the first train of the day is surprisingly busy, as there were 2 dozen people waiting on the platform by the time the subway arrived. the ride to south station was fairly routine, arriving by 5:40am, with 20 minutes to get to the bus terminal, plenty of time. there was already a decent line, but not so long that i wouldn't get a pair of seats all to myself. i saw a few chinese people looking as if they were trying to cut the line, but a megabus attendant intercepted them. i bought the ticket a month ago for $10. we wasted no time, the bus left exactly at 6am.
there was nothing to do on the bus but sleep. the seat was fine; there was just no place to put my head. i put my jackets away in my backpack, which was in cargo. with no pillow, resting my head against the window was a sure way to get a concussion as every bump on the road was transmitted directly to the glass. i sort of regret not buying a travel pillow while i was at marshalls a few days ago. so i slept intermittently, snapping awake every time my head rolled off my neck. at some point (probably in connecticut) we hit rush hour traffic, and the ride became an unceasing series of short stops and goes, making me carsick to the point where i felt queasy and wanted to vomit. several sips of water helped, along with an emergency candy bar in my bag.
at 9:47am frances texted me to ask where the megabus stop was. the bus was scheduled to arrive at 10:15am, but i was still about 40 minutes away at least. frances said it wasn't a problem, that they would simply wait across the street at a pret a manger coffee shop. it ended up taking more than an hour, most of that time spent traversing manhattan north to south. the constant stopping and going once again made me a little carsick not too mention i was very hungry by that point. plus the hairy european bro sitting in front of me had really strong body odor. we finally arrived at 11am. from the bus window i spotted frances and her family.
frances and i met in the summer of 1994, when i went to taipei for a second semester at the mandarin training center (affiliated with the national taiwan normal university NTNU 臺灣師範大學) to improve my written chinese (i was 20 years old at the time). after that, the only time we met was when she visited boston with some friends in 1998. so we haven't seen each other in 2 decades, but have kept in touch, as she got married and had 3 children. in recent years i've been helping her ship things to norway that she buys online in the US (cheaper than norwegian prices, even with shipping added). i never met her family but felt like i already knew them through photos i've seen throughout the years: her husband fredrik, and her kids lars, hans, and june (now ages 11, 9, 7).
so our destination was the flushing chinatown, which we'd get to via the 7 train from penn station. hans was in a wheelchair so we were searching for an elevator to go down below. we asked a cop who told us to catch the 7 train directly a few blocks further up. before we headed in that direction however, i asked them to wait a few minutes while i quickly went down below to use the bathroom. it took more than a few minutes as the nearest restroom was closed, so i had to go to another one further away, and there was a brief line. when i finished and was about to head back up, i was surprised to find everyone already down below. we then headed to the subway station, which actually isn't that close and we had to do a bit of walking. attracted by the underground food court, fredrik took lars to get a pretzel at auntie anne's while frances took hans and june to dunkin' donuts to get some donuts.
we then continued to the subway. one advantages of having a wheelchair is the ability to use the emergency swing doors. and often times, the whole family goes through, including me as well, for the price of a single admission, or occasionally free. i was looking to find an elevator when hans miraculously got out of his chair to walk down the stairs while fredrik carried his wheelchair. that's when frances told me that hans can walk for short distances, but his hurt legs hurt if he goes too long. we took a 2 train one station uptown to time square before switching to the 7 train. we then settled back for the 40 minute ride to the flushing, the last stop.
when we got out at flushing it'd started to rain a little bit already. this was in the forecast and something i knew about. but i was the only the person with an umbrella, everyone else putting their confidence in their rain-resistant jackets. i ended up giving the umbrella to hans to use in his wheelchair. another thing i'd forgotten about flushing is how close it is to the la guardia airport. every few minutes a main would roar overhead, close enough to see passengers through the windows if it weren't for all the clouds. in the cold rain, the time it took us to walk 500 meters seemed like forever, but eventually we arrived at the new york food court by 1pm.
i discovered new york food court last april when i was in the city rendezvousing with another visiting international friend, wangyang. it's been almost a year and i've been meaning to return to 8090台湾小吃 get some authentic taiwanese food. my visit today was more for me, but frances and her family seemed to be game. in fact, the whole reason why i picked a flushing hotel was so i could be closer to this food court! after we found a table (the place was surprisingly crowded for a weekday afternoon), i went to the only taiwanese shop and ordered: squid nugget soup (花枝羹类面 $7.50), smelly tofu (炸臭豆腐 $6.50), and fried chicken nuggets (盐酥鸡 $6, this was actually a mistake, i wanted the fried squids instead), a total of $20 well spent.1 frances got an order of smelly tofu as well as a bowl of beef noodle soup. fredrik went around searching for something else to try, though he was most likely overwhelmed by the sheer selection. i should've gone with him to narrow his selection, but i was so hungry at that point (to the point of either passing out or being hangry) that i started eating right away once i got my order.
