Thursday, June 30, 2011


I don't take the prescribed commute.

For these six weeks, I am working in Midtown - at 57th and Broadway. Now, you'd assume I'd get off at Grand Central and walk/subway/bus up to my office. But I actually get off at Harlem (125th St) and take the subway down.

I don't do it because it's cool or for an experience. I don't do it to avoid the crush of stubborn, me-first suits at Grand Central. I really only do it because the combination somehow gets me to work fifteen minutes earlier.

And yet I've realized how...unusual this is. Which it shouldn't be. Harlem-125th Street station is a pretty convenient transfer point to a lot of places: the Upper East Side, Queens, LaGuardia, Columbia. I was getting off and on at 125th pretty much every weekend for a few months to go to Astoria and Jackson Heights.

And yet it is unusual. Because it's Harlem, people will not get off there, even if it means that they'll spend a lot more time in transit. Today, I heard someone talking about how they were volunteering at 116th, but would get off in Grand Central so as not to transfer at Harlem.

Admittedly, Harlem was in a very bad state for a very long time. But the block-and-a-half transfer stretch isn't really dangerous. It's certainly not quiet: there are street vendors and crowds and a group of Caribbean middle-aged ladies perched and talking to passerby...but it's a huge transfer point, and definitely safe during daylight hours. I've never made the transfer at night, because I've never been in a position where it's been more convenient to do that....the city's life is to the south after 8.

But there's some sort of psychological block. And so I guess it means that I will be stared at when I rise as the train crosses the Bronx-Manhattan bridge to make my way to the door.

Getting off at Harlem is not a mindset. It is not really that interesting when you do it, honestly. But it's something of note when many people stare at you when you get off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A small thought before bedtime

A little quote I stumbled upon today.

"An intellectual is a person who's found one thing that's more interesting than sex." - Aldous Huxley

I agree. 99.95% of the time. Honestly, history and urban planning and languages and religion and baking are all much more interesting, most of the time, than what Daisy and Richie [censored].

But question: what if you're a gender studies major? Are they not intellectuals too?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mitsu-wa: Japan in New Jersey/Part II

Disclaimer: the cell phone pictures were not really of great quality, so no pictures. The Hello Kitty one will be on Facebook. Future posts will have pictures, but I need to fix my camera first.

Mitsu-wa’s main attraction is its supermarket: an enormous expanse of Japanese food products, a Japanese-style butcher, a fishmonger, Japanese confectioners and produce, all in a warehouse-sized space. For those who like products as diverse as matcha (green tea powder), tsukemono (pickles), and individually-wrapped fruit gummies with whopping aromas, the supermarket is really quite a paradise.

We went from the food court directly into the Masha went off to do her own shopping – she had judged this trip as a great opportunity to do a normal shopping run. Meanwhile, Aaron, Sharon and I began to wander.

First stops: the candy sections. Sugar is awesome, and the Japanese know it. Mitsu-wa has three stops for candy: two dedicated candy aisles in the main supermarket, and then two independent candy shops across from the main supermarket section. Our first stop was one of these separate shops, Minamoto Kitchoan, which specializes in rather elaborate and elegant confections of various types. Sharon bought some of the small sweets as a gift for her mother, including a rather beautiful rice-flour pastry crafted to look like a fish.

We also went through the supermarket aisle, where I found some delicious mango-flavored gummies. (I just ate one right now. The aroma screams, “MANGOS! WOOT!”) Following that, we traipsed through seaweed, crackers, tea, and other packaged goods. I bought packaged miso for my sister, rice crackers, and sencha  - a type of green tea that I am rather fond of. They also had amazing oolong tea from Fujian province in China for sale, but it was mad expensive, and in the interest of my financial solvency, I declined.

I didn’t go too crazy – I’ll be in Asia quite soon. These things were either for family, or for the next month before I leave.

Then the three of us made our way to the bookstore, and looked around there. It seems to stock a full range of novels, non-fiction, periodicals, stationery, learning materials, and a ton of manga. Aaron was really happy and did quite a bit of browsing. As a Mandarin speaker, I have this weird frustration when I see printed Japanese: I can understand most of the characters (sometimes Japanese uses them differently or uses obscure or Japanese-only ones), and sometimes whole book titles, but I can’t understand the text because of the hiragana and katakana (phonetic writing) interspersed and the different grammar. It’s sort of like when you see a text in a language with lots of English-like words, but you can’t understand it.

