O, Astoria!

In the light of Lonely Planet’s recent pick for #1 destination to travel within the US, I shall talk about how much I loved Queens – specifically Astoria, home to the Ranch – when I lived in New York.

photo courtesy of New York Times

photo courtesy of New York Times

Let the hipsters in Brooklyn condescend Queens and let Manhattanites act like the civilization ends with the Queensboro Bridge and you need to commute with donkeys after. I’m a proud former Astorian.

Yes, Brooklyn may have the hippest, coolest places, can it compare to the niceness of Queens people? And the commute… The places you can actually afford now in Brooklyn are so far that it’s really difficult for people who work in the city. Don’t even get me started on the L or the G train… I love the N train! Commute is so convenient to the city if you live on the N line that you start planning your social life based on whether or not where you’re going is close to N,Q line. Both Central Park and Prospect Park are on the N or Q line, I worked in Midtown, and Herald Sq Stop was 20 min. away, Union Sq, East Village, Soho, Chinatown… And it’s on the major transfer hubs, so if you do need to transfer, it’s not difficult.

When I lived at the Ranch, it was at the last stop (Ditmars) of the N/Q trains, so if and when I fall asleep on the train, kind strangers would gently wake me up so I wouldn’t find myself going back and forth and finally at a strange & bad neighborhood (I’m not saying it didn’t happen anyway at 4 AM one night, but it happened much less than any other places).

30th Ave after Greece's win of a game in the FIFA '14

30th Ave after Greece’s win of a game in the FIFA ’14

Astoria has the nicest, friendliest people. There is this shared feeling of ‘I know I live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s hard for other people to understand’. The local bodegas, laundromat people, coffee shops, waiters and bartenders are always so friendly and give you some slack if you are short on money by dimes or nickles.

And Astoria Park? Just pretty!

Don’t even get me started on the food! Ah, the food. So so delicious. I may be partial to the food because I’m Turkish, and it’s a Greek neighborhood, which is basically the same food (sorry Turks and Greeks, we gotta just admit we eat the same stuff and get on with our lives without caring who came up with what).

Not just the Greek food, almost everything is more delicious there. So here are some of my humble recommendations if you go to Astoria (and you should).

 

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10 things I like about you…

20141003_185257Being home and waiting for a visa means there’s not much to do. Not working for 3 months also means not exactly a fortune in spending money. My first thought when I came back was to find a job and just plug away at work. The only thing is that it’s hard to find too many people excited to train you for time unknown. Can’t really blame them. So what does a broke stuck adventurer do? You got it, potter around my own backyard.

For years, people have always asked me why I didn’t want to go home to Singapore. I never really had an answer for why not. Yet, other than family and friends, there was no magnetically compelling reason to either. So now seemed like a good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about. Inspired by Neil Humphreys, (Singapore’s equivalent of Bill Bryson) I wanted to see what I could discover about this revamped Singapore. And because I like lists, I made one of all the tools I used to figure out what the 10 things I like the most about home.

 In no particular order:

  1. Applications (I have an Android so we know that everything crosses over)
  2. Meeting strangers
  3. Old Skool
  4. The Number 11 Bus (ie: on foot)
  5. Geocaching
  6. Asking locals

For the sake of not sounding like a windbag, I’ll post them in installments so stay tuned for the breakdown 🙂

10 things I’ve learned in Paris

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1. What “Sortie” means. It means “Exit”. If you don’t know that, you will literally not be able to leave places. Seriously, is it so difficult to write – even in little fonts – “exit” under “sortie”?

2. If you’re looking for kind responses from the natives, initiate the interaction with a smile and a “bonjour/bonsoir”. The French are more likely to be friendly when they see that you at least make an effort (almost).

3. You can have a picnic anywhere. Literally. You don’t have to necessarily go to a park; if you have wine and cheese with you, basically anywhere is fine to just sit down and hang out. And Paris has some beautiful outdoor areas.

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La Saine (top left), Jardin des Plantes (top right), Jardin du Luxembourg (bottom left), Jardin des Tuileries (bottom right)

4. If there is ever a place where the weather is at its most unreliable, that place is Paris. Man, I thought New York weather was weird. At least it was somewhat consistent with the seasons. In Paris, there are no specific seasons. In 20 days that I’ve stayed there, I think I’ve lived through all the seasons. Sometimes on the same day! The day may start out shiny and warm, but it may end with a monsoon. So do yourself a favor and do not part with your umbrella.

5. Speaking of umbrellas, being a former New Yorker and a native Istanbullu, I was used to just buying one if it happens to start raining. It would be cheap and EVERYWHERE. So I thought the case would be the same in Paris. Aaand it’s not. They don’t sell it everywhere and it’s expensive. And the ones they sell on the newstands are huge! Once it stops raining, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. So bring your own, and don’t leave home without it.

