i told wangyang today (tuesday) we'd focus mainly on shopping, including a stroll up 5th avenue, seeing some additional sights along the way. i was thinking about scheduling the shopping day for tomorrow (wednesday), but the forecast called for a bit of morning rain, so that would be a good museum day instead. besides, having another day to shop just in case she didn't get everything she wanted today and needed to get something last minute was a better plan.
the flushing hotel had complimentary breakfast and we went downstairs around 9:40am to check it out. normally i skip the hotel breakfast and go outside for better quality morning food, but free is free, and they had an okay but simple selection. breakfast closes at 10am so we made it just under the window. i had the rice porridge, a mantou bun, a hard-boiled egg, and a glass of orange juice. there was some white pepper and salt that i sprinkled on the egg to give it some more flavor.
since wangyang wasn't able to do any work this morning, i proposed she could have some time to finish some office matters while i quickly go out and get a haircut. so i left the hotel by 10:11am.
i went as far as famous xi'an snacks on main street but didn't see any of the haircut places i've been to before. i even ducked into a few malls but didn't have any luck. i did notice that the smoked duck kiosk was already open, making a mental note of it for thursday. i finally settled on a hidden shop that was on the 2nd floor of a building that also advertised facials and massages. i went in cautiously, not knowing if the place was legitimate, but turns out it was a big salon, and quite busy at this time of the day.
i got a haircut from a fujian guy. he was amazed how long my hair was and asked when was the last time i got a haircut. "6 months?" i answered, not really sure, but could've been longer. he asked if i wanted it "straight up the side" and i said sure. that turned out to be a mistake because when i put my glasses back on to see in the mirror, i realized he took too much off. basically he shaved my hair all around, leaving just a clump on top: he pretty much gave me the kim jong-un. he noticed my dissatisfaction right away, and said i was just in shock transitioning from long hair to short hair. he said this style was very much in fashion now. finally, he said i did ask for the "straight up the side" which was what he gave me.
while he finished up, i was regretting ever coming to a bargain basement chinatown barber (although i'd have had good haircuts in the past, from other barbers, but it's a crap shot). it was $8 for the haircut and i left $2 as a tip. i'm never coming back here again! i thought to myself as i descended the stairs back out onto main street. if it was cold before, it was even colder now with my shorter hair. i must've looked like a gangster (one with glasses) roaming the streets in my t-shirt and jailhouse haircut. when i got back to the hotel i was almost expecting the receptionist to stop me because she didn't recognize who i was but she took no notice.
back in the hotel room i surprised wangyang with my new hairdo. she said it looked good, but once again i wasn't sure if she was just being polite. though the haircut looks terrible, it does feel nice, as i like brushing my hand on the stubbles on the back of head. i apologized for coming back so late, i thought it'd take 15-20 minutes, but i didn't get back until 10:50am. we finally left 20 minutes later to began our 2nd day of new york city exploration.
we headed in the direction of the skyview mall on roosevelt street. i've never gone this way before, and noticed a bunch of really interesting chinese restaurants. everything was going normal until we passed by a large nondescript brick building. the large sign said new york food court (紐約美食城, 133-35 roosevelt avenue) and when i peered through the draft barrier portal i couldn't really see inside, but i was intrigued, and asked wangyang if we could stop and check it out briefly.
what i saw inside took my breath away. it was just like the food court in the basement of the new world mall, except this was above ground and all the shops were new and there was plenty of seats. when i saw the taiwanese shop i almost cried. this was what i've been searching for every time i visit new york ever since the taiwanese shop closed at the new world mall (october 2016). in fact, the owner of this shop was the very same person! "have you ever tried smelly tofu?" i asked wangyang rhetorically, because whatever she said, i was going to eat smelly tofu no matter what. i wasn't even listening to her reply before i went up to the counter and ordered a plate of smelly tofu ($6). as we sat waiting for our order, i was buzzing inside, since i couldn't remember the last time i had smelly tofu (it actually wasn't that long ago, january 2016; before that i came with my mother to flushing in december 2015). looking up at the menu, i also ordered a bowl of squid nugget soup ($5.75). when the orders finally arrived, i took my first bite and was in food heaven.
