November 8th, 2013

Hiking off NJ Transit

by Joanna Eng

I have been obsessed with the Hudson Valley for years, but I came across a hiking spot in New Jersey in my go-to guidebook, AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City, that said it was near the Millburn station of the NJ Transit commuter rail—only a 45-minute ride from Penn Station. I got the chance to go last weekend.

The hike was in South Mountain Reservation, and the trailhead was one block from the train station. It couldn’t have been easier to get to. We started on the yellow-blazed Lenape Trail, and enjoyed a moderate trek up and down between the lovely yellow leaves for two hours until we reached Hemlock Falls. The falls were pretty, but kind of a trickle—I’ll have to go back in the springtime when they’re sure to be rushing.

Yellow trees

On the way back we took the flatter River Trail, which was not as interesting as the Lenape, and only took one hour instead of two to get back to the starting point. Afterwards, we checked out a coffee shop in the little town center of Millburn. A refreshing, simple car-free day out of the city!

September 12th, 2013

The Power in a List of Names

by Joanna Eng

Over a year ago, I visited the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t sure how I felt about it as a tourist destination. (Seeing people pose and smile for photos in front of those pits did make me uncomfortable.) But it is worth visiting.

The design is beautifully minimal, and all there is to do is reflect on what happened and read the names of almost 3,000 people who were killed. I didn’t personally know anyone who was listed there; I recognized two names of people that I had heard about through friends and colleagues.

Reading the names of people I didn’t even know made me cry: the sheer number of them, the diversity represented by the surnames, and additional notes such as women who were pregnant (an astounding number). However superficial of a representation of the actual people it might be, that list of names felt so important to me.

I thought, if the attackers had read this list of names before that day, there’s no way they would have wanted to go through with their actions. At least that is my hope for humanity.

I also believe the list of names serves as a powerful, non-political way to educate Americans who may jump to bigoted assumptions after events like 9/11. So, so, so many of those who died in the attacks had names that appear to be Arab, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc., showing that the victims (and rescue workers) were a slice of a very diverse America.

June 11th, 2013

One New Thing a Day

by Joanna Eng

Turning 30 gave me another push to make time to explore. A friend of mine blogged about her adventures doing 30 things in the 30 days before turning 30, so I took the idea and made it my own. I had actually already done most of the things on my NYC bucket list before this last month of being 29, so I let myself count some more mundane things among my adventures, like trying new recipes, buying things in my neighborhood, or going running on different routes.

The only rules were that I had to do one thing each day, and each thing: 1) had to be something I hadn’t done before; 2) had to be something I wanted to do (as opposed to something I had to do); and 3) couldn’t involve my computer, phone, or TV.

My 30 days have passed, and I succeeded in trying 30 things. There were only two days towards the end when I failed to do something new (due to work, weather, and museums being closed on Mondays), but I made up for it by doing extra on other days. Here are some of the best things I tried. Thanks to Leah for the inspiration!

Food: OK, I just counted and realized that 14 of my things involved food. Oh, well—I had to eat, right? Best discoveries were delightfully crunchy kri kri peanuts from my local Eastern European market, homemade frozen banana “ice cream” (I added a little milk), and smashed chickpea and avocado salad sandwiches.

Culture: I went to 10 museums, stores, and attractions that were new for me. I recommend checking out the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image (which I counted because it has been completely redone since I went on a middle school trip), the International Center of Photography, The Evolution Store, Steinway Hall, and Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church.

Outdoors: I did the other six things outside. New favorite running routes include Astoria Park (starting from the Ditmars stop of the N/Q) and the Meadow Lake path at Flushing Meadows Park. And pianos placed around the city by Sing for Hope came to my rescue later in the month when I was running out of ideas.


Sing for Hope piano at Jamaica AirTrain Terminal. I happened upon this one by mistake, but I counted it, of course!

March 1st, 2013

The Coolest Building in New York State?

by Joanna Eng

While housesitting for friends in Troy, New York, I came across a fascinating new-ish building on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From the side, it looked like a wooden ship hull suspended inside a huge glass box on a Cornell-like slope.

