After my first couple of weeks in New York, I found myself in a relationship with someone I had met in San Francisco a couple of weeks prior. However, for one reason or another I had been dissatisfied with the traditional relationship model for some time, and had had the desire to expand my horizons and experiment with polyamory. New York, a truly cosmopolitan city, facilitated my hedonist tendencies.
After nearly two months of living in the US, I found myself with 3 lovers that I was extremely fond of, while also dating several other people whose company I enjoyed. I was very happy with the current set up and didn’t see myself conforming to the traditional relationship model again anytime soon. One particularly glorious day before my bliss shattered, I was sitting on a sun-drenched residential rooftop overlooking Manhattan, at 4pm on a weekday, gorging on berries and reading. I thought to myself what a grand adventure my life in New York was, and that I never wanted to go home again.
With the next day however, came a complete turn of events. It was the last day of spring, and I was walking in Prospect Park, feeling utterly down in the doldrums because one of my lovers, who I was completely enamoured with, had just told me they were not okay with my ‘polyandry’. While I did some rounds of the park and some scheming, I decided, as any sane person would, to rush over to his apartment later that evening and convince him of the necessity for three lovers (himself included), and to please be reasonable.
After I rushed over in the evening though, it just so happened that I ended up saying I would stop seeing all the other suitors, and just see him, including planning to move into his apartment immediately. We discussed how to mitigate my need for variety and attention, and what we both wanted from each other. He requested that I tell all my other suitors of my new relationship the next day. With that, came a series of uncomfortable calls, texts and and an in person meeting, that left me with a sense of consternation for several days thereafter. During the two days over which I contacted my suitors and prospective lovers, I received several accusations, the most of which were particularly disturbing, included, “you exhibit many of the signs of sociopathy”, “you’re a walking red flag”, “I think you should see a psychiatrist.”
And I couldn’t deny all the accusations, but it just so happened that this particular man who I told I would give up everyone else for, had an ineffable quality that took complete hold of me. He was muscular, stocky, and was masculine in both build and demeanor, with a deep voice that commanded and captivated me. His facial features were quite pleasing to me, with an aquiline nose, and hazel eyes that expressed boredom or disdain at times, but at other times, were mirthful. Physical appearances aside, he had skipped to his PhD at an Ivy League school right after completing undergrad, spoke 5 languages and could order dim sum in Cantonese, and was a discerning oenophile and gourmand. I was completely enthralled by him. If he told me to cancel all my plans to see him, I did it. If he asked me to jump, I would have said, “how high?”
After all the uncomfortable goodbye conversations with my other suitors, we settled quickly into an idyllic living arrangement. I was basically living like a “bird in a gilded cage”, as one of my friends mildly put it, in his luxury Chelsea apartment. While he went out to work, I would busy myself going out to boutique fitness classes, reading, and writing. When he came home from work, we would go out to dinner, which was almost always paired with wine or sake, and accompanied by light-hearted banter. We would stroll around New York briskly, and he would educate me about the history of the city. The first couple of days were blissful, and the most emotive for him, but after the weekend was over, things grew stagnant, with me requiring downtime with the fallout of my sudden lifestyle change, while he fell back into his emotionally distant ways. There were also some skeletons in his closet, which was a rather concerning issue for me. It was a combination of these issues, and my uncertainty as to whether I would be able to re-conform to a monogamous relationship model, that led to my leaving his beautiful apartment after nearly a week of cohabitation, with an explanatory goodbye note.
My fickle heart had had difficulty leaving this person, who was the first person in a long time who I was crazy about. The night before I left, I pressed him on his opinion regarding my cohabitation and whether he was ready for me to take the next step, and actually gather all my things for a real move in. As usual, he had been fairly coy with me about taking the next step, and I was feeling rather insecure about his lack of emotional directness. He said he would deliberate on the decision and let me know in the morning. But when the morning rolled around, I asked him what his position was, and he said he would think about it during the day and then tell me later that night.
As it was, I myself had been deliberating on leaving, and the possibility of waiting another full day for an answer regarding my living situation with this man was almost intolerable to me, in addition to the other concerning factors. I decided to pack my things that day, and leave. That day was also the first day that he didn’t text me all day since I’d been staying with him. I thought the lack of a text was a pre-emptive sign on his part, and that perhaps he had wanted me to leave, but later in the evening, slightly later than he normally got home, I got an Um, where? text from him, questioning the lack of my whereabouts, and then a succinct Oh. that was heartwrenching to me.
It was a difficult decision to make but ultimately, I reasoned with myself that I’d rather have the other sorts of freedoms that my other relationships allowed me, and that it was probably better to not be committed to one person at this early point in my move.
And then, the next day, as I was sitting back in my Brooklyn brownstone, stuffing my face, albeit in a glum manner, I questioned my decision once more, (and not for the last time), my inability to make a decision, and stick to it.
Life in New York wasn’t all it was cracked up to be – those were my thoughts as I wiped down tables during a quiet moment at my job in a soda fountain. After about 4 weeks in New York, I got a casual job waitressing at a vintage ice cream parlor and soda fountain.
I worked only a couple of shifts before abruptly resigning, much to the chagrin of the soda fountain owner who hired me. After 4 weeks of job hunting, it was safe to say I was sufficiently worn out by the New York City/US job hunting process, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my American adventure just yet. I’d pledged to myself to stick it out for the year at least, and I was in no way ready to give up and go home. However, the working environment in the soda fountain, which was at times quiet, and at some times, crazy, with lower wages than I was used to, and shorter breaks, proved to be intolerable for an Australian who’d worked in the services industry in Australia (where a livable income, not dependent on tips, is the norm). I felt spoiled and idle for my choice in resigning, but I didn’t see the sense in working a menial job, when I could be spending more time productively elsewhere.
