Tag Archives: travel

A Pushcart Prize!

First off, I wanted to let everyone know that my story, A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration won a Pushcart Prize! I’m really honored to have been nominated by Bennington Review and excited that the Pushcart Prize committee chose it to receive a prize! You can read it online here or buy a print copy of either the Bennington Review issue or the Pushcart Prize anthology coming out this autumn.

A lot of changes these past few months—writing up presentations on pigeon racing and finishing up classes in Taipei, snorkeling and rock climbing (Taipei rock gyms are HARD but the people are crazy nice), traveling and researching in China on a series of islands, visiting relatives, and catching up with L—but now I’m back in New York and finally settling back in. It has been less than a month but my life in Asia already feels somewhat dreamlike, especially since I never have to speak Mandarin here. But I miss my sweet potato guy and my pigeon-keeping neighbors and the mountains and plants and birds there.

I’ve just started writing again, though, and it brings the places I’ve been back to life for me. I’m really excited about what I’m currently working on even though I’m not quite sure where it will go. It’ll have crabs and windmills and the green sea in it for sure though.

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Vietnam

Just a whole bunch of photos from my vacation in Vietnam…

Hue:
First, of course, there’s the Citadel. Right across the river from where I was staying, where the last emperors lived. Reminded me of the Forbidden City (and was modeled after it) but there are areas of ruins, destroyed during the war.

In Vietnam, I saw small shrines everywhere, sometimes just a few incense sticks sticking up from the sidewalk. Other times more ornate like this one:

A popular banh mi seller by the bridge on the south side of the Perfume river. Not my favorite, actually, the meat too fatty and chewy and sweet.

A local specialty called cơm hến with teeny tiny clams, peanuts, rice, herbs, and different vegetables. Can’t quite taste the clams but it had really great texture and was delicious.

I rented a bicycle one day in Hue and biked out of the city to this abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien. Quite eerie, especially alone. I started on the far end of the park where it was only myself and a few cows. Standing inside the dragon, I could watch other tourists approaching, including one Vietnamese family. There’s a “guard” at the front gate but there’s also a back route.

My visit coincided with Tet, the Vietnamese new year, and everywhere, there were flowers being sold. Little clementine trees and chrysanthemums.

Alongside the Perfume river, a water buffalo and her calf.

Hoi An:

At night, the riverside in Hoi An is lit up by lanterns and little paper crowns with candles inside left to float on the river. It’s touristy but still oddly magical.

I did like the countryside best, where you can ride on a bike past paddies with egrets and water buffalo, a temple jutting up here and there. Someone told me that the dead in Vietnam get better houses than the living—the shrines and temples are incredible. This one is a simple family shrine, I think.

At a local market, small banh xeo. It made a great snack along with the silky tofu+ginger syrup from another vendor.

A local specialty of Hoi An, cao lau, which is thick rice noodles with roast pork, bean sprouts, herbs. Season it with soy sauce and lime.

Da Nang:

Only in Da Nang will you find a fire- and water-breathing dragon bridge. Worth staying overnight just for that! 

Ho Chi Minh:

More flowers being sold for the new year. I did spend some time with some flower sellers, cousins of a host, who had brought the flowers up from the Mekong. They had plenty of flowers a few days before Tet but expected to sell them all.

My favorite dessert, found on the backpacker street (Bui Vien). Silky tofu with ginger syrup, tapioca pearls, and sweetened condensed milk. Doesn’t look like much but it’s delicious and cheap at 7000 VND.

I ate at a lot of sidewalk vendors including this one. Grilled chicken with broken rice. The stools are tiny! I like the banh mi carts with their windows piled high with baguettes but I have to say that I prefer grilled fillings, rather than the cold cuts.

I took a couple of public buses to the more authentic Cu Chi tunnel area, Ben Duoc. Not hard to do at all and at the Cu Chi bus station, vendors like this guy would come onto the bus and sell snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. I have no idea what he’s selling though. Below, just a hidden entrance to the tunnels…I had to take off my backpack so I could squeeze in!

Just an impromptu fire show in the middle of the street…don’t know who she was performing for but it was pretty interesting!

Some com tam, grilled pork chop over broken rice. The broken rice is more dry than I like but I found myself ordering this quite a bit because I could read what it was and it would be fresh and hot.

Caught a lion dance show on my way out of the city. I’d actually never seen one performed on platforms before.

Mekong Delta (Can Tho):

Although Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong delta, because I spent part of my time in the countryside, it felt quite easy to escape it. Really easy to bike around on paths surrounded by banana trees and cross over the various creeks on thin bridges. Some were pristine but I saw one that was covered with garbage, yet a woman was still washing her clothes in it. The mosquitos are vicious. The bananas are tiny and plump with thin skins and incredibly sweet—one of my hosts picked some from a tree outside. Makeshift docks everywhere. Lovely to explore but so hot during the afternoon that all you can do is nap. And because of Tet, no floating markets. I’m sure it was quieter than usual with a lot of stores shuttered but there were definitely still vendors around and some restaurants open. And plenty of people enjoying the flower street and night markets. 

Burning trash. Unfortunately, this was fairly common around many of the places I went to in Vietnam and would actually make it rather difficult to breathe. On the Hai Van pass between Hue and Hoi An, I’d asked the tour guide whether the air was misty due to actual mist or pollution. His response had been that central Vietnam doesn’t really have factories so it was mist but I’m not so sure. There are tons of motorcycles and random fires burning (completely untended!) which would maybe contribute to some obvious air pollution.

So many jackfruit!

Nem nướng̣, grilled pork patties that you wrap in rice paper with lettuce, herbs, chives, green banana slices, cucumber, and any of the other fixings. Really good!

In Can Tho, the riverside walking path ended in a large lot where kids and adults were renting these mini cars and hoverboards to play with. There was also a large night market nearby.

Both of my homestays in Can Tho were fostering tiny abandoned kittens!

It was a lot of traveling but I’m glad to be back, even if I’m greeted here by an earthquake (I woke up and felt my bed shaking) and perpetual rain. Hoping the rain lets up soon since the gloom makes me very unproductive!

 

Wonderland in Day One

Firstly, my story Wonderland is in the last issue of Day One! It was inspired by a trip to an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of Beijing that I went to one fateful Thanksgiving several years ago. You can read it here.

Right before the new year began, right after taking my midterms, I took a quick jaunt down to Taroko Gorge on the eastern side of Taiwan with ijl. I’d actually been before, about 5 years ago. Beautiful, of course, with its marble gorges and that clear blue water, but I’d forgotten how short the hikes were and how they peter out. This time the Baiyang trail was closed but the Shakadang trail was fully open–we dipped our hands in the water and watched tadpoles swim in a shallow pool on top of one of the giant boulders. We used our easycards to board the 302 bus which was much less crowded than the Taroko Gorge shuttle and cheaper too. We stayed near the national park itself, in Xincheng, which doesn’t have too much going for it, but we did end up stopping by the beach just to see the Pacific Ocean from this side.

We watched the fireworks from Taipei 101 from my roof. It didn’t last long so it was nice not to have to brave the crowds for a view. In the alley below, one of the small shop owners shot up some fireworks, their whistles screeching into the air, the colors blooming directly overhead.

I didn’t read enough in 2017 but there were some gems. I just recommended Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing to my Chinese teacher actually! Here’s my list:

1. A Thread of Sky- Deanna Fei
2. Sweetbitter- Stephanie Danzer
3. The Girls- Emma Cline
4. When Watched- Leopoldine Core
5. A Chemical Wedding- Christian Rosencreutz (Small Beer Press & John Crowley’s version)
6. The Vegetarian- Han Kang
7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing- Madeleine Thien
8. Soft Split- Szilvia Molnar
9. Four Books- Yan Lianke
10. Lincoln in the Bardo- George Saunders
11. Notes from a Small Island- Bill Bryson (NF)
12. In A Sunburned Country- Bill Bryson (NF)
13. The Wangs Vs. The World- Jade Chang
14. The Blue Sword- Robin McKinley (re-read)
15. The Paper Menagerie- Ken Liu
16. Monkey Business, issue 4
17. Upright Beasts- Lincoln Michel
18. The Refugees- Viet Thanh Nguyen
19. Isadora- Amelia Gray
20. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid
21. The Great Passage- Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
22. Goodbye, Vitamin- Rachel Khong
23. In the Country- Mia Alvar
24. POC Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination- edited by Nisi Shawl
25. Journey to the Centre of the Earth- Jules Verne
26. Butterflies in November- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
27. The Leavers- Lisa Ko
28. Dreaming in Chinese- Debra Fallow (NF)
29. Alternative Remedies for Loss- Joanna Cantor
30. Fast Food Fiction Delivery- edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus & Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
31. Chemistry- Weike Wang
32. Pachinko- Min Jin Lee
33. Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century- Richard McGregor (NF)
34. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate- Peter Wohlleben (NF)

