When I travel to a new place, I either feel that “this is great, but once is enough” or “I want to come back here again.” New York City is definitely the latter for me. I love New York. I would be happy to wear that famous “I ♡ NY” T-shirt, if I owned one (I don’t, unfortunately). When I was a student in the US, I visited New York several times. I loved the city’s vibe: I loved sitting at a café watching the people pass. I loved going to the theatre for musicals and concerts. I loved seeing skyscrapers between the big trees at Central Park. I even liked the funny smell of old subways. Yes, my love for New York was blind. In fact, I wanted to live there for a couple of years. Not as a tourist, but I wanted to feel the city’s vibe as a part of my daily life. But then, it was a dream I knew that was not going to happen, a mere fantasy of youth. I moved to Thailand after finishing college and have lived here for the last two decades. Busy with family and work, I hadn’t even thought about visiting New York.
But my dream, nearly forgotten, came true this summer, well kind of. My daughter took an internship in New York City and I joined her for over ten days. I know it is a very short period to call it “live”, but when you have a key for an apartment, cook in the kitchen and do your own laundry in a laundromat, you get a taste of “living.” (Especially when the building has no elevator and you have to climb up five stories to get to your room.) When my daughter told me she received an internship offer in the Big Apple, which was unpaid, I didn’t know what to say. I had mixed feelings. Of course, I was happy for her, since this company, a wellness event organising company was her dream job and I could feel her excitement on the other end of line. At the same time, the practical side of me wondered, “how much does it cost to live in New York?”, and accordingly, “who’s going to pay for it?” I had no idea of the prevailing rent of a decent apartment in Manhattan. By decent, I don’t mean luxury, but safe enough for a young girl to live. I assumed, not cheap. US cities are places that you pay for safety, since it is not given. Yet while I was speculating the pros and cons of her NY internship, I couldn’t help but being excited myself. “Oh, my gosh, she is making my dream come true.”
Bringing up children gives you a chance to live life twice. I mean, you go through the same experiences living vicariously: I remember the first time I took my daughter to a playground. I had not stepped into a playground for more than two decades and almost forgotten about its existence. Yet, when I watched her laughing on a swing, the simple joy of riding a swing, feeling the wind on my cheeks, trying to go higher and higher, came back to me all at once. I had once laughed like that, when a playground was such a magical world to me… As your children go through every step of their lives, like the first day of school or the first date, you share their feelings of excitement, joy, and sometimes sadness. So when my daughter said she was going to New York, memories from my youth, when my life was full of possibilities and I was dreaming endlessly, flashed back. Finding an affordable rent was still an issue, but she had found a great sublet-deal through a friend on social media, so that she could manage her NY stay with her own savings. I was impressed by her determination to make this come true, which I didn’t have at that age. My daughter was realising my un-realised dream twenty years later… This is a delightful part of parenthood, indeed.
Then this wonderful sublet didn’t work out in the end and we were sent into a panic only a couple of weeks before she was to move to New York. To make a long story short, she found a place within 36 hours upon arrival. It was a tiny old apartment and cost more than twice as much as the original sublet. Inevitably, we had to help support her rent. This is a “not-so-delightful” part of parenthood, indeed. Oh, well. Her apartment was in a nice residential area in East Village (I felt safe enough). Whilst she was at work, I explored the neighbourhood as if I was a local, having recently moved to the city. It was bliss to walk around without sweating. (I mean, how far can you go without perspiring in Bangkok?) Within a few blocks, there was an open market, restaurant, bakery, café, and even off-Broadway theatre. Many were small, independently-run shops, and some of them were very longstanding. I love those small old shops: Veselka, a Ukrainian diner, established in 1954, looked like the prototype of an American diner, only serving Ukrainian food instead of burgers. I enjoyed their Pierogi, Ukrainian dumplings steamed in the open kitchen behind the counter. Veniero’s, an Italian bakery, established in 1894 (!), had a showcase full of sweets.
