NYC & a 30th Birthday 4.14.17

In early March I enjoyed a week in New York City with friends and family. This visit enabled me to transit from Asia to South America without spending an outrageous number of hours in airports and on airplanes. More importantly, traveling through NYC allowed me to visit special friends and celebrate my birthday with people who matter in my life.

When my friend Kat, who is an excellent blogger (, noticed I spent a week in the US, she sent me a few questions. Thanks Kat for the chance to reflect, here are my musings on your questions.

Moments of US culture shock:

  • Style
    • People in every neighborhood dressed in coordinating clothing, a choice that to me indicated the value my culture places on appearances as well as the reality that most people in the US have the time and financial resources to invest in appearance.
  • Children’s gear
    • In the places I traveled, kids walk or are carried and parents do not move around with strollers, carriers, toys, snacks, diapers, and extra clothes for the child. A parent in the US may consider these items basics for any excursion out of the house.
  • Costs
    • $80 SIM card, $12 for a basic meal, and hotel rooms at $180 were prices I perceived as high because I travel on a $60 USD per day budget outside of the US.
  • Cleanliness
    • Seeing trash cans in public spaces and streets without garbage, while normal in NYC, are no longer standards I expect. Related, the streets are not dusty and the air was not polluted.

Moments of delight:

  • Moving beyond smiles and basic conversation with people I met on transit, at restaurants and at stores. I could bring my whole personality into a short conversation instead of feeling the limits of a language barrier.
  • Seeing the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity present in the US and especially in NYC. In most countries I visited, citizens have a homogenous appearance and my appearance was an obvious indicator of my foreigner status. In the US, I did not stand out.
  • Talking with friends for hours. The conversations I have with a friend who shares my background and who I have known for years are fulfilling in a way conversations with people I meet through travel and know for a short period of time are not.

Moments of unpreparedness:

  • The weather. I was not ready for near freezing temperatures.
I treated myself to travel via Emirates Airlines for flights from Yangon to Dubai and Dubai to New York City. The experience was as good as I expected. There is extra leg room, comfortable chairs, an amenities kit, and I traveled on the huge A380 planes with the round staircase. It is still a sore spot so this story is in the fine print – I missed my flight departing from Yangon. I confused AM and PM. My ticket information from Emirates did not list AM or PM and all the times were in the AM. I was using the wrong cultural lens and arrived 10 hours late for the flight. It was not a winning travel day. I was re-booked for a relatively small fee and 24 hours later I arrived in NYC. The moral of my travel fail is to use the application TripIt for managing a travel itinerary.
This NYC post combines food and adventures. These are meals on the flights plus my first fresh food in a long time – a wrap. I ate the wrap in the Dubai airport at a crazy hour, when I was not hungry, but the idea of a fresh vegetarian wrap pulled at me so strong I could not resist.
Ellen and I are friends from high school. She and her husband Jake hosted me in their Harlem apartment for four nights. Ellen prepared a delicious carrot soup for dinner when I arrived. We drank lots of wine together. A home cooked meal eaten in a house and without any rush means more to me now than before I started traveling.
I turned 30 in NYC! Ellen picked up special almond croissants for my birthday morning. She had a later start at work that day so we ate breakfast together and Jake joined too before going to his office. I appreciated eating fruit and yogurt to start my day instead of eating rice.
Jake and Ellen invited me to a special birthday dinner at Candle 79, a restaurant on the Upper West Side with a vegan menu. Kudos to these party people who, after full days working, joined in a relaxing birthday dinner. The food was outstanding including this chocolate torte. I tried seitan for the first time and enjoyed it. A plate with vegetables and without fried food was a perfect welcome home.
At Jake and Ellen’s home I quickly returned to favorite old habits – eating while reading the newspaper, and snacking on vegetables.
Chris and I have are friends from Concordia Language Camp’s Russian village. We have known each other since 2002. When I planned my NYC visit and contacted Chris, he reserved his one open night a week for me. Amazingly coincidental, he lives within walking distance of Jenny and Jim on the Upper West Side. We talked tons and ate a meal of Ethiopian food.
Jenny and I met when we both began working at One Stop Student Services at the University of Minnesota 7 years ago. She and her husband Jim and their wonderful kids moved to NYC 3 years ago for a job opportunity. They hosted me in their apartment for 2 nights. I loved my time dropping into the daily life of a family of four with a black labrador dog.
I walked the family dog, Bubs, a few times while I stayed with Jenny and Jim. We strolled up and down Broadway and also walked Riverside Drive. On one of our walks Bubs and I passed this food truck selling one of my favorite street foods from Beijing, jianbing.