Sharon and Masha left, but the two of us spent a good amount of time wandering about the bookstore, chatting and comparing the pronunciation and usages of various characters in Japanese and Chinese (For example: , “sun,” is romanized as ni in Japanese and ri (zhr, sort of) in Mandarin. ) It was a good, nerdy conversation – something that you Egal readers are probably familiar with from our inadvertent torture of you at Shabbat dinner. The two of us then walked around on the waterfront a bit, and continued our conversation. Mitsu-wa has a great view across the Hudson to the tony apartments of Riverside Drive, and beyond that, the Manhattan skyline. I headed back to Manhattan and the commuter rail on the epic shuttle.

All in all, it was an awesome trip. It was really nice to see Aaron and Sharon again, and it was really great to step into this half-Japan half-American island in the middle of Jersey suburbia.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mitsu-wa: Japan in New Jersey/Part I

Disclaimer: I took photos, but the quality of my cell phone  camera is rather questionable. I’ll post photos with Part 2, or maybe separately.

           I’m breaking up the Mitsu-wa trip report into two sections. This is the first; Part 2 will come tomorrow.
Today, New York City went crazy for the Gay Pride Parade, fitting in quite nicely with marriage equality on Friday. On the commuter rail, there were rainbow flags, equality caps, and a general sense of “fabulous.” But I was not on the train to go to the parade. I wasn’t even going somewhere in New York City.

I was going to Mitsu-wa Marketplace, a Japanese shopping center in Edgewater, NJ. It’s a giant Japanese supermarket, food court, and set of stores (bookshop, stationery, toys and furniture, etc.) on the Hudson River. If you’re from the New York area, it’s the complex on the Hudson River right to the south of those giant, ugly Hess oil tanks on the New Jersey side.

I’m actually more of a China nerd – I speak reasonably fluent Mandarin and am studying Cantonese at the moment. But I really like Japanese stuff, and years of friendship with and studying under Japanophile Taiwanese and my dad’s many Japanese colleagues, I’ve developed a liking for Japanese things beyond sushi and Haruki Murakami. So Mitsu-wa was definitely a valuable trip to make.

I went with two friends from the Jewish community at UChicago, Aaron and Sharon, who both speak Japanese. Sharon’s older sister, Masha, also joined us.  Near the end of the year, in the midst of a conversation about the awesomeness of all things Japanese, the three of us had agreed to meet at Mitsu-wa and do some Japanese-themed shopping together.

Now, I do not drive, and New Jersey is not exactly public transport heaven. However, Mitsu-wa, in an effort to attract customers from the enormous (100,000<) Japanese expat community in New York City, has an absolutely amazing shuttle service for customers, at the low price of $3, which takes customers directly to the shop from Midtown.

So Sharon, Masha and I took this “epic shuttle” to Mitsu-wa. After a twenty-five minute run through the Lincoln Tunnel and Hudson-backdropped suburbia, we disembarked at Mitsu-wa.

While waiting for Aaron to arrive, we started exploring the crockery-cum-toys-cum-furniture-cum-things like earwax picks store. It’s actually two separate, but linked stores. After admiring the cute, compact, and tasteful lunch boxes (and their cloying decoration and little attached chopsticks), and the various teacups, sake cup-sets and even Japanified tagine pots, we wandered into the toy-furniture-random household things store.

 The store was extremely bright. Much of the merchandise, aimed at children, was in jumping colors. We examined much of the merchandise, and found an amazing Hello Kitty apron that Sharon felt compelled to try on. It rather suited her.

We also found some incredible Japanese merchandise that just makes sense: lunch pails with heating insulation and separated components, earwax picks, and “civilized” push-button pill boxes.

