My family used to have a swing set in our backyard. I remember the metal beams, the red seats of the seesaw and “love seat,” and the rubbery swings with blue plastic over the chains to protect your hands from getting pinched. I remember helping my dad place stickers on the swing set to make it look cool. I remember the metal slide that I would happily climb, trying to reach for the sky before I slid back down to the world.

I played on the swing set almost daily, sometimes alone, sometimes with my sister or friends. When I was older, my long legs had to be crammed onto the steps of the seesaw, but I still eagerly pushed back and forth to see how high I could go. I could feel the swing set shift out of its setting in the ground from my force. It never failed to make me happy.

Eventually my dad had to remove the swing set because the braces started to crack and the metal rusted, making it unsafe. I was lucky that my schools and neighborhood had other playgrounds to play on. But I was also growing older, and by high school I had moved on to more mature afterschool activities.

Nowadays I sometimes wonder why only children are allowed to play and run around. They’re encouraged to imagine all sorts of adventures. As adults, we instead have structured alternatives such as team sports or choreographed dance. They’re still enjoyable, but each move is calculated and constructed. It’s about control instead of freedom.

Recently, I visited my friend in Queens and suggested we take a walk around the neighborhood. She informed us that there was a park nearby with a playground. One of our friends immediately lit up and asked, “Are there swings?”

When we got to the park, a group of middle-schoolers was already there, so we hovered awkwardly, waiting and hoping for our chance. Once they left and no other young children were around, we pounced on half of the swings. The four of us took turns swinging, and the feeling was instantaneous bliss.

There we were, a group of grown women who couldn’t control our laughter over a pair of swings. It didn’t matter whether we were the ones swinging or the ones watching, the laughter continued to roll out of us. The sheer joy of movement, and the brief return to childhood, affected us all.

When it was my turn, I walked backwards as far as I could go, all the way onto my tiptoes. Then I heaved up and gave myself a large first push. With each back-and-forth, I swung with more force. My legs kicked higher and higher, until I could see my feet flying towards the clouds. So high that I wanted to touch the sky, before I came back down to reality.


We Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. Living in former swamplands about an hour from the Gulf Coast, we’ve had to stock up on non-perishables and supplies, fill our bathtubs with water, board our windows, and evacuate. Our city has experienced major flooding, power outages, and even the loss of homes and lives. Recently, those on the East Coast experienced similar devastation. Sandy caused enormous damage, and some people lost everything.

The New York City area was hit particularly hard. Living next to Times Square, I was very lucky. While my office was closed for three days, other than flickering power, my apartment was fine. It was surreal, however, to witness for the second time since moving here, how empty and quiet the City That Never Sleeps had become because of a hurricane.

When we finally returned to work, one of my friends set up a volunteer effort for my team. With the little gas that we had, four of us made it down to the Rockaways early in the morning, with hot food and supplies – all generously donated by a local diner and colleagues.

We walked amidst the destruction, amazed not only by what was lost, but also by how many others had come out to help. We spent the day at a local church where the National Guard was also present, all of us organizing, distributing and delivering supplies. Despite being inside the building, we were very cold, which led us to worry about the dropping temperatures and wonder how residents would stay warm.

I have only these few words and pictures to share from my experience volunteering in the Rockaways. It will take a while for everyone to recover from Sandy, but what I saw growing up in Houston is very present here in New York: People helping people.

All photos taken and copyright by Angie Liang.


By the time you read this, my 2nd anniversary of moving to New York City will have passed. Like most weeks, it was rather uneventful and busy with work. Though tired as usual, I couldn’t help contemplating where my life is heading. After two years of working and living in this fast-paced city, I’m surprised to find that I’m still a little uncertain about it.

Moving here was propelled by a great career opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, but my honeymoon period with New York had ended a couple years earlier, during previous internships I’d done here. As I settled into my fourth-floor studio apartment, I no longer felt the excitement and wonder of so many students and young professionals around the world who dream of living here. Instead, I found myself battling expenses, egos, and a dwindling sense of passion.

Before I came to New York, I was active in developing environmental policy on my campus, fundraising for the local children’s hospital, and even planting trees. I danced every week—two-stepping, salsa, clubbing. I went to concerts with friends, hosted dinner parties in my apartment, cleaned up the local river, played piano…

All of that stopped when I moved here.

