Welcome to my 2024 travel post. (It covers the whole year because I will not be doing any other significant traveling this year.) Here is the cat doing kitty pilates, because I thought it was cute and I figured I’d shoehorn it in even though it has fuck all to do with May’s vacations.

Anyway, between the cleaning and the traveling and the clearing out the fridge it’s been a busy, busy May, and I’m glad I took the trips but I’m also glad I won’t be doing that again for a while. I suppose there are some advantages to being broke and out of PTO.

New York + New Jersey

First weekend of May: the second installment of what I dearly hope will become a yearly tradition, a short trek up to New Jersey to celebrate my brother and our dad, who were born within a couple of days of each other. Last year we went to Philly; this year we went to NYC.

Day 1

The original plan was to take Circe to the vet on Saturday and drive up Sunday morning so she’d only have to spend a couple days in boarding, but I’d forgotten our vet is closed on the first Saturday of every month. Then I was toying with the idea of bringing her to NJ because she’d be stressed as shit either way but at least this way she’d be close to me and maybe theoretically would feel better, but then she proceeded to behave very impolitely towards Uncle Christopher when he rolled into the apartment smelling like Archie, so bang went that idea. (There were hissings and bappings. She was very unhappy.)

Long story short, my parents were planning to drive up Saturday morning so they could have lunch and go shopping at Mitsuwa which is the very best Japanese market/shopping center on the East Coast I will fight you, so Circe went into boarding on Friday afternoon and I tagged along to Mitsuwa. In the gallery: curry beef udon, grilled mackerel, and tempura, then a pair of chair socks I thought were cute and my final Mitsuwa haul. I think I need to go back, because I’m not convinced I got enough kitty merch. Not pictured: the kitty daruma phone charm that got attached to my phone within a couple of hours of its purchase, and I guess it’s a good thing it’s not in the pic because somebody has already sucked off most of the gold paint and left tooth marks all over the daruma. On the other hand, I did remember to take a separate photo of the little desk chair I bought in the vain hopes I could use it as a cute prop for the little red octopus Kelly bought me in Japan. As for Mr. Octopus, he turned out to be just slightly too big for the chair, so the chair is now holding the panda phone charm that got fired because he kept falling off his cord. ;_;

After Mitsuwa we settled down at a sports bar in New Jersey while my brother was still at work and went through three plates of bar snacks, including a surprise boneless wing that sneaked its way into the onion rings. Then after all that was dinner at the same dumpling house we went to last time, and I was very uncomfortably full by the end of the night. I never did get to try those cakes we picked up on the way back. I don’t even have pictures of them. :’D

As consolation for the lack of cake, Hato hopped onto my lap and spent the whole night there purring and cooing and making biscuits and just generally being the sweetest, snuggliest girl until I finally went to bed. I’m still not sure how I managed to leave her, but possibly she left me first.

Day 2

Day 2 was the actual birthday party. First we saw Cabaret on Broadway, with Eddie Redmayne as the emcee and Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles, and it was spectacular. I really did not know what to expect because I only knew a few of the songs from the Liza Minelli recording (and those few only because we used to listen to them on road trips), and it was honestly better coming into it relatively blind. The stage was small, but the production really made amazing use of it, particularly its ability to rotate and reveal extra levels like a layer cake. I am so glad we got to see Eddie Redmayne; he was phenomenal.

As for Gayle, I am now looking forward to House of the Dragon season 2, because she’s in it. I don’t recognize her character’s name, so I’m going to have to reread the Targaryen Civil War chapters in Fire & Blood and see if she pops up. At this point I honestly don’t know if she’s in the book, or if she’s an original character. I had thought originally that she might be one of the dragonriders recruited by Daemon, and in fact I thought she was the one who specifically drives a(nother) wedge between Daemon and Rhaenyra, but the name doesn’t match, so probably I am wrong. And I know it most likely will not be a singing role, I’m just saying a girl can dream. Surely there won’t be any harm in having Alys Rivers burst into song. (I don’t know what she’d be singing, but I’m here to listen to it.)

Then after the show we went to Delmonico’s, where I was the only person who didn’t order a steak because (1) I’m not really a steak girlie and (2) the mushroom risotto was making eyes at me. I also had the Maine crab cake appetizer, which was covered with an amazing coat of hashed potatoes, and we tried Baked Alaska for the first time (and in the process learned what Baked Alaska actually is). The non-food pictures are the leftovers claim ticket and the napkin the staff placed over a wine spill, because I thought they were funny.

Day 3

The morning-after breakfast, at the same bar where my mom and I swore up and down we would only order two snacks and then proceeded to eat those snacks and order a plate of onion rings because we were still hungry, goddammit. And then I slept in the car all the way back, lol.

