I'm providing a narration of the first parts of the blog post, listen at your own free will.
I came to a moment of realization on the subway again, this time while passing over the scene of pastel colored houses on the way towards the airport. I remembered being overwhelmed by this sight before.. all these houses and people all packed tightly right next to each other.. I was fearful from how little I stood in comparison to this vast, seemingly never ending, expanse of unfamiliarity, uncomfortable from not seeing how I fit into any of it.
Now however, after 1.5 years since moving to the bay my feelings have changed. I saw my nook, my small dent in the city; I even mentioned in my last post that I had achieved what I've always dreamed of. But why was I running away again?
The other day I woke up to a familiar feeling. I didn't want to get up. I kept hitting snooze. I wanted to hide. To disappear.
Hi depression, you're back again, huh.
Why are you here?
Everything is going well.
What do I do. Fight? Flight? Both? How do you confront a mental state?
I ran to New York again. Save me.
I found out soon after I booked my flight that NY was scheduled to have another blizzard. Laurence told me he was going to be away on a ski trip for most of the weekend, and the day before I left I found out the person I was going to visit forgot I was coming. What was I getting myself into?
On the first day I grabbed lunch at Zundo-ya, a ramen shop right around the corner from the famous Ippudo. I found their ramen to be "packed with flavor." Instead of being an interplay of textures, temperatures, and flavors, every component was aggressively seasoned to the max. The noodles were very bouncy, and the thickness of even the "regular thickness" tonkotsu broth turned out to be a little too much for me. The best part was how the beni shoga (pickled ginger), not only cut through the fatty broth and cha-shu, but paired beautifully with them. All this being said, I do think their ramen is better than Ippudo, and with news that my beloved Hide-chan has gone down in quality, Zundo-ya is currently my favorite pork based-ramen in New York. They were also really great with the "irashai" welcome.
That night, after going to the New York office only to attend a couple meetings, I met up with Michelle and had a lovely dinner at Noreetuh, a Hawaiian inspired modern restaurant. One of the most memorable dishes was an Uni pasta. The pasta provided a great bouncy, aldente "backbone" to support and prolong the flavor of the creamy custard of the sea that uni is.
We got drinks afterwards at Decibel, the underground sake bar in Astor Place.
The next day I got lunch with Madeline in Brooklyn. I encountered the strongest, coldest burst of wind I've ever experienced that day. I remember laughing because it was just so endlessly brutal. We caught up over some ramen at Chuko, which I found serves a very shamelessly "American" bowl of ramen, but in a good way. Their miso broth reminded me very nostalgically of a deep and creamy chicken noodle soup. It tasted like childhood.
Afterwards, as a throw back to our Austin days, we went to a hip cafe/lounge called Freehold to hang out on our laptops. It was nice, you know, after all this time to do something that felt so nostalgic. It's not very exciting I know... but that's all what we used to do. Go to a cafe and sit there for hours. I've always admired her work ethic. Madeline would always be earnestly working on a project while I dinkered away at something on my laptop. She always seemed to carry herself with a sort of immaculate, elegant grace at all times. The best I could do was to keep her company and bring her a refreshment water from time to time.
You can tell when she's anxious or worried though. She'll begin to shake. It starts with a "jitter" of her knees, but soon it's her whole body. When it happens I always want to tell her that things are going to be okay, hold her hand or something.
This trip I didn't tell her I was coming beforehand. Have you ever felt fear from the thought of seeing someone you felt strongly for, but haven't seen in a long time? Every strand inside you wants them to be exactly the same as you left them, for things to be the same as they were (or have them be worse off in your absence, heheh). The reality is everyone grows, everyone changes, it's never going to be exactly the same as before. This especially applies to her in my opinion. She has always been moving at a lightning pace, and now she's been living in the busiest, fastest, most happenin' city for almost 2 years.
She reached out to me to meet up after seeing an instagram post, and yeah I had to say yes.
Over some cocktails at an overly vintage styled "old-timey" bar in Williamsburg, she told me she was interested in someone she met at work, a designer. My heart sunk, here we go, the moment I dreaded. I had 2 more shots of the delicious calvados the fedora-wearing bartender recommended.
