I spent the first half of June running free. The days were long, the heat building up. The city was alive. Crowds gathering. Masks tossed aside. Spaces so empty for so long once again filled. Not a care in the world. Frolicking around Manhattan on weekdays. Taking Summer Fridays to the next level. I had eighteen days of summer in New York City and I wanted to soak in all of it. It’s the happiest I’ve been, the closest I’ve been to living that New York life.
Eighteen days of carefree city life underscored by a series of events that had to take place in a particular order in order for me to, on that 18th night, leave an empty apartment with two suitcases and two passports and fly all the way to the opposite side of the world. And a world’s difference.
Eighteen days followed by fifteen days of solitary confinement. But I signed up for this.
Perhaps the best part about having friends and family visiting is having an excuse to plan out entire days out in the city. These days I take any excuse to be out. Bonus points if it’s a weekday. Longer days mean more time to play and even a grandma like me is willing to leave the house after work.
Crowded subways, bridge walks, outdoor and indoor dining. Brutal heat, sore feet, tan lines. Open fire hydrants. Blasting car music. Picnics in the park. Summer in the city.
My brother was in town the first week and I took it as an excuse to play tourist, hitting art museums and planning out food tours across the city. Packed itineraries and many miles walked each day, making the weekend feel longer just by virtue of the amount of things done.
Honestly though, I have a newfound appreciation for museums not only as a cultural pastime but also as a refuge from weather, be it lightning storms or heat waves.
I haven’t eaten out this much in a very, very long time. I don’t think I experienced hunger or anything less than “kinda full” this entire month. Every meal was an excuse to go somewhere else. And since we were there we went all out. I don’t even have an appetite during the summer, but that didn’t stop me.
I barely bothered with groceries this month, batch roasting veggies for grain bowls and salads for work lunches and eating out like my life depended on it, only cooking when I realized I needed to finish what I had in the fridge before I left, and getting real strategic in the process. Gochujang, miso paste, furikake, kewpie mayo and black vinegar were my best friends in my creative pantry cooking.
A casual café lunch @ King Street Coffee, even though I wasn’t hungry because I was already in Manhattan and couldn’t resist making lunch plans on a Monday.
Ice cream “appetizer” before dinner because heat. They ran out of scoops so we just got a pint.
Nabe for an outdoor dinner on the last “cool” day of the season.
A post-PCR treat @ lion’s milk bc I dream of burek.
Dragged my brother out for a quick breakfast by Bryant Park before my appointment at TECO.
A very ambitious Chinatown haul feat. Shu Jiao Fu Zhou, Spicy Village, Cha Chan Teng, Buddha Bodai and Tiger Sugar.
Started out a Sunday morning @ Katz.
Surprisingly the first time I had a sit-down lunch in the neighborhood, @ Birds of a Feather doesn’t disappoint
Made a strategic detour walking through West Village from the Whitney, just to stop for cannolis at Pasticceria Rocco.
Spicy indoor dining @ mala project.
Roman style pizza @ PQR in UES between museums, even though we weren’t hungry at all.
One of two meals I cooked this entire month, the theme being clean out the fridge.
Spicy noods @ Momofuku Noodle Bar for an indulgent Monday dinner.
Spent a stupid amount of money on iced coffees and teas just walking around the city @ 100 degrees trying not to die.
A luxurious summer friday brunch @ Balthazar
A true pantry meal, inspired by tiktok’s kewpie ramen hack but upgraded to better noodles and fresh garnishes.
Can’t have summer in the city without a picnic, but this time we decided to skip the Saturday crowds on Sheep’s Meadow and opt for a Friday picnic further in Central Park by the conservatory garden. Thankfully NYC was nice and didn’t rain on my picnic.
And made it to one more foodie outing to Flushing. Waited for dim sum for the first time since 2019. Which felt surreal. Who knew this would be something I’d miss? Big tables filled with shared food. The buzz of a Chinese restaurant is something I never knew I’d taken for granted, but it felt good to be back in that chaos. And even though we only made it to 4 stops (dim sum, soup dumplings, egg tarts, boba), it was a solid way to finish off my final weekend.
Before I knew it, it was my last day in New York for the time being. I woke up early that morning, even though it was the national holiday for Juneteenth. I went out for a quick run and sat in the sun in Domino Park for a while. Admiring this glorious city I call home. Marveling at how I could still hear the birds above the city buzz.
I got coffee and did some shopping in Greenpoint and Williamsburg with some friends, and then headed over to Manhattan for an appointment, stopping by Trader Joe’s to pick up some snacks to fill my empty suitcase.
Had leftovers for dinner as I finished packing and headed out for JFK just as the city was getting warmed up for its Friday night festivities.
