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 (https://tenaciouslyyours.com), 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:
- 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.
- $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.
- 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.