California Dreaming

The last time I went to LA was in 2019 for my Popo’s 90th birthday, which at this point is five years ago and now she’s 95. COVID, work, and a generalized lazy anxiety have kept me from venturing out to the west coast since 2020, and I gotta admit that after all the Boeing stories I wasn’t exactly thrilled to hop in a plane for five or six hours. (I’m typing this after the fact, so obviously I made it there and back again in one piece, or at least I’m still alive.) All of that notwithstanding, the trip went great.

Pre-Trip Frenzy

I seem to have inherited my mother’s mania for cleaning like a madwoman before an extended leave of absence. Thus we have this stuffed animal mountain, built the day before we left because that was the only day the cat was out of the apartment, which gave me the chance to quickly clean everything I could get my hands on in eight hours.

The cat, as ever, was Le Pissed when she went back into boarding. I really hope she doesn’t think I’m giving up on her and taking her back to the shelter for readoption every time we get in the car, but I suppose that’s a suspicion that will wear thin with time. Right now I just want to show her that I am going to keep coming back and I can’t come back if I don’t go away, so for now she’ll just have to suffer sorry baby ;_;

Day 1

First meal in LA: a ginormous sausage sandwich packed with onions, pickles, and tomatoes, and somehow I managed to eat the whole thing even though it was bigger than my head?!?!?! I guess snoring on a plane is hungry work? This was another day where I ended the night very uncomfortably and even, I dare say, miserably full, because for dinner we went to an old favorite and I ate way more than I should have. But in my defense, it’s been years since I’ve had chow foon that good, and it’s been so long that I’d forgotten what I’ve been missing. The lettuce wraps were served with ground chicken stir-fried with lap cheong which is the best sausage in the world, and we even got free soup and dessert because our uncle is friends with the staff. I was too full to eat dessert, but I did manage to try it a few days later when I wasn’t so full.

Day 2

Day 2 Itinerary

  1. Family studio portraits. Lord do I hate having my picture taken, but I did like the photographer, who was hilarious, and since our Seattle cousins had brought their children down for the weekend there was a tiny herd of some of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen running all over the place. This was why we needed the kitty heads, though the kitty heads are all the proof anybody ever needed that we are the weirdest unit within the extended family tree. On a more poignant note, I had only met one of the cousins’ children, and now I have finally gotten to meet and play with the rest. It was SO NICE. I suppose not many people know this, but I do love babies, even if I don’t want to raise any myself. In general I wish we were (geographically) closer to our cousins, but I am glad we had at least a few days to reconnect.
  2. Tommyburgers. Every time we go to LA, we make sure to have lunch at least once at Tommy’s. They did not disappoint. I am renewing my petition for Tommy’s to expand to the east coast, it’s been long efuckingnough.
  3. Family dinner I. For the first part of the birthday party, we got Chinese takeout. This is very important, because I finally got to eat the dry-fried black bean beef chow foon we used to order every time we went out to dinner or dim sum. I haven’t had this style of chow foon in decades. This is another thing I wish were on the east coast. There were also our favorite Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles – the amount of fried noodles I ate in the space of three days is unhinged, why can’t this be my life every day – and a chocolate cake from our favorite Chinatown bakery, with homemade ice cream in both coffee and chocolate. There were also homemade fortune cookies, with fortunes written half-and-half by my cousin and one of my brothers (i.e., they each wrote half of each fortune and then swapped over). I don’t know if they wrote my fortune with me in mind, but it feels targeted.

Day 3

Day 3 Itinerary

  1. Ohaka mairi part I. Which isn’t quite the right term to use because the side of the family we were visiting is 100% Chinese, but fuck it, I don’t know the Cantonese equivalent and the point is that we spent the morning sprucing up our ancestors’ graves and leaving flowers. We also found a more distant aunt and her husband in the mausoleum, which we’ve never visited. We unfortunately did not have any flowers for them, but next time we’ll be prepared. Bonus: there was a tiny bunny hopping around the mausoleum grounds.
  2. Ohaka mairi part II. After visiting the Chinese side of the family, my family went to another cemetery to visit our mother’s parents and some of their friends.
  3. Beach day! We stopped by the beach on the way to lunch and spent maybe 15 minutes playing in the water. (Or I did. 3/5 of the family chose to take a nap in the car.)
  4. Curry lunch! We were going to go to Furaibo but they were closed T_T But luckily we had passed a curry house on the way to Furaibo and I love curry in pretty much every form, so everything worked out. Note to self: next time order the 3. We had no idea what to expect from the restaurant’s spice scale, but it now turns out that on a scale of 1-20, 5 is still spicy as fuck. (The 10 was worse, of course.) Out of all the curries we tried, the stewed beef curry was the best, and I have got to find a recipe for that. The deep-fried accompaniments were also good, particularly the tonkatsu and the vegetable croquettes.
  5. Family dinner II. The second birthday dinner was completely homemade, starting with scallops and salmon roe in a hollandaise sauce over lettuce. We also had fried chicken and roasted potatoes similar to the ones I made last Thanksgiving, only these ones were crispier and therefore far better than mine. Gotta get better at consistency. For dessert there were my dad’s hand pies and the best chocolate ganache-filled cupcakes I’ve ever had, for which I happily have the recipe, and a terrine, which is the kind of thing I’ve only ever seen on GBBO.