And with that thought process, I resigned, saying to myself I’d focus my energies on another job where I’d get paid more, and be happier. However, a lot of the time, I felt naive and foolish for not listening to my parents, who’d cautioned me against the uncertainty of quitting my job in Sydney to move to New York.
Aside from shortcomings in my work life, other things were keeping me busy, and content. I was very happy with my dating life in New York, and the opportunities that were available to meet someone new every day of the week. The move to New York facilitated my need for variety and spontaneity in a way that dating in Sydney had nearly never been able to.
I got to New York late on a Monday night. I was lucky to receive a lift from my mother’s friend’s daughter, who dropped me off in Sunnyside at her mother’s house, where I would spend the next consecutive two weeks. I spent the first couple of days doing errands, sleeping in, eating out, doing boutique fitness workouts in Manhattan, all the while, contemplating the seriousness of what I had done and trying to get my head and life together. The previous five days gallivanting in San Francisco and the high of running my first half marathon had left me with an unexpected low, and all I could think every morning for the first few weeks was, “I can’t believe I’ve done this.” There was a lingering sense of shame that refused to dissipate in those first few weeks, around the fact that I had quit a job that I loved, to start completely afresh and abound with struggles.
Those first few weeks in New York were a return to the unbridled hedonistic days of my youth- I was gainfully unemployed, eating and drinking like a glutton in the city of sin. The first morning in New York, I awoke from a 12 hour sleep feeling groggy and dazed. Upon waking up every morning, I would be confronted with a sense of disorientation. Walking down the streets, it still all felt very surreal to me, like I had to pinch myself to wake up from the never ending dream.
That first couple of weeks on my own, already forced me to examine a few long hard truths about myself. I had always thought of myself as a remarkably tenacious person, able to commit to goals and see them through no matter what. The first month in New York had me reconsidering that belief. I received countless rejection letters from jobs I really wanted, and even jobs I didn’t really want. I questioned the absurdity of requiring three references for a dog walking job. During these days, I was prone to despair and lament the uncertainty of my position. I often daydreamed about repacking all my bags and going home early, returning to my old job, being back with my friends and family, and taking pleasure in being back within the confines of my childhood home. But I reasoned with myself, that I didn’t spend over a year daydreaming about moving to New York only to give up less than a month in.
I tried to look at the positives, and the biggest, was that the move catapulted me into independent adult life. I went from living with my family and not paying rent, having my room cleaned by my mother, to living with three roommates, writing cheques, buying furniture and assembling it, all that big girl stuff. It was an enthralling new world, and I was high on my own sense of independence.
Despite all the outwardly good things that were happening though, I was plagued by a sense of malaise during those first few weeks. I felt slightly foolish, idealistic and simple, with my lofty ideals, thinking I could stroll into a job at the likes of Reuters or Bloomberg, in the first month of my arrival in New York. After 2 weeks of rejection letters, it was clear this was not going to happen. I knew something would come along eventually, and while it may not have been where I wanted to be right now, it would be something. Despite all the moodiness and loneliness of those first few weeks, there were times when I felt very excited to be among the bustle and bright lights of the city. And even though I felt less than positive half the time, there was an allure about the city that made me not want to leave, to rise to the challenge and conquer it.
In my 20s, after graduating university, I decided to do the most cliche thing any single girl in her 20s could possibly do: I decided to move to New York.
The justification behind the move came from my trip to Japan in 2014. As much as Sydney had always been home, ever since that idyllic trip, I had the unshakeable feeling that I wasn’t meant to live out my days there. A few friends of mine who had previously lived in NYC sold me on living there, and told me how easy it was to move there on a working holiday visa (J-1 cultural exchange visa). NYC had always seemed alluring to me as a young girl, but in later years I had stopped thinking about. With the ease of the visa that was available to me though, I thought I’d regret it if I missed the opportunity, so with that, I prepared all my necessary documents and readied myself to leave the only place I’d ever called home.
I experienced a vast range of emotions leading up to the move, and the majority of them weren’t positive. There was one week, I cried going home on the train from work 3/5 consecutive days, shielded only by my colossal copy of ‘War and Peace’. Another week closer to the move, I couldn’t get to sleep at night. I knew I was beginning to get cold feet at this point, despite all the justification I’d pointed out for the move. Obviously it was too late to back out though.
And, in spite of all the fear, anxiety, and sadness that I was feeling, I couldn’t face the possibility of living in Sydney for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, I faced criticism from some friends. One of my friends said I chose “the worst possible time to move to the US” (which I couldn’t agree with more). Another voiced concerns about the possibility of me not being able to find a job, and having to come home financially worse off. The comments were disheartening, but I knew after getting off the plane in Sydney after my last trip, that I couldn’t live my life like that anymore, just living for the holidays.
During one of our last meetups in Sydney, one of my friends said she hoped that I would find whatever I was looking for in NYC. However, I didn’t really know what this was myself. All I really knew was, ever since that idyllic trip to Japan in 2014, I never felt the same about living in Sydney. Ever since then, I’d been travelling the world searching for that elusive something, but I couldn’t find it doing the same thing I had always done.