Happy 2018!

Nostalgia and the future/ factories and possibility

Was surprised and flattered to stumble upon this podcast in which two London writers talked about my story “What Is Lost”! They first discuss Amal El-Mohtar’s Seasons of Glass and Iron before discussing my story and nostalgia around 12:42. Check it out: Storyological 2.01

Also, I have one of my favorite stories that I’d written in Shanghai earlier this year coming out from Day One tomorrow! You can pre-order (or regular order tomorrow…) or get yourself a subscription to the magazine for like $1.59/month. For a lit mag that comes out weekly, it’s a pretty great deal. My story is called “Dream Machine” and is set in a factory on the outskirts of Shanghai. I’m so excited for this one and love the cover and Kate Peterson’s poem which shares the pages of this issue with me.

I’ve just returned from AWP in DC this last weekend and had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new people, talking to literary magazines and going to panels. Helping out the Center for Fiction was surprisingly fun and I was able to say hello to Gavin at Small Beer Press and the folks at Tin House where I’m a reader. Listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (so poised, so elegant!) speak with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Emma Straub and Ann Patchett, saw Roxanne Gay just hanging out at the hotel bar— you know, just normal writing conference life. Also, ate way too many biscuits at A Baked Joint because they were SO GOOD (and spicy!) All in all, a fun and educational break.

summer/fall

Just a quick post to say: Hello! I’m still alive! But I’m working on a new website which is one reason why I haven’t really been posting here.

Anyway, now it’s fall, and I haven’t even updated since summer! Summer was lovely but went by way too fast. There were trips to Long Island and one long trip to Costa Rica (again!) complete with car misadventures, iguana sightings, and many many beaches on the Pacific coast.img_20160719_135403 img_20160722_154307 img_20160722_075156 img_20160724_080730

There were bicycle rides to the beach and museum outings and readings. And at the beginning of September, a trip to the midwest for family, friends, the Minnesota State Fair, then the most wonderful one week residency a girl could ask for at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp. Loons and bald eagles and the Milky Way and s’mores with new friends and kayaking on a crystal clear lake. It was truly magical. p1140985 p1160040

This autumn is turning out to be pretty packed, too, with a new job and several new pieces coming out in some literary journals I really admire. Also, hey, I’m an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program! With my own studio and everything! So I think my work goals of finishing this collection early next year is definitely doable. I’m even already thinking about my next big project…

Something beautiful, something strange

While walking down the street with friends, a truck’s side-view mirror hits my shoulder like a punch. It takes a second to register. The truck stops. I stop. The truck driver and I look at each other. I shrug and he slowly drives away.
***
A tiny kitten sits calmly on the sidewalk. When it sees me looking at it, it comes over and instead of rubbing itself against my legs, it climbs atop my sneaker and sits there, its entire body smaller than my foot.
***
A dog, beautiful, golden, tries to fit an egg into its mouth. The egg is slightly cracked. The dog gently rolls it around, laps at it.
***
On some days, people have the audacity to tell you who you are. Don’t judge me, one says, but then she lists all the ways in which she is judging me. According to her, I am neither Chinese nor American. I want to ask: then what am I? Alien? No one has the right to take away someone’s identity.

I’ve noticed that discussions about identity and racism happen most frequently amongst Americans. After all, the U.S. is constantly struggling with its own ideas of nationalism, identity, culture with its immigrant population (we are, after all, all immigrants there.) Funny how citizens of other countries don’t always have it at the forefront of their minds. Funny how much I have to think about what it means to grow up as a minority, within the country where people who look like me are the majority but have never experienced the microaggressions I’ve experienced.