Their display was not modern or stylish, but cosy and nostalgic; you feel like you’ve seen these sweetshops when you were a kid. Their Sicilian ricotta cheesecake was soft and fluffy, and not too sweet. I am not so fond of dense creamy NY style cheesecake, so having this bakery in walking distance was such a pleasure. I liked their unpretentious service as well, slicing the cake the size you want and selling it by weight. I enjoyed hopping into these shops, listening to the pleasantries exchanged with the locals (many were with their dogs) and pretending I was a part of it. When I came home from a walk, I made a tea in her tiny kitchen. While waiting for the water to boil, I sat on a small chair and looked out from the rear window. The window was facing the backsides of other apartments and you could see furniture inside or a potted plant on the window sill. I imagined the lives behind the windows and savoured the moment.
On the weekend, my daughter had a full schedule ready. She is a meticulous organiser; She had done research, checking reputations, locations, transportation options and prices. It was like having a personal tour guide, only the plan was based on the guide’s preference, not necessarily the client’s. Thankfully, her list consisted of adventures that I had never done and restaurants I had never visited, so the client was quite happy to oblige. An open-helicopter ride was something I had never thought of doing myself. I don’t have acrophobia but I don’t long for heights, either. My daughter loves heights. She had found a limited time offer of 50% off the price for the helicopter rides and her enthusiasm convinced me to purchase tickets. (I learned later that they always allow for a 50% off coupon.) The half an hour tour turned out to be amazing, bringing big smiles to both my daughter and me.
From the dizzying heights, the city looked magnificent at dusk, twinkling like jewels with blue-grey background. Hovering over Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty from the above was like watching a science fiction movie, only real. To be honest, I got a little nervous when it was time for the “shoe-selfie”; you shift yourself to the side of an open door to let your legs out. You could feel the gusts of wind through your shoes reminding you how high you are. I had to restrain myself from asking the pilot, who looked just a little older than my teenage son, “Are you certified to fly?” Her restaurants of choice were themed as “healthy and organic.” (Remember, she interned for a “wellness” event organising company.) Now that the world is going in that direction, the restaurants are in fashion, fully packed at dinner time. We liked the ABC Kitchen on East 18th street. With a Michelin chef, they pioneered the slow food movement and ingredients are free of pesticides, GMO-free, and humanely sourced. They certainly sounded very “healthy and organic.”
We like it so much that we went to their vegan branch the next day. I couldn’t help but think how time passes and things change. My concept of American cuisine was associated with meat and potatoes, maybe pizza, from my college days in the US. I never thought a vegan restaurant could be a trendy spot. I am not a vegan or vegetarian (I really don’t know the difference) and I couldn’t synonymize “healthy” with “delicious” before. But to my surprise, my dish was excellent. The pasta was tossed in a smooth nut sauce with herbs I had never heard of. The roasted carrot was sweet with a combination of creamy avocado and crispy green leafs. My daughter smiled: “I saved this restaurant for you, Mom.” (I realised the hidden meaning when I paid for the bill: eating vegetables doesn’t mean it is cheap. I love New York.) Following a schedule of a 20 year old means there is not much rest time. Your day is packed with activities: kayaking on the Hudson river, sampling food at the Smorgasburg – an open air food market, watching a musical (this time, Aladdin!), meeting up with old and new friends.
The distance between destinations didn’t faze her and walking and taking subways was her main modes of transportation. She had no problem walking for half an hour to buy a cup of Matcha Latte at her “must-try” café. I followed her as best as I could, but sometimes I had to beg, “can we take an Uber?” Again I couldn’t help but think that time passes and things change. When she was a toddler, I took her hand everywhere. I made a plan and figured out logistics. She was a follower. Now she is taking my hand and I am a follower. The only thing hasn’t changed is I am still paying for everything. Will this change some day? I hope so. My daughter loved living in New York City. She says she is going to move back after graduating from college. I am not sure how she is going to survive New York’s winter, but we will see. I am looking forward to living in New York again.