At the same time, I hadn’t prepared myself for the reality of the situation. When I told people about the move, the most common question I got asked was, “are you excited?” I often replied that I wasn’t, or only a little bit. In short, I was thinking of all the doubts that I had surrounding the move, the tediousness of having to start fresh all over again, and the discomfort of it all. It was like after I had gotten the visa, I began to question if I really wanted it after all. I knew how it felt to want something very badly, to look forward to something, and I knew after I got the visa, there was an absence of emotion for almost everything in my life. I was surviving, going through the motions of my daily routine: working, exercising, eating, sleeping, seeing friends, but I failed to feel anything. There was the constant fear and doubt that I had made a huge mistake. I spent the past three years wanting something, dreaming about it, hoping for it every day, and then felt nothing when I finally got it. So I did everything I could do avoid talking about the move, avoided seeing my friends when I could, just to avoid that dreaded question and the emotions it conjured up. I needed to come to terms with the gravity of what I had done, and I wanted to be on my own.
It was a stark contrast to those first few weeks after coming back- I slept, ate, breathed, dreamed New York. It was the only thing I thought about. I knew the odds were stacked against me, but I prepared to leave anyway. A couple of days before the move, it hit me that I was really leaving and I didn’t know if I felt like laughing or crying. I didn’t know if or when I would be back again. I felt an enormous chapter of my life was ending, while another one just as big, was beginning, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.
When I really took a long, hard look at my life, I reasoned that taking action was infinitely better than wishing, wanting, hoping, and never going. And with that, I ended one very important chapter of my life, to begin anew on the other side of the world, alone.
I started my trip to New Orleans with a missed flight.
After paying USD60 something to get booked on the next available flight, I arrived in New Orleans around 8pm, and caught a cab to my hotel. After dropping off my stuff, I decided to venture out for a delicious meal. I had a list of New Orleans restaurants which a friend had recommended to me, and I was fortunate that some of them were within walking distance from my hotel.
I looked up two of the restaurants I had wanted to go and quickly decided to go to the closer one, Cochon. It was a nine minute walk from my hotel, and I arrived at the restaurant about an hour before closing time. The restaurant was still busy, and I was seated immediately and brought a copy of the menu.
I had already spent the entire trip indulging my gluttony and had basically come to New Orleans to indulge it some more. So with that goal in mind, I ordered a three course meal, and ate it alone.
My main course was the rabbit and dumplings, from memory I think it was something like rabbit encased in dumplings, in a Sauvignon Blanc gravy. The gravy was thick, rich and flavoursome, and the perfect accompaniment to the dumplings, which had a crisp top and tender interior.
The entire meal was lovely, and I enjoyed great service from the waiter, Chris, who chatted to me intermittently through the evening. By the end of my first two courses, I was already stuffed. Any normal person would have stopped after the first two courses, but being me, I decided to indulge myself with dessert. Chris recommended this one to me, and it was served about 15-20 minutes after I ordered. It was fresh out of the oven when it was served, and the piping hot apple interior formed a lovely contrast in temperature and texture to the vanilla ice cream. I liked the (subtle) cheddar crust, and the crusty top of the apple slices. It was an amazingly delicious dessert, but I regrettably couldn’t finish it. As I finished up my meal, Chris said some of his friends from out of town were visiting, and asked if I’d like to grab a drink with them. I said I would see how I feel after I got back to my hotel, then paid the bill and left.
I walked back to my hotel, and while walking I passed a security guard who said hello to me, and we exchanged small talk about the local free event down the street, before I continued on my way.
When I got back to my hotel, I rolled on my bed and lamented my insatiable gluttony. I fell asleep soon after that.
The next morning, I was awoken by the sound of room service (not food) knocking on my door. I replied something that would have been almost incoherent on the other side, but nevertheless resulted in the staff departing. After this I rolled around in bed for a bit and browsed trashy American TV before deciding it was late enough to get up. After getting ready, I decided on where to eat breakfast (Cafe du Monde, of course), and left the hotel.
There was a streetcar stop just around the corner from my hotel, and just as I walked out, one stopped. I paid a dollar or so for a ticket to the French Quarter, and enjoyed the ride.
The streetcar’s last stop was Bourbon Street, and I got out along with all the other passengers and strolled Bourbon Street.
It was around 10 or 11am, and the street was quiet, though most of the bars were already open, blasting 00’s R&B and hip hop loudly. I passed some bars with one or two customers, but most of the bars were mostly empty. I seriously contemplated having a morning drink, but decided not to ruin myself for the rest of the day, and headed on. After walking the entire length of Bourbon Street, I walked back the same way, and turned left at the end to get to Cafe Du Monde.
Cafe Du Monde was located right at the end of the main street, and was unmissable due to the long line of tourists outside. I walked around the side of the line, and found out the line was for takeaway, so I strolled inside and took a seat.
After taking a seat, a server came over to me and asked what I’d like (they literally only had beignets, and drinks). Three beignets was the standard, so I ordered that, and an iced coffee. It wasn’t 10 minutes after I ordered, when a server walked over to me and plopped down the plate of beignets and iced coffee.
The beignets were doused very liberally in icing sugar (too liberally, for my liking). The texture was reminiscent of Chinese doughnuts eaten with congee. The interior was very doughy, and the heapings of sugar did not add much to the taste. Overall, I was quite disappointed with the beignets, which many people had highly recommended to me.
