A few weeks before his birthday, Miguel announced that he was taking over the trip planning this year and that he wanted it to be a surprise for me. He kept reassuring me that I will “looooove” what he had planned. I’m the planner in this relationship so I was hesitant.
“We’re married. My birthday is your birthday too!“, he said proudly, perhaps seeing the apprehension on my face. I reluctantly agreed.
On the day of the trip, we drove to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and rode the bus to Manhattan. Up to this point, Miguel has insisted on keeping everything under wraps. But by the time we got off the bus at Hell’s Kitchen, he was too excited and practically burst out that we had dinner reservations at Clement and tickets for Anastasia on Broadway. Dinner wasn’t until 5:30PM so we decided we’ll have a relaxed, no-frills day in Manhattan and try to hit up a few spots he wanted to check out with me.
We started the morning with coffee and natas. To understand the significance of this requires a backstory (you know you love my backstories). In China, there was a place that sold natas (Portugese-style egg tarts) in the building that houses the border crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Crossing the border was a dreaded, unavoidable fact of my childhood that happened every few weeks or so (at certain seasons, every weekend). On the cons list for our days in China, border crossing days is pretty high up on the list. I’ll save a longer description for a different time, but frankly, it was not a pleasant experience for a child. The one thing to look forward to on these worst-of-days were the Portugese natas. Chinese-style egg tarts were sold everywhere, but this customs/immigration building was the only place that sold Portuguese-style egg tarts in particular. I don’t like Chinese-style egg tarts but I’ve been known to scarf down half a dozen natas in one sitting. In other words, these egg tarts have long been on my list of favorite things. They bring me warm memories of relief and reward after a trudge through Chinese customs. In California, I introduced them to Miguel by taking him to a Portuguese bakery in Sherman Oaks – simply called Natas. This became one of our date night spots during our boyfriend-girlfriend days. We still visit whenever we’re back in LA. We haven’t found one in Philly, unfortunately, but of course, NYC has a few spots that have them. We went to Joey Bats on the Lower East Side. We were there before the store opened, but the owner’s mom let us in and we got the first batch of the day, piping hot. The nice lady even gave us some free ones to go!
We then walked to around Chinatown in search of Dim Sum. Miguel had remembered me promising to take him to Hong Kong for dim sum someday. “In the meantime…”, he said, Jing Fong will have to do and very well it did. Because there were only two of us, we were seated in a shared round table with another party, two middle-aged Chinese couples. Since they were almost done by the time they were seated, they pretty much just sat there for a good 10 minutes and watched us eat – with zero verbal acknowledgment or even a response to our “Hello! How are you?”. Even when we kept bowing our heads like good Asian children trying to be sociable – nope, nothing. They just stared back. Ah, so authentic! Miguel and I stuffed our faces with duck and siu mai as four pairs of eyes looked at us, with no hint of whether or not they approve of our being there. Just deadpan faces. After about 10 minutes, they stood up and left, without a word or acknowledgment. I missed them as soon as they were gone.
Miguel quickly caught on that it was a better idea to chase the dim sum carts to get what you want, rather than waiting for the carts to get to your table. Of course, this idea of chasing the bao and spare rib cart all over the 100+ table restaurant was very appealing to him. I think he enjoyed that experience even more than the food and ended up grabbing more than we can eat. I would subtly refer to the dish I wanted and he would leap to go find and get it for me. My knight in shining armor.
After that, we casually walked around Chinatown, grabbed some Milk Tea at Gong Cha before heading to The Strand. We spent some time perusing the Rare Books Collection on the Strand’s Third Floor before we left for the New York Public Library. I couldn’t afford anything I wanted from the Third Floor (and it wasn’t my birthday, darn) so I had to settle for something newer. In case you’re wondering, I got Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, for my collection of beautifully illustrated children’s books.
After the Strand, Miguel said he wanted to go inside the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.
You know how people say we shouldn’t force our partners into becoming more like us, making them do activities they don’t enjoy? At this point, I was starting to feel that He seemed to have planned the day around stuff only I liked, so I kept asking him if he was sure he wouldn’t rather go do something else. I didn’t want to be that person who turned their husband or wife into a sad, bitter, soulless, copycat version of themselves. At some point, he interrupted my incessant asking and said matter-of-factly, “I’m allowed to like the same things as you, you know.”
He was absolutely right, of course. After almost a decade of dating and almost 5 years of marriage, we were bound to rub off on each other somewhat. I was so self-conscious and concerned that we were becoming that monolith couple with no distinct individual personalities – but him discovering that he liked the same things as I do, or vice versa, doesn’t mean we have erased each other’s uniqueness. It just means we are growing together and that we are improving each other to be the best we can be. It means we are finding more and more common ground as we build a life together. It means he is now interested in great architecture and I discovered how much I enjoy live jazz. It also means he will tolerate a certain amount of time in bookstores and I am still learning how to ice skate even if my legs would ache even at the thought. It means I like dim sum and he likes running after dim sum carts.
It means marriage.
There are things we love to do together, things we like to do separately and many many things which we will learn to enjoy just because it makes the other person happy. It’s love.
Dinner was at Clement. We had such a marvelous time, especially the birthday celebrant – who felt very spoiled by the extra desserts. In his exact words: “I’m having dinner at The Peninsula with my wife and a view of 5th Ave below!”. The portions were filling (none of those tiny bits of food on a plate), the food was superb, and the service was unpretentiously gracious. 100% would recommend.
After that – Anastasia! This, I was sure Miguel definitely picked for me. I had a Romanov-obsessed phase around age 10 when I was so disturbed by the real-life tragedy that I had to rewatch the animated movie over and over again to console myself. I memorized all the songs. I even announced that I was going to move to Russia someday, learn the Russian language and eventually, read Tolstoy in Russian.
Dear 10-year-old Louriz,
You’ve been inching your way through the ENGLISH translation of War and Peace for over 8 years. Tolstoy in Russian is not happening, hon. Give yourself a break.
Your 27-year-old self
When Anastasia came out on Broadway, Miguel was determined to take me even if he, himself, had never seen the film. That’s another thing about marriage, you get to learn all of each other’s ridiculous, mundane backstories and you get to decide whether to use it against your spouse or for them. One day, maybe I’ll find a reason to tell you why Miguel loves World War II movies…
Side Review of Anastasia: In the ridiculously long line for the bathroom during intermission, you can tell that half of the young women there were my age. There was constant gushing about how, like me, they loved that movie as a child and how hard it was not to sing out loud to the songs. How validating! Nothing like fangirls with disposable income. And no, the film plot and the book (musical) aren’t exactly the same, though most of the songs are. It’s worth seeing, even if like me you’ve already seen the film a gazillion times.
Miguel loved it. Music was our original shared interest. It’s how we ended up spending so much time together when we first met. But even in music, we have different tastes. Furthermore, Miguel is pickier than I am (he would say he has a more refined taste – debatable 🤔), especially when it comes to singers, even professional ones. Even if they’re truly talented, he won’t necessarily enjoy listening to them. He is very vocal about his dislike for vocalists, which makes me cringe in embarrassment.
So when he kept whispering in my ear, “She is so good! I love her voice!”, over and over again without taking his eyes off the smashing Christy Altomare on stage as the lead, I knew he meant it. I knew it meant that he truly, genuinely enjoyed the day he had planned – for the both of us…
… and that I am married to a marvelous, talented, selfless human – truly one-of-a-kind.
I’m attempting a creative writing exercise this year, which includes setting a goal of 52 posts in 2019. This is post #3/52. I’m still on it, but as my good friend Carla (I know you’re reading this) pointed out, I am running out of weeks and now have to double up on the posts to catch up. I haven’t given up yet! It’s only… oh my, it’s already May!!!