Next stop, New York City

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve had so much GD time off lately (for those of you who haven’t, get ready for some unsolicited information). I’ve had a few bumps along the road while transitioning jobs, which has led to a delay in the approval of my employment visa here in Singapore. While it’s been unnerving at times, this delay gave me the opportunity to spend two weeks at home in the US of A a few weeks ago. Three cheers for silver linings!

Due to Air China being great, I was able to find a last-minute flight for cheap, cheap, cheap. I flew into EWR via Beijing on April 2, and landed safely in the arms of my beloved Garden State the following morning. Dad picked me up from the airport, we swung by Matt’s law school nearby to say hello quickly during his lunch break, then we made a mission critical stop to get pizza for lunch. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed, hanging with Dad and greeting (smothering) Mom when she got home from work. Wednesday was all about unpacking and settling back in to the house—which took me about 0.2 seconds.

After a good rest and a 5AM, jetlagged wakeup, Mom dropped me off at the train station to head into the city. It was an aggressively packed day, with coffees and lunches packed in by the hour. I wanted to take advantage of my days in the city, as I’m typically only home for holidays or short periods of time, with just enough time to see family and a few close friends. This trip was more about seeing friends I hadn’t caught up with in a while. However, that was not the case for my first meeting on the agenda: Miss Stephanie Krivitzky, who visited me in Asia this past February (see my post on our trip to Phu Quoc, Vietnam). I met her at the Wing, the super trendy female-based co-working space and collective where she’s been working. It was fun to check out because it’s been blowing up my social media feeds for the last few months. We then headed to ABCV for a delicious vegan, seasonal breakfast, complemented by colorful chatter with the wait staff (seriously, the service here is beyond good. It’s the kind of place where you want to invite your waiter/waitress to sit down with you and have a coffee and maybe be friends with for the rest of time).

There’s never enough time to cover all the necessary topics with Steph, but we had to pull ourselves apart because I had a lunch date scheduled, and Steph has a real job. Next up was lunch with my beloved former Havas colleagues, Ashley and Juliana. We met at Cafeteria, the spot we used to frequent back when we were working nearby in Union Square. It was so nice to be back in an old familiar place, with many of the same waitstaff and very much the same menu (mac ‘n cheese bites, anyone?). Lunch was good, and seeing these ladies was great. It sounds cliche, but it’s so nice when life changes and friendships evolve, but your bond stays the same. The same was true for my next super quick stop, for coffee with my friend CJ and Chet (with a pop over to Hudson Yards in between!). I am so happy to have been able to spend time, however long or short, with some of the people I miss most back home.

And speaking of people I miss the most, Thursday night was a night out with the Hayden and Lezgus crew (a group of elite cousins, for those of you unfamiliar with the quality of people here). We met for dinner at Taqueria, a casual Mexican spot with strong and tasty cocktails in the Village. Several plates of tacos and margs later, we headed next door to Reservoir, where Sue and Larissa met us for several hours of catching up (and more drinks). Between the excitement of being back home and the sheer joy I was feeling from being with this crew, we ended up staying out incredibly late—am feeling incredibly, uh, not well on Friday. I moved with the haste of molasses from Matt’s apartment to the train, meeting Dad in New Brunswick for a doctor’s appointment and then shipping home, where I found the couch and stayed there until falling asleep at 5:30PM. I’ll blame it on jetlag.

The weekend was one of relaxation, and something else I was incredibly excited to be home for: sports!! I was lucky enough to land home the weekends of both the Masters Tournament, and the NCAA Final Four and finals games. So Saturday was mostly about chilling with Mom and Dad and watching basketball on (live!) TV with Dad and Matt, who came home for the weekend. Exciting times. Sunday was a more active day, where we went for a hike at Duke Gardens, the beautiful estate and public gardens complex near our house. The weather was great, and by great I mean it was nice to be outside in weather that doesn’t leave you dripping in sweat within three minutes (this is also part of the reason I included a long run into almost every day I was home. Not sweating is a luxury I never thought I’d consider). Matty and I closed out the weekend with a trip to the driving range, where we got ourselves two buckets of balls and spent the evening swinging clubs. A very solid Sunday.

So Monday was a bit of an odd start, because I had to head into the city and scoot over to, of all places, the Chinese consulate. Why, you ask? Because I was headed to Shanghai for a trip over Easter weekend (post to come soon, get excited), and needed a visa in order to enter the country. Many visas are easy to get, with a simple online application. However, this one is not. It requires a trip to the consulate, with documentation of a confirmed hotel stay and flight, passport, passport photos, a photocopy of your passport, a completed application form, a blood sample, and your firstborn child.

The line wasn’t too crazy, and I was able to drop off my documents and bounce within the hour. I was told to return on Thursday to retrieve my passport and the visa. Also, a fun fact, I saw Katie Couric leaving the consulate as I was entering. I have had many celebrity sightings in New York, but this one was the most random because of the time and place (I can only assume she is traveling to China for work, or covering a story on China? Keep me posted if you see any updates).

Following my fun and cozy morning, I headed into midtown for lunch with MJ Kim, who is lawyering it up in Midtown. We met for about an hour, and it was great catching up, as I haven’t seen her since she visited our mutual friend here in Singapore back in September 2017. Afterwards, I stopped off at a nearby office for a quick catchup with AJ Feld, my Interbrand New York seatmate and friend. It was so good seeing them both! By the grace of God, he works next to a Shake Shack, so you know that’s where I landed for lunch. Ah, America the beautiful.

I was able to set up a few meetings with my New York colleagues from the new firm (will share more when things with the visa are finalised), so I popped by the office to meet with one of them for a coffee. It was a great meeting, and got me even more excited to start my new role. Is this the sketchiest and most vague paragraph I’ve ever written on the blog? Potentially. Moving on!

Following my coffee, I headed downtown to Madison Square Park to meet with my friend Rob for yet another coffee (this time, decaf, otherwise my heart would’ve been on the verge of exploding). Larissa had to postpone our meeting later that day, which was sad but okay, because I was able to spend quality time with Rob, sitting in Madison Square Park for about two hours before I headed back to New Jersey that evening.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were made up of a combination of running outside in Duke Island Park, eating bagels from Bagel Garden, reading the New York Times magazines that Mom and Dad saved for me, going through old photos, and enjoying dinner with post-dinner relaxation with Mom and Dad. Nothing juicy to write about on the blog, but the three most relaxing days of all.

On Friday, I headed back to Chinese consulate in New York to pick up my visa (no celebrity sightings). I was good to go for my trip to Shanghai! Following this visit, I picked up coffee with Laura Traflet, an old colleague from FCB Global and one of my favorite humans on Earth. We always try to see each other during my visits home, but haven’t managed to make it work, so I was extra grateful for our time catching up on Friday. I spent most of the afternoon meeting with more colleagues from the new company, and then headed over to Sofia Wine Bar, a cute and cozy wine bar in Midtown with a menu of good wines, pastas, pizzas, and small plates. The occasion? Pre-dinner drinks with Tanya, my godmother. We had our meeting on the calendar for about an hour, but ended up staying for a two-and-a-half. Godmother/goddaughter love at its finest. I headed home to New Jersey that evening for dinner with Mom and Dad, followed by a restful sleep.

Saturday was one of those days that left my heart bursting with joy. Why? Because Natalie trekked over from Long Island for a nice, long lunch with me (at my brand new Jersey favorite, AMA Pizza), where we caught up on all the things for hours. Though we talk very regularly, there was still so much to debrief on. This happens easily with Natalie, and especially now that she’s gearing up for her wedding. When she left the house around 4:30, it felt like we had only scratched the surface. And if that visit had not sent my soul flying, I had more visitors later that day. Berger, Mitch, Timmy, and Chet came over just after Natalie left, for an evening of snacks, pizza and (lots of) wine. Just like the old times. Mom and Dad, along with Berger, were extremely stealth, and planned an early surprise birthday celebration for me that evening, too. Complete with my favorite cake, strawberry vanilla from Wegman’s. A birthday hallmark in the Hayden house. They sang happy birthday, we stuffed our faces with cake, and continued with the wine. Having my family and my closest friends with me, together in the same place? I could only dream it.

The next morning called for serious recovery mode. I woke up feeling groggier than groggy, but when Mom suggested brunch at the Full Moon Cafe in Lambertville, I couldn’t turn it down. The ever-funky Full Moon Cafe is a Hayden favorite, and being able to walk around the cool little downtown area in Lambertville, and across the bridge to New Hope, makes this spot even cooler. The morning didn’t disappoint—after a tasty brunch, we went for a walk, did some shopping, and then stopped off at a nearby nursery to get some plants for the front yard. It was a nice start to the morning, but I could not shake off the fogginess of the evening prior and the 2AM bedtime (an approaching birthday means I’m another year older, after all….), so when we got home, it was the Masters Tournament on the couch for me, for the rest of the day. My final day home, and let’s say it was quite the chill one.

A 1PM flight Monday meant the morning was spent putting the final touches on packing, and heading to EWR with Mom in an Uber. I experienced the usual separation anxiety that I feel every time I leave home, which means crying like a baby and holding on to Mom (or whichever family member is with me) for dear life. I was obviously incredibly sad to leave, but found solace in the fact that I’d be able to see José and my Singapore friends soon, and by the fact that I had booked a long layover in Beijing, giving me the chance to see a bit of the city before heading back to Singapore.

After sleeping most of the flight, I was awoken with about 90 minutes left to landing in Beijing. After landing, I tried applying for the visa-free transit pass into the city, only to learn that the visa I had gotten while I in New York is good for multiple entries and a ridiculously whopping 10 years. Quite the pleasant surprise! So I hopped into a taxi and headed to Forbidden City, the imperial palace complex in the center of the city. After quickly remembering I had no cash and realizing the taxi would not take credit card (such a rookie mistake!), I alerted the driver, and we re-routed to an ATM after much confusion and stumbling through an exchange using Google Translate. It was kind of stressful because I didn’t know if he was yelling at me or just speaking in Mandarin (it’s a harsh-sounding language), but we got it sorted out. The drawback of our delay? The Forbidden City was closed for the day, and we were only able to drive around it. No matter though, because I had another stop on the brain: dumplings! (It’s always food) We had formed a bit of a cross-continental bond because of the cash debacle, and I had determined him to be trustworthy at that point, so I asked him to take me to his favorite dumpling shop. He dropped me off and waited outside, while I pointed to photos on the menu in this side street, zero-English-anywhere dumpling establishment. The dumplings? Heavenly. The sauce? Blissful. In my opinion, they beat the award-winning dumplings in Chinatown in Singapore by a mile. I’ll be booking many more of these layovers in Beijing, let me tell ya.

After a driving tour of the city that lasted about another hour, we headed back to the airport, where I was left with a huge hug from the driver (it had been a long day). I headed to my gate, chatted with Mr. Zé for a bit, then boarded my flight back to Singers. It was time to head from my first home, back to my second, after what can only be described as a wonderful and heartwarming trip.

Some photos from my trip to New Jersey/New York/Beijing: