Weddings on weddings in the US of A

Ah, America. Land of the free, now home of 26-hour flight that beckons when a wedding does, too. This time it was for Melissa Berger, one of my closest and most special friends, and Mitch Fried, who has become close to me since he’s been dating Melissa (Berger from here-on-out). As two of my favorite people on Planet Earth, it was a wedding I wouldn’t miss for the world, but on top of my love for this couple, they had also allowed me to make my standup comedy debut asked me to give a speech at the reception, between Mitch’s siblings and father. No way I could skip this one.

After a flight through Dubai that allowed me 26 hours to turn my speech from good to great, I was on the ground in my global headquarters, New York City. Mom and Dad picked me up from the airport because they are the best, and it was so nice seeing them. I always instantly cry when I see them—it’s like a reflex now. We stopped by a cafe for coffee, but I had to rush off quickly to meet José at Penn Station, as his flight landed at the same time as mine at JFK Airport. I was sad to say goodbye to Mom and Dad, but would luckily see them in just a few days at home in Branchburg.

Seeing José is always wonderful, so no summary needed there. We had a nice breakfast of bagels and coffee (this story takes place in NYC, after all), caught up for a bit and made a plan for the rest of the day, and then headed over to our favorite restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, for lunch with the Pinto Bastos, friends of his (and now, of ours). Before we knew it, it was time to hop on the train up to Beacon, New York, about two hours north of the city. We had a packed itinerary for the weekend: wedding welcome party (Friday), lunch, wedding, after party (Saturday), post-wedding brunch, lunch with the family back in the city (Sunday). It was such a non-stop few days that I didn’t even time to be jet lagged—it was seriously a go, go, go weekend.

First up? Meeting up with my friends at the hotel. Many of them, like Julie, CJ and Chet, I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and some, like Vanessa, I hadn’t seen in more than that! It was so good to see everyone, like I knew it would be. Most of my friends have met Zé already, but it was also special to introduce him to those that hadn’t met him before, like Julie. Worlds colliding. Yas.

We spent a bit of time at the welcome party that evening, catching up, saying hi to old faces and meeting some new ones (like Mitch’s parents, shoutout to two of the coolest!). The event was small and intimate, so it was perfect for chatting and getting up to speed with everyone before the wedding on Saturday. Plus, the hors d’oeuvres spread was ballin’.

The next day was the big day: wedding time! We all woke up pretty late and a little, er, ‘groggy’ from the night before, so we fueled up on coffee and lunch at a nice place in town that we had been to last time we visited Beacon. Afterwards it was back to the hotel to change, primp and get our dancing shoes on. After a few photos, we hopped on the bus at 3:15PM and headed to the venue, the Roundhouse.

Beacon, New York has become a bit of a cultural destination in the last few years, with the Dia:Beacon museum and the community of high-end artisans nearby, and it’s been built up into a very charming little town. The Roundhouse is an interesting historical property with unique touches that overlooks a beautiful waterfall, rushing creek. Perfect for an afternoon wedding, with the light hitting the colorful fall leaves in the background of the altar. After a teary-eyed ceremony (I’m a softie, what can I say?) that involved a walk down the aisle by beautiful Berger with her mom by her side, funny and sweet written vows by the new couple, and orchestration by Mike, a mutual friend, it was time to party. And by that I mean, SPEEEEEECH. I hadn’t been nervous the entire ceremony, and even during the introduction of the couple, the dinner, the first dance (which Mitch kicked off by surprising Berger with a piano serenade of the song, #husbandgoals). In fact, I was excited. Someone handing me a microphone to talk in front of a crowd of people? As a person who loves the spotlight, I was thrilled that all eyes would be on me. But when the emcee handed me the microphone and I turned to face the crowd of 200 or so, I definitely felt the butterflies in my stomach! José says I rushed through the first bit (he too had almost the entire speech memorized, as I practiced in front of him no fewer than 100 times), but he said overall I killed it. The speech seemed to be a hit with the crowd (or so I hear); a good blend of sweet words and funny anecdotes (I was treating it as my standup debut, after all). I was even told by someone that I should consider a career in standup comedy. Out loud, I responded “Wow, thank you,” but in my head I thought “Is this what being a celebrity feels like?!”

For those of you interested in watching my slam-dunk set, you can find it here.

The rest of the evening was a blast—dancing and laughing, with enough spicy margaritas to keep us dancing well into the wee hours of the morning, where the night culminated in Berger and Mitch’s hotel room for an late-night afterparty. Did we feel great the next morning? No. Was it worth it? Hell yes.