I had originally thought that my collection would dwell mostly on the Chinese-American experience in China but somehow mostly thought of my interactions with mainland Chinese. But now I see that my interactions with the expat community are just as rich in terms of story material. But somehow more fraught, more tense. There’s a superiority here, a deeply embedded belligerence at times.

A lot of thinking to be done. But in the meantime, I’ve written pieces about fake mountains and factories, amusement parks and the ocean. I’m working on a video. Sometimes I go to parties with cloud women on top of the futuristic towers of Pudong and sometimes I take walks all the way down to West Bund or through the French Concession. Earlier this month, a pop-up art exhibit where I collaborated with Robert Gabris on a small piece. Sometimes, we talk about “shower dumplings” (aka soup dumplings) and sometimes, we go out for dinner at Ippudo or for Korean bibimbap or for the most amazing Chongqing style grilled catfish (like a fish hotpot!) Sometimes we watch hush hush documentaries about the journey of a young patriot here in China whose feelings about his government change throughout the years. One time, we took a bus out to the watertown of Zhujiajiao and wandered for hours and made up the dialogue in a silent screening at a cafe of Casablanca. It feels weird that so many artists I started out with have left–a lot of goodbyes have been said.

Today, I waited in line for a fried beef bun. Because of the air pollution, I wore a mask that became wet inside from my breath. Tomorrow is Christmas, according to the others here, even though we Americans celebrate it on the 25th. Happy holidays, whenever you celebrate it! P.S. I forgot to mention, I’ve got a reading and talk at the Shanghai-American Center on Jan. 21st at 6:30pm! Here’s the link.

 

Europe Part II: Geneva & Saint Genis-Pouilly

Geneva & Saint Genis-Pouilly

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Pizza with a drink on the waterfront in Geneva costs 20 swiss francs so instead, we go for hot chocolate and people-watch on the square. The water fountains are actual fountains—lions gushing water from their mouths or faucets so that you have to bend your head down to drink. All over are signs for watches and cars. Later, A tells us that employees at the UN and the other major organizations in Geneva can receive a 40% discount on BMWs. The tram takes us all the way out to the French border where we find that the reception desk at CERN is closed. Thankfully, the gas station attendant across the street takes pity on us and lets us use the phone.

A & S live in an identity-confused little town with both quaint old French houses in white and brown and big apartment blocks like The Boat. In the dark, we walk down a backyard trail that leads to the town and milk the tin cow, a machine that sells milk and bottles for the milk 24 hours a day. A says it is the only thing open 24 hours. We pass the pommist’s window. He only sells pommes, so both regular pommes (apples) and pomme de terre (potatos.) Unfortunately, we never get a chance to meet him. Saint Genis-Pouilly is a 3 boulangerie town which is quite good since they take turns with their days off. On our last hike in the area, ijl and I had walked to Thoiry, a purported 1 boulangerie town and of course, it was closed. But a friendly lady had directed us to the tea room by the train station that also sold pastries & sandwiches. So what made it not a boulangerie? Perhaps the seating area. Most boulangeries we’d seen in France were all to-go establishments (or takeaway as it’s called in Britain.)

The next morning, we took the Y bus all the way to the airport but didn’t realize that the bus only collected its fare in coins. Luckily, the bus driver told us not to worry about it. From the airport, we booked our easyjet bus ride to Chamonix and half an hour later, we were two of three passengers on the bus. The day had started out rainy but by the time we reached Chamonix, only a light drizzle was left. The mountains rose up all around us, on one side, snow-capped Mont Blanc but the cable car up on that side was closed due to weather. Instead, we took the cable car up to Planpraz and hiked the TMB trail from there, always with a view of Mont Blanc although its tip was covered with clouds.   P1130162  P1130179 P1130184

