Welcome to my series called “5 Photos” where I write about…5 Photos!
I’m choosing 5 random photos from my Google Photos by choosing 5 random years, 5 random months and then 5 random days and scrambling up the columns to land at 5 specific dates.
Then, I’ll write whatever comes to mind about each photo!
At the end of writing, I’ll think of something that ties the photos together – that theme will be the inspiration for the title of this post in quotation marks!
Photo 1: April 7, 2016
Making a jotlist of my grandpa’s groceries before heading to his favorite market in Taiwan
My grandpa’s favorite market in Taiwan is called the Nanmen Market 南門市場. It’s somewhere he loves to frequent because of the familiarity, the assortment and the vendor relationships he’s built over the years.
My grandpa and grandma used to go there together on a regular basis to pick up fresh produce, meat from the butcher, sticky rice in lotus leaves, smoked sausage, fish and much more.
I remember when my grandma was sick, there was a period of time when I arrived in Taiwan when she was still able to get up and do one of her favorite things – cook. But soon, she deteriorated and couldn’t actively create dishes that she loved.
This was always her way of sharing love, so I know it was very hard for her.
Venturing to the market with my grandpa
So my grandpa and I started to go to the markets together just the two of us for a while, before we found a carer to help at their place. This particular list reminds me of the foods we set out to purchase, representing the state of mind we were in and what was happening.
My grandparents didn’t usually buy chicken, because my grandpa doesn’t really like to eat chicken. But with my grandma unwell, she requested chicken soup, so we purchased chicken legs to make a chicken soup and added soft tofu because it was easier to eat. My grandma also requested fishballs and specifically Shanghainese fishballs to add to her chicken soup.
The rest of the goodies still reflected what my grandpa loved to eat and what my grandma would cook for him.
Grandpa’s favorites from the market
Broad beans are one of his favorites. He loves them cooked with 榨菜 or Zha Cai which is a preserved mustard green. He likes to have broad beans with Zha Cai and slivers of firm tofu. He will devour it with rice and I think he likes the saltiness of the vegetable paired with the flat and almost buttery texture of the broad beans.
Bacon. I wrote bacon in the grocery list and it actually represents the 臘肉 or smoked sausage/bacon that we used to get from the ground floor stall. There you could find many different cured meats hanging from structures. We would purchase this smoked sausage, chop it up and then cook it with slices of leeks and hot peppers. Fresh bamboo slices was a bonus addition. Delicious!
Two kilos beef slices. In the basement of the market was my grandpa’s favorite butcher. He had been going to this butcher when it was the butcher’s parents running the stall and he trusts their quality of product.
My grandpa loves beef the most of any meat so we would stock up on the meat, ask the butcher to chop it into slivers or smaller chunks and then take it home to freeze to keep longer.
Finally, on the list you can see lotus leaf. What this was to represent was actually 荷葉飯 which is a sticky rice packed inside a lotus leaf often stuffed with different meats, mushrooms, sometimes an egg yolk and wrapped altogether like a large present to dive into.
I loved seeing this grocery list because I had only taken three pictures on this particular day, so right away I chose this photo. It brought back so many gustatory memories and also the state and spirit of mind we were in at that particular moment in time.
Photo 2: December 21, 2019
Alex’s first Rockefeller Tree visit
It was four days before Christmas and Alex I decided to take a walk. The city was filled with commotion, it was lively and there were many tourists.
But of course there would be, because it was that time of year – that time where even New Yorkers living in the city for decades would take the plunge – walk amidst the throngs of visitors to see the Tree.
Alex’s first heavy duty winter coat
It was another first for Alex. It was Alex’s first winter in the U.S. and sometime in Q3, he said to me, “I think I need a winter coat.” So off to Superdry we went and while looking around, Alex picked up a lightweight anorak style.
I looked at it and said to him, “This is good for transitional weather, but definitely will not take you through the heart of winter.” I walked around the store and hahaha with my prior expertise as an outerwear buyer and just being a lover of shopping, I found the coat pictured.
A heavyweight, puffer coat lined with fleece with an attached faux fur trimmed hood.
Done and done.
Alex put it on, loved it and that became his first heavy duty winter coat.
Geared up for the elements
And so, both geared up for the elements, we walked 20 minutes or so from home and made our way to the tree. Something about that tree, that time of year and being bundled up just felt so warm and inviting.
Photo 3: July 30, 2018
Gotta screenshot those directions
I looked at the pictures I took from this date and realized I had only taken screenshots. It was this map and a bunch of different apartments I was interested in.
So it brought me back to the time of apartment hunting for my second NYC apartment.
The funny thing is, this route was pretty straight forward, but I still took a screenshot of it. After spending so much time taking the 6 train, I don’t think I’d be screenshotting six stops anymore!
Something so simple yet now I long for it
It’s funny though. Even though this was a screenshot I probably wouldn’t take anymore due to my familiarity with the 6 train (at least from 59th Street down…), I really welcomed seeing this screen grab.
