New Year, New Lenses

It’s been about a year since I bought Marcus. It’s been a faithful travel companion, and has withstand my clumsy hands. In this time, I’ve only been using the kit lens since I figured it’d allow me to learn the ropes. Well, recently, I decided it was time for me to outfit Marcus with a new pair of lenses. It was an impromptu decision, but I had done some preliminary research in the past, so I hit up the B&H Store in New York, and took advantage of their generous holiday sale.

I purchased the 50mm f/1.8 lens and I’m really satisfied with my decision. I loved the kit lens, but the f/1.8 lens is sharper and creates a more editorial look. Since it’s a 50mm, it means that my field of vision is significantly smaller, and I will have to be more judicious in what I allow in and out of my frame. I think these lenses are fabulous for portraits — it captures the perfect amount of softness and sharpness. After using the kit lens for so long, these prime lenses feel like such a treat!

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Singer in front of Ai WeiWei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” installation // Washington Square Park, New York, NY

Since I have some quiet time at home, I’ve been doing some self-reflections. I think 2017 was a little bit of a chaotic year for me; there was a lot going on, and I got way too burnt out by the end. I kind of did a hard shut-down as the semester and the year wound down to a close, and I feel much more refreshed going into 2018.

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year, then you’ll probably know that I started a 365-day photo project, that started off quite strong but I kind of gave up midway through the year. Looking back, it was too much all at once, and if I am to come up with some New Years Resolutions, then I’d better start small.

I’ve got four major “projects” that I want to work on in this upcoming year. They are: (1) capsule everything, (2) budgeting, (3) reading more books and watching more films, and (3) experiment more with my photography.

I think that the first two go hand-in-hand. Fine tuning my capsule system will allow me to be wiser with my spending, and in turn, help me get into the habit of budgeting. I’ve been trying to get into the capsule wardrobe system for some time now, and though I’ve done a great job parring down over the years, I don’t think I’ve quite curated a capsule wardrobe that I’m proud of. I think I will start with parring down my makeup collection first, and then stepping into other things like books, before finally revisiting my clothing for a capsule wardrobe finale! I’ll most likely keep the details to that for a separate post, so this one won’t get too long.

In terms of budgeting, I think I need to work on not just budgeting my spending but also my time. I find myself always doing menial tasks (checking my e-mail, scrolling through Facebook) because “5 minutes” just isn’t enough to do something meaningful when in reality – it totally is! These are larger goals, and will probably take me longer to accomplish than others on this list.

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1 Washington Mews // New York, NY

I was particularly inspired by a friend who committed to watching a single film every week over the past year. Watching more films has been something I’ve been meaning to do now, and haven’t, ever quite gotten around to it. Honestly, since I spend so much time watching Netflix and YouTube anyway, I could turn this time into accomplishing things that I’ve been meaning to do. (Same goes for reading – all those memes could’ve totally been a new book.) I think my goal is to watch a film a week, and read a book a month.

And my last goal is to just have more fun with my photography. I want to challenge myself to look at photography a different way. I’ve noticed that my attitude towards photography has always been secondary. That is, I’m always bringing Marcus along to photograph something an experience of mine. This is detrimental, I think, in two ways – firstly, it interferes with me truly being present during the experience and thus also prevents me from really spending quality time with the person I’m with. Secondly, it’s also a disservice to my photography, since I’m viewing the perfect opportunity to be more passive, when I can be creating my perfect shot. So I guess these are a lot of words to say that I’m going to treat photography as an ends-in-itself, rather than just a thing that is convenient for me to do at that time.

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Passenger (or conductor?), on board the Holiday Nostalgia Train // New York, NY

And of course – one thing that I have to work on is posting more often! I think I started 2017 off quite well, but lost track of it by the end. This year, I hope I am on the up and up instead – I love blogging, and posting about my experiences, and hearing from you all.

So, in the spirit of my new resolutions let me know in the comments below on what is your:

  1. Thoughts on capsule wardrobes/etc.
  2. Budgeting tips and tricks
  3. Favorite book
  4. Favorite movie/film
  5. Photo that you’ve taken in 2017 that you’re most proud of

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the absolute best in 2018. Cheers to a new year! 🥂

Fin.

Writer’s note: 
1. I cannot decide if a pair of camera lens should be “lens” or “lenses”… Any grammar experts out there who can illuminate the proper term?

