Let's talk about microaggressions

So, what’s a microaggression anyway?

In the event you’ve been living under a rock, have no fear, it happens to the best of us and it’s always better to learn late than never at all. According to Psychology Today, microaggressions are the everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory comments to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (i.e. ethnicity, religion, sex).

Can we get some examples?

A familiar example to point out is when people ask the question “What are you?” in relation to one’s heritage rather than their actual birth place. For instance, I have repeatedly been asked, “Where are you from?” to which I’m all Jersey baby, fuck yeah. But then, after my amorous show of affection for the great state of NJ, I am often rebutted with “No, where are you really from¸ though?” as if I’m lying and actually arrived via shipping container from somewhere in southeast China. Pretty much anyone who isn’t obviously white has been asked this question before.

Other examples of microaggressions include but are not limited to: asking a lesbian if she’s ever had “real sex,” assuming a black man is dangerous, telling a black or hispanic person that they’re “like, unusually articulate and well-spoken,” calling a Jewish person “cheap,” etc. And microaggressions aren’t just verbal, either. My best friend sent me this awesome article that discusses how Asians are often confused with one another by fellow coworkers. This has happened to me at literally every job I have ever had and it is absolutely a type of microaggression.

Do only white people commit microaggressions?

In a word: NO. I have a point of contention with some of the current discussion around this topic because it seems that many articles are primarily (or solely) calling attention to white people.

While white men take the metaphorical cake in greeting me with “Konnichiwa” or assuming I can’t speak English, they’re far from being the only race guilty of doing so. I’m just saying, if we are going to have this talk, let’s be real about it. “Microagressors” are pervasive and everyone should become more aware of how they treat others.

How do people feel about microaggressions?

First off, microaggressions are real. They hurt and suppress people in ways that words have always hurt and suppressed people. That said, the prefix “micro” is in there for a reason. The same people who question where I’m “really” from are rarely the same people who call me a chink or go about committing violent hate crimes. Racism, as with all forms of prejudice, has a spectrum. For me, microaggressions fall on the less-serious end of that spectrum.

How do we deal with microaggressions?

Personally, my response to microaggressors varies: sometimes I’ll gently (or not-so-gently) call people out. Other times, I let it go if I don’t have the energy for it. Either way, I don’t feel bad regardless of which route I take. Of course, other people feel and react differently, and who am I to judge? If someone is devastated by a continuous stream of microaggressions (as many are), they have a right to those feelings and to speaking out about it. Regardless of your stance, though, I would encourage you to keep the following points in mind:

1.     People who commit microaggressions are intellectually inferior. It’s the truth. I grew up with the mentality that people who asked me questions like “can you see a full picture with such small eyes?” were either 1. innocent children or two, 2. stupid.

2.     I believe that a good deal of microaggressors are not malicious. Does it mean they get a free pass? Of course not. Let’s not confuse this with sympathizing with aggressors and blaming victims. I simply mention this because some aggressions and aggressors may warrant different responses than others, and that’s perfectly okay. The point is to be open to teaching and open to learning.

What now? You tell me. Leave your comments or questions below.

Here's to making progress, together!

Photo credit: http://www.nparcseattle.org/uploads/1/0/8/3/10830917/9460351_orig.jpg

 

#TBT: A chat with NYPD's Hostage Negotiator and Instructor James Shanahan

NOTE: This was written in the fall of 2012 when I first moved to the city (It originally appeared here). I met Jim at the Jersey Shore where he frequents the same beach club that my parents and I do. He has since become a friend, mentor and sort of "Uncle" to my brother and I. I wanted to post this today around the holiday season as a reminder to us all on how important it is to keep a truly open mind and a truly progressive perspective as we move into 2016 and collectively fight for a better future.

Written by: Kirsten Chen | Edited by: Michael Goodwin

I spot James Shanahan from afar, which is not a particularly trying task, as he’s a smiling 6’ 3” Irish man with a distinct New York accent and presence. I am already acquainted with Jim, and upon seeing me, he simultaneously salutes and waves my direction, and we soon sit down to chat. There is an effervescent quality about him; he is both approachable and playful, generally not the first two characteristics one might attribute to someone in the police force. Nonetheless, it would come as no surprise to anyone that he is, in fact, a long-standing (30+ years), reputable member of the NYPD. Maybe it’s the Irish thing.

Born in Brooklyn and having lived in Manhattan, Jim grew up traversing the general area, and proclaims himself a true “5-borough guy”. It is clear that his upbringing and city surroundings have had a profound impact on his path in life. Many of the men in his family were policemen, and from a young age, his family instilled in him a respect for the job. He even tells me that one of his first memories in life involves the police. In the very brief moments before he divulges why, my mind conjures up an elaborate series of dramatic possibilities. Could it be a valiant story involving some profound historical event? Or perhaps, an unfortunate, personal tragedy? But, alas, Jim goes on to reminisce a simple memory, which, so often, is the most insightful kind, about being a little kid and watching the single, flashing police light on the top of a squad car come down the street, and then seeing an officer step out, clad in blue uniform with the old-school brass buttons on either side. As Jim recalls this story, he says he remembers feeling safe. Clearly, Jim revered the police force and was set in the direction of the law early on. So, it would seem natural for the rest of this conversation to tumble only into the heroic, traditional and goodside of the job. After all, Jim is certainly a “good cop”, if we’re going to play that game. But he is also, as his work further explores and charges, a very in-touch human being.

