feel like goodbye, not even a temporary one.
Before I knew it I was on the plane, a long haul across the country, felt even longer under the cloud of a pandemic. Before I knew it I was descending into what used to be my personal hell, now a welcome old friend, albeit one in distress. California and Los Angeles aren’t faring well these days.
Before I knew it I was saying hello to my old home, without properly saying goodbye to my new home. In an ironic turn of events, I’m finishing off the year where it started, back in California.
So I guess now, after I’m settled back into the suburbs of southern California, I might as well face it.
Goodbye, New York.
It’s been weird.
See you in 2021.
My 2020 existence bookended by brinks of uncertainty. The only two months I would fully spend outside of New York this year: January and December. January, not even knowing I would be moving to New York. December, not truly knowing whether I’ll ever be back here in the home and town I grew up in.
What a year. 270 days after moving across the country to New York City, I leave it to spend the rest of this crazy year out of the strange haven it’s become. A global pandemic, a tumultuous election, a cultural movement and an industry reckoning later, I still feel like I barely know my new home city, but somehow it still feels like a comforting bubble insulated, practically isolated from the chaotic world beyond.
I’ve only ever known this version of New York. I’ve only known New York City in quarantine. I’ve known it in a surreal state, where the iconic and mesmerizing life and energy has left for beach houses and upstate homes.
I’ve only ever known this kind of New York. The one that started off anxious, quickly spiraled into darkness, and then called on its iconic tenacity to pull through to become a beacon of hope precariously balanced at all times, constantly teetering on the verge of descending into desperation once more. I’ve known New York City in quarantine. I’ve known it with restrictions. For a week or so back in June, I even knew it with curfews. I’ve known it in this surreal state, where people tell you that it’s a shell of what it used to be, where the life it’s known for has left to go upstate or back to Jersey or Connecticut or wherever these people come from.
But in spite of all that, the city has grown on me. I can still appreciate the collateral benefits of the pandemic, unexpectedly relieving me of inconveniences that New Yorkers defend to the death. Sure, I still don’t know what subway lines go where. Sure, most of what I know of the city is what I can see through my window. Sure, I’ve only ventured to a few neighborhoods in the city, and out of my ever-growing list of restaurants to try, I’ve only been to a handful, ordered in from a few others, and let’s be real, haven’t cross referenced to see which have fallen victim to the pandemic. But it’s not all bad. I do like my life in New York, even though it’s a far cry from everything I had dreamed of. Despite what some may say, there are worse places to be.
Here’s to hoping that I’ll get to know New York and her true colors next year.
a look back
In late February, I landed in JFK with two suitcases in hand, a giant coat, and the next chapter of my life before me. I was wide eyed in wonder (or as wide eyed as one could be with jet lag). Too tired to dive into the chaos, but excited nonetheless to dive in once I had some semblance of a routine and a place to call home.
By mid-March, that exciting new chapter had abruptly ended, and the next one took us on a wide turn. March marks the only time I existed with an almost normal routine, my first week of work (and my only full week of work..) in office. March also marks the most dire time for New York City, when the nervous energy translated to apocalyptic scenes at Trader Joes, which quickly turned into the loudest silence, a vast and deafening emptiness in the city at the height of the pandemic, with deaths piling up, catapulting the city to be the epicenter of the global pandemic. The one month I spent living in Manhattan in the center of it all, a ghost of what it could have been.
At the end of March, I took a Lyft to Brooklyn to spend my next month locked up in an apartment in Bed Stuy trying to figure out what’s next. For the month of April, my existence was restricted within a few blocks of the apartment. I would only venture as far as the Foodtown. I went on a couple socially distant walks with a friend (so grateful to have a friend be close enough). It was a dreary April. Grey, rainy, cold. I ordered in, a lot. My food saw more of the city than I did. I finally gave into cooking. And dealt with that quart of pickled daikon I panic purchased.
In May, I finally got some sense of permanence, moving into an apartment in Williamsburg (I had never been to Williamsburg prior to the day I moved in). I purchased furniture (for the first time since February, not all of my belongings fit in two suitcases). I went outside on a run (the first of man). I saw Manhattan for the first time, first from across the water in Domino Park, then trekking across the bridge (the first of many) for a socially distant walk around LES. I started to have some semblance of routine. I also started to cook, and bake. Like never before. Choosing the most time consuming projects, just to have something to do away from a screen for a while. It felt good to use my hands, to try new things within the confines of an apartment. I panic purchased 20 lbs of flour and 1 lb of yeast. I made a lot of bread. And I started to get a little better at food pics along the way.
June was strange. It was summer, but it was a fraught entrance into summer. America was angry. New York was angry too. I was angry. I felt bad not participating, but I’d feel bad if I did too. Signs of protest around the neighborhood, art in the streets, reminders that even a pandemic isn’t a good enough excuse to stop fighting, because a pandemic only perpetuates systemic inequities.
By July, it was hot. Humid. Masks were, unpleasant to say the least. But New York was determined to have a summer. And so we went to the parks, looking for shady spots for picnics. We dined outside in the heat, took our cocktails in sippy cups from the to-go windows. They had been talking about the “new normal” for months by now, but it finally felt like a new kind of “normal.”
Throughout the summer, I got to know the city a little more. Venturing a little further. Sometimes, a lot further (note to self: never agree to a bike ride without first knowing the destination, you might just end up in 100 degree heat up by the George Washington Bridge). I got to know Chinatown, slowly but surely coming back to life after months of devastating silence. A lot of shops and restaurants that I’ll never know, permanently shuttered. Other ones cautiously opening their doors, community members determined to save the neighborhood one business at a time. It feels at the same time so foreign, yet so comfortingly homey, and quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.
And then it was suddenly fall. Well, it was hot, and then suddenly really cold. And then for about a week, perfection. And then suddenly winter. Not that jacket season would have been much anyways, but no one is truly mad about having fewer reasons to use those winter coats.
The fall colors seeped into the city. The pumpkins came out. The streets became filled with creative interpretations of outdoor dining. And of course, we were let inside for the first time since March.
November 3rd, the eye of the storm. November 4th, palpable anxiety through the city. November 5th, a resigned calm. November 7th, a city erupting in elation. It was a sunny day, not warm but also not cold. People flooded the streets. Not really to do anything but to scream and laugh and cry and shout and sing. For a moment the pandemic seemed ok. For a moment, New York seemed to get a glimmer of her former self. Sure the CityMD lines were wrapped around the block the next day, but for a moment we remembered something good in the world, in our little bubble of a city, insulated from the fraught tensions in the rest of the country.
to the few things I’ve eaten, and the few establishments I’ve visited this year, I appreciate each and every one of you for adding a little color to this strange NYC experience
And finally, at the onset of winter, a temporary goodbye. I’ll miss whatever semblance of holiday the city has this year. But I’m sure it’ll be beautiful (ok, the Rockerfeller tree might not bode well, but still).
Looking back, there’s no other place I’d rather have spent 2020 (in America, bc let’s be real, Taiwan is the place to be). I experienced New York in pivotal moments, not just for the year, but for a generation. My New York life has been punctuated by a pandemic and an election. This has felt like a strange prolonged orientation in purgatory. And I still look forward to finally officially starting my life in New York City, someday. Soon.