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Food Diaries: New York City

Those who know me know that I am not a woman of food. I don’t have a particular fondness for it, and usually don’t care too much about what I eat. Of course, this is in stark contrast with the rising “foodie” culture among social media. Many of my friends are self-professed “foodies” and are often chatting about the latest hot eateries. (I’m from NYC – home to Smorgasburg and other hipster foods.)

However, starting from my trip down to Miami a few months ago, I’ve come to appreciate food from a more cultural perspective. Also, now that I have to cook my own meals, it definitely makes me appreciate and think about food more.

I don’t have a sophisticated palate, so I’m not very good at articulating what I taste. Especially when dining out, I pay much more attention to the holistic experience – the ambiance, the setting, and the company – than the food itself. (Because, again, unsophisticated palate so my food reviews are quite blasé: food either tastes good or not good.)

Looking back on the photos I’ve taken this year, there is a sizable collection of food photographs, mostly from my time between New York City and Cleveland. Thus, I’ve split these photos depending on location and type.

(I’d like to give a shout out to my best friend Sharon [@SharonCai]. I love the way she composes her posts and photographs, and it inspires me to think of different ways to divide up my post. Plus, she was the one who suggested the food diaries set!)

For the first installment, I’ll be showing some of my food adventures in my hometown — New York City. Since I never intended this to be a documentary, I’ve never properly written down what I ordered and from where. But for the places I do remember, I’ll be sure to include those vital details. 🙂

 

Asian / Asian Fusion

Lately I’ve been seeing this Youtube commercial for a food service in NYC. The man in the ad talks about all the different types of food you can find in NYC – dumplings, tamales, pizza, etc. – various ethnic cuisines all packed into one neat little city. I couldn’t agree more.

With all that NYC has to offer, though, I always find myself going back to Asian cuisine – especially Japanese ramen shops. They’re cheap eats that are quick and low key. And perhaps because I grew up in a Chinese family, I’m biased towards the umami you can only really get from Asian food.

Now, I must confess, with all the options in the city, authenticity can still be difficult to find. This is one of my major critiques on a lot of Asian restaurants – especially the new, mainstream ones. I’ve visited a few eateries that have been hyped on social media, such as Very Fresh Noodles, located in the beautiful Chelsea Market. I visited with my best friend, after a lot of hype on social media and because we both love noodles, but we left a little bit underwhelmed.

We had visited Xi’an Famous Foods on W 45th the day before (not pictured), and was similarly underwhelmed. The food at both places weren’t bad – but the soup was sometimes too sour (as in Xi’an Famous Foods) or the noodles too soft (as in Very Fresh Noodles).

One of my trusty places is Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown. This restaurant holds a special place in my heart because I’ve been coming here with my grandmother since I was a kid. Through the years, the prices have gone up just a bit, but the interior and the flavors still remain consistent. It is now one of my favorite places to bring friends when we’re in the area and looking for a quick but delicious eat. I could eat orders after orders of the haifen xiaolongbao — the soup dumplings with crab meat!

Every once and a while I’ll venture out of my usual orders and restaurants to try something new. The seafood hotpot at Five Senses in Korea Town is one such example. It was such a treat to watch our server cut and prepare all the seafood in front of us, including expertly peeling shrimp with only a pair of scissors! Yummy! My only quip is that because it is a hotpot boil, some of the seafood may over cook – but honestly the soup is so delicious I don’t really mind that much.

 

Italian

If there are any two foods that are synonymous with New York City, they are: pizzas and bagels. Perhaps it is because of the fresh and crisp NYC tap water, or because of the hundreds of years of history of skilled immigrants, but New York City dough truly is different than any other.

Growing up, I never felt like New York-style pizza was that special… but after spending some time in the midwest where the definition of pizza can be wide ranging (ahem, Chicago, that’s a casserole not a pizza! But I digress…), I’ve really come to appreciate how special a good ol’ New York slice is.

On chance, I got to visit Lombardi’s Pizza, famously America’s first pizzeria, and was absolutely delighted. John’s Pizzeria in Times Square is another one of my pizza go-to’s. L&B Spumoni Gardens (not pictured) is an another classic held near and dear to my heart.

