Last 24 Hours in New York

I took this photo leaning against the tiled wall of Penn Station, sitting on the speckled linoleum alongside hundreds of New Yorkers waiting for the track number of our train to Jersey to pop up on the screens.

Last of the summer swelter at Penn Station © 2015 Sophia Chang

Last of the summer swelter at Penn Station © 2015 Sophia Chang

It was 80 degrees at 10 at night and every inch of my skin was dewy from the intermittent rain alternating with humidity so heavy all I could do was let it press against me as I sank to the ground, unbearably happy to be among the 8.4 million who love this city so much we'll stay in heat, in cold, in blizzard and hail.

Unbearably happy to be 1 in 8 million...

The next night the temperature dropped 25 degrees and coastal wind kicked up. Hurricane Joaquin prepared to visit too. My oldest friend from college and my protege met me in the East Village for midnight yakitori on a work night. New York.

At 2 a.m. we shoved our hands in our pockets and walked back. Around us New Yorkers bent their heads into the wind and did the turbo walk we're famous for. I waved to my Harvard hubby as he turned toward Alphabet City and I continued north.

#trainlife ©2015 Sophia Chang

#trainlife ©2015 Sophia Chang

My light Uniqlo down jacket did little against the sea winds but I still had to find a bodega to buy water for the night. I shivered and swore and stamped my feet on the pavement and felt in that moment my life was perfect.

 

"How will you handle winter?" my mentee asked.

I'd just said what I say every year when I visit: "I want to come back."

"You'll be fine," Lee-Sean said. "I just wear snow pants over my outfit and take them off when I get to where I'm going,"  We joked we'd start a new fashion trend.

Inside my heart swelled. My friends wanted me back in the city and, because they're New Yorkers, had infinite solutions to my problems.

The last 24 hours in the city I, the snowbird, never took my purple puffy off. I barely noticed. 

The best people on earth ©2015 Sophia Chang

The best people on earth ©2015 Sophia Chang

I noticed the gaggle of brash businessmen in the cafe during my last meal, boasting loudly in Tri-State accents. 

I noticed the way everyone I met remembered my name.

I noticed the way my East Coast friends had the ability to make me feel utterly capable of anything while rallying around to support me, walk me to the train station, look me in the eye, share a meal with me at any time, and extend their resources to me with a generosity that brings me to tears every time.

And I knew I could do it. I could come back to the city, to winter. 

I could feel my bones getting ready.

Back to the people who are family.

Is it time to go home?

The view from my friend's rooftop

The view from my friend's rooftop

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Nomad Truths: Travel Weariness

It's that time again. Travel weariness sets in.

Montreal to New York © 2015 Sophia Chang

Montreal to New York © 2015 Sophia Chang

For some a week, others a year. Me - nearing the last week of 2 months.

In the last 2 months:

I haven't slept in the same bed for more than 7 days.
I had my heart thoroughly touched and shattered by the same person.

I've lost money. Saved money. Received lodging and meals for free.

I had my purse stolen. In it was my wallet from my protege student who's all grown up now. In the wallet was the 2 dollar bill that my oldest friend wore in her wedding as her something borrowed. I'd carried it for 16 years before that and was her maid of honor.

I went home for the first time in a year.
I saw the way New Yorkers practice kindness, which is different from the way Quebecers show it.
I even missed Los Angeles for a moment or two. (fuck)

I'm in my last Canadian city, debilitated by allergies, dehydrated from so many plane, train and road miles, dazzled by the view from the skyscraper apartment.

I've been cursed by 50 chigger bites, put 5 people on Periscope - many for the first time.
And I'm blessed. And I know it at last.

Love,
Sophia
‪#‎nomad2015‬


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I Stayed in a Tiny House on a Ranch and It Was Everything I Ever Wanted

My tiny home on the range © 2015 Sophia Chang

My tiny home on the range © 2015 Sophia Chang

I split my pants picking up a goat. 

I ate a burger topped with a hot dog topped with tater tots. 

I forded the river on horseback and didn't lose a single axle.

Yes. I stayed in a tiny house and it was everything I ever dreamed of.

EAT IT, OREGON TRAIL

Both the best and worst thing about Nomadic 2015 is not knowing where I'll lay my head next. Sometimes I end up airbnb-ing in the home of a Shanghainese family who neglected to mention their THREE CHILDREN or their 7 a.m. alarm known as crying infant.

But sometimes, the Hobo God smiles down on my wandering soul and fulfills a life dream: living in a tiny house.

I harbored no hipster illusions about this experience. Though often accused of being a hippie (I make ginger-cardamom tisanes for coughs and haven't owned a TV in a decade), I'm the last person who can live off the grid. The first thing I did was ask the owner if my cell phone could get reception in the canyons.

Luckily, this house has double-paned windows, two heaters, and electric lights all over the place. No wifi, but I took that as a sign to unplug. 

Just me and God/dog. #dogisgod

who the hell invented youtube

In the first night in the house, I used 75% of my brand-new-reset data plan watching Family Guy clips and videos of Robin Williams meeting Koko the gorilla.