after i finished eating i was still a little groggy from being carsick, but better than before. however, i felt so stuffed afterwards (i ordered too much as always), i don't think i needed dinner. we shared a table with a trio of senior new yorkers, who couldn't stop staring at us. we ended up chatting, two of them were brother and sister formerly from costa rica, while the third was an asian man formerly from malaysia. both men were of the baha'i faith and were planning a trip to chile, where they recently established a church there. they were here for the lanzhou hand-pulled noodles.
next we went to the nearby skyview mall (just 160 meters away), something the children were especially excited about once they heard there was a target. "target! target!" they chanted on occasion, so much was their love for the retail franchise. in fact, i'd learn later that they'd already been to 2 other targets already since they've been in the US. of course we made a beeline to the toy department once we got there. the boys were into nerf guns (lars already bought 2, frances was worried they didn't have enough luggage space despite arriving with empty suitcases), while june looked at dolls (she actually had an american girl doll with her which they ordered weeks in advance so they could receive it once they arrived in new york). lars was also interested in matchbox cars.
i haven't hung out in the toys department for a while, interesting to see what toys kids are into these days, with the proliferation of digital games to grab their attention. but it's nice to see that physical toys still have a place in children's hearts, that some things are timeless, despite advances in technology. frances told me that all the children had been saving money for this trip, and each had a budget of $200 to spend on whatever they want. she thought maybe they would quickly burn through their budget so they could stop visiting toy stores, but the kids have been pretty good with their money management, and still had cash to spend.
all the kids came away target with toys, the adults with nothing. since there was still more shopping to do (and it was still raining outside, another reason to stay indoors), i volunteered to take everything back to my hotel, where i could check in, drop off my stuff as well, and then come back. fredrik came with me to help my carry some of the stuff, while frances was in the charge of the 3 kids. the flushing hotel was 800 meters away, about a 10 minute walk, but not so fun in the rain, though it was just a drizzle at best. they gave me one of the worst hotel rooms, room 2052, with a view of the inner courtyard of the hotel, nothing to see but HVAC compressors, cement, and barbed wires on top of the fence. it wasn't that big a deal, the only time i'd be here would be to shower and sleep. we returned to the mall.
fredrik and i spent the next 15 minutes or so trying to find frances. originally we though they were at nordstrom outlet, but after searching both downstairs and upstairs and couldn't find them, fredrik tried calling. unfortunately the reception at the mall is pretty bad, and he couldn't get through. i tried texting frances as well. we then went through every store that we thought they might be in, with no luck. the only store left was marshalls, and that's when i finally checked my phone and saw that frances had responded, told us she was in fact in marshalls. there wasn't much toys at marshalls, but with the children satiated with their recent buys, it gave the adults a brief period to do some shopping of their own. fredrik got some t-shirts, while the kids were taking turns playing with the wheelchair. we all waited outside while fredrik went to pay. later we went downstairs to the basement level to look for shoes. i got some winter melon tea with grass jelly ($3.99) from a coco fresh shop.
we left the mall with the plan of maybe finding an ice cream shop for the kids while the adults could chat. we passed a few pastry shops, but nothing fit what we wanted. google map search told of a potential place, 10below ice cream in queens crossing (136-17 39th avenue), so we headed there. unfortunately there was also no ice cream to be had, but there was decent seating at a paris baguette (a pastry/coffee shop) so frances sat down while fredrik went with the kids to check out some of the cakes. as for me, i went exploring. queens crossing also contains a small food court: kung fu tea, lao jie food, ajisen ramen, a poke shop, a korean shop, and a few others. just smelling all that delicious food made me hungry again (by then it was close to 6pm). there is so many restaurants and food places in flushing it's a foodie paradise, but to find the good ones require advanced research; i'd love to spend a whole week here just to discover all the best restaurants. frances decided to get some meat buns to go; i was tempted to grab something as well, but planned on returning to new york food court later tonight for dinner, so i held off. i did buy a set of chopsticks at banzai japanese gifts for $3.27. when i returned to the cafe i found frances chatting with an old lady. later frances told me that maybe she was trying to get her to buy stuff because she gave frances her business card.
