Making the most of a long-postponed family trip to New York

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View from the Empire State Building. Photo: Vanessa Hua/Special for The Chronicle

We were sitting in a taxi when I noticed Gege staring at the skyscrapers with wide eyes. “I’m finally in the city of my dreams,” he told us.

For generations, it’s been the refrain of legions of newcomers to the Big Apple. We had just arrived for a trip long delayed by the pandemic, originally planned for Spring Break 2020; we waited for summer vacation this year to finally go.

After everything we’ve been through in almost 2 and a half years, we felt like we had come full circle.

Travel is set to take off this summer, industry watchers say, with more than a quarter of holidaymakers expecting to spend significantly more compared to the 2019 season – due to higher prices and because they use accumulated savings to spend on “journeys under a marquee”.

Although our sons were freshly stung – boosted as soon as children aged 5 to 11 became eligible – I still worry about their first flight across the country, especially amid a surge in cases. Airlines and many indoor venues have also dropped their mask mandates. The metro, for now, still requires masking, but on our rides, maybe half of the passengers complied.

At the station, I chased the boys from the edge of the platform, putting my body between theirs and the edge as I scanned our surroundings, thinking of Christina Yuna Lee and michelle goAsian American women who suffered violent and fatal attacks in New York earlier this year: Lee after her attacker followed her to her apartment building, Go to a subway station.

Even so, the iconic underground train network remained a novelty and highlight of the trip, with Gégé napping on my lap and Didi eagerly studying the map and memorizing the order of the stops.

“B and D are friends, then they go their separate ways,” he explained of two trains on the orange line paralleling each other until they pull away.

The Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Vanessa Hua/Special for The Chronicle

At the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, we walked through classic trains in a disused subway station. In the gift shop, I spotted the old subway tokens – with the Y-shaped notch – hammered into a bracelet. It brought back memories of my first trip to New York, in high school. I still have the pewter necklace from a treble clef I bought at Lincoln Center after attending a concert there. Similarly, my husband has the memory of his first school trip: a safe whose combination consists of a Number.

None of them are of much value, and yet they are priceless because the trinkets represented the possibility, a life bigger and brighter than our suburban existence.

Will our boys ever remember their trinkets so vividly and fondly? Didi’s choice: a B-line shirt, which he immediately put on with enthusiasm. Gege chose a King Kong bobblehead from the Empire State Building, where we looked through the bars of the 86th-floor observation deck and over the city. At first, Gege said he didn’t want to look over the side, but after gathering his courage, he exclaimed, “I feel like a god!”

Walking through the street grid, Didi marveled, “New York is like a San Francisco that goes on and on.”

Gege rated New York 10 out of 10, even after a summer thunderstorm soaked us on the High Line, even after we walked in the humid heat on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photo: Vanessa Hua/Special for The Chronicle

We packed our week with sightseeing stops including Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in America, circa 1905; a stroll through Times Square (with a three-story McDonald’s that impressed Gege); and a hike along the Ramble, a wooded section of Central Park where we watched a turtle dig a hole to lay eggs. Next, we gazed at a fossil of its massive relative, Stupendemicwhich swam 5 million years ago and now hangs from the ceiling of the nearby American Museum of Natural History.

It occurred to us that if we had visited when we planned, our boys might not have been able to walk that far or remember that much. A hidden blessing, like the glow of the sun after the storm.




  • Vanessa Hua

    Vanessa Hua is the author, most recently, of “Forbidden City”. His column appears on Fridays in Calendar.

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