After my disappointing breakfast, I strolled around New Orleans’ French Quarter, taking in the sights. It was only around 11am, but already there were musicians out on the street playing jazz. After strolling for a little bit, and heading into random stores, I passed a voodoo museum, and had a look inside. The museum was tiny, and there was an African American woman dressed in voodoo getup, who welcomed me in. The entrance fee was $5, and I joined the others as we walked around the small museum, looking at photographs and relics.
The photographs were interesting, and at the end, in the last room, there was a voodoo shrine for us to write wishes on and put them (along with a coin donation of course). Looking back, the whole thing was kind of tacky really, but I enjoyed it at the time.
After the voodoo museum, I returned to exploring the streets and started thinking about where to eat lunch. The previous night’s dinner had set the bar high, and I wanted to eat somewhere as good as it, if not better. After a quick look on Yelp, I decided to have lunch at Le Bayou, a restaurant on Bourbon Street, which was situated just across from the more famous restaurant Galatoire’s.
A friendly hostess greeted me as soon as I entered, and led me up the stairs. She apologized for the loud construction taking place nearby, and we chatted about how lovely New Orleans was.
I had a hard time deciding on what to order, but in the end decided on the shrimp creole, a traditional Southern dish of shrimp cooked in a jambalaya stew.
After lunch, I caught the cable car to a nearby cemetary, and looked around. It was the last stop on the cable car line, and only myself, and a couple of other people got off. The other tourists went to a cemetary across the road, while I went to this one. It was located on a busy main road, but I’m pretty sure I was the only person in here at the time. I walked around, admiring all the ornate tombs that looked like they were straight out of a Gothic novel, but began to feel too eerily deserted, so I crossed the road and caught a cable car to the Garden District.
It was about 2pm or 3pm when I got to the Garden District. By this time, it was sweltering hot, and I almost regretted the trip there. With no clear destination in mind, I chose a direction and started walking in it. I inadvertently came to the street where a famous restaurant, Commander’s Palace was, although it wasn’t open yet.
The outside of the restaurant was designed somewhat strangely in my opinion, with blue and white stripes, reminding me of an old time candy store. At the end of the street, was another cemetary which I had intended to visit, but it was now 4pm and it was closed already.
Instead, I wandered the streets of the Garden District and looked at all the pretty houses.
Not far from where I was walking, there was also a popular dessert cafe called Sucre, which I didn’t end up going to. Sweating sufficiently by this time, I decided to catch the streetcar back to my hotel to freshen up before dinner. After showering, I faced the hardest decision of the day- where to eat dinner. It was my last night in New Orleans, and I wanted a meal as good as my first had been. It came down to Herbsaint, or Mother’s, both of which were within walking distance from my hotel. Mother’s was the more casual of the two, and I thought, more comfortable for a solo dinner. Around 6:30ish, I left the hotel and walked to the restaurant, taking me around 9 minutes.
Mother’s is a no-fills, pay-at-the-counter style restaurant. There were a few diners scattered around the restaurant when I came in, and a few people waiting in line to order.
When I came to the front of the line, the girl at the counter greeted me as ‘baby’, and asked what I’d like. I said I’d have the crawfish etouffee. She informed me a main dish came with two sides, so I chose the red beans and grits to accompany the etouffee, then took a seat. It was about 10 minutes or less, until my main was served.
I wasn’t expecting anything fancy, but the quality of the food did not live up to my expectations. I can only really describe it is home-style comfort food, that satiated the appetite, although wasn’t extremely tasty.
This was the first time I had tried grits, and I had something more delicious in mind. It consists of ground corn, which is boiled. The texture is very similar to polenta. In addition to that, the serving was generous and much too large for me. I finished the red beans and crawfish etouffee, leaving a heap of the sadly bland grits. After finishing the meal, one of the waitresses came and cleared my plate. I asked if I had to line up at the counter again to order dessert, but she asked what I wanted and said she would get it for me.
In a few minutes, she returned with the bread and butter pudding. One of the waitstaff had recommended it to me when I came in as the dessert to eat, ‘if I wasn’t watching my weight’.
When she brought it to me, I had the amount of the pudding ready to give to her, but she said not to worry about it. The random act of kindness made me enjoy the dessert all the more. The pudding was probably the least aesthetically dessert I’ve eaten in my life, but the taste more than made up for its presentation. The soft bread interior had the perfect texture to soak up the sweet caramel sauce. The dessert was the best part of the meal, as well as the hospitality. I left Mother’s with a tip on the table, as it had been unclear as to whether I should tip the cashier, and went back to the hotel briefly before heading out again to meet Chris, the waiter from Cochon, for drinks at Pat O’ Brien’s.
One of my other friends recommended Pat O’Brien’s to me, as a bar which made the famous New Orleans drink, the ‘Hurricane’. My other friend said after two Hurricanes, I would be drunk, but after three, I wouldn’t remember my name. I got to the bar early, and waited for Chris there. The bar was located in French Quarter, just off Bourbon Street. There were several sections of the bar, including an indoor section with long bar and stools, a live music room across from the bar, and an outdoor area with table service and a fountain.
The drink was large, and unexpectedly sweet due for the vast quantity of alcohol I assumed must have been in it. Chris said the sweetness was all the fruit syrup they put in it. We had a few drinks here (I was careful not to have more than two Hurricanes), before we decided to leave to check out Frenchmans Street nearby. Another of my friends previously recommended Frenchmans Street as where to see “real” New Orleans live jazz. Chris also said you could find live jazz anywhere in New Orleans, but a lot of it was covers, while the musicians on Frenchmans Street played more original songs.