as it was starting to get late and frances and her family still had to traverse new york city to get back to newport new jersey (where their hotel was), we went back to my hotel to grab their things. afterwards i walked with them to the subway station. the rain seemed to have stopped by this point. we made plans to meet up tomorrow morning 10:30am at the manhattan chinatown for dimsum at the golden unicorn.
i returned to the hotel, buying a pair of custards at a bakery for a snack along the way. only now (6:42pm) was i finally able to properly use the bathroom and take a hot shower. i rested a bit, eating one of the custards, before going out again at 8pm. sitting on the bed getting dressed, i felt some deja vu, that thrill of leaving a hotel to go out and explore the neighborhood.
i went to the new liquor shop next to the hotel to see if they had my baijiu; they were selling for $13 bottle, but i thought i could do better so didn't get it. i had my dSLR but only snapped a few photos, perhaps too tired and hungry to do much else. flushing isn't exactly picturesque, most of the interesting stuff are hidden away in restaurants and shops. i went to the supermarket in new world mall to get a few things (fishsnacks, suanmeitang drinks3), before going to taipei liquors, my usual spot, for the wuliangye baijiu. turns out they sell them for $13 as well (i thought it was $11), i bought a single bottle to replenish my supply.
i finally arrived at new york food court by 8:16pm. it wasn't as crowded as earlier. i wanted to try someplace else besides the taiwanese place (which i will revisit as well), so i made a tour of all the shops but was just overwhelmed with the selection. i finally settled on a bowl of lanzhou hand-pulled noodles with lamb ($8). while that order was being made, i went tot the taiwanese place and ordered a bowl of smelly tofu (炸臭豆腐 $6.50) and some fried squids (盐酥花枝 $6.50). when my noodle was ready, i moved to a table that was closer to the taiwanese shop so i could grab my order when it was ready. i also had a craving for bubble ice tea, but i couldn't manage to wait for my order, keep an eye on my things, and also visit the ice tea place, so i decided not to get it. the challenge of eating by yourself: nobody to watch your stuff! when everything arrived, i took my photos and sat back to enjoy my dinner. the noodles was good, but unfortunately filling as well. i realized that too late, and didn't finish the rest of the noodles so i could concentrate on the tofu. by that point my stomach was already near capacity. i could only eat half the tofu, and had to toss the rest. the fried squids i got a bag and took it back to the hotel with me. too much delicious food, only one stomach! i looked forward to returning to the hotel, where i could finally relax, take another hot shower, watch some tv, then sleep.
i got back to flushing hotel at 9:13pm. i asked the front desk receptionist for a remote as there wasn't one in my room. "you'll need to return it when you check out," she told me. back in the roof i noticed how dirty it was. let me clarify: for the most part it was clean, but the carpet was filthy. this is a chinese thing, where they view anything on the ground as naturally dirty, including the carpet, and they're used to wearing slippers indoors, not walk barefoot. there were stains and such, they really should invest in a steam cleaner. but like i said, this is a chinese thing. i've stayed in multiple stars hotels in china, and all their carpets were filthy as well. there was also a strongly ambiguous fragrant disinfectant smell in the room, like they purposely used a lot to mask some previous foul odor. i didn't mind it, but it made me curious what they could be hiding (i'm guessing just cigarette smoke, but dead body is my default second choice).
my original plan was to take a hot bath (i even brought the latest issue of entertainment weekly), but i was just too tired. instead i took a normal shower, then crawled into bed to enjoy a new episode of for the people on ABC at 10pm, which happens to take place in new york city, in the southern district court. i really love this show, i hope it doesn't get cancelled despite hearing that it's been garnering some low ratings. i even got my appetite back and ate some of the fried squid, which was delicious, though a bit cold.
after using the bathroom, flossing, and brushing my teeth, i got back into bed. i watched the news long enough to see the weather for tomorrow (a few hours of rain around midday) then went straight to bed, too tired to watch shows on my phone or read. my body welcomed unconsciousness, which came swiftly. outside, the intermittent soft roars of planes flying overhead, but even that wasn't enough to distract me from falling asleep. tomorrow morning waking up at 8am to meet up with frances and family at 10:30am.
1 just an observation, but for a place that's supposedly taiwanese, the receipt was in simplified chinese (used primarily in mainland china), not traditional chinese (which is used in taiwan)
2 $94.16 a night, booked through hotels.com
3 北海鱈魚絲 $2.49/pack, JFC海苔卷 $2.99, 康師傅酸梅湯 99¢/bottle