Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gone West in Search of Eloquence

Last year, I was at a lay-over in Singapore on my way to New York when I realized that I forgot to bring sun glasses. Harsh sunlight triggers my migraines, so I bought a pair at the Duty Free shop. It came in a red case, departing from the usual black or beige that the brand typically uses. I didn't think much of it, until I walked into a Gap shop one day and saw the exact same icon (RED) on a tank top I then bought. Instantly, I connected the dots and something in me clicked. Something in me knew I wanted to be part of this kind of thing.

After fifteen years of working in Asia, I move Westward and many wonder why I am moving away from “boomtown.” The answer is as simple as it is complex. I want to participate in agenda-setting work, and engage in a world where an ex Vice President speaks “An Inconvenient Truth” and both George W. Bush and Sir Martin Sorrell mention environmental concerns in speeches they make in the same week. I want to immerse myself in the emerging consciousness at high levels of strategic thinking where bottom line focus is being re-evaluated in the context of higher ideals, without losing sight of profitability.

I advocate this approach. I am in America to champion the Eloquent Brand.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My Love Affair With the Subway

I don't know if New Yorkers realize how lucky they are to have efficient public transportation. As a newbie New Yorker, it is one of the things I am most thankful for! I cannot imagine traversing this big city without it.

The guts of New York City, the subway is the lifeblood of this metro. It carries over five million people everyday and unlike the underground systems of London, Paris and Tokyo it runs 24/7, 365 days a year . No doubt it is one of the most extensive public transport systems in the world. I recently discovered that although it's called a "subway," over a third of the systems run above ground and it is primarily in Manhattan that it runs almost entirely underground.

I was in my twenties when I first came to New York on my own, and the subways were very intimidating to me. I didn't grow up in a city that had efficient public transport, and the idea of not seeing where you were in a city so unfamiliar was quite freaky. I would rely on people's very detailed directions "take the 4/5 to Grand Central and switch to the 6." My annual visits to New York helped a little, but because I was on holiday mode and not really in a rush, buses were still my preference. This way, I could see where I was and knew right away if I had taken the wrong bus!

My beau much prefers the speed and efficiency of the subway, and going around the city with him has made me get to know the subway a lot better. I observe how the stops differ in the different sections of the city, how some of them are just horrible and others are quite pleasant. The 72nd Street stop in the Upper West Side, for instance, announces itself with a cathedral-like aesthetic and twenty-four streets up the 96th Street stop is dirty and grimy and rather unpleasant. Why is that, I often wonder.

Beyond the efficiency and history this eighty-something year old New York institution, what amazes me the most about the subway is the absolute democracy it preserves. On the trains, it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, what your salary is. On the trains, we're all just people on our way to or from somewhere. This power to escape into anonymity, if you want to, is quite something. Because really, on the trains we are all just the same.

The current state of affairs between me and the subway is probably best described as a love-hate relationship. Some days, I love the efficiency and the familiarity of it. I enjoy observing the microcosm of New York in my car or on the platform. I love the idea of going somewhere. On other days, I really miss my car. I miss having greater control of my routes and schedules. I miss the road, and the view from the driver's seat. I miss the tension of Manila traffic, the dance of the undisciplined. And yes, I even miss the horn-blowing.

I am in New York now, and the subway will continue to play a major role in my days. Love it or hate, it is there to stay.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

408 Lincoln Parkway,-78.872287&spn=0.008231,0.018733&z=16

My first address was 408 Lincoln Parkway, Buffalo NY 14216. I have no memories of Buffalo or the basement apartment.

Last Sunday as Papa and I were on a Skype call we google mapped the place simultaneously. I was in Brooklyn and he was in Malaga, and somehow we both found our way back in Buffalo. He showed me the bus route that took him from the apartment to his school. He showed me The Sisters of Charity Hospital, where I was born.

One day soon, I will actually see Buffalo and the basement apartment (if it is still there). But for now, the most real experience I have had of my first address was that synchronized google map tour of the city where I was born.

East or West?

I am not a native New Yorker, just New York born.

As I gain my bearings in New York, I am frequently in need of directions. The first time my beau told me "head East on Fifth Avenue," I had no idea what he meant. And he had no idea how I could have no idea. "How do you give directions in Manila?" he asked, and I said "We say go down three corners then turn right at the corner where there's a 7-11!"

Therein lies a fundamental lesson I have yet to learn. Where is East. I look up and locate the sun, to place myself - the sun's movement is the same anywhere on earth after all. Google maps help me get my bearings, and the sun helps me mark my position on the map and I make my way to wherever it is I am going. I still go East when I am meant to head West, and I still allocate twenty minutes leeway for losing my way. But I am getting better at it, not losing my cool and enjoying the experience.

So as I chase the sun to find my East, or West as the case may be I get to know the streets and subways, nooks and crannies of New York and discover my way around this magical city. Who knows what I might uncover today, a compass?

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie

I was Mama's American Pie.

Long before I could understand the lyrics, the song 'American Pie' was meaningful to me. My mother would sing it to me, put the tape on in the car or put the record on at home and sing it to me. All three of us, my sister, my mother and I would belt out "bye, bye Miss American pie. Drove the Chevy to the levy till the levy was dry. The good old boys were drinking whisky and wine saying 'this will be the day that I die, this will be the day that I day that that I die.' And we would dance too! We would rock the car, or jump around the living room and have a blast.

But I didn't really know what the song meant as a song, nor did I understand the power of the metaphor. I still don't know how well I understand the song lyrics but I am beginning to appreciate what it means to be Mama's Miss American Pie. As I get to know America better, I hope to discover more about myself. Perhaps then I will deserve the title of Miss American Pie.

What do you think, Ma?

Coming (Back) To America

I am an accidental American.

Born in Buffalo, NY to newlyweds, I had little to do with my much sought-after citizenship and passport. What happened was this - I was a honeymoon baby who came sooner than planned. My parents were married in December and headed for the US in the June that followed because my Spanish-Filipino father was to do his MBA at the State University of NY, Buffalo campus. The plan made sense, Papa would complete his degree than Mama would follow. But life has a funny way of working, and soon after a bitter upstate New York winter in a basement apartment, my parents decided it was time to head back to the Philippines. This is where I grew up.

Growing up in the Philippines was wonderful! Like most countries in Asia, the Philippines was invaded by China and Japan early in its history. However, the Spanish and Americans also invaded the Philippines in recent history, making it uniquely Westernized. Filipino culture is therefore a most diverse culture. As a result of this diversity, I was raised with an European-Asian awareness. I spoke Spanish to my Nana, English to my Mama and Filipino to my 'yaya' (nanny). I was schooled by German nuns in a progressive school focused on the holistic development of a woman. Being American-born and then raised in the Philippines has also put me uniquely in tune with America. The Philippine educational system is patterned after the American system, the pop culture is very American and in fact I grew up with Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss as key influences. But America was a place I knew only as a tourist, from a distance.

The idea of coming to America persisted through different points in my life. I had thought about coming for college, but I was sixteen and convent-schooled so my parents worried it would be too much. I thought about it again after college, but I immediately found a job I enjoyed in the Philippines so I decided to stay. Again, I revisited the idea in my last twenties. I even went on a few job interviews while on my yearly New York trip. But my company gave me an Asia Pacific posting, moved me to Singapore then Bangkok and gave me a job that covered the region from Japan through India. How could I possibly leave that?

Finally in March of 2007 , after thirty-six years of being an American overseas, it was time to come to America. Or should I say come back? I...
  • Quit my job
  • Moved out of a very comfortable and roomy flat
  • Left a pretty successful Asia Pacific career
  • Sold most of my belongings
  • Put my art, carpets, favorite pieces of Asian furniture and my grandmother's China in storage; and
  • Headed for JFK with only the clothes and shoes I could carry with me on the plane and the books that would fit in a box that the post office would accept.
My birthplace is a country I do not know, I have come back to get to know America.