EMPAC exterior

Once inside, you can see fun details, like these walkways heading into the wooden bubble at different levels.

EMPAC interior

Inside the wooden part, there’s a large, pristine performance space that’s supposed to have amazing acoustics.

EMPAC performance space

Speaking of sounds, throughout the building I could hear a mysterious and seemingly random melody. Upstairs, I discovered the source: an art exhibit that consisted of bowls floating in circular pools of water, clinking against each other in the most perfect way.

EMPAC art installation

It turns out it’s the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), and it opened in 2008. The whole building is specially designed to have innovative acoustic features. Seems like RPI would be a very cool place to study music and sound technology.

February 28th, 2013

More of Quirky New York City

by Joanna Eng

I’ve fallen behind in documenting my local adventures, but here are some highlights from the past few months:

  • The Steinway & Sons piano factory tour was inspiring and educational, probably the best tour I’ve ever been on in my life. And it’s right in Astoria, Queens. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was the only room where photos were allowed because there were no workers.

Steinway piano factory tour

  • In Sleep No More, adventurous theatergoers put on creepy white masks and explore a five-floor building with dim lighting and scary/antique props, all the while chasing around actors who are performing mostly silent scenes in unpredictable locations. I honestly couldn’t piece together much of a plot, but I loved independently wandering the set for three hours.
  • Hangawi is a special dinner spot, an oasis of calm in the middle of the frantic area of Koreatown/Midtown East. Guests take off their shoes and sit on pillows, with their feet in recessed spaces below floor level. The menu is all vegetarian. I also like the less-fancy sister restaurant, Franchia, that’s nearby.
  • Riding the vintage holiday train was a perfect way to brighten a winter day. I love that it runs on the regular subway line, making regular stops, and surprising regular riders who had no idea this was a even a thing.

Vintage holiday train

  • There’s a hidden artsy elevator in an otherwise boring office building about a mile from my house, and I found it!
  • The Amazing Maize Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum made for a fun, rural outing in the city. I’m sure corn mazes are much larger and more challenging when they’re anywhere besides NYC, but this one does the trick for city dwellers.


November 21st, 2012

What I’m Most Grateful for

by Joanna Eng

One of the most useful things my parents instilled in me is an appreciation for spending time outdoors. It’s a simple trait that has had such a profound impact on my life. It has kept me happy, healthy, and even financially stable.

When I was growing up, our weekends and vacations were spent hiking, canoeing, and gardening. We didn’t get candy at the movie theater—we didn’t even go to the movie theater—but we picked wild blueberries and raspberries right off the bushes and popped them in our mouths. After Thanksgiving dinner, we would always go on a long walk in my grandmother’s wooded neighborhood. Last Thanksgiving, we went on a nine-mile hike in Blue Hills Reservation.

In college, instead of drinking myself sick at frat parties like most kids, I spent my free time with friends swimming in gorges, exploring rooftops, roasting marshmallows over campfires, and having fall harvest picnics. (It helped that we were in beautiful Ithaca.) Yes, I was a dork, but I don’t feel that I missed out on anything important.

Now, when I know I need exercise, or time to recharge and relax, I know exactly where to turn. I go for a run or bike ride outside, I bring a book or sandwich to the park and enjoy the view. This natural penchant for the outdoors wards off depression, helps me save money while enjoying life, and gives me fuel for this blog—and will one day make me a content old person.

November 3rd, 2012

The Infrastructure We Take for Granted

by Joanna Eng

For most of us in the New York/New Jersey area, this entire week has been consumed by Hurricane Sandy and its effects. Some have been struggling to get by without electricity, running water, or elevator service on the 20th floor of an apartment building. Some have had their homes and cars destroyed by uprooted trees, flood waters, wind, or fire. Some have lost their lives from electrocution, falling trees, drowning, or lack of power for their medical devices. Others of us (like me and my neighbors) have just been inconvenienced and immobilized by the lack of transportation options due to flooding, power outages, and fuel shortages.