we finally continued on our way to the skyview shopping mall at 11:50am. i've never been to this mall, but it's been visible from the arriving 7 train for the few years my family has been making our pilgrimage to flushing (it opened in 2010). the place is surprisingly well-stocked with stores, everything from the common best buy, bed bath & beyond, target, and marshalls, to the more trendy nordstrom rack and uniqlo.
we ended up spending a good deal of time at nordstrom rack where wangyang browsed some name-brand handbags and then got some dresses and sports bras for herself. she said they had women's active wear back in shanghai, but the selection isn't as great. as for clothing, wangyang has a distinctive style which is flowy dresses. after a while i could pick out what things she'd be interested in wearing. later we went upstairs to check on some shoes. we visited a GNC store to see their prices on some vitamins wangyang wanted to bring back to china. at old navy she bought some more clothes (i'm surprised old navy hasn't landed in china yet, but i think it's only a matter of time - ed. note: actually, they did open a store in shanghai in 2014, there may be others as well).
finally, we visited marshalls (or as antou's wife used to call it, "马 show"). besides some more clothes, wangyang picked up a suitcase to carry all the stuff she managed to buy here in the US. the line at marshalls was incredibly long yet incredibly efficient and fast moving. there was still plenty of stores to see, but it was running late, and if spent anymore time here, we wouldn't have time for more sightseeing in manhattan. we didn't leave the mall until 3pm.
on our way back to the hotel to drop everything off (i helped wangyang carry her suitcase, i didn't want to ruin the wheels by rolling it), we stopped by another GNC store on main street. wangyang decided to buy her vitamins here, saving herself a trip back to the mall. most of the young salespeople in the store were chinese-speaking, but the manager seemed to be an older indian woman, and the in-store nutritionist was a pretty older woman whom i thought was middle eastern (turkish? iranian?) but turned out to be colombian (medellin). wangyang managed to fill a whole basket of vitamins as gifts for friends and family back home. when she went to go pay however, the machine wouldn't accept either of her credit cards. it wasn't because the cards were bad (she'd been using it all day at the mall with no problems), there was something wrong with their only working credit card machine. the colombian woman told us we could go up the street to the chase bank and use the ATM to withdraw some cash. just to help us along and make sure we didn't decide to not bother with buying the vitamins, she got one of the salesperson to take us there. when wangyang tried her card the machine would accept it initially but deny her the final transaction with some mysterious error. fortunately wangyang had some cash on hand, and combined with the cash i gave her yesterday for my share of the hotel room, so had enough to buy most of the vitamins she wanted.
we got back to the hotel at 3:45pm, rested for about half an hour, before finally leaving again at 4:15pm. we were actually leaving for manhattan later than we did yesterday, so once again there wouldn't be very much time for proper new york city sightseeing. but we still had tomorrow, and even though i planned on visiting the met in the morning, we'd still have plenty of time afterwards for sightseeing/shopping.
wangyang was itching for some bubble ice tea. she thought i'd never had it before but i told her bubble ice tea was invented in taiwan, and i've had it millions of times, both in taiwan, in china, and elsewhere. we kept seeing coco, which is a china franchise, but she wanted to try a different place if possible. but we couldn't find anywhere else so we ended up getting bubble ice tea from the street corner outside the subway station (wangyang treated). down in the main street station wangyang charged up her metrocard as the day pass had already expired. we got onboard and began our long ride into manhattan at 4:22pm.
originally i'd planned on getting off at 5th avenue so we could browse that trendy street. then i realized we hadn't walked the high line yet, so we rode to time square to change train and rode down to 14th street and walk to the high line through chelsea and the meatpacking district.
