There was a snowstorm today. I still feel a little surprised to be back in winter, after getting all tanned over in Cambodia. But firstly, some New York notes:
Scaffolding is the bane of my existence! Or at least my New York City experience. While it provides some meager protection from the elements, most of the time it is just ugly. It hides storefronts, making hidden treasures much harder to find. Once it goes up, it seems to never come down. And now, the charming shops on my block (Schatze’s Butcher, the popover cafe, Barney Greengrass the sturgeon king, and the brick Romanesque church) are obscured. It’s not like construction is going to happen anytime soon. The walk home was half as charming. But at least the brownstones are still there, and the foliage will be back before I know it.
Speaking of my neighborhood, it turns out that there is a delightful cafe a mere half block from my apartment building. Apparently the Momofuku Milk Bar (The corn cookie is my favourite) opened there in September and I somehow didn’t see it this entire time. When I moved in, it was an empty street corner. So every time I walked by, I sort of still saw an empty store. The Moth aired a story last August, around the time I moved here, about how the city changes so fast and seems so cold but somehow gets preserved exactly as it was in the minds of everyone. The story set up discovering the city as an act of freezing time so that forever after, that shop on the corner would be, to the new New Yorker, the donut shop even though it closed and reopened several times as first a cafe and then a launderette. And now it is still The Donut Shop. I’m not so sure I see the city, or the Milk Bar, this way and I am sure I won’t be here long enough to test it out. The storefront may have been empty when I first saw it, but surely I should have noticed a cafe go in. Anyway, I am making up for it and have been 3 times this week already.
I think the economy is slowly starting to turn around here. People are still pretty pessimistic. But the Momofuku story isn’t the only empty storefront that has now been successfully leased and filled. I can think of three other new spots within two blocks of my apartment building. Gentrification (or whatever you want to call filling a place with trendy cafes and bars aimed at a younger market) is proceeding in the Upper West Side like it hasn’t since 2008.
On another note, the other big new thing for me is allergies. Ok not new, it started last April. But it’s not hay fever. I am now basically allergic to life. Dust, perfume, smoke… things which never bothered me or anyone else much are my triggers now. I have got it mostly under control after a few months of sneezing my way through classes, and am slowly learning how to not just be a relatively neat person but a genuinely clean person.
I’m happy in New York, this fall has been busy and challenging but absolutely mind-blowing. Over the winter holidays it was nice having such a big change of pace, although I only spent a whopping total of 5 days at home. Enjoyed a long weekend in Victoria too. THEN on boxing day I flew out to Singapore. Everything went smoothly; Singapore customs & immigration was the simplest I have ever had. I suppose they aren’t overly worried about people overstaying their visas. Offenders will be caught in other ways…
Between the humid heat and the time difference and some heavenly company, I was a bit out of it for a few days. We explored Little India, Geylong, Orchard Rd & downtown a bit, while inspecting the interiors of quite a few Hawker markets on the way. Phenomenal food doesn’t quite sum that aspect up. Hawker centers feel like a food court community center mash up, to me. And I love how everyone enjoys the competition over who knows the best stall in the most unexpected market for each Singapore specialty dish. The variety of noodle dishes and soups boggled my mind. Being not vegetarian was very easy, I wanted to try everything that looked good! But even there, I am still a breakfast and desert lover. Popiah is my new favourite food and I miss it already. Also miss Passionfruit soda. How can you ever leave those flavours?
I don’t think I’m doing Singapore justice, but it is sort of hard to describe. I could never ever live there. But I like the… the constant improvements, the sustainable multicultural urban ideal that the city is aiming for. I like that Singapore dares to dream it could be an educational, professional, livable garden city… instead of an ultimately unsustainable, highly Corporate and controlled island city-state. It is interesting to think about how planning could get them partway there. I was told to think of it as “Asia-lite”, and it was definitely a good stopover point before heading to Cambodia. There is more travel photography on my flickr page if you’d like to see a glimpse of Cambodia, I can promise it is a bit more “picturesque” than Singapore!
My favourite place in Singapore, almost the most human aspect for me in that metropolis, wasn’t until the other side of my trip in January. My last day before flying home, we went for a walk around the big MacRitchie reservoir. It had all these carefully planned programmatic elements, but they didn’t sit empty. Tai chi, boating, running, chess… The elegant exercise pavilion there better suited the climate more than any other building I’d seen in Singapore. It housed the beginnings of a food center, and a lot of gentle advertising of the kind of garden city they (city planning? government? am somewhat unclear on this…) imagine that Singapore could become. And the reservoir, a colonial legacy rebuilt and expanded, is a delightful and simple park that clearly gets a lot of use. Our picnic was spent observing a big workout group perform their stretches, more intensely enthusiastic than anything else. And the trail around the lake had excellent sight lines of kayak-ers racing and capsizing with surprising speed. Seriously, one boat went down every couple minutes. But mostly, I liked walking back through the jungle til the concrete towers started appearing again. The hum was a roar and the leaves were huge. And it felt good to walk there with him.