We caught a pedicab there (similar to the tricycles in Philippines, they involve a bike with a person cycling at the front, and one seat large enough to fit two people at the back). While on the way there, we chatted with our pedicab driver, about New Orleans, the music scene, and her previous life in Denver. As is usually the case when people get drunk, I engaged enthusiastically in small talk, and ended up finding out interesting details of strangers’ lives. After getting out, we said our goodbyes to our pedicab driver, and checked out one of the bars on Frenchmans Street.
The band played one of their own songs, and some covers, and Chris commented on how jazz bands in New Orleans were starting to play more and more covers, because it was what the audiences wanted, but it didn’t used to be like that. After what was my third or fourth drink, I felt increasingly tired, and decided to call it a night, but not before we grabbed some street food on Frenchmans Street- charcoal jerk chicken, with a bread roll and a jacket potato. Some of the best drunk food I’ve had in my life. I should also add that it was about 1am on a school night, and the streets were still lively with the chatter of intoxicated individuals, and music that spilled out onto the streets from the bars. Chris and I said goodbye, and I thanked him for taking me out on the town.
The next morning, I woke up early, slightly tired, but without a hangover, and checked out. I Ubered to the airport, making sure I had ample time to check-in, then boarded my flight back to NYC for my last five days there.
I was sitting at the bar, sipping a glass of rose. I always arrived before him. He touched me on the shoulder and kissed me on the cheek. In that moment, I felt a sense of familiarity towards him, like we were a husband and wife greeting each other after work.
His beer was served, and he asked if I wanted to try some. I said yes, and he laughed and said “there’s something very different about you. I like it.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I’ve been called quirky before.”
“Some people would definitely think you’re strange though.”
We continued our easy chatter. He was a man who made banter look easy.
“I feel very comfortable with you,” he said, the corners of his mouth upturned, crinkles in the corners of his eyes.
“I have that effect on people.”
As we sat there in the darkened bar, drinking wine and discussing existentialism in the lyrics of Talking Heads, we smiled with our eyes only on each other. It was one of those perfect moments that I thought only existed in films.
He asked me then, if I was definitely moving to New York. I said, I wasn’t sure anymore.
You might have heard of the NYT essay by Mandy Len Catron, ‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This’, or watched her TED talk. I did both, about a year ago, and watched the VICE experiment to boot. I was captivated by Ms Catron’s talk (and results), plus the outcome of the VICE experiment, and wondered if 36 questions was the answer to my dating woes.
For those who are unfamiliar with Mandy Len Catron’s TED talk, and NYT essay, her essay was written based on Dr Arthur Aron’s study, in which he conducted an experiment to see if closeness could be fostered based on asking increasingly personal questions. Two participants in Dr Aron’s original study fell in love, so did Mandy Len Catron. I saw no reason why I couldn’t. I went on a couple of dates and while I met a few people I liked, I didn’t have the courage to broach the topic of playing the 36 question game and consequently exposing all our vulnerabilities in the early stages. And so my curiosity continued to be unsatiated. Until I went to New York, that is.
I had invited myself along to what was supposed to be my friend J’s solo trip. As we are both fairly independent and share little in the way of similar interests, I spent a good deal of time on my own in NYC. On my first Friday night in NYC, I found myself wandering the streets of Times Square on my own, feeling a little desolate amongst the skyscrapers, neon lights and hordes of tourists (myself included). I had had vague plans to meet a bunch of people during my trip which had mostly all fallen through, so after a lonely dinner and a stroll through Times Square, I caught the subway back to Financial District somewhat early for a Friday (9pm!) and went to the local gourmet grocer to see what local delights were available. If I couldn’t have company, at least I could have ice cream.
There was a multitude of cold sweet treats on offer at the local grocery, and I took two tubs of ice cream home and tried both. I was settling into bed when a message from S, 26 popped up on my phone. We had a basic exchange before he asked me out for drinks in an hour or so, and I agreed. I took my time to get ready and in addition to that, I got lost on the NYC subway (for the first and only time) and consequently ended up being 40 minutes late to meet S at Union Square. He was shorter than I thought he would be, but smiled graciously when he said hello to me, as if I hadn’t just unceremoniously kept him waiting for the past 40 minutes.
We started walking and talking and strolled into a bar we passed soon after. Over a few drinks, we exchanged all the necessary and mundane small talk before getting onto more serious topics, such as our past, our dreams, and hopes for the future. S had gone to a prestigious school and previously worked at an investment bank, but was now working on something on his own. He had a youthful, cynical air that reminded me a bit of Holden Caulfield. While I didn’t feel a romantic spark right away, I felt comfortable with him and enjoyed our conversation. During the conversation that first evening, he asked me if there was anything I would change about my childhood if I could. The question seemed strangely familiar and I thought it could be one of the 36 questions, but answered the question without asking him if it was one.
After a few drinks we called it a night, and as he was walking me to the subway station, our hands somehow found each other and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. As we were walking, he turned around and kissed me and then said sorry if he made me feel uncomfortable. We continued walking to the subway, and he asked if I was free tomorrow, and I suggested checking out MOMA. He said he’d be free to see me anytime, and to just text and let him know.
That night, he texted me after I got home and said it was great meeting and he’d had fun. The next day, we met outside MOMA and strolled around the art gallery for a couple of hours chatting about art, life and stuff. I was carrying a heavy bag that day, and still exhausted from the night of drinking prior, I was struggling to carry it. S chivalrously offered to carry it for me, and dutifully did so for the four hours of walking around MOMA.
