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This month was all about moving. In fact, I didn’t leave New York once within the month. This is the third time in two years that I’ve gone a full month without leaving the city, and I’ve made my peace with it, but I’m looking forward to getting back to international travel next month and beyond.
Honestly, I stayed put this month because I moved into a new apartment. Moving is a pain in the ass to begin with, especially so in New York, and especially especially so when you’re in New York and self-employed, so I was happy to dedicate this month to pulling off a move with minimal difficulties.
Let’s talk about the move. I didn’t want to move in the first place, but my landlady was selling the brownstone — I had no choice. I knew that I wanted to stay in the neighborhood, so I set my sights on apartments within a three-block radius (seriously, I truly love where I am).
When I narrowed down the options, I was deciding between two apartments: one that cost $300 more than what I was currently paying, and one that cost $50 more than I was currently paying. And honestly, the $300+ one was SO much nicer — it was another brownstone, literally across the street from my current place, had a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a separate office that could double as a guest room, and incredible Harlem architectural details like multiple fireplaces and cutout wooden dividers.
But I told myself that I needed to be smart. Last time I chose an apartment, I spent more than I intended; I wanted to be more conservative this time around. So I chose the $50+ place, just one block away.
You guys have always had honesty from me, so I’ll continue to be honest. I really like my new apartment — it’s an upgrade in many ways. There’s a lot more space, especially in the bedroom. I can walk on both sides of the bed now. I can fit a desk, or multiple desks. I have a walk-in closet in the bedroom and three bonus closets. I can still fit a full-size dining table and multiple bookcases with ease. The kitchen is its own room: a separate, eat-in kitchen. There is more storage than I could ever possibly need. Everything is gut-renovated. And the fact that this blog pays for an apartment of my own in New York makes me feel grateful every day.
But there are downsides. It’s noisier — the people next door blast music all the time. There’s a way-too-frequent scent of marijuana that wafts into my apartment. The building isn’t nearly as well cared for as my previous building. My buzzer isn’t working. And the floors are SO slanted, it throws off the whole apartment!
All in all, this is a lateral move. I appreciate the extra amenities, but I don’t explode with happiness every time I walk into my apartment the way I did with my last place. While I originally envisioned myself living here for two years or so, I’m not sure that I’ll be staying here beyond the year. Which means I may not decorate it as much as I originally intended. We’ll see how it goes.
One last thing: if you’re moving in New York (or any other city that they serve), I highly recommend Bin-It. They are a service that rents out plastic bins, a fantastic alternative to putting together a million cardboard boxes. They dropped the bins off at my old place on a Saturday and picked them up at my new place two weeks later. I spent about $200 (including a $30 walk-up charge for the brownstone), which included bubble wrap and cardboard plate and glass dividers, and it was worth every penny.
New York…and that was it.
Finally seeing Miss Saigon on Broadway. Miss Saigon has been my favorite-show-I’ve-never-seen for 20 years now. Of course I procrastinated and waited until its last week before closing — but what a magnificent show. It was well worth the wait and I would have seen it multiple times had I gone earlier.
Seeing it is SO different from just listening to it. For example, I had no idea that JOHN of all characters was the moral center of the show! John, the wild soldier who insisted on buying his buddy a prostitute against his will! He was the only one who tried to do the right thing after the war! I left with a lot less respect for Chris especially. TELL YOUR WIFE YOU HAVE ANOTHER WIFE, DUDE!
When Miss Saigon premiered nearly 30 years ago, there was a yellowface uproar — the Engineer, a Vietnamese character, was originated by the white actor Jonathan Pryce. As magnificent as Pryce was in that role, Miss Saigon is one of literally two shows in the traditional Broadway canon with roles for Asian actors. The other is The King and I. There were a lot of protests on Broadway.
Since then, though, the show has only had Asian actors play the Engineer. And I was lucky to see Filipino star Jon Jon Briones play the role. He was actually in the original ensemble as a 22-year-old! Today the Engineer is the top billed star. It’s interesting, because while the other characters have similar looks and voices to the originals, Briones is SUCH a different Engineer in looks, demeanor, and sound! A huge personality in a tiny package, conniving and able to shift in a moment, a man who can convince you in a fraction of a second that he’s seen awful things and can use that to his advantage.
To my surprise, a lot of the lyrics were different from the original. This is actually the version currently on Spotify if you want to listen. For example, “The Movie In My Mind” is changed from “The movie plays and plays / a screen before me fills / he takes me to New York / he gives me dollar bills” to “The movie plays and plays / I find my true romance / he takes me to a place / where I don’t have to dance.”
I did appreciate the Engineer’s line “Uncle Ho…ho ho ho…I’ll have to call you from New York!” being changed to “Uncle Ho…holy shit!”
I also got to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you’re in town, it’s well worth a visit! It’s mostly drawings that were eventually turned into paintings, and they have a nice Sistine Chapel replica.
Speaking at the New York Times Travel Show. This was my third year speaking at the show and it went very well. I spoke at industry day about the relationship between brands and bloggers/influencers, and on Saturday I spoke on behalf of Quark Expeditions about my upcoming trip to Antarctica in March. And as always it was nice to have my friend Amanda visit and be my first houseguest in my new apartment!
Marching in the 2018 Women’s March. I was proud to go back, hold up my “Not Today, Satan” sign and continue to fight for the rights of women, people of color, LGBTQIA people, the environment, and more. I didn’t expect much this year, but it was just as crowded and crazy as the previous year!
Honestly, the Aziz Ansari story. Because it forced me to do a lot of personal accounting within my own relationships and made me realize that I am far more conditioned to please others at my own expense than I thought.
This has probably been one of the more controversial stories of the past few months — and I say controversial not to mean shocking, but that people have so many wide-ranging opinions about it. The piece I read that most closely reflected my personal thoughts is this column by Jill Filipovic in The Guardian. I encourage you to give it a read.
Most Popular Post
The Biggest Mistakes New York Tourists Make — This is required reading if you’re visiting New York soon!
This Year, Join Me In a 12-Book Challenge — Please join me in reading 12 themed books in 2018!
AK Monthly Recap: December 2017 — Everything I got up to in December, including Vegas.
Off the Beaten Path in Italy: A Tour by Vespa — I love the idea of this Vespa tour in Italy.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
This post from the 2018 Women’s March was far and away the most popular Instagram photo I’ve ever done. Because I used that as an opportunity to discuss why I talk about politics frequently, both on this site and on social media.
One excerpt: “Every time I talk about political issues, I lose a few conservative readers. And that’s fine! International travelers skew heavily liberal to begin with, but even if they didn’t, I’ve been doing this as my full-time job for seven years. I can lose readers and be okay income-wise. But not every blogger is in my position. So I speak up. Again and again, I speak up, and not only when it’s comfortable to do so. Since I was a child, my political views have always been that the fortunate should give more to help the vulnerable. I try to live that in my words and actions.”
For more live updates, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
I actually forgot to do a fitness update last month! December was a far-more-indulgent-than-expected time, particular in terms of diet, but January got me back into gear, eating better and working out harder. I’ve been working out regularly for more than a year now and I love having real muscles on my body!
At one point my trainer Gayle pulled out a list she had found online: Things Every Lifter Should Be Able To Do. “Bench your body weight; deadlift double your body weight; hold a two-minute plank; sleep with only one pillow; sit on the floor without using your hands, knees, or shins; hang for thirty seconds and pull up. Which of these things do you think you can do?” she asked me.
“Um, sleep with only one pillow?”
We had a good laugh over that.
What I Watched This Month
This month I got back into Third Rock From the Sun, which streams on Amazon Prime. My family loved this show when I was growing up and it was so nice to watch it over again. It’s really a hilarious and genuine show — particularly its first season. If you need something light and funny to watch, look no further.
I watched a lot of Third Rock while bubble-wrapping my possessions this month.
What I Listened To This Month
My favorite music genre in the world is probably 90s R&B — and I listen to a LOT of 90s R&B playlists. But this month I found perhaps my favorite 90s R&B playlist of all. It’s called SOUL 4 REAL (I found it because I was in the mood to listen to “Candy Rain”) and it includes so many of my favorite 90s R&B hits. Bobby Brown’s “Every Step I Take.” Aaliyah’s “At Your Best (You Are Love).” LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover.” Next’s “Too Close.” Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.” (If you don’t love this song YOU ARE A LIAR.) Listen and enjoy, my friends.
What I Read This Month
Earlier this year, I announced that my 12-book challenge would be reading authors from countries whose authors I had never read before.
Well. That was the plan. Then because I’m me, I decided 12 wasn’t enough. 25 would be a better goal. Or perhaps 30. So working my way through books by a variety of nationalities is my big goal for this year. So far I have read two: Cameroon and Albania.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (2016) — This is a wonderful novel about what it’s like to be an immigrant claiming asylum in New York City today. Jende, a Cameroonian man, emigrates to New York with his wife Neni and their young son. Jende gets the job opportunity of a lifetime driving for a wealthy Wall Street executive. But after Lehman Brothers collapses, his family’s ability to stay in the United States becomes tenuous at best.