I texted every person I knew photos of the house and videos of the turkey and duck who acted like they were at a marathon karaoke session.

Yep, I'm definitely in the Matrix.

Turkey and Duck...a delicious combination both aurally and orally

Between the stress of driving - my least favorite thing on earth rivaled only by Excel spreadsheets - in 100 desert degrees and constantly making sure my dog didn't develop heat stroke when the AC crapped out after the first hour, then figuring out what water was potable on the house and grounds for him to drink (turns out ALL), it took a little bit for my limbic system to calm down.

Replete with rustic farm gear and #nofilter, of course

Replete with rustic farm gear and #nofilter, of course

But when I sat down in my new, temporary backyard for my first mountain sunset, I was finally able to do what I'd gone off alone for.

I could face myself.

I cried.

As with many epic journeys in my life, this one was fueled by fresh heartbreak, but I was crying for more. I was crying out the exhaustion of major travel plans falling through after months trying to rescue them, the daily nervousness of overstaying a welcome, the chaos of rifling through trash bags in the trunk of my car to find my underwear.

These are first world problems, and I tell you them not for sympathy but to confirm that the nomadic lifestyle is just as rootless and anxious as you fear it to be.

And when I finished crying out the first layer of stress, I cried to clean my insides out. To feel the tender parts that have been hurt over time. Scrub some of that gunk we all pick up through living.

When I'd finished, it was time to sleep. For tomorrow, was the horse ride.

i am in control

The horse guy, as I call him, knocked on my door the next day to give me the waiver to sign. He was a hulk of muscle with that chesty, former Marine stance and I couldn't stop grinning at him.

Always ford #OregonTrailproblems © 2015 Sophia Chang

Always ford #OregonTrailproblems © 2015 Sophia Chang

"What brings you to the house?" he asked.

"It's been my dream to travel the country in one of these."

"Me too. Seriously. Except I'm looking at a Fifth Wheel."

Instant friends.

After HG led me racing up mountains and crashing through streams, I washed three different kinds of animals off me and changed for dinner. 

Positively obscene © 2015 Sophia Chang

Positively obscene © 2015 Sophia Chang

It was a double meat and potato concoction that gives my infamous Ramen Burger episode a run for its money: beef patty, pork hot dog, tater tots, and every condiment in the house, all held together by a steak knife through the whole contraption.

The rest of the week was no less indulgent. I rode with HG again, and he checked to make sure I'd learned the first lesson of horseback riding: I am in control.

We watched more Family Guy clips on his phone (at least ONE of us still had data plan.)

I went to a movie with a local waitress (small towns are a combination of awkward racial tension and extreme friendliness).

I made out with HG's goats. Got a black eye when I got too close to his dogs roughhousing with mine. You know, ranch things.

There was more, of course, much more than I can fit into a blog post. I'll save the details for the memoir.

I'm never gonna kiss again, the way I kissed... © 2015 Sophia Chang

I'm never gonna kiss again, the way I kissed... © 2015 Sophia Chang

I'd run off to the mountains to be alone and discovered that, in this world, I'm not often alone. I was sad to leave, although I looked forward to being able to flush my toilet more than once a day again. 

The afternoon before I left, HG sat with me in the backyard.

"You know, in another life, we would be married with a couple of kids," he said.

I held up a hand. "No kids."

But the rest sounded nice. A big guy with tattoos who smelled of fresh soap. Animals running amok. Nowhere to be but this land in the canyon.

The fantasy of the simple life had to stop at checkout time (noon). But hopefully one day, when my wandering is done, it won't. 


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LA Snapshot: On the Train from County

View of the LA River from the train : not like on TV, huh? © 2015 Sophia Chang

View of the LA River from the train : not like on TV, huh? © 2015 Sophia Chang

Did you just get out of County?

It was such a random thing to hear from one stranger to another in real life (mine at least) that for a second it sounded like a movie line. I was sitting on a purple line train that just left Union Station. The narrow windows of the Men's Central Jail is a familiar site north of the station.

"You just get out of County?" he asked again over the rumbling. 

"Yeah," said the kid. 

"It's been a minute since I've been in...well," he peered around cartoonishly as if at any moment felony might find him, "doing everything I can to stay out."

The man was in his 40s or 50s, Hispanic, wearing a navy shirt with his oiled hair pulled into a ponytail. Tattoos of mostly words were scattered ramshackle across his arms and fingers like drunk ants.

The kid was dressed all in black from jeans to Beanie, including the faded puffy jacket slung over his shoulder.  His curly hair peeked from under his cap and he could have been anywhere in his 20's. He had that lilt that made half his statements sound like questions. 

He was thrown in for violating his parole, originally for a year, but they gave him 5 months instead. 

"It was crowded in there, hunh?" the man said. "When it gets crowded they start letting you out."  

"I was supposed to get out in 10 days but they let me out today." 

Were you surprised?"

"Yeah! Cuz I work for the County? I was at work from 4am to 8. They didn't even let me sleep."

"So what are you going to do now? You going home?" 

"Yeah. I'm going to go home and get ready for the game tonight. Heard the Warriors are playing?" 