Blog NYC - 32 of 92

My sister Wendy and her significant other Mike traveled to NYC to celebrate my birthday, take a vacation, and so we could spend time together. It was an honor to have family find me during this year of travel.
Mike, Wendy and I met at Absolute Bagels, one of the top bagel shops in the city. We ate fresh bagels covered in ridiculous amounts of homemade cream cheese. We also made a food stop at Tom’s Restaurant, Mike explained this restaurant has a re-occuring role in the television show Seinfeld. Cheese was a food I rarely ate in Asia so these meals were extra delicious.
Wendy, Mike and I walked miles in NYC. On my activity list was to walk The Highline, an elevated walkway and park on the West Side. I enjoyed the city views from above street level and the chance to walk through various neighborhoods. It was a lot colder in NYC than anywhere I had traveled. Jenny loaned me a hat and Wendy brought me mittens. I wore many layers and bought a sweatshirt in the city too.
Photos of two signs that resonated with me. On The Highline this bilingual text proclaimed everyone is welcome. Also on The Highline was this carved message that feels relevant given my current long term travel reality. Visiting a city with the time and resources to think about and create thoughtful messaging was another change I appreciated about my quick visit to the US.
Eating a hamburger was a must-do for my time in the US. Jim recommended Harlem Shake, a restaurant within walking distance of his home and Ellen’s place. The food at this diner style restaurant was delicious. The hamburger patties were thin and well grilled. As befits a birthday week, I paired my meal with a beer.
Seeing city neighborhoods and brownstone houses as well as traveling on the subway were experiences I looked at differently after my visits in other large cities.
Wendy and Mike stayed at a hotel in Midtown. I booked a room at the same hotel for a few nights too. The hotel room was so comfortable relative to where I usually stay that leaving to enjoy the city was a challenge. Wendy and Mike brought this birthday gift to me from my Grandma Lange. Hi GL!
Across the street from our hotel was The Pennsy, a self-described high end food hall. For under $15 per meal we enjoyed cheese steak sandwiches and salads all made with organic, healthy ingredients. Thanks to Ellen for this great tip for a quick, tasty meal that still felt like an only-in-NYC experience.
After eating at The Pennsy, the three of us napped. Around 10:45pm we headed out for a birthday celebration at one of NYC’s oldest music clubs, Webster Hall. By RSVPing early we entered for free as long as we arrived before midnight. I loved this dance party! Thanks to all my friends who, along with me, went out for a totally not-our-scene and incredibly late night out.
Sunday morning Wendy and Mike departed for Minneapolis. Before they left, we enjoyed brunch together at a restaurant near Times Square. Mike and Wendy are committed brunch people so it was extra special for me to participate in their weekly routine and for all of us to brunch in NYC.
Amanda and I met when we were a part of the student team coordinating Orientation & Welcome Week at the University of Minnesota. She made a special trip to NYC to spend time with me and arrived just after Mike and Wendy left. We ended our fast few days together with a delicious brunch. We split sweet and savory meals for the perfect combination of morning food.
Amanda and I walked through Greenwich Village on our way to visit the cookie dough shop called Do. The line at Do was so long we did not try this new food. We did stop at Magnolia Bakery, famous from the Sex & City television show, where I bought a delicious caramel vanilla slice of cake. As we began our walk, we passed a salad shop. My vegetable cravings were satisfied when we ate this healthy, fresh lunch.
My time in NYC included a toiletry re-stock. I visited LUSH Cosmetics in Midtown to buy more shampoo and body wash bars. If you are counting, I have also visited LUSH in Hong Kong and Bangkok. I also re-stocked face lotions at the Origins store and bought batteries, sudafed, curly hair gel, bendryl creme, and pony tail holders at a drug store. Ellen and Jake have a luxury item for NYC life: an in-unit washer and dryer. I cannot remember being so excited to do my own laundry.
My last meal in New York was a homemade, tapas style affair at Ellen’s house. Departing NYC, I walked from her and Jake’s place to the subway. Then I rode the subway to the skytrain to JFK. Without any timing challenges, I boarded a direct flight from NYC to Santiago, Chile.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. jeffwashburne says:

    Great observations….mentally making summaries as we are rounding out our travels. Made a similar bonehead a.m./p.m. air ticket mistake on flights from Bangkok to Krabi. Fortunately, they were cheap flights. I suppose I should have posted my blunder then as it might have saved you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OY! Thanks for sharing your am/pm mistake. Embarrassment, instead of misery in this case, loves company. Best to you both as you get ready to return to the states!


  2. Ellen says:

    So fun to relive your visit! It was so special to get to be a part of your birthday during this incredible year. You captured our time together well, and it was also fun to read more of your reflections on culture differences after the fact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ellen! For everything!


  3. Linda Woessner says:

    LOVED this blog. Not sure why exactly. Maybe it’s just knowing that you were close to home and realizing how much we miss you and of course, seeing you with you sister and Mike. Continued safe and happy travels, sweetheart!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kat says:

    SARAH. You looked so glow-y in all of these pictures. My hypothesis: an abundance of vegetables combined with a week to re-charge with family and friends before continuing your excellent adventure. I loved the different observations. I think I will be interested to hear if/how your eating habits change once your travel is over (veggies 4 eva? More savory breakfasts?). As always, enjoying all of the travelogues. Carry on safely, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glow-y from the woman who is pregnant, that is a true compliment. Thanks Kat. I will validate your hypothesis on the extra big smile – veggies and a re-charge for the win. Hmmmm, yes I am interested to see how I eat differently too. After so many days of restaurant eating I wonder if I will enjoy cooking as much. Hope so. Thanks for your comments.


  5. Wen says:

    Yay! This post made me very happy and it is fun to relive a great weekend! So glad we were able to see you! Can’t wait to see what S.A. Brings

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The plus to being a month+ behind on blogging. It’s kinda fun to see all of our activities after the fact. Thanks Wendy!


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