Gas shortage photo by Brian Kingsley

I hope that one effect of Sandy has been that everyone realizes how much we have been taking for granted the incredible infrastructure we use everyday. We have a huge, complex subway and commuter rail system that needs constant maintenance to continue to move us from place to place. We rely on gas stations that provide a steady supply of fuel that has been pumped up from beneath the earth’s surface, processed in a refinery, transported thousands of miles, and put into an easy-to-use machine that takes credit cards. We depend on a nonstop flow of electricity to keep our food cold, our showers warm, and our minds informed and entertained.

Eight years ago, after spending three months in Ocotal, Nicaragua, some of these simple facts dawned on me. The infrastructure in most communities in the United States is absolutely amazing. I mean, we have water hydrants every 500 feet just in case there’s a fire someday. We have a uniform system of addresses and zip codes so that we can expect to receive all mail that has been sent to us. We have stations that list the time that the next bus or train will arrive.

Traveling to a place that’s very different from home is one way to gain a lasting appreciation for these systems that we base our entire lives on. Being in the path of a “superstorm” is another way, apparently.

Maybe Sandy’s aftermath will also push us to develop even better forms of infrastructure that don’t promote the same systems that have caused climate change in the first place.

August 24th, 2012

Before I Leave New York . . .

by Joanna Eng

It’s not totally official, but I might be moving within a year or two. In my seven years here, I’ve been pretty good about exploring all five boroughs and taking advantage of the fact that you can do absolutely anything in NYC. (Marched with an LGBT group in a Chinese New Year parade? Check. Eaten Japanese/Italian fusion, a kimchi burrito, and a Thai soy hot dog? Check. Biked all five boroughs in a day? Check. Lived in a windowless closet for three months? Check. Made corn tortillas in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant? Check. Scanned Martha Stewart’s ID card at a high-profile conference? Check.)

Running around the reservoir in Central Park. Photo by Ed Yourdon

Here’s what remains on my must-do list:

What’s on your to-explore list for NYC or wherever you live?

August 14th, 2012

Arches, Canyons, and Nooks: Photo Highlights from Western U.S. Road Trip

by Joanna Eng

I just took a two-week break from writing about Queens and went out west in search of distinctly non-urban adventures. Instead of wedging myself between people and buildings as I normally do, I found some big rocks. Plenty of them.

Upon arrival, the first thing I did was find a ledge to hang out under at Red Rocks Park in Colorado.

Rafting down the Colorado River, surrounded by rock walls, was quite the adventure. (Thank you, NAVTEC Expeditions of Moab, Utah!) I highly recommend going in a separate inflatable kayak, juuust in case you end up in a group with 20 teenage boys.

Sand Dune Arch was my favorite spot to explore in Arches National Park in Utah.

Swimming in a canyon near New Agey shops in Sedona, Arizona, reminded me of my college days in Ithaca, New York.

This area of the Mojave National Preserve is called Hole-in-the-Wall, so of course I had to go there.

And, if I could declare one favorite rock formation in the world, it just might be a beach canyon. (Is that even a thing?) This one, in Ocean Beach, San Diego, had waves surging in from both ends.

February 2nd, 2012

Deliver a Car, Get a Free One-Way Road Trip

by Joanna Eng

You know how it costs extra to rent a car in one place and drop it off in another? And some rental companies and locations don’t allow it at all. Well, I recently found out about another way to make one-way road trips happen, basically for free: become a driver for a car that needs to be relocated.

Rather than ship a car across the country on one of those big trucks, some people opt to have someone drive it for them. It’s like carpooling in that you’re not adding to the number of cars on the road; but you have the privacy and control of having your own car. In the United States, check Auto Driveway for these types of driving opportunities. In Canada, Hit the Road seems to be the major service.

Photo by Vlasta Juricek

You need to have a good driving record and pay a deposit, and the opportunities are limited by the number of driving requests customers make. (Right now there are only three routes listed on Auto Driveway and nine on Hit the Road.) But beyond the pick-up location, the drop-off location and general time and mileage constraints, the vehicle is all yours for the duration of your road trip.

As with any other really good deal, you have to be patient, flexible, or just ridiculously lucky to make this work. Now I’m just crossing my fingers for a car that needs to be transported from Denver to LA this summer—with unlimited mileage and no time limit!