This is a beautiful novel about the contemporary immigrant experience in New York, and I wish more people read novels like these instead of books about New York’s most privileged classes. It goes in directions you don’t imagine with kindness and dignity. What I most appreciate is that all the characters are nuanced — nothing about this world is black and white. This novel will make you grateful for all that you have and introduce you to a different side of Harlem. I have a lot of African immigrants in my neighborhood and I feel like this helped me understand their experience a bit better.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (2018) — You’ve got to hand it to Trump — he’s full of surprises. Who would have thought that he could start a national book club? This book has been written about in depth, and I’m sure you’ve heard at least a bit about it. Michael Wolff was granted access to the disorganized White House and as a result, nobody questioned his presence. He saw a lot of crazy shit and wrote about it in depth.
The main criticisms of the book are that there are inaccuracies and Wolff doesn’t have a great reputation for being a journalist — only a gossipy hack at best. Still, though, he had a lot of bombshells in this book and it confirms virtually every story that has leaked out of the porous White House so far. It was tough to read — the information was very dense and absorbing it was akin to taking a sip from a fire hose. Still, though, it’s worth the read to just have an idea of the chaos that is going on in our government. Let’s hope this has an impact on the 2018 midterms.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (2013) — Finally, I got around to my “blind date with a book” that I purchased from Malaprops in Asheville, North Carolina, back in June. The book was covered in paper with the words “Clear-sighted, graceful, illuminating, tender, mesmerizing, chilling, LOCAL!” You buy the book without knowing what it is until you unwrap it. This novel is “To Kill a Mockingbird as told by Cormac McCarthy” — a child growing up in the hills of North Carolina in the 1980s with a mute (likely autistic) older brother witnesses something he shouldn’t see — and his family falls apart as a result.
To be truthful, I never would have chosen this book on my own — I’ve never been a huge To Kill a Mockingbird fan and I’m still scarred from reading McCarthy’s The Road. And I didn’t love it. It wasn’t my thing. I found it moved too slowly, revealed too little, and missed a lot of opportunities to flesh out the characters, especially the fascinating antagonist. But it has lots of rave reviews, so I think it’s just not my kind of book. Definitely give it a read if it sounds like your thing.
Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones (2014) — I have always been fascinated by the sworn virgins of Albania. In the rural northern mountains of the country, there is a practice where women are able to become men and assume all the rights and customs of men. They dress like men, go about their day as men. They are required to remain virgins for the rest of their life. When I found out there was a novel about a sworn virgin who emigrates to the US and reclaims her former life as a woman, written by an Albanian author, I knew I had to read it!
Sadly, I was disappointed. Like so many books I’ve read lately (including my least favorite read of 2017, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling), the protagonist Hana is held at arm’s length and you never learn what she’s actually thinking. The process of becoming a man, then choosing to emigrate, then choosing to become a woman again could lead to so much introspection — but the book glosses over those parts. It’s more of a “This happened, then this happened, then this happened” novel without going into any character development or reasoning behind their actions. Though the relationship between Hana and her cousin did remind me of my Albanian friends who are cousins!
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (2018) — My first pick of the year from Book of the Month was a dystopic novel that imagines a not-so-distant future where abortion in all forms is banned in the United States, all in-vitro fertilization is banned, single people no longer have the right to adopt, and Canadians stop women at the border and get them arrested. The novel focuses on four women in a small Oregon coastal town: a 42-year-old teacher desperate to become a mother, her student who finds herself pregnant, her friend who is a mother of two in an unhappy marriage, and a local forest-dwelling woman suspected of concocting abortion potions from herbs.
I read this book in a day — I found it interesting and riveting and enjoyed the four different characters’ points of view. Even so, I found holes in the plot that bothered me — if Canada was forbidden, why wasn’t Mexico even mentioned once? Why did the characters keep so many secrets from each other? Why was the political climate in the country (particularly when it comes to protest) ignored? Even so, I found the book to be an entertaining read and would recommend it.
Coming Up in February 2018
JAPAN! After four months stateside, I’m so excited for an international trip! I’m working on a campaign with ANA (All Nippon Airways) to promote their routes through Japan. While ANA gave me the option of visiting Japan or traveling to another of their flight hubs in Asia, I couldn’t resist returning to one of my favorite countries.
On this trip I’m starting on the northern island of Hokkaido, a region I’m exploring for the first time. I’ll be based in Sapporo and attending the Sapporo Snow Festival. I also hope to visit the pretty nearby town of Otaru and the landscape of Noboribetsu, an onsen town home to a sulfurous, steaming mountains and waterfalls.
Next up is Tokyo, where I hope to check out some of the wackier attractions I missed the first time around. After that, I decided to stay a few days longer on my own dime, so I’ll be going back to my beautiful Kyoto to hopefully photograph the temples in the snow. I may add a day trip to Hiroshima, which I missed the first time around, and I might revisit Osaka for street food and fugu (pufferfish). Finally, I come back to Tokyo and I’m splurging on something VERY special — two nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, the Lost in Translation hotel.