I grew up in Malaysia then moved to the United States as a young adult. Justin trailed along while his father’s highly transient career took him all over the country in his youth. So when it came time to make our own home, we fell into the normal trappings–we bought a house in a nice neighborhood in a state where it was sunny 299 days per year. But we found ourselves making regular trips to New York City that grew longer and more frequent, and soon we realized maybe it was more of a home to us than our house was. For us, home has never been about geography. It’s always been a feeling. A longing when you leave, and a pull to return.
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know that everything there is magnified and exaggerated by a factor of 1000, and it’s easy find yourself with whiplash from taking it all in. I have somewhat mixed feelings on the “More Is More” mantra, but one thing I remember being notably impressed with was the stunning ceiling of glass flowers in the Bellagio. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first experience with Dale Chihuly’s masterful craft.
If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught whiff that I’m heading on a trip to Japan. My family lives half a world away so we try to meet up somewhere we can all have a fun vacation, and this year we agreed on Kyoto. I’ll spare you the ugly details on how many WhatsApp messages it actually took for all of us to reach a consensus — we’re one of those weird families that’s not remotely alike. (Truth be told, my older brother is still wishing we were headed to a beach.)
The workaround with our diverse family usually involves large swaths of time in the schedule that are “open”. During those periods we split up and do whatever our hearts desire. I have no doubt I will spend many of my open slots dining solo: my family isn’t quite as food-obsessed as I am, and for God’s sake, I’ll be in Japan. I’ll want to eat every fifteen minutes! My parents will likely find themselves in many of the gardens Kyoto has to offer, as they have long been fans of horticulture.
Serendipitously, on a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the exhibition that occupied the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was NYBG’s annual Kiku exhibition. (As an aside, the Victorian-style stunner is one of our favorite buildings.)
Kiku, which means chrysanthemum in Japanese, is a flower that has been long revered in Japanese culture. Kiku has been said to embody the idea of perfection, and is also viewed as a symbol of the sun. It’s featured in the Imperial Seal and the Japanese emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The art of growing and training the flowers is a dying tradition in Japan, so the long-standing alliance between the New York Botanical Garden and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo has been mutually beneficial. Shinjuku Gyoen trains NYBG staff so that the craft lives on and enjoys worldwide attention.
You’re waiting on a crowded subway platform. The MTA has announced service interruptions. You’ve read the notices, and you’re pretty sure you know where you’re going. So you wait. And wait some more. You peer down at your phone. And pace. Until rage begins to snake its way through your veins like morphine through an IV. Twenty minutes passes, and you can feel that flicker of madness barreling toward you down the dark tunnel of your mind, when, finally, a train arrives. Slowly, in a drunk’s lurching, stumbling, stagger, it draws to a screeching stop at the platform. The cars are packed, tight as sardines, a mass of arms and heads and hands.
You realize there is no room in the car in front of you. The idea of waiting an unknown period of time for another train — with no promise of a better situation — sends you into a panic. In a frenzy, you run along the row of cars, searching for one with just enough room for you and your companion to fill a space. You see it, and charge through the door just as it closes. And in less than a second, the nauseating odor hits you. Cue the music, then fade to black.
“The Empty Car at the End of the Train” is just one of the many real-life horror movies New Yorkers can find themselves in. (“Rent Hike” is another one.) So what do people do in a city where scary stuff is a way of life? They adopt Halloween as their holiday and celebrate the heck out of it. We were scrolling through the endless list of parties and events around town when we stumbled across Brew at the Zoo.
In 2003, Lynn and I — as well as our motley crew of cats, Felix and Chloe — up and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona on a whim. This radical decision was predicated upon a number of factors: we were incredibly weary of the long winters; we could no longer envision a future filled with opportunities in our professional lives; and there was a discernable feeling that we were in a rut, living out lives that seemed alarmingly predictable and comfortable given our relatively youthful ages. A malaise had set in, as well as a soul-crushing ennui. Something had to change. And so something did: we moved.
The next nine years of our lives were spent in Arizona. Unexpectedly, the change of scenery revealed more about what we’d left behind than what we’d discovered at our destination. In particular, we found a new appreciation for the finite change in seasons we’d previously taken for granted. Sure, there’s a “cooler” period in Arizona, but a mild drop in temperature a change of seasons does not make. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
If you took an Economics class in college, you might recall discussions around irrational behavior and speculation leading to market bubbles and crashes. While the dot-com and real estate debacles might be fresher in our memory, one of my favorite examples of this was the boom and bust of tulips in the 1600s. Yes, tulips. If you’re unfamiliar, the story goes that when the Dutch Republic gained independence from the Spanish crown in the 17th century, it ushered in a Golden Age with growing trade and commerce. Fortunes flourished and estates grew, and soon the prized tulip — its bold colors unlike that of any other flower at the time — became a status symbol. As demand multiplied, speculators were drawn to the quick profits and the prices ballooned. At its height it was said that a single bulb was exchanged for 1000 pounds of cheese. But in 1637, a default on a contract caused widespread panic and the tulip market abruptly crashed.
Being the proud owners of lush gardens and beautifully landscaped backyards, our parents probably have ten green thumbs between them. But apparently that’s a recessive gene. Because the two of us? We’ve killed cacti. (Yes, plural. More than one cactus, on more than one occasion.) So instead of putting a sad ficus in the corner of our cramped apartment, to get our green fix we make our way out to the New York Botanical Garden and enjoy the Best Pretend Backyard Ever.