Aaron arrived and we headed to the food court for lunch. Sharon, Aaron and I got gigantic bowls of udon noodle soup – a simple, yet delicious and filling meal; Masha got a grilled-fish plate that looked quite good too. The food court was quite lively, with dozens of patrons walking around with trays of udon, fish plates with various sides and rice, and other things like Japanese-style Chinese food. All quite appetizing, and it was certainly better than the overpriced and under-flavored Japanese noodles one can find at many a Japanese restaurant in the New York area.

With lunch over, it was time to go shopping!

I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow. In the meanwhile, you should read my friend Patrick’s creative writing blog, Scarsdale Kings. It’s on the blogroll.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Equality is delicious! And it has implications.

So, originally I was going to write a post about the commuter rail here, but then truly awesome things happened in Albany. New York legalized same-sex marriage.

This development is totally, totally, awesome. 

New Yorkers have been celebrating, myself included. Though I practically live in Chicago now, I'm really happy for my home state. I'm also happy because I can get married in my home state now to whoever I want.

So, I celebrate. But let's not forget that this measure has several important implications, among which:

a) Same-sex marriage is not yet a reality in forty-five states. Nor is protection against discrimination towards LGBTQ individuals at work and school in many of those. There's still a long way to go.

b) Law does not mean equality. Thousands of LGBTQ New Yorkers still face significant problems as a result of their sexuality, particularly those in parts of Upstate New York and New York City: abuse, being disowned, discrimination, even rape.

c) People need to be careful in their rhetoric. I've already heard one person call it "a victory of the LGBTQ community over oppressive religious mores."

So that's as if LGBTQ people aren't religious?

Guess what. Some of us are.

Yes, there's a religious exemption, which is to be expected. I'm not opposed to it - a) it got us MARRIAGE RIGHTS by securing the support of a senator or two and b) ideas on marriage across faiths are quite diverse already - some religions don't even allow divorce in any circumstances (it is essentially impossible to divorce someone in several large branches of Christianity), so to ask to force them to give same-sex marriage rights is simply beyond the pale. Even to say "eventually" is beyond the pale - it imposes a particular idea of progress onto this trend. If we are free to marry, the opponents must be free to oppose that right, as long as they do not infringe on it.

But secondly, as a Jewish man, I do not see a contradiction between my faith and my right to marry who I want to. Some more traditional interpretations of Jewish law say that I shouldn't. Some newer traditions say that I can. To interpret religion as the ultimate blocking point is as blind-sided and as discriminatory as calling gay men "those blasted faggots." It's a total demonization.

As is the "victory over the Republican establishment"-not all Republicans are opposed, and let's remember that 29% of the LGBTQ community voted for McCain in 2008. In their quest to oppose intolerance, many liberals (of which I am not one) - and many LGBTQ liberals - fall into their own trap of intolerance. I've often felt, as a non-secular, non-liberal man, that I've been excluded to a certain extent from the gay rights movement. Which I wasn't. But there was the illusion of exclusion.

Tolerance goes both ways. I think it will be best if we remember this fact.

Side note:

My friend Hannah is going to be doing a Teach for America stint in Detroit starting this September, and her training has already commenced. She's started a blog, Teaching in the D, and you should read it - she's an awesome writer and a great person.

Friday, June 24, 2011

So I have a blog now...

So I have a blog now. If you're reading this, there's a very good chance that you know me. In fact, you probably got badgered by me into reading my blog. If not, short story: I'm Jonathan, I go by J.K., I speak a bunch of languages, and I study History and Geography at the University of Chicago.

The title jumped into my head. It's a combination of elements of my last name, some interests, and something that happens to me a lot.

This blog is going to document some of my summer adventures and thoughts. I'm going to be going to East Asia - mostly to Guangdong province of China - for an internship from July 28 to September 23, and you should definitely expect a lot of posts then. I'll find a way with proxies to get to Blogger.

Before then, I'll post some long-standing thoughts I've had about the New York area, where I am right now (specifically, I'm about to leave work), as well as information on my various adventures.

I hope you enjoy my first foray into blogging, or at the very least, put up with me patiently before going to Facebook/Gmail/academic websites/webcomics/so on and so forth.

Before you go: two awesome blogs to share.

1. My friend H. is in Santiago, Chile this summer for a research experience, and is blogging his epic adventures at

2. The Omniglot blog has all sorts of nifty things on language and such.