6. It’s not OK to lose yourself in the city and wander around if you don’t know the area. I was trying to find Moulin Rouge, and I think that was the most scared I felt during my trip to Paris. After I found the famous landmark, I didn’t even stop to take pictures. I thought “ok, that’s done” and jumped at the nearest Metro. I might be slightly exaggerating, but there was a guy following me and he was creepy as hell!

7. While getting lost in an unknown neighbourhood (or a neighbourhood with a reputation) is scary, Paris actually is pretty cool if you just sightsee by walking around and getting lost (in the better neighbourhoods and with a map… don’t find yourself in the bad part of town). You can find the cutest streets. And it’s a flat city – no hills or anything – so it’s easy on the feet (except for Butte Montmartre. Oh, those stairs!).

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8. I skipped to go up the Eiffel, and I would do it again. Not worth those line and the ticket price, in my opinion. The views from the tops of Notre Dame and Sacre Ceour are gorgeous and apparently the view from the new building Tour Montparnasse is the best view in town. At least, you can see the Eiffel Tower from all the others, which is pretty much it in the Paris skyline.

9. Food is pretty expensive, so if you’re on a budget like me, try not to eat every meal at a restaurant. I bought bread & cheese from Carrefour (super cheap & super delicious) so I made sandwiches on the go for either breakfast or lunch to consume at the numerous parks & gardens. If I was particularly lazy, croissant from the bakeries and sandwiches from Monoprix would do the trick. So when I wanted to splurge, I would have money for it, and I would just do it for dinner or something. And if you really want decent food on the cheap side, go to Quartier Latin near Saint Michel. Dozens of restaurants with prix-fixe lunch menus. You can get an entree, a main course and a dessert for like 10 Euros.

10. It’s just pretty. Just go, even if you don’t like anything French, go see Paris at least once.

Hawkers = Home

Many say the best way to get perspective on a country is through its taxi drivers. They are the all seeing eyes and ears of any nation. Though I’ve had my fair share of colourful cabbies (there was one who sang Waltzing Matilda and waxed lyrical about British colonisation throughout our half an hour journey), this post is not about them. This one’s about the humble hawker centre.

If you’ve never been to Singapore, hawker centres are a little piece of foodie heaven. Whatever your poison, be it seafood, pasta, chicken wings or noodles, they’ve got it! These are not quaint little restaurants with romantic ambiance. These places are laid out in a noisy, oily, rambunctious circle of little stores. Think of a grubbier high school canteen with better food and a slimmer chance of people chucking food at you (no promises). They even have the Antony Bourdain seal of approval.

nom, nom, nom!

nom, nom, nom! photo courtesy of the straits times

Now hawker centres are no easy undertaking. A simple visit could result in you waddling away, stuffed to the gills with your body weight in edibles. So here’s a simple instructional to make sure you come out of your first experience with your BMI intact.

  1. There is strength in numbers.
so much food, so little time

so much food, so little time

This is definitely a time where the more the merrier. Hawker centres are a great place to eat family style where everyone gets to pick whatever catches their fancy. The more people you bring, the more options you have. A budget of $10-$12SGD per person should more than feed a group of 4 or more (if you get seafood, it could be a little more). Great time to make a couple of new friends at the hostel and take them over.

 

  1. The fanciest places doesn’t mean the best food

Yup, this is one those instances that make social media invaluable. The best hawker centres are not the ones that are the poshest or the ones that are raved about in guidebooks. Not that they are all wrong. Places like Newton Circus, Makkansutra at the Esplanade and Lau Pa Sat have good food; they’re just not very good on your wallet. It may seem like all food is the same but there are subtle differences and there are some places that are just better than. So ask the locals at your hostel or hotel or be a child of the 21st Century and just Google it!

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Of Concepts and Content…

The Ranch and some of its inhabitants

The Ranch and some of its inhabitants

Hello again!

As Ece mentioned in her post, we lived in a little place called The Ranch. As the name suggests, its one of those eccentric places that only exists in NY.

After spending 3 months in NYC, the lease at my first place (a room with a lovely view of the opposing building that I rented from a lady who looked astounding like my mother. I know, it was so odd!) So back I went to Criag’s List, to hopefully find a sublet with someone who scored at least a 5 or below on the creeper scale.

Enter Craig’s List Ad 437895.

Visiting the place with a friend, I loved the co-op feel of the place and decided to move in on the spot. It might also have helped that they gave me ice cream and chocolate syrup to welcome me. I’m such a sucker for ice cream.

Our Alter Egos!

Our Alter Egos!

When I moved in, we had 3 other roommates: a Greek artist, a Korean exchange student and an editor at BroBible.com. Just a snippet of our eclectic gang.

The Ranch rapidly became home, and we went through a multitude of adventures: surviving both Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, introducing Bubble Tea to a Frenchman, arguing the origins of Tzatziki, hunting down an organic turkey for our Italian Thanksgiving chef, among others.