The trail changed as we walked it, from Planpraz and spiraling around eventually to Brevent, from scrub and grass to pure rock. A marmot peeked out from the rocks around Brevent. Crows soared overhead. Tiny flowers dotted the trail. There was a deep blue lake whose surface sunlight glimmered off of. And then the descent down from rock to meadow to forest, a curving trail filled with rocks. In the forest, an abundance of different varieties of mushrooms, the first we saw a huge red toadstool that looked as though it belonged in a fairy tale. We ran down the narrow trail, slipping and sliding on the rocks, the ground giving way beneath our feet and arrived back in town by 6. Our bus back was late to arrive but we were the only passengers.
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The day after dawned rainy but A took ijl and I to Annecy for its lake and cute medieval town center complete with canals and castle. We had Breton crepes by the canal served in a very swiss restaurant and watched the swans swimming. By the time we’d wandered around the entire historical area, the clouds drifted away, except for one that hung out in the middle of the mountains that were suddenly unveiled.

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Then a quick tour of CERN and into Geneva for a dinner of thai food, sitting by the lighthouse at the edge of a dock on Lake Geneva, haunted by the soft quacking of the ducks.

To the Jura the next morning with our early hike to Thoiry. The path was steeply uphill although we were led astray by a fake path that cut past beehives and into meadows were cows had left their mark. We had originally planned to get up to Le Reculet, the 2nd highest peak in the Jura but realized we’d misjudged timing and effort when we reached Le Tiocan and started up a path that was all rock and incredibly steep. Not the most pleasant climb so we cut our losses and headed into Geneva to catch our train to Lyon.

***

Hey guys! I’m actually in Shanghai right now after getting in late last night. It’s the October national holiday here so everything’s pretty 热闹 (exciting and lively!) with tons of people crowding the Bund and Chinese flags everywhere—in hair, in the sky, in windows. Early this morning, I saw a bunch of photographers following an old man with a giant Chinese flag kite and wondered if he was famous but nah, I think it’s just because he has a flag kite. I do love the kite-flying here though. P1130332

Europe Part I: London & Paris

London

In London, bees are allowed inside pastry display cases to taste the wares. Would you like a bee with your cinnamon roll? Here, take three. D names the birds for us in Regents Park—wood pigeons, coots, moorhens.We climb up to sit in front of bronze lions in Trafalgar Square but cannot climb onto their slick backs. The double decker buses make you feel as though you’re running over just about everyone. B+D bring us to Chinatown for bubble tea and jianbing as though we were in China and not London after a more traditional meal of fish and chips where I decide I like ijl’s haddock better than my cod and the tartar sauce is surprisingly sweet. And a nighttime view of Big Ben and Parliament. And clouds with a heartbeat within Covent Garden. P1130060 P1130052 P1130059

The next day, by the London Eye, the most aggressive street performer ever with a bullhorn and a request not to leave until after the finale. And a 5 pound charge, of course. We explore the British Museum and Tate Modern, always free. Cranes crown the skyline of London—I count fifteen then stop because there are still more. After walking over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, touts on Brick Lane beckoned us for dinner, ask if we’re hungry. The true answer is yes. The correct answer is probably no. But we say yes anyway and we’re led into, not the restaurant we said yes to, but to another, connected through passageways between dining room and down the stairs where we listen to bankers discussing their salaries which, surprisingly, are lower than we’d expected unless we heard wrong. We get thalis, one vegetarian and one not. The chicken tikka is the best, in my opinion, along with the lamb curry. Ijl likes the tikka masala which is different from ones I’ve had in the states but maybe too creamy for my taste. P1130067 P1130073 P1130077 P1130079

Then there’s brunch with B+D the next morning and a walk along Little Venice, small canals lined with houseboats. Most carry sticks and broken panels of wood, perhaps to heat the boats during the winter? Atop some are full gardens and bicycles lying upon their sides. Then Portobello Road Market with a crush of people buying pina coladas in pineapples and supposedly, antiques as well. And a quick ride to St. Pancras Station for our Eurostar train to Paris. P1130081

Paris

We stay in an adorable studio on Place d’Aligre in the 12th Arrondissement, a street that curves around a plaza so it is easily recognizable on a map. Our first night, we get crepes at Les Embruns, made of buckwheat, and the crème brulee I get is full of vanilla flavor but the sugar top isn’t crispy the way I like. In the morning, a market starts up with antiques vendors in the plaza and fruit & vegetable sellers on the streets. I get a pint of tiny Charlotte strawberries to go with our chocolate croissants, sweet and just right for 1.5 euros. We start out late but wander through the gardens by the Louvre up to the Grand Palais where they’re holding a fine art & design fair. Pay our 10 euros and enter the glass canopied venue with stalls and stalls of furniture, glass, jewelry, and other forms of art from around the world. P1130088 IMG_20150913_084958