At 6pm, he put me in a cab to go dinner in East Village, and we made plans to meet up after I got back from New Orleans.
A couple of days later when I got back to NYC, I messaged S asking if he was free for a drink on a Thursday night. He said he was, and we arranged to meet around 9pm in West Village, to have a drink at a bar called Please Don’t Tell. I met him on St Marks Place, where Please Don’t Tell was situated, and we walked down the street trying to find the bar. The bar was hidden behind a phone booth, inside a hot dog place, and the line was sufficiently long already for a Thursday night around 9pm. We watched the couple in front of us enter the phone booth, close the door, and leave. Then it was our turn, and we entered the booth and answered the phone. The voice at the other end asked us if we had a reservation. We replied that we didn’t, and were told it would be a 2.5 hour wait. We retreated in dismay, and walked around nearby looking for a decent bar, without the long wait. There were none.
With that, S said he knew another cool bar called Bathtub Gin, which was across town, so we hopped in a cab and left. We were admitted immediately, and after being seated, we ordered gin cocktails, which seemed most appropriate. As we settled in to the booth and took in our surroundings, S smiled at me from across the table, and I thought about how many times I’d been here before, and how temporary it was. We were engaging in idle banter, when suddenly, S asked if I wanted to play a game. I said, sure, and asked him what kind of game. He began to describe 36 questions, and I realised what he was talking about.
I explained to S that I had the app on my phone, and told him how I was well acquainted with the concept of 36 questions, having watched Mandy Len Catron’s talk on YouTube before, and having been on a reality TV show based around the concept. I asked him if he had played the game with anyone before, and he said no, he asked me if I had, and I said though the show was loosely based based on 36 questions, aside from that, I had never played the game.
And so we started playing the game. Round one, full of interesting and less invasive questions, included things like: “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” Such things didn’t stray far from the realm of ordinary questions asked on dates. However, the questions got increasingly personal, and as rounds two and three commenced, I found myself opening up to S, telling him things I had never before confessed to even my closest friends and past loves. An example of a round two or three question was, “When was the last time you cried alone? In front of someone else?”
Unlike the intention of the inventor in creating 36 questions, I felt less like I was falling in love, and more like I was consciously unburdening all the things I had built up over the years. I’m not sure how he felt about it.
We were close to the end, and suffice to say, I felt like I hadn’t (figuratively) been so exposed to anyone in such a long time. We only had a few more questions to go, when J called me asking if she could meet me before going to the club together. The club she’d been at was just down the street from where we were, and so she walked to Bathtub Gin, and watched us finish our questions and timed us as we came to the uncomfortable part of having to stare into one another’s eyes, without breaking eye contact, for 4 minutes.
I thought I could do this part easily, but when the time, I struggled. I could barely hold eye contact for 30 seconds, without looking away, while S maintained eye contact, smiling at me all the while. Meanwhile, J was sitting to the right of me, timing the whole thing on her iPhone. S was so disciplined that he didn’t even break eye contact when the waitress came and dropped off the bill.
It was a relief when J said the four minutes were up. We paid the bill, and walked out, and invited S to join us at the club. He took us up on our offer, and the three of us danced awkwardly to some sort of music which genre I couldn’t define. We stayed at the club for a little bit, and when we called it a night, S saw us goodbye in a taxi and kissed me on the cheek, albeit a little close to my lips.
He messaged me the next evening asking if I wanted to drop by his improv night to participate, something to get outside of my comfort zone- it was something I had mentioned the previous night. I replied that I had dinner plans but would try to meet up after. Things got in the way, and I didn’t end up meeting him, and I didn’t see him on my last night in NYC either.
Things did get in the way, but there was no point at which I couldn’t have seen him if I wanted to. The truth was, the 36 questions experiment with S had left me feeling no closer to him than before doing the experiment. It also did not trigger any romantic feelings (any more than what I had already) for him. In short, after doing the experiment, I was ambivalent as to whether I saw him again in the short time span I had left in New York. I was disappointed that the experiment seemingly didn’t work in my situation, and I wondered whether it was due to the lack of romantic chemistry between us, or because I just wasn’t open to feeling anything for anyone at that point in time.
Rather spontaneously, I booked a trip to North America just three months before my departure date. For once, the spontaneous travel decision had less to do with me and more to do with travel plans of a good friend of mine, J, who had decided to return to New York in October for a short holiday. J had previously lived in New York for a year, and I thought it would be good to visit New York with a friend who had lived there, rather than on my own.
I designated the longest time to spend in New York, and initially planned to spend the entire two weeks of my leave there. After further deliberation though, I decided to spend some time traveling around North America on my own, as I had no idea when I would be back next. That was how I ended up making a super short (two nights, to be exact) trip to Calgary.
I flew out from SFO on a Monday morning around 11am, on a flight operated by Air Canada, on a small Bombardier aircraft, with two rows of two seats. The flight was direct, around 4 hours. I landed at YYC at 4:30pm on a Monday, and had booked a shuttle bus service from Calgary to Banff. It was a two hour trip from Calgary International to Banff, and I slept on the way. I would wake up intermittently and look out the window to see a rolling white expanse, with snow covered tree tops passing by.