 

eh?

eh?

Pillow Fight @ Washington Square Park. Beware the angry roommates!

Pillow Fight @ Washington Square Park. Beware the angry roommates!

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losing at Yahtzeeeeeee

 

we went looking for Shepard Fairley and found Flushing ;)

We went looking for Shepard Fairley and found Flushing 😉

This blog is a reflection of the people that we are, a concept board of everything that we’re interested in. You’ll see us wax lyrical about travel, book reviews, cool projects that we think are worth looking at, etc. So make with it what you will and leave us comments and reviews.

OFF WE GO!

Take Me Home Tonight

My hometown Istanbul (taken from the Galata Tower)

My hometown Istanbul (taken from the Galata Tower)

Had you asked me a year ago today if I was ever going back to Turkey, I would look at you weird and say “hell, no, son!”. Yeah, that’s how much I hated it there. And don’t even get me started on how attached I was to New York! I would consider myself as a New Yorker, and act like one on many occasions.

And life wasn’t so bad – if you don’t count that soul-sucking job of mine (but hey, isn’t it almost the most New York thing? Hating your day job and drinking your sorrows away at happy hours?). We had just moved out of The Ranch to a new apartment and a new start (paid a lot of fees, that is) and I was really excited about my future there. I was following lifestyle blogs, looking into DIY, buying fabrics and crafts stuff to make furniture into. I bought wood paint; I was so obsessed with painting that old bed frame I had into a beautiful piece of furniture! I guess at that time, I thought a pretty home would make me feel accomplished in life. I really thought it would change my life. But I mean, hello, is it 50’s? I was one step away from buying puffy dresses and curling my hair.

But of course, my enthusiasm was soon demolished, the paint dried out, the fabrics were left in the closet, and those beautiful frames stayed where I put them leaning against the wall.

My life was in such a rut that a change of apartments was not enough to shake me up. I needed a change of pace. And a change of place.

First I worked a bit to get to London. Didn’t work out, of course. Too expensive. And I had almost no savings…

Then I thought a graduate degree in Berlin would be nice. That didn’t work out either.

Then after exactly about 6 months after I thought going back to Turkey would be the worst thing I could ever do, I bought my one-way ticket to Istanbul against the protests of my Turkish friends, against the extreme joy my parents showed over my decision they thought I made because I wanted to start a family, and against my better judgement.

Then on August 11th, I was at the check-in counter in JFK crying at the clerk to let me take all my belongings to the plane even though the suitcases were really overweight. “Please, ma’am, I’m leaving New York after 5 years, it was really difficult to stuff my life into two suitcases, can’t you let this one slide?” Thankfully, she was sympathetic. She told me to at least make them the same weight, so at one point I was sitting on one of my suitcases, and she was trying to zip it close. Bless her. Still, only I know how I felt when I had to take bags of clothes & shoes to Goodwill, and when I had to leave my books (my books!) at the curb only to go back out and sit there to see them safely to people who would actually read them while crying out “Hello, look at these books! It’s a great collection! Wouldn’t you like one – or all of them? It’s free! They need a home! Please, sir! Don’t let the garbage people take them!” to strangers.

My curbside after the moving out. It's actually worse than It looks here. Much worse.

My curbside after the moving out. It’s actually worse than It looks here. Much worse.

All those furniture I handpicked and pinned my hopes of a brand new start and a brand new life on was just left to the hands of Astorians, who needed cheap stuff, and the garbagemen.

But, you know what they say, you shouldn’t get attached to material things. Hit the reset button every once in a while. See if you can survive it. Right?

So after all the hassle, I found myself in the car with my parents, heading to my teenage home. With my teenage room and my teenage books and my teenage bed. I mean it wasn’t the first time I came back home after I moved to NY, but it was the first time that I wasn’t a tourist. That was it. This was my home. No going backsies to New York. That chapter is done. Kaput.

Anyway, it’s not all so bad. But let’s not turn this blog post into a novel, shall we? I – along with my dear old roommate from the Ranch – will be coming here occasionally to tell some sad, some hilarious, some tragicomical stories. We’ll see how that goes. So stay tuned!

Returning Home

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our new skyline

Home is where the heart is…
Or where the passport’s from…
Or where you keep your stuff…

Interesting question come to think of it. At this point, I’ve different answers to these questions. Over the past few years, I’ve been hopping around from location to location. The latest in my long list of passport stamps has lead me home to Singapore.

It’s been a grand total of 5 years since I’ve been home. Dang, that’s weird to say out loud. If you’re Singaporean, ever been to Singapore or know anyone from there, it’s an eternity in the evolution of this tiny little island. 2015 will officially mark 50 years of independence. Things have gotten a lot more interesting since I left.

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