We enjoyed a post-wedding brunch on Sunday of eggs, toast and coffee, but had to catch an 11:30AM train back to the city to make it in time for lunch with Mama Bear, Larissa and Jason. Saying goodbye to some was okay, as I’ll be home for Christmas in just a few weeks, but for a few, like Vanessa and Elan, and even Berger and Mitch, it was sad because the weekend was so good, and brought back so many memories of us living together and having fun in NYC. And especially because we don’t know the next time we’ll see each other. But when we do, it’ll be another good time, guaranteed.

The train ride from Beacon to Manhattan is one of my favorites, and I just learned from Google that Frommer’s calls it “one of the most scenic train trips in the US.” And for good reason: the ride runs along the Hudson River, and in autumn the colors of the trees are simply spectacular. Something like this.

We reached New York at about 1:30PM, and met up with the gang around 2PM at a German biergarten with tasty food in Midtown. Unfortunately, Dad and Matt were at a Jets football game. In other unfortunate news, they weren’t able to meet up with us because of it. (That’s meant to be a joke, for all those self-hating Jets fans out there). So it was Zé, myself, Mom and Larissa, with Jason meeting up with us for a bit. We had a nice lunch, some drinks (red wine for me, finally, as the moment I leave the humidity of Singapore and plunge into the depths of American winter, all I want is a nice pinot noir). We spent about 2.5 hours together, which made my heart sing, but soon it was time for us all to part ways. Zé needed to head off to the airport (sadness), I had a dinner reservation downtown that evening, and Mom and Larissa needed to go back home and get ready for the impending work week. I’m so glad that Mom and Larissa were able to see José, though he was sad not to be able to catch up with Dad and Matty. Next time!

After saying goodbye to my loved ones, I headed downtown to my friend Kelly’s in Soho (where I was staying with Julie) to meet up. We caught up a bit, and I realized it was the first time I had sat still all weekend. Cue: jet lag. I then laid down ‘for a nap before dinner,’ and woke up at 7:30AM on Monday morning. No dinner reservation for me. Luckily my friends are forgiving. But, whoops.

When I did wake up the next morning, I was actually feeling a little sick. Between the change of seasons, temperature, lack of sleep, jet lag, and long flight, my body had simply had it. I was meant to spend the day with Julie and wanted to get in some good quality time with her, so I headed to the walk-in clinic to get a diagnosis before she woke up. The doctor gave me some medicine to hold on reserve in case my symptoms didn’t improve. Also, key learning: medical care in the US without insurance is expensive AF. Seriously, we need to get that fixed. Step it up, Congress.

I met up with Julie and we began our day together: first with coffee and breakfast at a cafe nearby, then meeting up with Matt in the afternoon, followed by lunch with some of the crew I had missed dinner with the night before (including Marius and Archie, who were coincidentally in town from Boston for Marius’ birthday weekend!). Following lunch, we grabbed a few drinks in the West Village and met up with Jarrod, another friend, where the night ended with some slices at Joe’s Pizza. A truly New York and wonderfully glorious day and evening. I sent Julie off, back to Boston, and then Matt and I headed to his apartment for a night of sleep ahead of Tuesday’s work day.

My company is cool and chill enough to let its employees work remotely, so I was lucky enough to work out of the New York office on Tuesday. I met some of the colleagues I had previously only met on video conference, and even saw some of my former Interbrand colleagues! I arrived in the morning after a wonderful coffee catchup with Juliana, a colleague from Havas (my first ever company after graduation!) and lifelong friend. We went to City Bakery, a spot which was one of our go-to’s while working at Havas. It was the most wonderful part of the day, because the work day was incredibly busy, catching up after two days of leave and a huge time zone change. I worked from 9-7:30, with a quick lunch to meet Michael, a former Interbrand colleague, and then was sent feedback when the team in Singapore woke up and got to the office. Talk about working around the clock. Luckily, I was able to fit in dinner with my main squeezes, best friends and own brother and dear sister. We went to The Smith, a classic restaurant with solid food, service and drinks. We obviously spent 90% of the time laughing our heads off, but also got to talking about some important topics, like our plans for the future and where we’ll all be living. Things you need to talk about with your siblings as your family gets older. But mostly, we just laughed and drank our wine and filled our stomachs with too much food.

I stayed with Matty again that night, and headed home to Branchburg in the morning. It had been four days since I’d seen Mom and Dad. Far too long! I took the train and arrived home before 10AM, where Dad picked me up. He works from home on Wednesdays, which was perfect because I was able to spend time with him all day. The other big and beautiful thing that happened on Wednesday is that I got a very special package from a very special friend, a certain Miss Natalie Johnson. My oldest and bestest friend in the world. I opened it up and inside found a gift box with a Kate Spade clutch and, most importantly, an invite to be the maid of honor in her October 2019 wedding. Coming off such a meaningful weekend spending time with some of the people in the world that mean the most to me, this was the cherry on top. I was honored and overwhelmed and astounded, all at the same time. And of course, the answer is YES YES YES. No way I’m going to let another speech opportunity pass me by.