Here is the worst part of the trip and embarrassing mishap: I got dropped off at the wrong hostel, which happens to be a hostel chain. They had two in nearby locations- HI Banff and HI Lake Louise. I had wrongly booked my shuttle bus to HI Banff as they didn’t do a service to HI Lake Louise, and found out when I got there and tried to check in. I was able to order a taxi from the hostel, and while on the way to the right hostel, the cab driver asked me about the economy in Sydney, which led to him revealing his life story and how he ended up working as a cab driver in Banff. It’s funny how much people will share about their lives to complete strangers.
40 minutes and $100 later, I arrived at HI Lake Louise, checked in quickly and dumped my stuff in my room. When I got in, there was just one another girl in the four room dorm, and we exchanged a brief hello before I went to get something to eat at the cafe next to hostel reception.
There was a cafe called Bill Peyto’s, conveniently located right next to the hostel reception. It was around 7:30 on a Monday night when I came in, and the cafe was busy. When I came in, a waitress greeted me and said I could sit anywhere I liked. I took a seat at a six person table with a young girl sitting across from me. She looked up and said hi when I sat down, then went back to writing in her notebook.
The waitress came back after leaving me alone with the menu for a few minutes, and I ordered the poutine, despite the cafe being out of cheese curds. After about 10 minutes, the waitress returned with the poutine, pictured in the above picture. Even without cheese curds, they were still delicious, and I ate them with great relish. While eating, the girl sitting at the table and I chatted about the beauty of Lake Louise, and Canada in general.
After finishing, I paid the bill, with tip, and left. I spent some time researching shuttle bus companies to take me back to Calgary Airport on Wednesday morning, and after finding only one company (Brewster Express), I booked it, and prayed it would get me to the airport in time for my 10:30am flight. Afterwards, I went back to my room and slept early.
The next morning, I was awoken at god knows what hour by the sound of my roommate getting up and getting ready to leave, and dragging her luggage out of the room. She had the decency not to turn the light on. After she left, I flip flopped and tossed and turned in bed for another half an hour or so, trying to get back to sleep, but couldn’t. So I gave up, took a shower and dressed and decided to get breakfast at the cafe I had eaten dinner at the previous night.
I ordered my usual favourite sweet breakfast- pancakes. Bill Peyto’s pancakes were fluffy, and dusted with caster sugar. I drowned them in maple syrup and ate them with relish. After finishing breakfast, I paid the bill and asked the hostel receptionist for directions on how to hike to Lake Louise.
She gave me a map and highlighted the path in orange, describing the landmarks I would see on the way so I would know I was heading in the right direction. She asked if I was heading alone, I said yes, to which she asked if I wanted bear spray. The Canadian Rockies are well known for grizzly bears, and it was for this reason that my mother had told me not to go hiking on my own. As usual, I didn’t take her advice. I also didn’t take any bear spray.
And so I set off from the hostel, on the tramline trail, which was about a 4km hike each way. The receptionist told me it should take about 40 minutes to hike each way, but it took me a lot longer, as I was tramping in the sleet and thick piles of snow with not enough layers and my Nike free runs. I came unprepared, without gloves, and though I was wearing four layers (of thin clothing), I was freezing in the minus one weather.
It was an easy hike, and would have been more pleasant had I been dressed more warmly and also not thinking of grizzly bears popping out to maul me at every corner. The trail was flat, and still contained the footprints of those who had walked it before me, perhaps that morning.
For someone who hasn’t seen a lot of snow in her life before, it’s always a delight to travel to a country and experience a view like this. However, by the end of the hike, my face and hands were bright red from the biting cold, and all I wanted to do was arrive.
About 70 minutes after I started the hike, I reached a carpark, and followed the people getting out a short distance to Lake Louise.
It’s an exhilarating feeling to finally arrive at a place you’ve taken so long to get to. I walked up to the lake with the swarm of other tourists coming out of Chateau Fairmont, and started taking pictures.
In a nutshell, the view was breathtaking. I wanted so badly to sit by the lake and read all day and read, which I would have done, if not for the snow and the cold.
After taking a few pictures at the front of the lake, I walked around the lake to get a view of Fairmont Chateau from the other side. While I was walking around the lake, I asked a girl to take my picture. Coincidentally, she happened to be Australian, and we chatted briefly about the beauty of Canada and how there were so many Australians there.
I continued walking around the lake, and as I paused at times to get more photos, people would stop and ask me to take their pictures, and I would get mine taken in return; a sort of ‘traveller’s exchange’. When I stopped at one point, I saw a middle aged Chinese man with a DSLR camera on the rocks nearby. He caught my eye and motioned to me. He didn’t speak any English, I didn’t speak any Cantonese but somehow we communicated. He gestured for me to take some photos of him, and frowned with displeasure when I took photos he didn’t like. In return, he took some photos of me, first with my DSLR, which I understood he thought were too dark, which then led to him taking photos of me on his DSLR. He then held out notes on his phone, saying “email”, which I took to mean he would email me the pictures. To this day, I haven’t received them.
The other side of the lake attracted less tourists, and was completely frozen. The layers of top ice were thin, and cracked under your feet if you walked with a heavy step.
After I was done with gazing at the lake and was satisfied with the number of photos I had taken, I ventured into Fairmont Chateau and had lunch at the hotel cafe and looked around in the hotel’s souvenir store. I was so cold I bought a pair of tacky mittens, with ‘Canada’, and a maple leaf embroidered into them that I would never wear back in Sydney. The store assistant asked me where I was from, and when I said ‘Australia’, he said there were so many Australians in Canada this time of year, he was surprised there were any left in Australia.
After I sufficiently warmed up, I began wearily trudging back to the hostel. I got back to Lake Louise town around 3pm, and decided to check out the local grocery store to see if there were any local Canadian goodies. After perusing the aisles briefly, I got a packet of Lays bacon poutine chips, and walked back to the hostel.
I decided to hang in my room and snack for a bit, but it wasn’t long before the door opened, and someone came in. My next roommate was a French woman who was currently living in another part of Canada. We chatted for a bit, and before long she extended an invitation to me for a ride to Lake Louise the next morning, which I unfortunately had to turn down. After chatting for a bit, I went to have an early dinner at Bill Peyto’s, and ordered the Chill Poutine.
The Chilli Poutine was heavy, topped with ground beef, shallots, spicy barbecue sauce, and sour cream. It very much resembled nachos in taste, and while pleasant to eat, I much preferred regular poutine. After dinner, I went to chill in the hostel common room above the cafe. The Wi-Fi was okay, but not great, and it was frustrating to me as I was navigating Expedia and Skyscanner, thinking about whether I should buy another flight in the case that I did miss my flight the next morning. While I was browsing the Internet, a woman came and started chatting to me and asked if I wanted to hike with her to another nearby lake (not Lake Louise) the next day, which I also unfortunately had to turn down.
We then got into a conversation about our travels, and how she had been on the road traveling for 18 months. I found her story inspiring and was gladdened by the spontaneous encounters that I’d had in Canada. Hostels may not always be the most comfortable forms of accommodation but really appeal to my sense of novelty and adventure- you never know who you’re going to meet or what could happen.
The next day, I woke up at 5:50am and checked out of the hostel, and waited outside for the Brewster Connect. The bus driver was Japanese, and had an efficient and professional manner. We stopped at a nearby bus depot for half an hour, and I had a light breakfast of yoghurt and granola from Tim Horton’s. After getting back on the bus, I fell asleep for some time, and awoke just before arriving at Calgary International Airport. My flight was a 10:30am flight with WestJet, and I arrived at the airport to check in at 9:40am. The WestJet staff at the check-in counter told me when I came to check-in, that I had unfortunately missed my flight. They offered me a free flight on a morning service the next day, but arriving in New York a day later than initially planned was inconceivable to me, so I booked the next flight to NYC, with United Airlines, flying into Newark departing Calgary at 2pm. The last minute flight made a conspicuous dent in my wallet. And there ended my brief travels in Canada.
I was finally in New York, sitting in a darkened bar, drinking a glass of wine across from a man I had just met. Things hadn’t changed much in two years.
My date and I were engaging in idle chatter, mostly small talk. I wasn’t feeling it. Most of all, I was just going through the motions because I was alone in a new city. My date excused himself to go to the bathroom and I began plotting my escape with a feigned stomach bug. I was warming my hands over the candle on the table, when I noticed someone across the room staring at me. One glance, and I knew. It was a face I could never forget. I felt my stomach lurch like it was going to fall out, and suddenly, I really did have that stomach bug I was going to pretend to have.
I saw him make his way over to me decisively like he had the first time, and I hoped my date wouldn’t come back from the bathroom any time soon.
“Still playing with fire I see,” he said, with a heart-wrenching smile. Reeling from the unexpectedness of bumping into him, all I could manage was a feeble yes.
“How long are you here for?”
“I was actually thinking of leaving soon.”
“I meant in New York.”
“Oh. I’m here for another 2 weeks.”
“Great. I’d like to take you to dinner while you’re here,” he said, looking earnestly into my eyes and grasping my hand over the warmth of the flame. I wanted to say, you had your chance two years ago in Tokyo. In Sydney. In Thailand. You had so many chances already.
Instead I said, “sure, I’d like that. Text me, my number’s still the same.”
He smiled his adorable smile again, which never failed to ruin me, and said he would, and got up and left, and I watched him walk away like I had so many times before. My date came back from the bathroom just then, and saw him departing.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Just an old friend,” I replied.
After a few drinks, and the experience of bumping into J, I felt atrociously sick and decided to call it a night. I could pretend all I wanted, but after all that time, J still had my heart. I had tried desperately and unfailingly, but in 2 years, no one had managed to captivate me the way he had.
J was a tremendous man, and I don’t mean in size. He was the kind of the man who could walk into a room and own it with his presence. He had me from the first moment I laid eyes on him.
The next day, he texted me asking to take me to dinner. I knew it would only lead to disaster, but I got ready to meet him anyway. When I got to the restaurant, he was sitting across from the entrance smiling his disarming smile. When I sat down, he took my hand immediately and said, “I’m so glad you came.” He said all the right things.
“Me too,” I said, smoothing down the folds of my dress, and suddenly wishing I had worn something less revealing, as I saw his eyes flicker downwards.
We soon fell back into old ways, him chatting about all the amazing things he had been doing, and me, listening, enthralled. After we finished dinner, we stood outside the restaurant awkwardly. “So… do you want to come back and hang at mine?” he asked hesitantly. It was the first time that night I had seen him look anything close to nervous. I was still thinking about what to do, when he interjected again. “I just feel so comfortable with you. It’s like we can just pick up where we left off.” He held my gaze steadily as he said this, and I wanted to believe him so much, but his past behaviour had indicated otherwise. He always slipped back into my life so easily, and every time he did, he acted like he hadn’t been gone.
You had so many chances already, I wanted to say, but like all the other times, the words hung in my mouth, unsaid.