But it’s not entirely the city’s fault. There’s plenty to do, and a raw energy that radiates through New York’s 8 million residents. Even strangers and visitors remark upon this aura, this vitality that cannot be captured. But it belongs to the city, not to me.

I’ve tried to borrow that energy by tapping into the veins of New York. Walking the grid of streets, I continuously explore and find things to appreciate. I love running my hands through the grassy plants along the Highline, an urban park converted from the old railroad track. I love the tiny, foreigner-filled restaurant in Nolita that exudes coolness but pretends it’s not that hip. I love the farmer’s markets, flea markets, street markets, any market. Most importantly, I love the sassy 13-year-old girl I mentor, and the good friends I have made here.

To help me understand my hazy emotions and desires, I asked some of these friends to explain why they liked New York and whether they’d still be here in two years. Some grew up in the city, others are transplants like myself. The answers I received from them reflects the magic that the city exudes:

“The energy is unlike anywhere else.”

“Always so much to do. Friends are always visiting.”

“Everything about New York is energized, and there are infinite possibilities.”

Yet even with all the positives, most said they did not expect to stay here long-term, echoing my own mixed feelings.

New York has never been shy about its complexity and allure, but I never realized how tough it would be to live in that, day in and day out. I’m here now, but who knows where I’ll end up. That’s the excitement of life. That’s something New York City has taught me to embrace.


Hordes of tourists and natives alike crowd Times Square at any given part of the day—in my case, 7 p.m. on a Monday after work. My friends were standing around a sunshine yellow piano located right at the epicenter of Times Square, and a professional pianist was delighting the crowd with his masterpiece. As I listened, my heart sank to my stomach and my hands were shaking.

“You’re next, Angie,” one of my friends said with a nudge.

Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.

I was one of those children that you had to force to sit at the piano to practice. Sometimes it involved screaming. Eventually I realized the minimal amount I had to practice each week to get by in my piano lessons. Then when I started college, there were no more lessons or practice sessions, and suddenly, I realized how much I loved (and missed) playing the piano.

In college, my friend Jenn and I would storm the private music rooms on campus to play all our old classical pieces and attempt some current hits. Later, my boyfriend at the time lent me his weighted keyboard so I could play in my bedroom. This became especially beneficial whenever I felt stressed and needed to let my emotions flow from my head and my heart and out through my fingers.

Moving to New York, I had to forego making music. Due to lack of transportation, space, and time, I returned the weighted keyboard and stopped playing. After a few months, I started getting antsy and looking up piano room rentals at local theatres. So when New York hosted a two-week art installation project of free pianos open to the public around the city, I knew I had to play.

There was only one problem: stage fright. As much as I love playing, I am terrible with large crowds, something that is unavoidable in New York. When it comes to piano, I view playing as a personal fulfillment and only choose to share it with a few close friends. The thought of performing in front of a large crowd of strangers creates a terrible anxiety and nervousness. Luckily, Jenn happened to be visiting and I told her of my goal to participate before the installation ended in July, and she happily agreed to support me.

On our first attempt, we walked in the dead of night to one of the free pianos at Central Park. My logic was this: It’s late, so not as many people will be out, and it’s dark, so they can’t really see me. But somehow my logic did not factor in that the piano would be locked during the night.

The next day I made my second attempt, more determined than ever. I discovered that there was a closer piano in Times Square, so I decided if I was going to do play somewhere, why not one of the most heavily trafficked locations in the world?

Jenn and a few friends stood eagerly near me as the pianist finished his piece. As my other friend nudged me, I looked at Jenn. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through with this, but she smiled to give me confidence and encouragement. Even the professional said, “This piano is for you to play.”

And he was right.

Despite my nervousness, and even my mistakes, I sat on the bench and played. I played because I could make music. I played because it made me happy. I played until the piece was finished, the crowd applauded, and I turned and smiled.


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it’s the one tradition my family keeps. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a holiday centered around food?

Every Thanksgiving since as far as I can remember, my family has dinner with my best friend Jen’s family. Our parents have known each other since college, so we grew up hand-in-hand. Sometimes the menu changes, sometimes more families join in, and goodness knows we all age, but every year it’s a full meal and lots of laughter.

