Non-drag Queens


Location: Forest Hills, Queens
Rent: $780 (market rate)
Square feet: 800
Occupant: Yee-Ching Lee (president, East West Media Consultants and Taiwan International Cultural Exchange); Laurence Singer (music producer; founder, Global Beat); Leigh Sophia Singer (13 months)

Why did you move so far away to central Queens, where the empty streets are in alphabetical order and you are just a few blocks from the Olmsted-designed model garden city—circa World War I—where even people’s birdhouses are Tudor? Only weeks ago you were living in the bustle of 51st and Third, just a stone’s throw from the pink-and-red Lipstick Building, in a nice-sized $825-a-month commercial loft, though it was illegal—but what the heck. [Laurence] That’s why we left. They saw us with the baby and kicked us out. We looked in Manhattan but we had two issues—price and a place for the baby to grow up. We wanted a place with a Chinese community.

Why not Flushing, with the largest Chinese population next to Chinatown? [Yee-Ching] Schools are the top in Forest Hills. Also, this is more residential. On our block there are Russians, and it’s also one-third to half Chinese. When I walk in the morning and I’m not awake yet and I hear someone call my name in Chinese, it’s nice. I grew up in Taipei City in the late l960s. It was still a developing city, not urban. Buildings were one- or two-story gray concrete. We lived in one room, seven kids, my parents too. Everyone slept on the floor. In 1992 I came to the U.S. with my ex-boyfriend, an American anthropological student at Cornell. We met when he was doing fieldwork in Taiwan. We lived in Ithaca one and a half years—very boring. Just before Ithaca, I’d lived in Paris for months so it was a terrible change. In 1994 I left Ithaca alone for New York. I didn’t really know anyone. I was a graduate student at NYU studying media ecology.

You were employing critical thought to analyze relations between the media and society, but meanwhile you needed an apartment. I saw about 10—pretty shocking. Some were so small. One had this very big guy, he was very drunk. He wanted to rent a room out to a girl. All over him he had tattoos. I saw this other apartment on the Lower East Side with two women. You could smell all the drugs. I just wanted to run away. Most people, when they see I’m female, an Asian student, they want to rent to me. They think, oh neat, very responsible, and cooks nice Chinese food. What’s the reality? Ask Laurence. So I found this loft at 29th and Eighth with roommates from Denmark, New Zealand, Japan. After one and a half years, the owner wanted to live there himself and kicked us out. Then I was on 51st Street. I met Laurence.

Laurence, you grew up outside of Cleveland, practiced law in D.C., moved to New York in 1994 to produce music. So how is provincial life in Forest Hills? [Laurence] I don’t see it as a banishment. [Yee-Ching] Here at least you can sit outside. In Manhattan, when I was pregnant, I didn’t feel very well. Later, with the baby, I couldn’t go anywhere. You feel your only life is in your apartment. You are locked inside like in a jail.

How was Manhattan before you were married? [Yee-Ching] I’d go out every night to a party. I didn’t care where I lived.