It’s a stormy day but thankfully, our host lent us an umbrella of rainbows to take with us to see the cathedral at Notre Dame. Along the way, there are gold covered statues atop buildings and bridges, ornate in a way you don’t see in the U.S., like the temples in Thailand covered with gold leaf. The cathedral is beautiful, of course, but crowded. It’ll be a pattern here in Europe, these beautiful, crowded cathedrals and basilicas. We take the bridge over to the smaller island on the Seine, Île Saint-Louis, for ice cream at Berthillon where the flavors are so vibrant, it seems more like gelato than ice cream. What flavors? Pear & mango & ground peach.
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For dinner, Le Trumilou for duck confit & chicken in a tarragon sauce. A bottle of red wine. I order the charcuterie for my appetizer which turns out to be a bit of a mistake—all patés, one of which has a very jelly-like texture. The duck confit comes with potatoes that are perfect, so crispy and smelling of herbs. IMG_20150913_181012 IMG_20150913_181006 We leave the umbrella by accident and ijl has to go back to get it. And we learn that Brooklyn has followed us to Paris. IMG_20150913_193212

And then there is the Louvre. We take the lesser known entrance by the subway & mall yet there’s still a long line that snakes through the mall. I ask a Chinese tourist in Mandarin whether it’s the line to buy tickets. Funny how it feels more natural to ask a Chinese tourist than a local but my high school French is pretty lacking. We spend hours at the Louvre, watch other tourists take photos of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, see the tablet with the code of Hammurabi engraved upon it, go through the sculpture gardens for cherubs force-feeding goats in exquisite detail. Wander through its foundations as a fortress and go through its ostentatious rooms of Napoleon III and Louis XIV. In the Islamic art section, there are models of art for the blind that you can touch. Museums make me want to touch everything because you’re not allowed to touch anything. P1130096 P1130095

We take out bikes through the Velib bike share system and ride them all the way to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower only has one area open with a long line and when we get to the front, we’re told that it was only for the lift. The cashier on the other side for the stairs had only just opened while we were waiting but our cashier takes pity on us and lets them know that we’re coming through. The stairs aren’t too difficult actually; we take them up to the 2nd floor before we take the lift up. On the way, we see the lift with its pseudo elevator beneath it holding a fake conductor on the side. Very odd. We are on the topmost level of the Eiffel Tower as twilight blends into night. The wind howls on one side so we go around to the other, pointing out the landmarks we’d seen. P1130130

In the morning, we bike around the Sorbonne and get macarons at Pierre Hermé. I lose my sunglasses while leaping over a curb (we ride dangerously) but otherwise, the bicycling is wonderful compared to NYC. There are bike lanes everywhere and drivers notice bicyclists. Better than taking the subway which, although the trains seemed quick and efficient, the stations smelled of urine. Then it’s off to Geneva!

Good Ghosts

Things have been pretty crazy here in New York. There have been birthdays and trip planning and future planning and everyday planning like “How do I see my doctor if they decide to go on vacation for several weeks right as I get an ear infection?” July & August: the months when you need to get things done but can’t because everyone’s on vacation. IMG_20150813_192553

So, to catch up, here’s a list of everything.

1) David Wax Museum was a lot of fun to listen to and watch when they played last month at a free show in the enclosed parking lot of City Winery. Suz played the donkey jawbone a time or two (one of its teeth popped out!) and there were plenty of new songs I hadn’t heard before! Crazy to think that it’s been four years since I met them when they came to check out my apartment sublet in Amherst.

2) The Chinese consulate. Nervewracking but not as bad as I expected (judging from the terrible yelp reviews) but hey, those yelp reviews were super helpful in filling out the paperwork. You wait in line outside the building, turn off your cell phone, go through the metal detectors, get your number, and wait for the board to read out your number and tell you which window to go to. Quite civilized, actually. I was a bit nervous when the consulate clerk asked me to explain and write out the topic of my writing since I’d put my employment as Writer. It’s a good thing that folktales aren’t politically sensitive! I’d show you a photo but you know, that kind of thing isn’t allowed. Consulates are serious business.

3) Trip planning because…I’m going to Europe for several weeks next month! And then heading to Shanghai on my residency! I’ve been preparing by eating chocolate croissants and using Duolingo to brush up on all this French that I don’t remember learning back in high school. How did I get As if so much of the grammar seems completely new to me? Unfortunately, trip prep also means trying to get all sorts of medical things done when all the doctors want to go on vacation. But that also leads to…

4) NY bucket list activities! Sri Lankan buffet in Staten Island? Check. Kayaking through the canals of Oakdale, complete with white herons fishing beside us? Check. Bronx Zoo where a lion roared at us five times and we saw an adorable red panda? Check. Lunch at the almighty Googley? Check. (Thanks, T! Thanks, Googley! I quite liked those potato pancakes and the beef- was it pot roast?) Eat a Chickenshack sandwich from Shake Shack? Check and it was alright but nothing too special. Hiking with friends+dog upstate? Check (P.S. don’t let your friends carry two gallons and two liters of water because that is INSANE.) I’ve still got a bunch of things on this yet-to-be written down bucket list like go see Catherine Lan’s exhibit at the Queens Museum, go to the Queens Night Market, win the Hamilton lottery, and eat at every place I’ve ever dreamed of eating at. I’m looking at you, Tortilleria Nixtamal+Ice & Vice+the one and only Arepa Lady! IMG_20150815_124343 IMG_20150807_154536

Also, this doesn’t take place in NYC, but I am so so so excited to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests in Massachusetts next weekend! So cool. And it’s a good excuse to bring me back to that area and binge on Toscanini’s ice cream which is only the best ice cream in the world. B^3 for the win.

5) And then there was last week where it seemed as though everyone I’d ever known were suddenly either coming to NYC or facebooking me out of the blue. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I was contacted by two friends I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years, one of them probably closer to 10 years. And then I went to see the Furious Girl Tour which consisted of three poets I went to grad school with and it was quite furious indeed. Then my landlord+lady (ha) from 2012 was in town and we got lunch at Ayada Thai—it was really tremendously nice to see them and catch up. Many ghosts but they were good ghosts; in general, I’m mostly pretty happy to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while. So if you’re a good ghost, you can contact me and I’ll probably get a muffin with you. Or force you to watch some free dance shows.

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Oh and 6) My story, “Westward, Ever Westward” is coming out in Okey-Panky next Monday! It’s short and sweet; I guarantee you’ll like it or your money back.

Costa Rica, Part II: Cahuita & Tortuguero

On the 3rd day in Costa Rica, ijl and I woke up early to try Nacional Parque Cahuita again and with our swimsuits on. Again, there were multi-colored crabs hiding away in their sandy crab-holes and capuchin monkeys feasting on fruit in the trees right by an elevated wood path we took. Also, howler monkeys, hermit crabs, herons, egrets, sandpipers, a tiny yellow eyelash viper curled up around a branch, and even a mother sloth and her baby! The nice thing about sloths is that they move slowly enough for you to take plenty of photos 🙂 I’d also been quite excited about possibly seeing a toucan (flying bananas!) so it was really incredible when we saw a pair of collared aricaris, like smaller toucans, hopping around on a branch by the path.

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We swam both in Playa Blanca and a sheltered beach by Punta Cahuita. A tree had fallen right into the water and as we came near, crabs on the trunk would skitter away to the other side. The water was luxurious and calm, perfect to float in. But we found some unexpected passengers on us afterwards, clear little sea mites with dark eyes that clung to our skin so we had to pick them off.
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For dinner, there was coconut rice & beans with chicken and chicken rondon, a coconut milk stew with many different starches ranging from yucca and taro to sweet potatos. Funny how few fresh vegetables are included there—you’d think the climate is well suited for it but it’s not apparent on the local menus. Cahuita itself was a tiny beach town with a main street that split once from the bus station and then the main road to Playa Negra. Many pizzerias and cabinas but few sodas (casual eateries) and off the main streets, only a few houses with fields in between. A school across from an empty lot with a rooster pecking away at the dirt.IMG_20150320_085931

Our cabina in Cahuita!
Our cabina in Cahuita!