Day 4

Our Last Day T_T
I cannot overstate this: I have not had good dim sum, real dim sum, since we were in LA for Popo’s 90th. So maybe I’m just sad and deprived, but this dim sum seemed particularly good. The best dish was hands down the gai see chow mein. The other fried noodles we had on other days were good too, but this one was exactly what I expect when I order fried noodles. It was everything I remember about the fried noodles we grew up eating. It was wonderful.

I wanted to document this next part separately, because it feels like the end of an era. When we visited LA as children, one of the must-visits was a big dim sum restaurant called Empress Pavilion. I was unfortunately too young to appreciate dim sum, and I regret that now because Empress has been gone for quite some time. The entire mall is so dead that I was surprised to find any businesses at all – there are still two hanging in there on the ground floor. But the rest of the building looks like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, and it’s just so sad because I am old enough to remember this place when it was jam-packed.

On a happier note, the purpose of visiting the Empress mall was to park in the garage, which is handy to the Chinese jewelry store I wanted to visit. Popo gave me this pendant ten years ago and I have kept meaning and meaning to visit Jin Hing to pick out a proper chain for it, but we’ve just never had time. This time I staked out my claim on the itinerary early, and the price of the chain is making me realize it was actually a good thing I didn’t try to buy one ten years ago when I was broke and between jobs and making horrible financial decisions. Even with my parents helping me, I would never have been able to afford it.

I am so glad this pendant finally has the chain it deserves, because it’s been languishing on my necklace rack for a decade. I don’t know which ancestress set this aside, only that Popo told me it was intended for her second-eldest granddaughter. (Having said that, I do have to note that she initially tried to give me the pendant that was meant for the eldest granddaughter, who is very much not me.) I’m glad I ended up with this one; somehow it just fits. Ignore the ugly rash I gave myself by keeping the pendant on a cheap chain that kept breaking, and which was not helped by my cousin’s six-month-old burying her hot, sticky little face in my neck. ~_~ It was totally worth it and I’d let her stick her face in my neck again, but damn that rash really sucked. Or maybe it’s just that I’m allergic to anything less than 24k, and anything less than the best is a felony.

On a totally unrelated note, what has no thumbs and has already tried to eat mommy’s expensive gold necklace? This girl.

Homeward Bound

Not much to report from the home trip, except that we ran across possibly one of the only surviving Mrs. Fields in the United States during our layover in Vegas and we ate our way through probably half of my auntie’s carefully packed fried rice bentos before we were even on the final leg of the trip. Auntie tried giving us extra bentos this time because one of the last times we ate our entire lunches while we were waiting for the plane, but it didn’t work, lol. She says next time she’s making a double breakfast so maybe we’ll be hungry again at a more appropriate time.

And after all that, these were the only souvenirs I ended up with, apart from the necklace, because again the necklace was expensive as shit and also we didn’t have time to go to Daiso. The Spams came from the kind of H Mart that almost makes me want to pack my bags and move to California, and the magnet came from the first cemetery. I’ve already cooked one of the Spams, and I can confidently say that I am glad I tried the Tocino flavor, but I don’t need to buy it again. Which is really a relief tbh, because my H Mart doesn’t stock it. I mean, it’s fine, but it turns out I don’t like my Spam sweet.

Final Thoughts

And that’s a wrap on the most travel I’ve ever done in the space of a month. Both trips were amazing, 100/10 would do all the same things all over again except maybe the photo shoot, but I have never been so grateful to be homebound for the rest of the year. And, though I brought my Kindle and two books on the plane because I really thought I was going to read that much, I actually ended up reading disappointingly little and I don’t know why. Part of it is Shop Titans, of course, but I had opportunities to read and I didn’t take advantage of them. I particularly thought I was going to read the night before we left because that was the night our parents were going out for dinner with their friends and I had planned to stay home with the Kindle, only then we ended up visiting one of the Seattle cousins in his AirBnB and then I slept on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, and that evening just slipped by so fast. Better luck next time.

Unexpected but hilarious: I was handed a kitty report card when I went to pick Circe up after the LA trip. I’d give her a B-.

I mean, I don’t poop in front of strangers either.

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