She showed me some of his design and web work, and man were they slick and creative. When you've spent the better part of the past year bandaiding a buggy UI with subpar design you know some good shit when you see it. It's like the first time you had Fage yogurt, "This stuff is better." Later at night, we went to karaoke and I met him. I was relieved to find out he wasn't a knock out gorgeous, man-bunned, bearded douche hipster like I imagined, thank GOD.
He was such a nice guy, definitely older... you could tell by his taste in karaoke songs. But we got along, he has quite a quirky imagination. We went to another bar afterwards, and I continued to drink heavily.
Laying, drunk, semi-awake on the couch in a living room in Brooklyn, I used my phone to book a hotel room for the next day, Valentines day. Things were just too unpredictable, every way my mind played out the next day ended up in obscurity -- more like I didn't think anything was going to happen and if I stayed on that couch things would have been quite awkward.
In the morning I took an Uber to the hotel to drop my bags off before meeting Ariel for brunch. The girl who shared my uber pool kept taking light inhales of her e-cig, she exhaled slowly as to not leave trace at all. My opening, ice breaker line was "I have one of those." I took mine out of my bag to show her. She was apparently on her way to have brunch with a friend and help out with a valentines day surprise. I arrived a bit early and went into a store that sold different items depending on the theme of the month, the current one was "well being." I bought a book by Marie Kondo, which told me to pick up all of my possessions throw away anything I owned that didn't "spark joy." Without touching I could already think of a few things: my car which I hadn't driven in half a year, old pairs of underwear that I've had since freshman year of college, the obscenely ugly dining table we have in the apartment.
The last time I really hanged out with Ariel was in DC, and I was looking forward to another art, photography, and coffee filled day. Our plans fell apart pretty fast. The brunch place we planned to meet at in Chelsea was packed beyond belief, New Yorkers truly treat their brunch (which begins around after 12) very seriously. All of the art galleries in the area were closed. No problem. We took a taxi to Zundo-ya... which was also closed(I didn't even check). We ended up eating at Robata-ya, which was not as great as I remembered from going 3-4 years ago, but at least they had some great light coming through a window which we geeked out over as we ate. I think the reason why we've always got along so well is that we share an appreciation of good light and sentimental moments. If you look at her instagram, her photos are all bursting with life, light, and lushness. Hanging out with her is very much like that. In all of the catching up though, she did confide her struggles with moving to NY, which is a feeling I very much reciprocated from my experiences on the opposite coast.
After we ate I took some photos of her with the strong light streaming through the window that we admired earlier.
Walking around the East Village, we came across Sakaya, a sake shop that I would have never gone into in the past, but after visiting my local shop in Oakland, Umami Mart, I decided to go in. Inside, I found intimidating walls of pristinely displayed sake. I thought I was ahead of the curve because I knew about "Nama" a style of unpasteurized sake that's quite shocking due to it's range of wild flavors, and had 2 sake pairings before, but in reality I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily the guy working there, Rick, a former editor of Food & Wine who quit 8 years ago to open a sake shop, took the time to explain to me what was up. He pointed me towards the book that got him started Sake Confidential, and recommended a couple bottles for me to get as gifts. When we left he wished us a happy Valentines day, to which our reply was "this isn't a date."
Ariel told me the last time she drank sake she threw up and got sick. Most people don't have fond memories of sake, before you dismiss it though just think of everything you've had until now like the Natty-light or box wine of your past, there's a whole world of better stuff out there, just like the other branches of alcohol that you probably now enjoy.
Continuing down the block we arrived at a small coffee bar called Hi-Collar. Everyone who worked there was extremely Japanese, I enjoyed interacting with them and observing their quirky mannerisms. We ordered 2 siphon coffees from their list of 8~ bean options.
While I enjoy a good cup of coffee, I can't exactly quantify what I like about it, and I definitely don't need it to start my day. I generally like Ethiopeans, but that's as far as I know. It was fun listening to Ariel pour her encyclopedic knowledge of coffee upon me; I'm really not sure if I retained anything except that bean size is a factor that affects a few things while brewing. She really liked her siphon of "Buzi" coffee from Counter Culture. We wanted something sweet, and luckily there was a "Valentines dessert sampler" conveniently added as a special for that day. I really liked the matcha rice crispies.
Sitting at the bar I received a text from Laurence saying he and his crew were headed back from skiing, and were going to grab some KBBQ at Kang Ho later at night. I had Ariel write me a "Guide to Korean BBQ" in my planner. The mean glaring eyes of an Asian girl on the bottom is a reminder that I need to have an photography showcase sometime in June so she can have an excuse to visit the Bay area.
We walked around taking photos for a bit, she showed me a bookstore called Strand Books, and we parted ways around 6. In a continuation of the stream of bad luck we had that day, the subway wouldn't take us to the right stop so we walked for quite a bit in the freezing weather. I gave her a parting gift of the bag of coffee beans that she enjoyed so much and a copy of a Goodbye to All That, the book that helped me cope with moving to a new city(it was located on the "best of the best" table at the book store).
When I got back to the hotel I started editing photos from the day, and cracked open some sake I bought from Sakaya. I had such a great time doing this for some reason. Editing acceptable photos and drinking sake is an unbeatable combination. I ended up opening the special bottle that I bought for Laurence, just a few sips right? He wouldn't notice.
By the time I needed to head out, I already drank all the sake that I bought for him as a gift. According to Laurence I was a character that night.
Looking back at things, this was the point where I truly fell in love with sake. It's around the same alcohol content as wine, but a lot less acidic and no tannins to hold you back from downing a ton of it. Sake holds such a wide variety of unique and pleasing flavor profiles, and it's currently my favorite type of alcohol.
I walked a mile back to the hotel in sub 20 degree weather, however I didn't feel cold at all.
I spent my last day with Laurence, which involved going back to Hi-Collar, this time in hopes of trying some of their cooked food.
We ordered some hot drinks and the omurice. Everything about omurice is familiar to a western palate: it's pretty much just an omellete, rice, bbq sauce (called "demi-glace"), and a sausage. While it's normally not something you'd write home about... it's just a nice comfort food option very much like mac and cheese.
We sneaked some beer and snacks into a movie theater in Union Square to watch Deadpool. When we got out it was snowing. Snow in New York, how serendipitous, how magical right? My head was in a state of trying to figure out if this was special or not.
It really wasn't.
It's New York.
It's a grimy, gray, slushy snow.
Afterwards we went to Raku(which I highly recommend going to). I would suggest getting the niku udon, a different take on a Chinese beef noodle soup, that comes with a ton tender braised beef and tripe. Although slightly hung over from the previous night we ordered sake, I appreciated that there were only 2 options on the menu.
This trip... why I often travel to places I've been several times before... perhaps can be explained by my yearning to find meaningful connections with the people I want to be close to.
The thing that has bothered me the most for the past few years is the thought, "If I told you the way that I felt, if I followed you, would there have been any more emotions there, any more feeling there?"
You gotta admit that night we had a couple years ago was pretty awesome(It involved pool and sticky rice), but it seems like it was more of a fluke, and I could never follow it up. Why did that matter to me so much? I don't know. I just wanted to have that much fun with you again.
I did think about you a lot since we both moved away. I was excited about the idea of you, the endless possibilities. Those expensive gifts and dinners honestly were just my failed attempts at showing you my affection. I placed you on a really high pedestal. It seemed for a brief moment that we were so... just so compatible. We always bumped into eachother at concerts, restaurants, and bars anyways. But in the end, whenever we actually sat down and talked, the endless pool of our restlessness, self doubt, and deprecating self images got in the way. Never again were we experiencing life in the moment, never again were we care free, but just dreaming of being so. We've come so far since then, and yet it still feels as if we're just as lost as that night we sat on those courthouse steps.
With a final cold, apprehensive embrace, those feelings that I once felt are now gone in a state of mellow closure.
Closure was the theme of the trip. I have a nasty habit of starting things up and never truly ending them. As part of my growth, I have to start confronting these things and people that I've run away from for so long. Or else the "what ifs?" will continue to cloud my mind, and the baggage will keep seeping into any thing new I choose to do, it prevents me from moving forward.
Turning 26 was great. I celebrated it for almost a whole week. On the day of I went to all of those cute shops along Valencia. I bought zines and a graphic novel called "Killing and Dying." I had a lavish dinner at Bar Tartine. I liked the "casualness" of the restaurant, it's spacious, yet warm and inviting. You can choose to go with the full tasting menu, or just go a la carte and just get some bread, various spreads, and drinks. We got this lard, onion, and paprika spread that we thought would go well with pizza, so we took some to go and went to the Arenell pizzaria next door.
I had the entire back part of Odd Job reserved, and had over 20 people show up with catering and drinks comped.
Around 1am almost everyone went home. Only Israel, Helen, Bhargav, Andy, and Michael were left, and at that moment, I felt an almost supernatural sense of empowerment. The night was ours, be it only for about an hour. We went to Festa, which was overly crowded, and then to Do Re Mi karaoke which is definitely the best after hours or budget karaoke I've been to in the bay area.
Just look at these cool kids...
What else can I say... my life is...
Eating too much:
Chicken Paitan at Nojo Ramen
There's finally options for Ramen in San Francisco. Sort of a weird thing to say given how large the Asian and Japanese population is here, but there really weren't any good options in the city until recently. The 3 contenders that I've been to in the so called "Mission-downtown-ish" area are Mensho Tokyo, Nojo, and Orenchi Beyond.
Veggie Tan tan ramen at Mensho Tokyo
Nojo and Mensho specialize in a chicken ramen called "paitan" which I've never had before. Mensho adds a sort of peanut butter to their ramen which adds a very unique complexity to the whole experience. Nojo's basic paitan with meatballs is a simple, rich, and creamy broth with some lemon zest that provides such a nice touch at the end of each bite. The line at Mensho has become so helplessly long, that you need to either go 30 minutes before they open at 5pm, or go close to their closing time. After 5 the line will begin to expand, as the people in line are actually holding the place for their friends who are getting off work.
Miso ramen at Orenchi Beyond
Despite it's 3.5 star rating on Yelp, I found Orenchi Beyond to be a nice place to grab a bowl if I'm near the Mission or Downtown. Out of all 3, Orenchi definitely has the best appetizers and other options. It's right across the street from Zeigtgeist.
All 3 of these places are expensive though, with basic bowl's of ramen being in the range of $15-20 base before more toppings and drinks being over $10 each. Bills tend to be towards $30-40 per person in the end. Hey, it's San Francisco, this is our reality.
Drinking too much:
Umami Mart hosted a benefit for their friends affected by the earthquake in Fukushima. I bought tickets for it reluctantly, not being able to convince anyone to go with me. Turns out Nathan, the new bartender at Oddjob was there and made everything so much better. I ended up downing can after can of sake, kanpai'd Japanese teachers from Berkeley, made friends with a Japanese businessman from Tokyo, and took 2 plants home with me.
Nathan made the best cocktail I've had in my entire life for my former coworker Albert. It had lavender that he foraged from the rich peoples' houses in the Mission. It was creamy, floral, rich, lucious, cut with just the right amount of acidity and alcohol. Last week Nathan got really sick and told me if he passed away that he wanted me to inherit his precious herbs.
Trying to be functional:
Angela came to the Bay area for a wedding and we met for lunch. I really don't have a handle on good places to get lunch since I've had food at work for the whole time I've been here. We went to an okay Japanese spot and then walked around the upper downtown area. We popped into a gallery, and stopped at a few places to take some headshots of her so she could show off her new hair color on LinkedIn.
Despite her just getting off a 4 hour flight, this photo turned out quite well. I sent her a version with her sweatpants cropped out.
Trying to find my place:
I fear the routine, yet that's where all of the beauty lies.
- At the same time I feel apprehensive about letting out these thoughts... blogging: this combination of photography, writing, and web is currently my only way of expressing my feelings. It's only in this way, by going over the events that have just happened to me and blasting it out there for everyone to see, that I can one by one start to untie the knots in my head one by one. Here is the only place that I can truly feel, that I can cope, that I can revel in the qualities that me feel unique and empowered.
On April 1st I left my job at Rocketfuel, and it's a really weird feeling. It's sort of like, "what was I even doing before this job?" And then I remember the state I was in a year and a half ago, realize that it's only been a short time, and marvel at how much I've been through since then.
Why would I leave a 6 figure job with flexible hours, meals, unlimited PTO… etc?
At the time of my previous post, I did feel content, but for me that's a feeling that's shortlived.
My senses told me that this wasn’t it. I’m 26. Life’s short. I haven’t experienced jack shit yet. It’s time to move on.
I have really no idea what I'm going to do.
All I know is that I'm restless. Anxious.
I need to focus, contain myself, and start taking all the ideas that I have in my head from just thoughts into reality.
(In a rare turn of events, I'll probably have another post for you soon about my trip to Portland :)