“In my family, I was taught that ‘Whenever you ever need help, you go to a cop,’“ says Jim. “But, see, I also grew up in New York City and I grew up during the counter-culture, too.  So, I was never blind to the inherent love/hate relationship people have for cops. I understood they were capable of good and bad.” At this, I bring up Jim’s compassion, mentioning that due to the nature of the job, it must be difficult at times to observe the world in a shade other than black or white – to see people and their actions as multifaceted, and in turn, have those people see you, a police officer, as multifaceted. Jim nods and discusses both the necessity and confinement of such strict ways of thinking and acting. He is talking about straddling the line between his identity as a police officer and his identity as an emotionally and mentally complex human. He puts it perfectly when he says, “No matter your job, when you lose your empathy, you lose your humanity. And I firmly believe in keeping a foot in both hemispheres, otherwise, what do you become?”

And so the story continues. In 1978, CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice opened its doors to an eager and prepared JimShanahan. Then, four years later, after a successful college career, Jim was accepted into the NY Housing Authority.

He spent most of the ‘80s  both “walking the beat” and patrolling in squad cars through some of the most “vulnerable, depressed conditions imaginable.” During this time, a lot of things came to light for Jim, including the aforementioned difficulties of dealing with the limited ways citizens saw the police and the limited ways police saw citizens. There was a lack of understanding on both sides –  there were sides to begin with. And in a tale as old as time, the most important fundamental component missing between citizens and the police, who Jim has noted are “the most conspicuous and accessible form of government,” was communication.

 “During that time a few things happened. [Personally] I tread through some very dark moments and dealt with some difficult internal issues,“ Jim says, grazing upon the taxing nature of the job. "Then, [Interacting with the housing population] I was made crucially aware of how important community initiatives and progressive forms of the police system are. Take the Eleanor Bumpurs tragedy. That was a big eye-opener.” Jim is talking about the 1984 Bronx case where Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman, was ordered to be evicted from her apartment by the Housing Authority. In an unfortunate turn of events, an NYPD officer ended up shooting Eleanor dead with two bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Jim had been an active member on the executive board of the former Housing Police Benevolent Association. However, this incident, amongst other environmental and personal factors, motivated him to further impact the community.  Jim says, “Everything that was happening to me or around me during those early years was grist for the mill. I didn’t want to become complacent. I was ready for something more.” I insinuate, to his progressive nature, that Jim wanted to effect change, to which he responds, “Yes, but I also wanted to be affected by change.”

By now, I am so impressed by Jim’s eloquent delivery and his rare ability to story-tell that I’m seriously contemplating whether I should have just recorded this conversation and posted it in its entirety, rather than tried to capture it in highlights. The whole conversation is a highlight! Regardless, it is clear after our exchange of his upbringing and early years in the force that a spark for change was lit up inside Jim at this time. 

And, now for a brief interjection, it might be a good time to introduce Jim’s other hobby/talent/whatever you want to call it - acting. Yes, Jim Shanahan, 30-plus years in the police force is also an … actor? It may seem disconnected with the needs of law enforcement, but Jim’s theatre background has actually been an essential element in his career growth, and in turn, every officer in NYPD’s growth. Logically, this makes perfect sense. Acting is chock-full of that disparity between the police and the people that we’ve already mentioned: communication. 

So, after a few more years of character-building time on the streets, Jim altered his scenery in the early 90s to allow himself a more objective type of learning. He took some time to gain perspective, think creatively and decide on his next move. While on the desk, he also studied ways in which the police force could be improved.  True to his progressive nature, Jim examined prisoners and the ways in which they were developing and growing, rather than just looking at police training. He visited correctional facilities and state penitentiaries and delved deeper into the behaviors and motives that drive people. His forward-thinking research combined with the current events of the time proved to Jim that “there needed to be an alternative to the criminalization of the mentally ill and the demonization of the police in the process.”

Shortly thereafter, being “In the right place at the right time with the right skills,” Jim tells me how a door soon opened for him as a Senior Instructor for Police Academy Special Projects in NYPD’s training academy. Jim went on to teach Tactical Communications (or, Verbal Judo) in collaboration with Verbal Judo creator, Dr. George Thomas, and, really, the rest is all history.

Tactical Communications is based on conflict resolution in human relations, hostage negotiation and critical incident and disaster management. Since its inception in 1996, Jim has taught the course to over 80,000 new and current officers. In 1999, Jim also took a position at his former alma mater for “Adjunct lecturer-Senior Police Instructer” in the program for “Police Handling of Emotionally Disturbed Persons.” With both his communication-based classes and his combination of martial arts training, experience on the job, and acting background, Jim helped transform the way police are trained to communicate and act tremendously. He admits to having made mistakes in the early years, which are, as we know, par for the course, and notes that the classes morphed and matured over time. The main purpose, however, has stuck.

“We wanted to put a face on policemen for the public, but also show these officers how to obtain compliance from citizens in a less stressful or physical manner – it goes both ways,” Jim says. And it certainly has. For such a large organization that is continually in the spotlight and under scrutiny, the NYPD works arduously and openly toward maintaining mutual respect in its city. I feel it pertinent to note that the courtesy and respect shown by and to the NYPD must undoubtedly be culled directly from this program.

Jim continues to explain the need for this training, saying, “How you talk to people has a great impact. The difference between ‘Hey, you need to calm down,’ and ‘It’s going to be alright, help is on the way,’ is enormous.” Reflecting back on my own emotionally outstanding moments, I fully agree that the difference in those two statements is evident. One, I might be slightly soothed into complying and taking deep breaths. The other, I might lunge at someone’s throat and consequently get arrested. So, fine, maybe emotional stability isn’t my greatest strength, but is it most people’s greatest strength when dealing with the law? If a person is dealing with the police, chances are they are at a more fragile state to begin with.

“Police meet people at their absolute worst: the scene of an accident, the victim of an assault, broken at rock bottom.” Then, noting a most recent tragedy, Jim adds, “Walking in front of the Empire State building.”

By now, it is clear that people skills aren’t in higher need in any other profession. It is also clear that Jim believes in what he preaches and that he is very good at it, indeed. Jim has passion. He has passion for progress and unity, both internally and environmentally. He has “the gift of desperation” – the need to soak in all the information he can, make sense of it, and pass it on to as many people as possible, all for the betterment of society. It is altruistic people like Jim, who have the gift of desperation and the skill to pass it forward, that make the world a magnificent and hopeful place.

As we wrap up our discussion, I summarize his work as best as I can and remark that he has helped the NYPD make exceptional strides during his career. Though he certainly has earned bragging rights, Jim remains humble and states, “We just work toward change and hope. That in the future, police will be talking more and doing less.“ Thanks to Jim, it certainly seems that way.

The Weekend Getaway: The Catskills

If ever there's a time to enjoy New York City, RIGHT NOW IS NOT IT. It's already common knowledge to avoid the city in the summertime, but with consecutive 95+ degree days, the point cannot be made clear enough. Yesterday, I went from zero to full-upper-lip-sweat-bubbles in 30 seconds on the subway. And it wasn't even an overly hot cart! Obviously - and as my mother likes to remind me - I'm a "sweatball" and something like this could very well happen to me mid-winter. But even if you aren't a naturally-gifted sweatball like myself, it's still fucking hot out. 

ANYWAY, I luckily had the chance to visit the Catskills last weekend and breathe in some cool, fresh mountain air. The weekend in its entirety was a pleasant repose from city life and I would recommend the trip to anyone. So, if you're going to do the Catskills, here are some things you should consider...

1. Go for a wedding!

While I know this can be a tough aspect to plan, it certainly enhances the experience and if you have any influence on an upcoming wedding, I'd nudge for it. I'm just sorry you couldn't be there for last weekend's wedding, because it's prob/def the best one the Catskills has seen to date. Mimi and Rae got married in an old church/now house and then we partied in an old school/now house - it's hard to explain, so just view the pictures and stop assessing my poor sentence structure.

2. Drink the water

Seriously. Drink the tap water. Or the water from the streams while you hike. It's that fresh. Also, you should "drink the water" a la "drink the cool aid." Buy into it. Soak up the small town life, saunter around the downtown area, and kick back. Act like you're on mountain time. 

3. Go hiking

After a hearty breakfast of country-fresh eggs and corned beef hash, Matt and I asked a local for a recommendation on where to hike. What we got back was a pure gift. Through a series of instructions, we were directed down a few miles to the ranger park, back over a few lakes and through no less than three parking lots to find a sign for the Mountain House. We edged along the side of the mountain on an unnamed trail (thanks to the local tip!) and got into some serious rock-climbing. Matt almost catapulted himself off the side of the mountain, but besides that, the hike was perfect and the views? The views were nearly to die for, as Matty illustrated.

4. EAT!

Come on, I wouldn't have left this out. You should know me better than that.

and just as a bonus for making it to the end of the post, here's a really nice picture of everyone that I ruined

Your Vacation Essentials

I leave for Cabo in exactly 68 hours -- but I mean, who’s counting?

Obviously, I’ve been looking forward to this vacation for a while. Over the past few years, it’s become an annual family retreat where we get to kick it under the sun together, catch some waves and drink endless carafes of sangria.  To top it off, my cousins from California are joining us with their babies this time. So, it should be a real treat!

In preparation, I’ve drafted up a Vacation Essentials guide, detailing the top 5 things you should be bringing with you on your next warm-weather retreat… 

Go-To Clothes

Every woman I know has been guilty of over packing. It’s as if we’re programmed to jam half of our closet into one suitcase – you know, “just in case” we need both the magenta and the forest-green leg warmers for our trip to Miami. It’s stupid. And it’s especially stupid when you’re going on a blissful, relaxing getaway where the whole point of the trip is to simplify. So, where do you start? First, make a list and be realistic. You truly need only a few items: necessary toiletries & undergarments, sunglasses, about 2-3 bathing suits, a pair of sandals, sneaks and maybe heels, a few light sundresses, one cover-up in case it’s cold and maybe 1-2 outfits for dining out. Remember: minimalist-chic is in these days, anyway.

Tip: As for choosing which outfits will make the cut, the trick is to honestly ask yourself “would I wear item X right this moment if I was at my destination?” If the answer is no, then you probably won’t wear it period.  Only pack your absolute favorites!

A Good Book

… or five. Thanks to some wonderful gift-giving friends, I’ll be bringing The Paris Review Interviews Volumes I & II for skim-reading, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please! for laughs, and a T.S. Eliot classic to delve into for good measure. I like having different books for different moods, but magazines are always a great poolside hit, too. If you’re more of an auditory learner, download your podcasts or books on tape before you get on the plane so you don’t have to worry about getting a good wifi connection. 

Podcast Suggestions: Alan Watts, Freakonomics, Planet Money

Your Version of A Journal

Call me a dork, but I grew up journaling while traveling and it’s something I’ve always held onto. The act of handwriting something down triggers a different area of your brain and facilitates better recall – and if I want to remember anything, it’s definitely how I felt while on vacation. It’s also therapeutic to take a few moments to reflect and soak up the relaxing vibes. Of course, reading back through vacation/travel journals is a little gift in and of itself and only gets better with time.

Side note: for people who really have a tough time “turning off” from the daily grind while on vacay, journaling is even more helpful. Create a small section of “to do’s.” Next time you’re trying to sip on a Pina Colada and that nagging voice pops up reminding you of an e-mail you forgot to answer before you left, just jot the item down along with a reminder to yourself of why it’s not urgent. Trust me, it helps – this goes for any type of anxiety, too, not just the work-related kind. It’s like transferring your problems to a sheet of paper that you can pick back up on when you return home.

Good Health 

The last way anyone wants to feel when they de-board the plane for vacation is stressed. Unfortunately, that’s usually exactly how people feel, especially when you hail from the Northeast. We work harder and longer than most folks and endure some of the worst winter weather, period. And it’s hard to turn off from all of that sometimes. Personally, I’ve been terribly guilty of this in the past, so there’s a few things I’ve learned.   First, cut out heavy drinking for a full week before you leave, if not more. You don’t want to risk being sleep-deprived, bloated, and worst of all, sick. Second, eat healthfully. It doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself, but you want to look and feel good for your trip. I stick to lots of fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil before I head out for vacation (and try to in general, as well). Naturally I still allow a little bit of cheese and a glass of wine if I want it (after all, I am preparing for vacation.) For some added health benefits, I also plan to incorporate a fresh juice or smoothie these next 3 days prior to leaving!

A Positive Attitude

Attitude is everything in this world. Whether your flight gets delayed or you forget something important, there’s always something that is bound to go askew. And even if things pan out well logistically, we sometimes build up high expectations around the most irrational aspects of our trip, allowing minor things to bother us much more than they normally would (e.g. a silly quarrel with your significant other or having a sub-par meal out). But just remember the age-old saying that goes “don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff” and you should be just fine.

How do you prepare for vacation? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

5 Ways to Cure the Winter Blues

I love living in the Northeast. I would never give up the changing of the seasons. However, I’ve always had a strange romance with winter – I think the cold builds character, encourages introspectiveness and fosters a sense of anticipation and appreciation for what’s to come with warmer days. But it also… well, it also can kinda suck. As someone who is often strongly influenced by her surroundings, the weather plays a big role in my life. I may not fully suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but too many consecutive gray days and I definitely start getting weird. And I don’t think I’m alone, here.

Luckily, this whole “shitty weather = shitty mood” phenomenon is a known thing and there’s a lot of research on it. Below, I’ve taken a few tried and true methodologies and turned them into specific tips on how to legitimately cure those winter blues!

Have some tricks of your own? Share them in the comments below! 

1.       Get Silly

I was recently walking down the street and saw this little kid jamming the f-ck out.  I mean, his mother had him by one hand, sure – but the rest of his body was like an out-of-tune-yet-somehow-rhythmic machine. Best of all, you could tell he was nothing short of ecstatic about it. Do you remember what that was like? Just being totally PSYCHED over the smallest thing and immediately expressing it? It was awesome. Weird, yes. But also awesome. So while I obviously can’t recommend you go full-child in public, I do recommend you do a little dancing every day. Doing the dishes? Why not work in a little ‘robot’? Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Audible to the worm. Just lighten up, work a little silliness into your everyday, and get movin’! 

2.       Let there be light!

You know what’s a bummer? Darkness. And in the winter, we tend to get a surplus of it. Unfortunately, many of us spend most of our waking, daylight hours behind a computer screen, away from any semblance of the sun. However, simply rolling up your bedroom blinds can be an easy way to bring a little happiness into your day, first thing. Allowing as much natural light into our space as possible has also proven to help us sleep more in tune with our circadian rhythms, thus maximizing our energy. If you’re still down in the dumps, look into light box therapy, which the NIH recommends for those affected by SAD. 

3.       Take a break, go for a stroll…

Countless studies have shown that intermittent exercise breaks from work improve mood. Personally, I would advise everyone workout in some capacity at least 3-4 times a week. But even if you don’t hit the gym daily, just going for a simple 10-15 minute walk during your lunch break can improve your mood. Now, I KNOW you’ve seen this tip on other “how to not be miserable” lists, but have you actually tried it? Or, more likely, do you just sit at your computer and google something innocuous to pass the time in between doing actual work? That’s what I thought. If you genuinely try giving this a shot, I guarantee you’ll reap some benefits.

4.       CALL YA MOTHA

This woman gifted you with LIFE… so you should probably give her a ring every now and then. But really, talking with anyone who is a close family member or friend is a natural way to raise dopamine and serotonin levels. Hearing the voice of a loved one, if only briefly, can pull us out of our own heads for just enough time to provide some much needed perspective.

5.       Go ahead, have a drink…

But with someone. Even though hibernating for 48 hours every weekend in the winter seems like the right thing to do, being (selectively) social is still important. So, go out for a drink with friends! And newsflash: said drink doesn’t have to be alcohol-based. I'll defer to Tasting Table's divine list of Dryuary Mocktails to steer you in the right direction. Mocktails like the carefully crafted French Lemonade from Narcissa or Grace Street's sweet-potato take on the traditional Hot Toddy will have you sipping and satisfied, sans any of the booze. Of course, there's always hot chocolate as well!

Source: http://wallpaperswide.com/winter_morning_l...

Riding the Subway: DOs and DONTs

Oh the New York City subway...

DON’T get on the empty cart when every other cart is full. It’s not a gift. It’s a trap.

DO hold your breath and shut your mouth if you happen to be on the smelly cart. Everyone knows it’s rough on there and no one needs to hear you complain about it.  Switch at the next stop and be grateful that you have a shower to go home to.

DON’T pre-walk. There’s always somebody on a packed train who feels the need to alert everyone that she’s “getting off at this stop and so please if you could excuse me I’d like to annoyingly wiggle my way to the door while the train is still moving, thank you.” Look, lady, have you ever seen someone get stuck on the train? I didn’t think so. Wait your turn.

DO help tourists get to where they’re going. We were all city first-timers at some point.

DON’T be the reason the doors keep opening. Squeezing onto a sardine-packed happy hour train so poorly that your butt/bag is blocking the doorway is not only uncomfortable but totally unnecessary. This is New York, not D.C.. Another train will be here within 5 minutes.

DO feel okay about picking up your phone for a quick “hey I’m underground – call you right back.” Less than 5 seconds on the phone = no harm, no foul.

DON’T feel okay beginning a full conversation and then yelling “Hello!? Hello are you there? Oh shit, I lost him” into the phone when you inevitably lose service. No sympathy.

DO give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant women and people traveling with small children. Even if you aren’t sure they’d want it, it’s never wrong to at least offer.

DON’T put your purse or belongings on the seat next to you when the train is crowded. If they can’t fit on your lap and you’re grossed out by the floor, welp, you should’ve got an uber, bitch.

DO keep the conversation to a minimum volume. It's great that you don't mind sharing every juicy moment from the night before with your friends, but everyone and their mother (or, in many cases, their child) do not need to be made privy to such details.

DON’T put your make-up on. Everyone is getting second-hand anxiety waiting for you to poke your eye out when the train inevitably stops short. Spackle at home, ladies.

DO use HopStop for navigation, because duh.

DON’T count on it for precise timing, though.

And finally...

DO slide your subway card swiftly through the turnstile. C'mon. We know you can do it.

 

This Year, I'm Thankful for New York

When I first sat down to write this post I was feeling anything but grateful. It was just one of those days when getting all “om” and “centered” was proving to be extremely difficult. Work was frustrating, my schedule was overwhelming and I was feeling generally run-down and uninspired. Needless to say, I didn’t write that day.

I did, however, take some time to step back and try to reset myself.  You know the routine: take deep breaths. Identify what it is that’s stressing you out. Then, find the positive side to it. Voi-la! All problems magically solved... LOL. If only, right? Usually, that process also includes a full-length, childish argument that I have with myself inside my own head. Lots of dramatic despair and cantankerous whining involved.  Sounds really healthy, doesn’t it?

Anyway. Slowly but surely, I pulled myself together and began to snap out of it. I could deal with my troubles and worries while still being present enough to live thankfully. After all, having the capacity to think and to feel anything at all is certainly something to be grateful for. And having the ability to think and feel in New York City? Well, that makes this whole “life” thing even better. At least, it has for me.

Here are my top 3 reasons why I’m grateful to live in New York City.

Exposure to Culture

Recently, I saw a Facebook status of someone (who, naturally, has never lived in the city) touting how they “hate New York” and “don’t understand what the huge appeal is.” Coincidentally, I was reading that status on the way home from a dinner in Chelsea where I sat around a table next to a Doctor/Designer from Amsterdam, a “Scent Architect” from Spain and an App Developer from, well, New York. How’s that for appeal? On any given day, 800 languages are spoken on these streets. On any given night, every cultural cuisine imaginable is being consumed in some corner of the city. The people’s taste for music and art has literally no limits. If you want to get swept up in being alive, there is, quite simply, no place like New York.

 

Exposure to Humanity

In a mass mixture of stories and lives, this city’s heart beats hard and fast – both for the good and for the bad. I remember a friend once telling me how he was on an unfortunate-smelling subway cart due to a homeless person. We’ve all been there. He was outraged, however, not by the homeless man but by the two 20-something tourists who found it necessary to grumble aloud with an “OMG is this real life right now? UGghhhh. Gross!”

Actually, yes, this is real life. We live in a world where people are homeless and they sleep on subways. Don’t like it? Do something about it. Empathize. Volunteer. But don’t bitch about it.  Sometimes, I think Pandora’s box may have taken the form of all 5 boroughs. If that’s indicative of anything, however, it is that New York is not simply a plethora of despair, but also a center for hope. No one binds together like New Yorkers do. That’s a fact. So, if you want to contribute to the positive progression of the human race, New York isn’t the only place to start, but it’s a damn good one. After all, we exist on the crest of the wave of the future, continually developing as we always have.

 

Fear and Possibility

Fear and Possibility - humanity's two greatest drivers. No place encompasses the fear of failure and the possibility of success quite like New York does. Sure, we all know the Frank Sinatra tune. But “making it” here isn’t just about climbing the ranks in your industry of choice. “Making it” in New York is about something a little more intangible and a lot more important and personal. There’s an Avett Brother’s song that advises us to “decide what to be and go be it.” So simple, but yet so poignant. Given the nature of New York, one genuinely has the opportunity to do just this on any given day or night. Take one step outside and your world is cloaked with a sense of unparalleled anonymity. Without a strong inner compass, this notion can be very scary. But, still, we need this - this audacity to take a chance. Whether it is changing careers, trading lifestyles, or crafting a new and improved sense of self, New York holds all the possibility in the world. The only question: how much do you fear it?

Friendsgiving on a dime!

Welp, call me an elf and send me a meme of batman backhanding someone for “ho-ho-ho-ing,” but I’m going to say it anyway: ‘tis the mother-cking season, folks. Christmas is around the corner and Thanksgiving is finally upon us! Personally, I’m stoked. I love the holiday season. I also don’t watch enough T.V. to be outraged by too-early-in-the-season holiday commercials. And quite frankly, to the angry elves of Facebook: if this bothers you so much, maybe you should stop watching so much goddamn T.V.. Just saying.

The next 5-6 weeks are bound to be filled with parties that are filled with winter-themed cocktails, endless amounts of comfort food and just all-around holiday galore. While the season comes with a certain level of stress (as well as the sudden urge to a do a cleanse prior to all this madness – which is now striking me as a potential plan/blog for next week), it is mostly a joyous time of year in that we get to revel in food, drinks, family and of course, friends.

In fact, recently, two old high school friends moved to the upper best and we had the chance to reconnect. So, when they suggested a “friends giving” with a few others, I was immediately game.

We decided to have our Friendsgiving this past Sunday. It seemed only natural to coincide a huge 4 p.m. meal with Sunday night football. This way, we had the entire day to cook and were then able to fully enjoy the afternoon sprawled out on the couch, eating, before eventually drifting off into a full-bellied slumber. First tip: Sunday is the perfect day for Friendsgiving.

After all, who wants to go out on a Friday or Saturday after eating a Thanksgiving dinner? And to try coordinating on a weeknight is too difficult when people have different work schedules, gym routines and self-imposed bedtimes.

We also wanted to keep things relatively affordable, which is fairly easy to do when you have a handful of people all chipping in and a Trader Joes in the neighborhood! Check out the menu and associated costs below...

For a whopping  $8 I was able to make enough stuffing and mashed potatoes for 10 people. 

the BEFORE.. I regretfully did not capture the after of these before they were eaten.

the BEFORE.. I regretfully did not capture the after of these before they were eaten.

Also, full disclosure: instead of buying a massive turkey and cooking it for 6+ hours, we went the Fairway Market route and just picked up a few rotisserie chickens for $7.5 a piece! LoLZ #sorrynotsorry

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Then Matt stole the show with homemade jalepeno-bacon mac and cheese made from scratch… (All ingredients $24)

See: the before

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After: 'Twas DELICIOUS

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We also had fireball cider drinks, because duh.

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Said drinks then provided us with evening entertainment and a discussion about liver health when we noticed the fireball was literally burning holes through our cups. Nice.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Naturally, we ended off the meal with some pumpkin pie and ice cream! ($7.99)

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Are you hosting a Friendsgiving? Have tips or ideas? Comment below!

The Perfect Brunch: West Village

Brunch in New York. I'll admit: it's not something I've ever been totally smitten by. In theory, brunch is a glamorous hiatus from the otherwise-dulling schedules of our everyday life. It is embodied by an ensemble of craft champagne cocktails, clear skies and perfect hair. In theory, it's magnificent. But in reality? Not always the case. If done improperly, brunch can be overpriced and inconvenient. I may sound dramatic, here, but it really can steal away your entire day.

Personally, I enjoy getting the most out of my weekends. Sure, there are times when my Saturday is one long, boozy-brunch filled afternoon, but that's more of a rarity these days. My free time is precious! I prefer a nice blend of socializing, exploring, relaxing and yes, noshing and throwing back a few good drinks - it just has to be worth it. That's why I decided to write this post. 

My Saturday two weekends ago was spent recovering from the awesome-yet-exhausting week prior (you know, the Good Morning America week). For breakfast, we rolled out of bed and into the trusty diner next door. I managed to eek out a blog post and do some reading (from bed), but then spent the rest of the day and evening in and out of napping, save for a small venture 10 blocks up for a ramen dinner. After dinner, it was back to bed. I barely even stayed up for SNL.

So, when I woke up Sunday morning fully rested with the sun shining through the curtains, I was ready to cruise about the city a bit and maybe even have a cocktail.  We chose to go to brunch at The Little Owl in the West Village. Why? I'll give you three immediate reasons.

  1. The Little Owl is one of those places that you always hear about. It isn't as if it's particularly famous or even considered the newest hot spot, it's just one of those things. Always trust word-of-mouth.
  2. Food Network's Alton Brown dubbed the multigrain pancakes at TLO the "best thing he ever ate" in the show's "cake" edition (c'mon, who doesn't love that show? best food porn ever.)
  3. It's in the West Village. 'nuff said.

First and foremost, the food was superb and the coffee? Delicious. Matt opted for the aforementioned multigrain pancakes with fresh berries and Vermont maple syrup. I went for the perfectly poached eggs served with Fontina biscuits, sausage patties and broccoli rabe. It was marvelous. To be truthful, I’m salivating as I type this. I know, TMI, but whatever. Besides the scrumptious brunch items were also a few seasonal cocktails…

Like I’ve hinted at, I enjoy a hearty side of culture with my cocktails whenever I can get it. The Little Owl delivers in this aspect. Situated in The Village at the corner of Bedford and Grove Street, TLO sits amongst obscure landmarks disguised as typical charming blocks. First, just up the street is an old writer’s house that sits right next to Isaac-Hendricks house, aka the oldest-known house in the West Village (built in 1836.) Across the street lies remnants of a time gone by, with actual horse stable doors still in place.

And if the exterior of the building above TLO looks familiar, it’s because you probably remember it as the façade for Friends. When the producers gave crew instructions for finding the perfect façade for the opening, they told them “find a place that represents a time in your life when anything is possible.”

Also, for some more Friends trivia, another working title of the show was Once Upon A Time In The West Village. Can you imagine!?

Around the bend is also Cherry Lane Theatre – the city’s oldest off Broadway theatre.

Needless to say, West Village has a bit of history to it.

Overall, TLO is a must. I would recommend it for 2-4 people max, though, as it is a small place and reservations any larger could be significantly more difficult to nail down. (I called 24 hours ahead for two and was fine.) It's not a "boozy brunch" per se, but the cocktails are far more delicious than your average drink, not to mention seasonal - I suggest The Big Apple or Autumn Shandy.

So next time you want to indulge in some culture-brunching, you know where to go! Have you been to TLO or have another favorite you'd like to see featured? Comment below!

 

The Local Tourist: Radio City

The Local Tourist is a series that will focus on balancing a typical tourist's outing with a local's secret, tip or recommendation on the area.

As an Asian-American and a fond photographer of food, I won't lie: I pretty much always look like a tourist and I'm totally okay with it. Scoping out this great big grid's nooks and crannies for its hidden gems is certainly my forte; yet, I still like to take advantage of all that the city has to offer. And sometimes that involves doing something touristy. Most recently, it meant an evening at Radio City Music Hall.

I haven't been to Radio City since I saw the Rockettes as a child. While I've worked across the street from the famed building for the past two years, I've never taken the time to scope out seeing a show there. Not only is it a bit too close to work for comfort, but during the holiday season, the area is a madhouse. On top of it - this is New York! There's always something to do and somewhere to go, with new places opening left and right. So, some of the city's more famous mainstays haven't really been on the top of my list

Regardless, when a coworker slid over two free tickets to America's Got Talent semi-finals with Maroon 5 opening the show, I figured it was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of. I mean, have I EVER watched America's Got Talent? Not a chance. But was I just going to sit back and let a free ticket, including an Adam Levine sighting, slip from my hands? Of course not. My strain of FOMO is too severe for all that.

The Tourist: Radio City

- Best For: a show, duh. However, there are a lot more shows here than the staple Christmas Spectacular. Think: Train, Bastille and Eric Prydz. And, of course, semi-finals for TV shows like America's Got Talent are often filmed here. Like I've said, I don't follow the show. However, it's pretty cool to take part in a TV show as its filmed and learn about all the logistics involved. Plus, again, free Adam Levine. 

For the full calendar of events, click here.

- Atmosphere: It's just north enough to be out of craziness that is Times Square and is easily accessible by subway, making Radio City the perfect place for a date or a family outing. Having never been to Radio City in recent memory, I was surprised at how updated and modern it was.  Phenomenal sound and lighting, pleasant and helpful staff and ultra comfy seats. To sum it up:  old-school opera meets luxury movie theatre.

 - You'll Spend: Though lines were fairly long (as expected in any theatre pre-show), cocktails came in at a fairly reasonable $12 a piece. Having had a $20 glass of the house red at MSG before, I have no complaints about this, especially considering they put a tad bit more effort into actually listing a few spotlight cocktails. 

The Local: Carnegie Club

http://seuleanewyork.com

http://seuleanewyork.com

After seeing your show of choice, skip out on the hyped-up restaurants in the immediate area and stroll up a few blocks toward Carnegie Club for a cocktail with your date. Past the New York Health & Racquet and just before an industrial parking garage, you'll find an incredibly-easy-to-miss entryway to Carnegie Club.

Upon entering, you'll find a buzzing cigar bar that seemingly brings the past to life. Between the live jazz and the smoky, cathedral-like ambiance, the place manages to embody the storied glamour of Central Park South in the era of Madmen. Order a martini or champagne, cozy up on the glamorously worn furniture and sip away amongst rows and rows of old books and good conversation.

Note: I'm not a smoker but I've always enjoyed the smell of a cigar for whatever reason. If this doesn't sound like you, though, I would obviously. not. come. here. You WILL smell of cigar smoke for the rest of the evening.

Tip: There's generally live jazz at Carnegie Club which makes it feel as if you're at a private show. Usually there is no cover, either, which makes the $15-ish cocktail prices very much worth it. I have heard that there are $40 seatings on Saturdays, though, so best to call ahead if you're going on a weekend.

 

Is NYC Restaurant Week Worth it? Top 10 Picks for 20-somethings

As a 20-something living in Manhattan, I must admit: Restaurant Week is a little confusing. On the one hand, NYC is a foodie’s paradise and Restaurant Week – or, month, rather – is wonderful in that it takes some of the city’s finest culinary jewels and places them within reach of our own, otherwise-poor palates. On the other hand, though, it’s still an expense. For instance, I’ve only been out to lunch a handful of times during my 3 years in the city and not once have I spent $25 on it (Note: Restaurant Week’s 3-course Lunch is set at $25 while the 3-course dinner seating is $38).

Of course, my own experience isn’t reason to invalidate another’s. However, I think it’s safe to say that most New Yorkers between the ages of 20 and 30 would prefer to shell out $38 for a nice dinner with friends, rather than pay $25 for a lunch they never would have gone out for to begin with. Going out for dinner is simply more of a full  experience and – let’s also not forget – most of us have jobs Monday through Friday that act as a sort of obstacle in the way of enjoying that fine-dining luncheon, anyway.

So, while both Zagat and CBS have crafted their own recommendations, I wanted to create a separate list with recommendations catered specifically to the 20-something looking for that little bit extra bang-for-your-buck during restaurant week.

The Top-10 Restaurant Week Picks for 20-somethings is based off of the following criteria:

1)     The Restaurant Must Serve Dinner (3 courses - $38)

This knocked out a slew of favorites from other lists. It’s wonderful that Nobu is participating in restaurant week, but with only the lunch option available, it gets a swift kick off the list by little bro Nobu Next Door that does serve dinner.

2)     The Cuisine Must Be “Worth it”*

 French, Steak/Seafood, Upscale American New/Classic, Japanese

*Allow me to explain the exclusivity. I grew up in a part-Chinese household and spent a summer in China eating the most delectable, hand-crafted dim sum and $1 noodles you’ve ever tasted. So, while I am sure Midtown’s Hakkasan is delicious, it’s difficult for me to justify spending too much money on basic, over-priced ingredients for a cuisine that is meant to be enjoyed family-style on the cheap. Same goes for Mexican fare and soul food. Don’t get me wrong, here. I understand that fusion restaurants are all the rage and that the quality and innovative nature of these cuisines is absolutely growing. However, to me, the beauty of these foods lies in their historic comfort, simplicity and casual enjoyment while the beauty of restaurant week is to enjoy something a little more special.

