The life of an ex-pat is full of excitement, adventure, nostalgia and misplacement. Fi talks to us about her globetrotting adventures, calling New York home, what's next, and where to go when you get the craves.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
I arrived in January 2010. I had never been to New York before and there was a huge snowstorm and it went on for about three days.
I came straight from Japan with my now husband, Karl. I hadn’t seen him since Easter, he was living in Sweden and I was living in Australia, and we met in the middle in Japan for Christmas and New Year’s.
So I went from summer in Australia to a big trip around Japan to arriving in New York without anything, just a suitcase, no job, and with my man again who I hadn’t been with for about 8 months.
We subletted this big warehouse apartment underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, which is now a pretty cool area. Back then it was a little sketchy.
When I first arrived it was really dark so I didn’t get to see what the area was like. The next day we wanted to go on an adventure and look around but we couldn’t get out because the snow was above the door. We eventually got out and I remember we went to the closest place for us to get food, which was Diner. I thought “oh my god, this place is awesome!” So I was in love. This place was cool!
I spent most of the time when I first arrived being inspired and kind of blown away by the city. Karl went straight to work and I was on my own, no job, no responsibilities.
What did you do with your time?
I was a very good housewife, cooked dinners, did the laundry, researched jobs but I didn’t really research any jobs for about three months. [Laughs]
I just had a really nice break, spent time with Karl, did a lot of touristy stuff. I was lucky to arrive here and have the luxury to explore. One thing I realized is that it wasn’t as big as I thought it was going to be. I just imagined, from the movies, that I’d be looking up at the sky and the buildings would be everywhere and I’d be like an ant getting squashed by everyone.
Because I spent a lot of time by myself and Karl was at work, he’d come home and I’d be “on” him. That was the hardest thing. When you’ve had such a long break from somebody to suddenly become so needy. He had his work friends and I needed to make my own thing.
How did you do that?
I got introduced to friends through friends back home, and then through work but it was about six months before I started working.
It was more difficult than I anticipated to get a job. I’m in sales so it’s really driven by who you know. First of all I needed to find the right place that I wanted to work. I had a clear idea that I didn’t want to be doing what I did back in Australia and that I wanted to push myself into a new direction and learn more. In doing so, I made it twice as hard for myself.
I spent a good 3-4 months networking, going to events and reading a lot, having coffees with people in the industry. That was really good, I learned a lot and got a really good start from that.
I eventually found somewhere I wanted to work. Luckily Karl was really supportive and recognized that I left my job to come to New York. The process did wear me down and my moral was pretty low. I shouldn’t complain but I didn’t really have a daily grind and sometimes that can really knock you around.
Once I started working I was like “what was I complaining about?” I should have just been a kept woman! [Laughs]
You’re in sales now?
I’m in digital advertising sales but more in advertising technology ... using technology to do advertising. I found myself at a start up this year that I’m really excited and inspired by. It’s definitely what I want to be doing. The biggest challenge is that I don’t know if I could find a job like that back home.
When you say “home” do you mean New Zealand or Australia?
Australia. I don’t think I could ever move back to New Zealand. I love it and my family is there but I’ve been away from New Zealand since 1999 and I don’t know if I could mentally put my head back there.
Do you think you’ll stick around New York for a while?
I have no idea. I want to from a career perspective because I’m learning so much and it’s really exciting but that can easily be transferred to another environment. What I’m doing day-to-day is surrounding myself with really interesting, smart and driven people and that can be anywhere in the world, right?
Our dream is to live in Tokyo. If you take all the best parts of New Zealand like the nature and people’s passion for life and combine that with the fast paced excitement of a city like New York, and the gracefulness of Europe, you get Tokyo.
The people are so polite, the food is amazing, the shopping is amazing. It’s a feast for your eyes everywhere you look.
As a place to settle down or just live for a while?
I don’t think we know the definition of settling down. [Laughs] This is my fourth country that I’ve lived in and I think this is Karl’s third.
What’s your fourth?
I was born in New Zealand, then we went and lived in Fiji. I moved to Australia for ten years and I’ve been in New York now for five and a half years.
Sometimes you think about what might happen when you get old and need to get a house and I guess that’s why people “settle” down. It’s definitely a while a way but you can only be a gypsy for so long.
I think we’re all in the same boat with living in different places. Even at this point I’m like “where to next?” But then I wonder how long can I do that for? It’s hard making new friends and then leaving, then making you new friends and leaving. Where is that place that I can just “be”?
It’s tough. If you were to sit Karl down you’d get a totally different opinion, but for me the city of New York, as much as I love it, is slowly killing me. Maybe it’s just where we live but the sirens and the people on the street screaming, the dirt and the hustle, all the things that people love about the city, I love too, but I need to get out.
Every weekend through summer we try to get out and go away. Karl doesn’t get affected by it at all.
I don’t know if you guys feel that way too.
I do and I haven’t even been here that long but sometimes I’m just so fucking tired of it.