A few years ago, Kristan and I added our own tradition to Thanksgiving. The two of us would return to Houston and run — or more realistically walk — the Turkey Trot, an early morning 10K race benefitting Sheltering Arms.  Then we’d rush back home to shower, and in the afternoon we’d volunteer at the Superfeast in downtown Houston.  Later in the evening, we would go to our respective family dinners.

Last year, Kristan changed our tradition. She understandably wanted to spend time with her boyfriend Andy and his family. At first I was disappointed, but I still had my other traditions. I knew I’d get to spend time with Jen, gorging on stuffing and pumpkin pie.  I could deal with a little change.

Little did I know, that little change was just the beginning…

For years and years my Thanksgiving traditions were the same, and this year I was looking forward to another rambunctious gathering. However, in October I abruptly uprooted my entire life in Texas to start a new job in New York City.  Given the quick timing, I found myself unable to return home for Thanksgiving.

At first I didn’t think too much of it, but as the holiday approached, I started to realize how incredibly homesick I was. Friends and coworkers talked about their plans for family gatherings and delicious menus, and I secretly envied them. Luckily though, a few New Yorkers reached out and helped me plan a new Thanksgiving for myself.

Just between us Texans, I want you to know that despite their reputation, New Yorkers are very sweet. From an Italian father with a great love of tea, to a sweet couple I met at IKEA, to my boss who I admire greatly, I have gotten to know an amazing number of very nice, very open people. In fact, after just one meeting, the IKEA couple invited me to join them for their Thanksgiving lunch.

Everyone says that when traditions end, you start a new one. But I’m not looking to start a new tradition, I am just looking to start my adventures, because who knows how next year will change. This year I am spending Thanksgiving with three different families, which also means three big meals and, of course, an overabundance of laughter. Next year, who knows?

And yes I am still a bit homesick, but I also realize that now I have many homes welcoming me. So I give thanks for all the good in my life, I look forward to returning to Houston for Christmas, and I wish all you dear readers a very happy holiday season.


Angie

Between the sweltering heat and sticky humidity, you would think it was still summer. As I walked to class on my first day as a graduate student, mosquitoes swarmed my bare legs, viscously biting to survive. Survive just as I had that summer.

Rather than joining the workforce after college graduation, I chose to continue my education, much to the surprise of my parents, who assumed that I’d be well on my way to a high-paid executive position with some Fortune 500 Company. Instead, I found an internship in New York City that would engage my mind and my time until school started in the fall.

But that wasn’t the only thing that surprised them. I had also gotten out of a three-year relationship with someone I considered my best friend, and losing him felt like losing a part of myself. Essentially, I bid my parents adieu and left for New York boyfriend-less and confused, but full of hope.

I still have trouble sometimes with this transition from being a “we” to an “I.” There are times I feel lost, uncertain and unable to contain my emotions. There are also times I find myself wondering more about what he is doing than what I have just learned in class. But I’ve realized that there will be moments like these, and eventually I will learn to move past them.

This learning process began in the summer, in New York, where working through my pain and my pride, I found myself enjoying life. At first, every day felt like a constant reminder of what I no longer had. The Whitney Museum hosted a blinding “Summer of Love” exhibit featuring the psychedelic colors of 1967 and photographs of John Lennon. The company where I interned held its “Summer of Love” outing in a roof-top loft littered with a few souls brave enough to wear the complimentary tie-dyed T-shirts. Even the W Hotel, which I passed daily on my walk to work, illuminated the fluorescent words “Summer of Wuv” on the lobby floor. Everywhere I went, the phrase followed.

But beyond my “Wuv”-ly reminders, I found new adventures, cuisines and people. I spent my free time tracing Richard Serra’s sinuous bronze sculptures at the MoMA, outfitting myself with fashionable confections at Bloomingdale’s private sale, daydreaming as I overlooked the night skyline from the Empire State Building, and representing my burnt orange Texas pride at a Yankees game. Life was different, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Returning home to Texas, summer faded into memory. Although the exposure to a different place and lifestyle was an incredible experience, it left me even more uncertain about what I want to do with my life. But I’m reminded of a curly-haired aspiring actress I met on a ferry who said she wished that when she was my age, someone had told her, “It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do now.”
It’s okay. I’m okay.

The end of a relationship is never easy. The start of a new life chapter is also a difficult journey. But we all should know, there are plenty of opportunities to discover yourself. To trust yourself.

Summer of Love or not, I am Angie, and that’s okay.

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