For this reason, other restaurants, we had to chop you.

3)     The Ratings & Atmosphere Must Be Just Right

All 10 restaurants on the list have something unique about them. Whether the perfect setting for a corporate celebration or a romantic speakeasy from the 1920s, each restaurant encapsulates a uniquely New York atmosphere and has been tried and tested by the pros. While anything over a 20 on Zagat is a solid score, I aimed strictly for 23+ food ratings and then personally took pulse on the ambiance.

 Top 10 Restaurant Week Recommendations for 20-somethings

Bar Boulud – French – 24 Zagat – Upper West Side – Sophisticated Casual

Lure Fishbar – Seafood – 23 Zagat – SoHo – Classic/Nautical

Le Cirque – French – 25 Zagat – Midtown - Posh

21 Club – Classic American – 23 Zagat – Midtown – Historic Speakeasy

Nobu Next Door – Japanese Peruvian – 27 Zagat – Tribeca - Iconic

Perry Street,– New American – 26 Zagat – West Village – Chic/Modern

Po –New American 25 Zagat – West Village – Charming/Cozy Romantic

The Sea Grill – Seafood -23 Zagat– Rock Center – Special Occasion

Perilla – New American – 26 Zagat – West Village – Polished/Intimate

The Capital Grille – Steakhouse – 24 Zagat – Multiple Locations – Corporate/Celebratory

Bonus Recs:

Butter – Seafood/Steak American – Not Yet Rated – Midtown – Stylish/Romantic

Fig & Olive – Mediterranean – 21 Zagat – Multiple Locations – Chic/Trendy

The Weekend Getaway: Saratoga Springs, NY

Saratoga Tips on Gambling, Fried Chicken, Mob Mentality & MORE!

My number 1 rule when it comes to gambling is if I don’t hit my first bet, I walk away.

However, my #1 rule when it comes to everything else in life is don’t ever give up. So you can see how after I lost my first bet on Friday, I felt conflicted. Then I continued betting. And losing. For about 14 races. Eventually, the karmic gods praised me for my fortitude and awarded me with a $196 exacta in the last race, so I only walked away about $50 down.

Stick with me and you’ll be alright.

I had planned on sharing betting tips on this post, but considering my strategies led to me more to posting pictures with the hashtags #spiraling and #theyrecomingformypinkyfinger, rather than raking in the cash, I'm going to expand the topic matter.

Tip 1: Learn how to bet on the horses from the professionals.

         Download the One-click Pony app!

         Download the One-click Pony app!

Tip 2: Indulge in Hattie’s Fried Chicken. It is more than worth it

Lucky for me, Saratoga isn’t just about gambling. It’s also about traditions; some of which date back to over 150 years ago when the races first began and others that have sprung up over time. During our visit, it was “Hats Off to Saratoga” weekend, which meant I was able to whip out my favorite accessory – the hair piece – and go wild. And if there’s one thing I enjoy more than betting, it may be playing dress-up at the track.

Because there’s just nothing like putting on a fancy dress and eatin’ fried chicken. 

Tip 3: Dress up! See the Saratoga dress code rules here.

While the style in Saratoga ranges from conservative to casual and everything in between, there are some basic rules to abide by. If you’re sitting in the regular Grand Stand or hanging in the picnic grounds, a tee-shirt and shorts will fly – BUT, keep in mind that they don’t have to. Even in the picnic area, many people choose to honor the age-old tradition of summer hats and sundresses. On the flip side, if you’re seated in the Clubhouse, Box Seats, or any of the other luxury options, definitely be sure to get a little dapper.

Tip 4: Rush The Gates!

Mama once said, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” to which my answer has now been forever altered to: “Depends on how much fun the jump is."

Every morning during the fleeting 6-week racing season, track-goers line up with their chairs and tablecloths as early as 5AM to wait for the gates to open at 7AM. Once the gates open, the crowd charges forward like angry cattle breaking free from a corralled-off, grass-less space. People sprint into the park to slap belongings down on picnic tables and lay claim to grassy sections for chairs, umbrellas, etc. Since we were sitting in the picnic area on day two, our fate was inevitable. We had to join the mad dash. I was not let down.

To give you an idea of how seriously people take this tradition, here are a few sound bites from my experience:

“Once the gate opens, it’s free game.”

“Yeah man, we’re blowing past all these people.”

“I got my Nikes on and everything. I’m ready to GO." 

Then, as the time drew nearer and tensions mounted...

 “Stick to the original plan!”

“Hold the line!”

And my personal favorite, “We just got married last night. This is our wedding run!”

While 7AM may seem early, it’s hilarious and so worth the experience – plus, you can go back for a nap afterward. 

Tip 5: Check out some live music! 

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The most unexpected part of the weekend came when we were wandering around the downtown music festival. Home to a fabulous summer line-up, it is very common for DMB, Phish and a slew of other uber-talented artists to frequent the Saratoga stages. Of course, the hometown bands also contribute their fair share of surprise rock sessions and street parties. In fact, one band really struck a chord. Having strolled over merely by chance, we came across the band Better By Morning in none-other than the obscure post office’s parking lot on Saturday night – and, in a sweetly serendipitous moment – fell in love with their sound. I reached out to the band, (essentially, a group of teenagers) and asked for a sample. Turns out, they are just producing their first single.

From open mics to cover bands to primetime performers, Saratoga has it all, every night of summer. Take a look at the full concert calendar here.  While the summer’s first weekend music festival has passed, there are plenty more to attend to, including Wine and Music Fest Sept 5-7.