Sophia Battles the Ramen Burger (and crawls home sobbing)

Why does this exist? © 2015 Sophia Chang

Why does this exist? © 2015 Sophia Chang

I'm supposed to be on a diet, which means I work out everyday and end up famished every night.

After candlelight yoga tonight, I just wasn't in the mood for the defrosting steak and 99 Ranch napa cabbage waiting to be cooked at home.

I hate cooking to begin with - after all, I am the founder of #ladiescookingclub (check out our #fuckyeahfatty exploits on Instagram) whose slogan is "Who's cooking? Not us!" and all I wanted was someone to bring saturated fats directly to my mouth like a true American.

10pm in the outer OUTER San Gabriel Valley left me only one option on Yelp: Cha Cafe.

It was time.

Cha Cafe's claim to fame is their ramen burger, served after 4:30pm in limited quantity - pre-reservations encouraged.

I'd been saving this moment for the right time, and that time - still sore from hip-hop last night and sleepy from my Downton Abbey marathon - was now. I called ahead and with an hour to closing the infamous burger was available.

"Do you want that with a fried egg as well?"

Of course I did. I placed an order for takeout.

Sophia Meets the Devil

Ten minutes later I waltzed in, giddy with the illicitness of my impromptu cheat meal, and declared I was too hungry to take it out; I would be dining in, if you please.

"I'll get you set up," the cheerful cashier said, even calling my AMEX card the restaurant's best friend. I should have known then I was walking into my destruction.

Barely able to contain myself long enough to take the Instagram photo, I dove into the deep-fried potato chips. CHIPS. I don't think I ate potato chips even when I wasn't on a diet. Now I was dipping them gleefully into the tub of lard they called spicy mayo.

My god potatoes cooked in cholesterol are an eighth wonder.

I faced the burger at last.

They seasoned the ramen. Before frying it in cardiac arrest.

To my credit, which was fastly depleting as I scarfed my new MSG-laden best friend, I only ate 2/3 of the burger. 

By the time I put the burger down, the bloodlust had dissipated. I looked down at the carnage, as dismayed as a new vampire whose closest artery was her own mother.

I stumbled out on shaky legs, dizzy as a new crackwhore, and hurried to my car, clutching the box of leftovers to my chest in shame. 

I had that feeling I imagine you get when you realize should have listened to your friend who told you not to go to that frat party or partake in that wet tee-shirt contest over spring break.

But now the pics are out; it did happen; there's no taking it back.

In a haze of hypoglycemic insanity, I took on the Cha Cafe ramen burger. Now, as I sip apple cider vinegar waiting for my stomach to stop resembling a profile of Hitchcock, I'm not certain it was worth it.

As a reporter for the LA Times told me over a double dessert last weekend, "You only live once."

*Bonus points if you can name the song this title alludes to!

The Ballad of Dante Basco

This photo has been decades in the making.

psst...that's exec producer Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man peeking over heads in the background. #stayangry

psst...that's exec producer Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man peeking over heads in the background. #stayangry

The Chinese have a term called yuanfen, which Wikipedia defines as "fateful coincidence" and my parents defined simply as people who were meant to run into each other over and over.

I have this with Dante Basco.

The Endless Saga of Sophia's Yuanfen with Dante Basco

I watched Hook like 20 times as a tween. Now dreamboat Rufio, my future husband (after Keanu Reeves), was standing there in a suit.

I first saw him as the leader of the lost boys when I was in elementary school in New York.

10 years later I moved to Hollywood with a pair of flip-flops and a newly minted degree from Harvard that did absolutely nothing for my career as a film and TV actor. (It's also way more freezing here than the pictures show.)

After accosting Ang Lee at an awards ceremony (who already knew who I was because my mother had accosted him in Asia a few weeks ago), I saw HIM.

Dante.

That was the very first time we exchanged numbers, which I'm sure he kept framed by his bedside.

After sleeping with the phone under my pillow for 3 months and my door unlocked in case he wanted to drop by, I finally accepted the truth.

He had lost my number.

You can READ THE FULL ACCOUNT HERE. Needless to say, I never saw Rufio again.

October 2011

My bookworm friends forced me to watch Airbender, where Dante had become Zuko. I featured him on my old YA writing blog as the October Crush of the Month and it immediately became the #1 read post.

Then this happened:

The decade-long disappearance (and name misspelling) is immediately forgiven. 

August 2013

Just another day visiting the headquarters of Screen Actors Guild for a singing workshop.

Walking out of SAG is him.

"Dante! I'm Sophia Chang."

"Oh, I follow your blog."

When he heard I was a writer we exchanged contacts again.

Silence ensued.

Dante, ever-fleeting.

Bless you Joz for aZn-ing out in this photo

Bless you Joz for aZn-ing out in this photo

July 2015

I'm attending the red carpet screening of Awesome Asian Bad Guys with my beautiful friend Joz of 8Asians.

There he is in front of the cameras.

Pix or it didn't happen, I say to myself. There's no escaping this time.

And Dante says, "I still follow your blog."

...not The End...