I’ve flown a few times since the pandemic. Two trips to Chicago, two trips to LA. I felt well enough versed in COVID-era flying, from the eerily empty airports and airplanes of summer 2020 (which were so efficient and clean and comfortable with social distancing in place!) to the “back to normal” Memorial Day Weekend bustle of May 2021. But my cross country flights on domestic airlines were nothing to prepare me for flying to Taiwan on EVA during a “surge” in Taiwan.
While the other terminals of JFK felt almost normal save for face masks, the international terminal felt like we were in April 2020. Starkly quiet. No more than three flights existing in the terminal gates. And of course given EVA’s and Taiwan’s policies and procedures, it was a process even just getting onto the plane. From the paperwork to the various IDs and forms and QR codes, they don’t f*** around like the domestic flights do.
The flight itself was fine. I hadn’t been on a long haul flight since October 2019 (which, for me, is a long time). But it felt fine. I had points that were ready to expire so I upgraded to premium economy which was practically empty. There were no more than 5 of us in the entire section and I had well over six feet between me and the next passenger. The plane was so empty I wonder if they were losing money on the flight. The crew to passenger ratio was probably 1 to 4. After all, only citizens and residents were allowed in, so this was a very exclusive flight.
Of course the real challenge came once we landed. It was probably better that I was running on adrenaline in survival mode, delirious but somehow still managing to spit out coherent Mandarin to go through the dozen steps it took to even make it to customs, and then to a designated quarantine vehicle to take me to the quarantine hotel. Thankfully airport personnel (and customer service in general) in Taiwan are extremely patient and accommodating, guiding me each step of the way even though I was ill prepared.
not that airplane food is ever good, but damn EVA premium economy really let themselves go during the pandemic
As of June 2021, Taiwan is still requiring all people who enter the country to quarantine for 15 days after arriving. They only allowed home quarantines if you are the only person in that home. Otherwise, you had to choose from a selection of government-approved quarantine hotels.
I opted to stay at a casual business-style hotel in the Dongmen neighborhood in Taipei. I had actually stayed here once, nearly 3 years ago. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city, though given I was never allowed out of my room, I guess it didn’t really matter.
After getting dropped off by the quarantine taxi, I was buzzed in, sanitized by a hotel staff in full PPE, and then set up to my open room without a key. From then on, I only opened that door wide enough to grab whatever was placed on the chair outside. And I existed within the four walls. While the room was compact, it was comfortable. And the view of the city kept me sane. Taipei is still in lockdown until July 12, so I didn’t get too much FOMO watching the occasional human walk by. It actually made me feel giddy when I saw a little more traffic out.
There’s something interesting that comes from getting delivered food three times a day. It messes with you psychologically. Even though you’re not physically hungry, you’re expectant as soon as the hour rolls around. It was probably the main source of excitement I had, a mini mystery and surprise at each meal, never quite knowing exactly what will show up at your door, but also at the same time having a general idea of what’s to come.
It’s ironic how well-fed I am by the hands of the hotel, versus when I’m left to feed myself. Meals are a lot more balanced, always plenty of veggies and protein, with some kind of carb base. Fruit with every lunch. All of my meals were fairly Taiwanese. Simple food, bentos, strange “breakfast” foods (ie a fried chicken sandwich is acceptable to be breakfast here), some other easy “small eats” Taiwanese foods. A stark difference from my parents’ bougie hotel quarantine, which actually had a lot more western meals (to my mother’s dismay). And honestly, my food diary IG Story was my one sense of purpose.
Also snacks. I had a little too much fun ordering things from UberEats, getting a wide variety of snacks (yes on top of that Trader Joe’s haul – which I figured I’d save for the family) to be delivered from local supermarkets. I might have gone a little overboard – there was so much it came in a cardboard box, Costco style. But it was again, a source of joy in the monotony of quarantine.
essentially brain candy because we can’t process anything else these days
Tenet because it was on the HBO movie channel and the hotel gave me popcorn to watch it lol.
The Fast franchise because it happened to be on TV and was surprisingly entertaining during quarantine.
In the Heights made me feel closer to NYC even though I’ve never been to Washington Heights. Maybe when I’, back.
WW84, which was imo a solid airplane movie, and surprisingly the only movie I watched on the flight over.
Friends because it’s available on Netflix in this country yay so my ideal background TV is ready to go.
Felt obligated to start this one with all the buzz, but only got through a couple episodes because it was easier to just turn on local TV.
A temporary Taiwanese passport with entry permit (lol) and a ticket to Taipei.
And presents for the nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and mom and dad. Always fun to shop for gifts.
I ate too well this month so it’s hard to decide, but honestly it might have been Caffe Panna ice cream on a very very very hot and humid Sunday. Also very good was breakfast bagels from Edith’s (which was slightly less good on a very very very hot and humid Saturday), and the entire spread at Shanghai You Garden.
The original Broadway recording for In the Heights.
Daytime showers (after a sweaty workout) and then a nice face mask. Luxurious when it’s done at 3pm on a Wednesday.