Good Italian restaurants in NYC don’t just stop at pizzas. Sharon and I stumbled upon this neat restaurant, Bottino, in Chelsea when we were gallery hopping. (We had actually planned on going to the Rocket Pig, which was right behind Bottino.) Sometimes, the best way to explore NYC restaurants is just to get in one!

 

American & Seafood

Continuing the theme of accidental discoveries, another friend and I decided to try out The Smith (which has quite the cult following) when we were hungry for some brunch one day. I loved the ambiance, though I could’ve spared the grapefruit juice.

Alas, with New York being a port city, you cannot not get some seafood! Though it can be on the pricier side, I think seafood is always worth the splurge. After all, when else are you going to have truffle scallops? Aside from Upstate, there are a plethora of other seafood restaurants, such as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster co. (not pictured). Moreover, I hear Louisiana crawfish boils are becoming the next big thing! I can’t wait to check out some places when I head home in August.

 

Dessert & Drinks

There’s a joke among New Yorkers that there is a Starbucks on every other block, except it’s not really a joke. There really is a Starbucks waiting for you at the next corner. But in a city as diverse as New York, I find it hard to convince myself to splurge on a cup of joe from a chain when there are so many mom-and-pop options available.

Two of my favorite that I’ve explored is Radiance Tea House and Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. I visited Radiance Tea House after a tour of the Japan Society, a mere few blocks away. I was immediately shocked (in a good way) at the decor in the restaurant — it reminded me of the tea houses my family and I would go to during our time in China. The staff was friendly and very helpful, and there was a large selection of loose leaf tea. Two gentlemen sat two tables down from us and had a nice mid-afternoon chit chat over some fragrant tea.

The other, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain evokes a nostalgia of another kind. It is an old-school shop located in an equally as old-school pharmacy. It’s incredibly family friendly, even though empty glass jars of toxic chemicals line the walls. Their hot chocolate was the perfect fit on a cold, damp late-winter day.

For a gal who doesn’t like sweets, I frequent a lot of dessert parlors. Part of the reason, I think, is because dessert and drinks are an easy grab-and-go thing you can do with a friend. A conversation over some ice cream on a hot day is the epitome of a college summer to me.

There are a lot of new and interesting dessert places opening in NYC. A few years ago, frozen yogurt ruled the scene, but now it seems that ice cream is making a strong comeback. Since many of these places are opened by millennials, these shops are all very social media-conscious. They often have brightly colored decor beckoning to be instagrammed.

If I’m honest, I think a lot of these dessert places are incredibly gimmicky. There are very few I’d say I’ll revisit as I don’t find the desserts to be particularly impressive. I’m a simple gal; if you’re selling ice cream, then make sure your ice cream is damn good (and homemade!). I don’t care much for the toppings.

I am particularly impressed by Soft Swerve, which I first visited with my mum. She’s got a sweet tooth, but I don’t, yet we both really liked the ube ice cream. It was sweet punctuated by a touch of savory, and the purple yam flavor really came through. (I’m also biased, as I have a soft spot for purple yam.)

A neighborhood to visit if you’re interested in the exploring food trends (a.k.a hipster foods) is Washington Square Park, particularly Macdougal Street. WSP is the considered the center of NYU, and the area is mostly populated by college students and young 20- and 30-somethings looking for the latest food crazes. The shops here, especially dessert places, tend to be smaller with limited seating, but with WSP a block away, it’s usually not really a big deal.

Honestly, at the end of the day, what you eat is secondary to who you’re eating with. When you’re with people you love and care about, any plain dish will be enjoyable and delicious. If you ever find yourself in the glorious Big Apple, head on in to any restaurant that catches your eye. While Yelp reviews may be helpful, the gastronomic experience is unique to each person. After all, tasting is believing!

Fin.

P.S. if you have any restaurants or places in New York you think I should check out, let me know!

Writer’s Notes:
(1) Some of the photos here are taken with my Samsung S6 and then edited using VSCO, usually with either A5 or HB1/HB2 filters. If you click on the photos, you should be able to learn more details about them — i.e. the camera used, aperture, etc. 
(2) The nickname “Big Apple” actually has nothing to do with NYC’s apple production. Apparently, it has something to do with horse racing but I’m still kind of confused. Read more here.
(3) The last two photos were taken using B612, a Korean selfie app. I’m addicted.