It was when the subway was fully functioning at capacity, when we were all not afraid to step foot into public transportation (pre-covid) and it was a time in my life where it was just so much fun to explore neighborhoods and wander.
One memory of the 6 train
I still remember on a different night watching a movie using my then MoviePass (RIP sad face!) with my dear friend Jen. We went to see a movie at Union Square and I remember hopping back on the 6 train at Union Square 14th Street and then taking it uptown to 33rd Street to head home.
I was so excited because by the time I got home to the address above 104 E. 31st Street (I don’t live there anymore) it had only been maybe 11 minutes.
I loved the feeling of going from one hustle bustle spot to catch the subway, people watching the crowds waiting for the train just like me, then hopping in and holding on, to recognizing my stop and getting off, to walking a couple blocks home to getting into my zen space and then heading to bed.
I loved the subway.
I miss you, subway. I know you’re open, but I’m not quite ready for you yet.
Photo 4: June 28, 2017
Lunch Break in Bryant Park
I was one week into my new job after moving to NYC.
I still remember the initial feeling of how lunch breaks felt in NYC. The world was literally everyone’s oyster in terms of food and restaurant options and I loved loved loved it.
Equally enjoyable was the freedom of being able to hang out somewhere and in this case, my office was very close to Bryant Park. We were located at 40th + 6th so it meant literally walking across the street and finding a place to chill in the park.
Choosing a seat in the park
On this specific day, all of the tiny round tables with foldable chairs were packed to the gills. The lunch hour rush was typically like this on a day filled with sunshine and perfect weather.
But often, if one peered near the flowers and plants on the sides, there would be some bench space available. So I sat here and ate and observed other professionals taking their breaks.
In the past when I’d travel to NYC for market, we would walk by Bryant Park from the Sofitel and to the Garment District to see all our vendors. After moving here, I got to spend time and get to know the park.
Bryant Park, you were the perfect lunch break.
Photo 5: February 26, 2020
Gathering up packages and other random activities
Hahaha, on this date in terms of photos, I had only taken a few. And they were all mundane things, which leads me to…why do some of us feel compelled to take photos of mundane things?
For example, the photos I took from this date were as follows: Alex picking up packages from the lobby, the contents of one of the boxes and someone on TV who looked like one of my Korean classmates in Taiwan.
Seeing the extraordinary in the mundane
I think I snapped this photo because I was so happy seeing Alex in our apartment doing something like picking up packages. It might sound crazy, but I remember when we were long distance, some of our favorite activities were simple ones, like going to the grocery store together while we met up on vacation.
Something about this activity just feels so ordinary, yet it’s extraordinary to us because it means that we are together and get to spend time together.
P.S. It was also crazy because we didn’t realize it at the time, but something huge was about to change the lives and behaviors of all of us around the world. Pre-covid, I was still shopping and buying fun things. Post-covid, I remember only really ordering food and cleaning supplies.
I didn’t know it then, but this photo was the last delivery we had where I had any fun shopping before it all turned essential shopping.
Treasure the Ordinary
After writing the above reflections, stories and experiences on the 5 Photos I chose at random, I think the common thread I see is how easy it is to take things for granted.
Simple, ordinary, mundane activities that felt seemingly given can all change at once and in the world’s case this year, it did.
I think about how each of the above activities and places has changed in some way from my experience of it up until now.
Photo 1: Nanmen Market was closed down during covid for deep cleaning even though it’s always been a clean market, but Taiwan wanted to take the right measures in case due to the safety of customers as well as the stigmas surrounding markets.
Photo 2: The ease of going to Superdry to shop for Alex’s coat is now no longer. We went to the shop at Herald Square then and it was packed with people and associates coming up to us to help us. Just a few weeks ago, we walked by and it was boarded up. I think only now are people allowed to stop by to pick up online orders.
Photo 3: The subway was something I used on a regular basis to get from place to place. It’s now sanitized every night thanks to Governor Cuomo so that it can be safer for those who need to take it. I’m still not quite ready to board it yet and not sure when that might happen.
Photo 4: Bryant Park was my lunch break getaway. Now, when walking by, it’s filled sparsely, largely isolated but with people trickling back in. But that heart and soul of the park during the lunch hour is no longer, without the workforce commuting in to support the surrounding city businesses. It’s safer that way so I’m glad, but I do miss the beat and energy of the park.
Photo 5: Even something as simple as getting the mail and seeing how the contents of what we purchased has changed in a few months is pretty eye-opening. I had two ASOS packages then and in the box was thread for sewing. All of those fun activities now seem almost less important as we’re all wearing pajamas and the same clothes at home for convenience and comfort and our purchases switched largely to consumables.
I think reflecting on these 5 Photos has me remembering all of the little things that contribute to our lives and to remember to treasure them and not take them for granted.