we didn't arrive at 14th and 8th until 5:25pm. there were also places to see to our east (union square, strands bookstore, flatiron building) but we just didn't have enough time. we walked down 14th avenue through chelsea, with the high line within view on the horizon. there were a lot of gyros shops and i told wangyang we'd have time to try it because she's never had it before (nor greek food for that matter). we just so happened to pass by an old church - santuario de ntra. señora de guadalupe en san bernardo - and decided to take a peek inside, since wangyang love old churches. the santuario did not disappoint, the inside all dark and tall and painted in a moss green color. a few worshippers dotted the pews, the only sounds came from a man solemnly singing in latin in a corner. this was no tourist trap, but rather a functioning neighborhood church with real devote worshippers. we walked half the perimeter, wangyang speaking in a soft respectful whisper i could barely hear. instead of real candles, the church used electronic candles at its altars, turned on by buttons after paying the suggested donation.
we made it to the high line by 5:50pm. the meatpacking district was full of trendy restaurants full of people just getting off of work drinking and eating al fresco. we walked behind a trio of typical new york millennials (white guy in shorts and sunglasses, a pretty girl in a dress, and a black guy holding a small dog) but they were denied entry by the park rangers because dogs aren't allowed. the high line was crowded, which seemed unusual for a late tuesday afternoon. the last time i came there was hardly any people, but it was also cold so that might've made a difference. today's unusually hot with temperature somewhere in the 80's and probably a lot of tourists gathered there to see the sunset (although not worth it in my opinion, with the shores of new jersey as a backdrop).
we walked the whole 1.45 mile (2.33 km) length of the high line. there was a gang of adolescent hooligans trampling through the manicured gardens, throwing gravel down into the streets belong, and some more young hooligan activities. i bumped shoulder with one of them, and a few minutes later i heard some rocks clattering nearby, a possibly retaliation. later i saw a ranger asking them not to run through the plants, but she didn't kick them out. before we started walking wangyang had asked if there was any bathrooms. at 16th street there was a public bathroom, but there was a line of people waiting to get in. wangyang said she could hold it (in hindsight, there was another bathroom at the gansevoort entrance we came up from, but i didn't see it at the time). at the 30th street bend we entered an office building to ask if they had a bathroom. the security guard behind the desk - who must get asked this several times a day - said nothing at first then listlessly answered no. we continued walking around hudson yards until we arrived at the terminal station, where i knew there would be a bathroom inside the station.
from hudson yards we rode the 7 train just 2 stops to 5th avenue. we arrived at 7:10pm.
before walking up 5th avenue, i asked wangyang if she'd be interested in seeing the new york public library, adding that it was a famous landmark and featured in such fine films as ghostbusters (1984). so we made a quick detour to see this building which was just nearby.
we were at the new york public library for half an hour. that's when i discovered that besides churches, wangyang is also interested in libraries, especially seeing the books. she told me back when she was in changshou, she spent many sundays at the town library doing work (while i was out in chongqing exploring the city). but nowadays big libraries like these don't carry a lot of books. but we kept wandering further and further into the library until we got to the circulation desk area with walls of reference books. she was curious to see what was inside and took one of the books and flipped through its pages, which weren't very exciting.
we finally left by 7:40pm, to walk down the fabled 5th avenue. my plan was to walk the whole length, from 42nd street to 59th street, to the base of central park. under the best circumstances, this was a 20 minute walk. but factoring in additional time spent browsing stores and seeing sights, i figured an additional hour on top of that. we stopped inside a 2-floor north face store that was so brightly lit in hurt my eyes. the thing we learned immediately about 5th avenue shopping is everything is retail price, so realistically we wouldn't be buying anything. this was a farcry from the bargains wangyang managed to score earlier today at the skyview mall in flushing. next we went to an H&M. here were some bargains, and wangyang saw a few dresses she liked, but she'd already purchased so many today, she didn't want to buy anything more. the real reason why she wanted to come here was she was looking for a gift for me. when i discovered her plan, i told her i was all set for clothes.
when we got to 50th street i had a surprise waiting for wangyang which she wasn't expecting: st.patrick's cathedral! as it turned out, they were still opened despite it being 8pm (they're actually opened until 9pm). wangyang's energy level perked right back up as we made our way through the security check and into the church. she was impressed with the inside, and found it comparable to some of the european churches she's seen. we found an empty pew near the front of the church to sit so she could rest and admire the interior. it was different than the chelsea church we saw earlier, this one was more touristy (being on 5th avenue helps).
after we left the cathedral we went back to sak's 5th avenue. before we went inside, we bought a pair of hot dogs ($3/each) and ate them while leaning against the department store, staring at 30 rockefeller center across the street. it was wangyang's first new york city hot dog experience. i was too hungry to take a photo of this historical occasion, as i quickly downed my meal. it was a bit after 8pm and we hadn't eaten since flushing. that's one of my problems when i play tour guide: often times i'm so busy visiting one sightseeing place after another, i frequently neglect to eat until my guest and i are nearly exhausted.
we went inside the department store, not realizing they were already closed, but the lack of customers clued us in. we were in search of hand bags for my wangyang's mother but they didn't seem to have what we were looking for. a security guard issued us out the side entrance.
we went to rockefeller center. not having enough time to browse the underground mall and figuring they were probably closed anyway, we stopped to admire the freshly planted yellow daffodils and purple hyacinths. the ice skating rink was still operating, despite the 70's temperature (the ice looked more like slush). we continued on our way up 5th avenue, passing by the atlas statue. wangyang took a great photo, juxtapositioning the statue with the cathedral in the background; she has a real eye for photography, too bad she didn't bring her good camera!
we spotted a coach store but they were closed. from the window, it didn't look like they had the type of hand bag wangyang was searching for (a very specific small red leather backpack). we kept going until i noticed a lot of policemen hanging around a street corner. before i had time to register what was happening, i spotted a more heavily armed officer with an assault rifle pointing to the ground. i looked up: trump tower. of course! i told wangyang where we were. i wanted to take a photo but was afraid it wasn't allowed, so we secretly went across the street to grab some snapshots.
by then there was no point in going any further up 5th avenue, as there didn't seem to be anymore stores. besides, most likely they were closed anyway. finally, both wangyang and i were tired and hungry, and probably just wanted a place to rest and eat. i suggested to wangyang we'd go find a restaurant to grab some dinner. it was already 9:10pm. i checked google map to see the nearest restaurants. that's when i noticed something very weird. my phone was having a hard time getting a gps signal, and sort of bounced around from block to block. i was confused at first, then thought about where we were. not sure if this is true or not, but maybe they had some way of jamming gps signals around trump tower.
the probably with being on 5th avenue is most nearby restaurants are of the expensive kind. if we kept going west we'd hit the swath of restaurants clustered around time square, and those weren't any good either, typical tourist traps. our best bet for something cheap yet delicious was if we kept on going, all the way to 9th avenue, to hell's kitchen. wangyang's never had greek food before, and i found a place with good reviews, uncle nick's (747 9th avenue). it'd be another 20 minute walk, but in my mind it seemed closer than that.
before we set forth though, i spotted a nearby dunkin' donuts. because of the gps glitch, i made a mistake walking down 56th street when the store was on 55th. it turned out to be a happy mistake because we were able to see the love statue on 55th and 6th. "i wanted to see this!" wangyang exclaimed. apparently they have a similar statue in philadelphia that she wanted to see but it's been temporarily removed due to renovation work. she wasn't expecting to see it in new york city, and though perhaps they moved the statue here instead.
wangyang never had dunkin' donuts before. because she couldn't go to boston (home of dunkin' donuts!), i figured at the very least she should sample our local coffee. i got a medium regular (cream and sugar), the filipino cashier kept jokingly trying to get wangyang to buy something else. we sat down to savor our brew. maybe she was being polite, but i could tell she didn't like it. diplomatically, she said that starbucks coffees are bitter, while this dunkin' donuts coffee was sour. she also said it wasn't sweat enough and we ended up adding 4 more sugar packets.
we continued on our way to 9th avenue traveling west on 55th street. once we arrived we started seeing all sorts of places to eat, in case uncle nick's doesn't pan out. when we finally got to the greek restaurant (a bit after 10pm), the doors were already locked despite there being people inside still eating (the restaurant doesn't close until 11pm). another couple wanted to eat there too and was dismayed they were closed. "we can all this way out just to eat here," the guy said. buddy, if you only knew only far we traveled to come here! fortunately there were other restaurants, but it seemed like the choices were either thai or indian, both foods wangyang has tried before. as it was getting late and we were both hungry, we finally settled on mee noodle shop, which looked like a fancy noodle specialty restaurant.
turns out it was nothing more than a slightly trendy chinese restaurant. yes they had noodles (a bit on the pricey side compared to noodle shops in chinatown), but they also had your typical chinese restaurant dishes. service was good though and it had a nice ambience. i was the one who suggested the pan fried noodles, which wangyang had never had before. she picked the rocksalt shrimp. we also both got bubble ice tea (although i knew bubble ice tea at these restaurants wouldn't be anything particularly special). curious about the hours, i asked one of the waitstaff what time they closed. 11pm. that meant when our food finally arrived, we had about 20 minutes to eat. wangyang also noticed that most of the customers were young gay men; apparently the hell's kitchen area is a popular gay hangout.
when the noodles came and wangyang tried it for the very first time, the noises she made sounded like she didn't like it, but turns out she had the opposite reaction, said it was delicious. i told her pan fried is my favorite style of noodles at chinese restaurants, and would sometimes special order it if they didn't have it on the menu. the rocksalt shrimp was also quite delicious, although i was expecting more shrimp (the portion was good though, i don't think i could've eaten any more). i ate quickly, mindful of their closing time, even though there were many other customers still around.
when the check came, wangyang saw a fortune cookie for the very first time. she thought it was just a simply dessert cracker until i told her there was a fortune inside. it surprised her, but i don't think she realizes that all american chinese restaurants do this. wangyang paid with her credit card because she didn't have a lot of cash left (not after spending all her dollars at the GNC vitamin shop earlier). i insisted on paying her but she was having none of it (i would later sneak the money with her belongings back at the hotel).
from there i suggested we walk down to time square to catch the train, about 10 blocks away (i failed to realize there was an subway station nearby, 50th street blue line). so for the second night in a row, we found ourselves back in time square. it was about midnight at that point. learning from our mistake yesterday, we decided to catch the train to hudson yards terminal which was just one stop away, just so we could be promised a seat. that turned out to be needless idea since there are hardly ever any passengers from hudson yards, so the train that arrives in time square is an empty train. it's because we caught the train yesterday from grand central, and that's where there's a lot of people.
on the train ride back i suddenly remembered pokemon go and dug out my phone from my pocket (after a day of heavy use, i had to recharge it with my portable charger earlier). as the flushing train is an above ground subway, it meant passing several dozen pokestops along the way, a pokemon player's dream.
wangyang saw me playing and i apologized, because i thought she was sleeping. she said it reminded her of her husband, who also loves playing phone games. that got her to talk about her recent divorce. she told me it was her idea to leave her ex-husband, after many years of them leaving separate lives. she told me even back when she was working at changshou, she could go weeks without talking to her husband on the phone. she said she had some female friends who would also like to divorce their husbands, but are unwilling because of the children. she also has a group of single female friends in shanghai who are happy being unmarried. her current living arrangement is a bit unusual to say the least: though she and her ex-husband (前夫) live apart (naturally), she still lives with her kindergarten-aged son, even though her ex has full custody (he's just not very good at raising children). but the strange part is her ex-mother-in-law also lives with her as sort of a live-in nanny, taking care of her son while she's at work.
we didn't get back to the flushing hotel until well after 1am. for the second day in a row, we leave one day, come back the next. my feet were killing me from all the walking we did. wangyang let me use the bathroom first. we didn't go to sleep until almost 2am. i had a hard time because of the coffee i drank earlier. thankfully tomorrow will be a lowkey day: museum in the morning and early afternoon, a stroll through central park, then a little more shopping.
- new york food court (smelly tofu)
- skyview mall (flushing)
- lady of guadalupe shrine (chelsea)
- high line
- hudson yards
- new york public library
- 5th avenue
- st.patrick's cathedral
- rockefeller center
- trump tower
- love statue
- dunkin' donuts
- mee noodle shop (hell's kitchen)