Joking, of course.

Wednesday evening was another work-when-the-sun-goes-down kind of day, with my team still working on Singapore hours, so it was quite late by the time I went to sleep. Not the best for a jet lagged person, and certainly not the best for a slightly sick person, so I started the medication on Thursday morning. It’s not all bad, though. While I did have to spend about six hours working, Mom was home with me preparing….wait for it….an early Thanksgiving dinner for Friday evening. HEART EYES. Since I was missing my beloved holiday, she agreed to prepare an early feast for us to enjoy on Friday, because she is an angel sent from the heavens. So, while I finished up my work on our home computer, she was in the kitchen preparing the stuffing, turkey, cornbread, yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, etc. All my favorites. She really is the best. The other fantastic thing that happened on Thursday? SNOW. Snow, snow, snow. And lots of it. Central New Jersey was blasted with 8 inches (20 centimeters, Euro friends) of powdery white stuff. It had been so long since I’d seen the stuff that I was extra excited, taking photos and enjoying it with the enthusiasm of a four-year-old child (much like the way I enjoy most other things in life. Life’s short, right?). Unfortunately, it made for a disastrous drive home for Dad, who only arrived home by 7PM or so, where he usually gets home by 4PM. I had a work call at 9PM and he headed to sleep soon after arriving home, so I wasn’t able to see him as much as I would have liked. Luckily we still had Friday and Saturday morning.

Everyone was gone at work and Friday, and of course it was my least busy work day of the week (eye roll), so I spent some time looking at old family photos while I waited for them to come home. It was relaxing, and happy and sad at the same time, because I enjoyed seeing our smiley baby faces and remembering so many good memories, yet it also reminded me how far from these people I am living. I enjoy my life in Singapore and am beyond excited for Zé to move to Singapore in January (!!) and make this place more of a home, but I also know this time in my life has an expiration date. I am certainly too devoted to my family to be this far from home long-term, and the weekend itself was a good reminder that being able to see my friends more often will be a welcome change, too.

Matt, Mom and Dad all arrived home around the same time (L-Dogg sadly couldn’t join us because of a work constraint), and Mom began the final preparations for our early Thanksgiving meal. And it was everything I hoped it’d be: the perfect mix of traditional Thanksgiving food, the right amount of wine (meaning, a lot), and my favorite part of the holiday, which is the American tradition of lazing around on the couch after the meal in stretchy clothing, watching sports. Juuuuuuuust right. Thank you to my beautiful and perfect Mama for making such a delicious meal and upgrading our Friday night from good to stellar.

The next day was Saturday, or Doom’s Day: the day I had to leave New York, leave my family and friends, and head back to Asia. My flight was at 11AM, so around 8:30AM the four of us headed to Newark Liberty Airport for our ‘see you later’ (I will be home in three weeks, woo hoo!). I hate, hate, hate saying goodbyes (really, I am the queen of the Irish exit because I just don’t like saying goodbye to anyone), and I am really bad at it with my family in particular. But, impressively, this time I didn’t cry nearly as much as normal. Maybe because I have the assurance of my Christmas flight home and my new roommate who will come in January (weee!).

While I love New York, its airport are simply atrocious, and we were over an hour delayed leaving Newark. What did that mean? A missed connection and a day spent in Dubai. It was actually a blessing in disguise, because I had the day to spend with myself, clearing my head and transitioning between locations. Also, it proved quite worthwhile getting adjusted back to Asia time, which was helpful in the busy, busy workweek that followed. I got to explore the La Mer area of Dubai, eat Shake Shack (win), and also bought a new pair of shoes. Triple win.

So what’s the summary of my trip back home? More than ever, I realize how lucky I am to have these four people I call family. How grateful I am to have a boyfriend that will fly 10 hours to meet me in New York and spend a weekend with the crazy people I call friends, and how the friends I hold close to my heart are the ones that I will call friends forever. Sometimes I feel like I present life abroad through rose-colored glasses: tropical weekends away, summer all year round, work trips to Bangkok. Most of life is rosy here, but the most negative and obvious drawback is the distance from family and friends. Becoming an expat has added complexity to nearly all of my relationships back home, but in a way that has made it crystal clear to me how strong and deep these connections are. How, even through a major life decision to move thousands of miles/kms away from home, there are people who refuse to fade into the background of my life. That will drop anything to see me when I’m home, and to call me when I’m away. The theme of change is one we can all identify with, and I can’t express in words how lucky I feel to have experienced a kind of change in many of my relationships that makes me know they’ll last forever.

Until next time, New York!

Some photos from my trip home: