This is my annual New Year’s message, where I traditionally recap the last year, give some stats, and pick one topic to write about, usually consisting of a few weeks of research and 24 hours of (possibly) focused writing and resolution-making.
To start off, I wanted to especially thank you for your kindness and support for my family and myself, in this very difficult year with the passing of my father in March. There are never enough opportunities to let you know that it means a lot to me.
Statistics for the Year
Email: 744 megabytes (+42% from last year)
ZipCars driven: 24 (+62% from last year)
Miles flown: 28,168 (-38% from last year)
Top ten search terms on triscribe.com:
- everwood season premiere [not my idea, never seen the show]
- new year message
- Dae Jang Geum/Jewel in the Palace [Korean tv period drama]
- Incheon Airport
- Grassland Bus [Malaysian inter-city bus line]
- Pari Chang [New York Times columnist, not Asian, but married to one]
- Edith Spivak [New York City’s first female attorney, passed away this year]
- Eltabina [another Malaysian bus line]
- Amazing [Race]
- poutine [a unctuous Canadian mix of French Fries, brown gravy, and farmer’s cheese]
This year’s essay is about observing unexpected paths, and how you can recapture your youth at the mall. I’m going to jump around, but hopefully we’ll get to where we are going.
Whenever I travel, I try to do two things: see a mall/department store and a supermarket. I feel that one gets to see how people really live day-to-day when you observe what they buy for themselves. I get to see the kinds of products that are the same as at home, and see what is important to them. I learnt this the hard way when I was doing a study abroad in Hong Kong, and had to figure out where to get food and supplies without busting my budget eating out.
Last weekend, I tried to do that here in Brooklyn. I went to Kings Plaza for the first time in about 10 years. For those who are not familiar with Kings Plaza, it is a shopping mall in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. At 24 acres and 130 stores, it is your typical mid-sized American mall. The other thing you must know is that it is in the middle of nowhere. It is on the Mill Basin marina at the southernmost part of Flatbush Avenue, just before the Gill Hodges Bridge to Far Rockaway. In other words, it is one step away from the Siberia of New York.
I want to tell you upfront that I was definitely not a “mall rat” as a youth. Many young people of the “Breakfast Club”/”Valley Girl” era hung out at malls across the country, and the only serious place to do that in Brooklyn was Kings Plaza (the puny Fulton Mall doesn’t count). Many school-bus-pass-holding latch-key kids did just that. At that time, I don’t think I ever went there without my parents, not in high school, not even in college. The primary reason was that it was always so difficult to go there – the only practical public transport was the Church Avenue bus to Flatbush, and then the Flatbush Avenue bus south down the entire length of the borough, which would take over an hour. A ride from high school would be a trek across the breadth of the borough, also an hour.
The way to go would be by car. My dad would pile us all into his white Chevy Monte Carlo, drive down Ocean Parkway or Coney Island Avenue, make a left on Foster Avenue, then right on Flatbush Avenue. After about half an hour, the corner of Kings Plaza’s white block letter sign would peak over the horizon like the “Hollywood” sign if it was mounted on the side of a building.
The routine would be pretty much the same each visit. My mom would do the clothes shopping in Macy’s or Alexander’s, and my dad would corral us around some sort of mannequin display, where we would be hot, bothered, and hyperactive. Occasionally, we would get to see a movie (the first I saw at the Cineplex Odeon was the World War II epic “Midway” – not your typical fare for a six-year-old). Lunch would be at the faux-French restaurant “The Crepe and the Pancake”, where the rotisserie rack of flavored syrups at each table made the pancakes all good and a bowl of French onion soup was a foreign treat. If we were really good, we would get oatmeal raisin cookies from the Cookie House, some kind of health food from GNC (I was allergic to chocolate as a child, so Tiger’s Milk carob bars were my substitute for chocolate), or a smoothie from Bananas. By fifth grade, we were also spending time in the Waldenbooks picking up books of every topic, but I remember getting my first computer and science fiction books there.
Jumping a few decades later, I was returning the ZipCar that I had borrowed on Christmas Day to Brooklyn College, and on a whim decided to go down to Kings Plaza. It’s been seriously spruced up – they even have carpet and a sky light on the second level, but many things remain the same. Alexander’s the retail store is gone – replaced by Sears — but Alexander’s the real estate giant is doing great as the landlord of the entire mall. Cookie House upgraded to a corner store, still emitting the distinctive scent of fresh-baked cookies on the first floor. Those cookies enticed me to see what had become of the rest. Waldenbooks, CVS, Bananas and GNC are all in the same places. The Crepe and the Pancake closed years ago, but a new storefront called “Eden’s Crepes and Shakes” has taken up crepe making duties across from Express. The Israeli partners that opened the new stand said that they were told about the previous store, and claim that they are better. I have to give it to them that they are much more authentic, although they are served in a handy hand-held foil pouch. They don’t have the flavored syrups, though (not that you are supposed to use them on crepes anyway).
While my parents didn’t do a whole lot of traveling once they had kids, they, especially my dad, were very supportive of when I wanted to travel. It was a separate part of my education that developed my creativity, helping me to connect disjointed things. I can say this year I’ve had crepes in Harajuku, Tokyo as well as in Brooklyn, New York; Vietnamese pho in Honolulu as well as in Chicago; Japanese dishes from Osaka in Washington, DC. We had an array of homemade dishes at a potluck in a convention center with a guy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in Inuyama, Japan, where he is an elected official. Steaks at home with my law school buddies and their wives in Taipei. There is even a museum in Yokohama where I had 5 bowls of the best ramen to be had anywhere.
Looking through some old documents that my mother showed me, it turns out that my father actually was something of a world traveler himself before he was married. He was in Yokohama, apparently enroute from Hong Kong. On a separate trip, Honolulu was a port of call on the way to Jamaica. I knew he worked in London as a cook for several years, but I had forgotten that he had gone to Minnesota to learn orthopedics, stayed a night in Chicago with the entire family after being snowed in leaving my cousin’s wedding (ironically, we were put up in the French hotel chain Sofetel, and I believe we had crepes), and had several stops in Miami and Washington, D.C. So, I could see why he was always interested when I told him I was flying to some place or another. I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to experience these places in common, and look forward to traveling to other places with this vision.
Last year’s resolution was “recapture my childhood”. It was not the way I wanted; it was not the way I intended; it was not the way I expected. But, on the last weekend of this year, I did at the mall, and the lesson to be learnt is to have faith in following the path, wherever it may go.
So, for this year, I have two resolutions, one of which I am going to keep to myself – I’ll let you know next year if I came through on it. The other will be to do what I can to share my love for travel. I am not sure how I am going to do this as yet, but you’ll see them in action on my blog at triscribe.com.
I always want to thank my contributors-in-crime on the blog that make sure that there is always something interesting being published when I come up lacking. Finally of course, thanks to my girlfriend, who took a leap of faith and has domesticated my bachelor’s pad and my bachelor’s life. She means the world to me.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope that 2006 will be a much better year for the both of us.