The next day, we took a bus to Puerto Limon then a cab to the tiny port at Moin where Tuca met us. We clambered onto a 15 seater boat but hit a bump right away as our captain, Manuel forgot his case and had to turn back. His translator was a teenage boy who translated in a fairly monotone voice, almost angry, but Manuel didn’t spot many animals anyway. There were plenty of birds including swallows that followed and landed on our boat, but Cahuita had already spoiled us for wildlife. We did see a tiny crocodile hanging out with a bunch of branches on a bank, a Jesus lizard, and some sleeping sloths very high up in the trees. And the translator told us about how two people had been eaten in the river by crocodiles so one shouldn’t try swimming or wading in it. Four hours later, we landed in Tortuguero and took a room at Cabinas Tortuguero for $25 after looking around a bit. Alright but definitely not as nice as our cabina in Cahuita. The hammocks outside each room were nice though!

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The harbor at Moin
The harbor at Moin
Our cabina in Tortuguero
Our cabina in Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a tiny town on a long thin island bordered by the Caribbean sea on one side and Tortuguero River on the other and could only be reached by boat or airplane. It’s incredibly narrow so walking from the docks/nightclub with Jar Jar Binks statue/restaurants on the water to the beach facing the sea is pretty quick. But the sun was strong, especially on the main walkway through town (no cars! Only pedestrians plus the occasional kid on a bike.) Near a central square/park, there were remnants of heavy machinery which I thought had probably been placed there as sculpture but it was hard to tell. A clown with an open mouth seemed to function as a garbage can nearby. Further east, a maze of small alleyways of houses near the national park entrance to the east, hiding a bakery where we got some kind of pastry cone filled with dulce de leche. Many many dogs that just wandered around and played with one another or slept or begged for food. One was so fat that ijl and I were surprised it could move as jauntily as it did. IMG_20150320_191843

On the 5th day, we woke up early to rent a 2-person kayak after a breakfast of empanadas. We hadn’t done enough scouting the day before but it was easy enough to find someone who took us to a kayak rental place. We went down Cano Harold and Cano Chiguiro and got stuck on a branch in the middle of the river at one point. Luckily enough, a canoe full of tourists were fairly close by and helped us get unstuck. We saw more herons and a giant green lizard like a tattered leaf. We kayaked down the river and into tiny waterways surrounded by tall grasses and water plants with leaves that just floated atop the water and roots that drifted down but clung to nothing. Beautiful blue Morpho butterflies would glide past, shimmering, while a flock of bright yellow butterflies flew around the turtles perched on logs, sometimes landing on their heads. A symbiotic relationship? P1120546 P1120568

After 4 hours, we were pretty tired so went back but decided to hike through the park. Ijl thought we’d need the rubber boots that could be rented for $1/pair at houses lining the path to the park but they turned out to be terribly uncomfortable, creating blisters where they rubbed, so we ended up taking them off anyway. The path wasn’t too wet and even the mud was rather pleasant. Leafcutter ants all over the path—I’d read about how powerful their jaws were so walking around their meandering lines in bare feet was a strange sort of dance. I wonder if we’d gone the wrong way because there were markers every so often with paths that led out to the beach, probably to turtle nesting sites, but the path we walked on just petered out after a while.IMG_20150320_192153

Dinner at Tutti’s, near the beach. The meals in Costa Rica seem rather small by American standards, especially the portions of meat, but theirs was a bit bigger than others. After dinner, we saw pool tables inside an open storefront, a few slot machines near the entrance where the owner was also selling an assortment of fried food. One man played the slots while we played pool. During the evenings, the smell of grilling meat permeates the air but I don’t know when they sell it (or maybe it’s only dinner for the folks grilling?) but the restaurants close fairly early and so, we tended to eat dinner early. On the way back from a walk down the main path, a Hercules beetle skittered past, its giant horn casting a shadow on the sidewalk. We’d head out by boat the next day. IMG_20150321_201559