Yeah, I just need a break. Union Square can get a bit hectic with the protests, the helicopters and people everywhere.
Do you have any go-to places for weekend trips out of the city?
Definitely. We’ve gotten really into going to Woodstock, not Woodstock itself, but the surrounding villages like Mount Tremper, Bearsville … They tend to be pretty easy to get to.
Most of them tend to be upstate and we avoid the beaches. First of all it’s a mission to get there and second of all it’s such a scene, everyone’s got their tits out.
And they’re not as nice as Australian beaches. [Laughs]
Culturally how do you find living in the States? Do you feel you’re Australian or a New Zealander?
I think for me it’s a little bit difficult because I became an Australian to be able to live here. I’m a New Zealander and always will be, but to get the E-3 visa you have to be Australian.
I identify either with Australia or New Zealand. Sometimes when I say I’m from New Zealand people apologize but I don’t mind being called an Australian. I think some people think there’s some sort of rivalry or stigma between the two.
I’ll never call myself a New Yorker because I don’t feel you have the right to call yourself a New Yorker unless you were born here or have spent the majority of your adult life here.
It’s such a transient city and that’s one of the things I love about living here. There are so many different cultures. Sadly that’s changing in a lot of Manhattan neighborhoods and they’re becoming very gentrified.
I love Alphabet City because there are still a lot of the original cultures there. If I had to move it’d be further that way because you’re amongst families that grew up here. My favorite area is around 7th and Ave C. I’m all about the ‘C’.
Do you have any favorite spots around there?
Yes. I don’t know if I want to tell you guys because then everyone will find out about them. [Laughs]
My favorite fried chicken place is Bobwhite’s. Oh my god, it’s the best. When you get the craves you’ve just got to go.
I reckon the best grab-to-go tacos are on the Bowery. There’s a hole in the wall called Taco Box. There’s this guy from California that works there and I have the best chats with him. I highly recommend the tacos.
My coffee shop that I go to every morning is at the end of my street, Everyman Espresso. The guys that own that place are Sam and Sam. From day one when I moved into this neighborhood I went in there he was like “you’re new! Tell me all about you!” And I was like “holy shit!” So we hit it off straight away. I’m in there pretty much Monday to Friday. We chat and bring each other presents.
So that’s my coffee spot. Really good coffee because coffee in New York is a disaster. You feel like such a snob but Kiwis and Australians know their coffee.
I’m a bit of a sucker for ice cream.
You’re speaking our language.
I’m all about the Big Gay Ice Cream. Salty Pimp. Mmm.
For drinks I like going to really skanky dive bars. That’s my absolute favorite. The East Village is really tough because it’s so fratty and I always want to go somewhere chilled out. I’ve got a bit of friendship going with the people that manage the KGB bar. It used to be an old Russian meeting house.
I love going to Barrio Chino between lunch and dinner for afternoon margaritas. That is the best thing ever if I’m going to have a nice afternoon drinking session. If you go between lunch and dinner is all about the drinks. They don’t serve food.
Do they serve chips and guacamole?
Yep. I also like to go to a local bar around here called Frank’s. It’s an Italian restaurant but we go there for the bar. It’s a cool place to just hang at the bar. There are a lot of regulars and celebrities drop in there.
If you go there earlier enough you can go next door to Mermaid Inn for the happy hour. They have one-dollar oysters and the happy hours start from 5pm on weekends.
A happy hour on the weekend is good!
Those are my go-to neighborhood spots. If I go out for brunch I prefer to have pho, Vietnamese soup. My regular spot in Chinatown that I’ve been going to for five years is called Pho Bang on Mott Street.
I always order the exact same thing and after about four years they finally started just taking our order instead of asking. That was a bit of an achievement.
We went in there on Halloween one year, I’ll never forget. We were in full costume, I was dressed as a goblin, we were drinking shots of Petron and getting ready to do the big Halloween parade on Fifth Avenue. We were sitting there getting wasted and they come and take our order like “yeah, what do you want?” Not taking notice of what we were wearing or anything. It was such a New York moment.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to others?
I think it would be remember where you came from. Stay humble to your roots. It doesn’t matter what you do, what you achieve, where you are, always remember where you came from.
What’s your favorite place to take visitors in New York?
It’s tough because it depends on the visitor. If I had to be touristy then I think the favorite place I’d take visitors is the High Line. That’s beautiful and unique.
Have you had a favorite New York moment?
There have been so many but I would say when I got engaged. It was spontaneous and we were in Bryant Park. I never really thought I’d get married. It was beautiful. Karl proposed to me and we got married six weeks later.
He didn’t have an engagement ring, he had a friend make a wedding band and that would be my wedding ring.
We’d already planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand so he said “let’s get married while we’re there.” He called his mom and asked her to plan the wedding.
It was the best way, better than having to over think it and spend a ton of money.
What does New York mean to you?
These questions are very deep, aren’t they? Right now it means home and my life. This was always the goal for our relationship, for Karl and I to be together in New York, so we built our life together here.