Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Unamerican Independence Days

I’ve just had my third American Independence Day since moving (back) to the US. However, the anniversary of my Independence isn’t July 4th. As I look back on my life, and examine the highlights in which I asserted authority over my life, I can think of four milestone Independence Days.

March 7th 2007. New York, New York
I arrived in JFK with 3 suitcases; books and key work files airmailed to me in the States; and precious art, heirlooms and antiques stored for safekeeping in the Philippines. I came to New York with nest egg, a blossoming romance, a Brooklyn sublet and job interviews lined up. I left the safety nets of family, lifetime friends, the beloved company I worked with for 16 years and the comfortable expat lifestyle I had enjoyed for six years and jumped.

The life I left was very good. It was rewarding, comfortable and stimulating. And it was full of love and happy times. The thing is, somewhere along the way the things that traditionally provide stability were making me feel restless. It was time. So on went the boots (yes, the ones made for walking!) and off I went. Cue music and sing it with me if I can make it there…

September 30th, 2000. Expatriate Estrogen Expeditions
I had been under the wanderlust spell for quite sometime now. It consumed my savings, occupied my holidays and filled up my passport. Before I knew it, it was eating into my ambition. I wanted to experience working in another culture, in a different market. And so, after a bit of drama that I won’t get into, I got my company to include me in the regional team for Asia Pacific on the agency’s second largest piece of business. There were very few women on the regional team and even less women who were Asian. I felt like quite the pioneer, a sister in stilettos!

The expat experience was enriching in more ways that I ever imagined it would be. I immersed myself in cultures and geographies both new and familiar all at once. And I was good at what I did - respectful of local cultures, with a gentle firmness that got things done. And I had fun! I enjoyed the local cuisine and nightlife, shopped a variety of street fairs and haggled in languages I didn’t know! I quickly developed taxi conversation and street smarts in Thai, Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Singlish (i.e. Singaporean English) and Nihongo. My art collection (now in storage) is a lovely homage to this Asian Expat expedition.

June 8th, 1987. Left-leaning Literati
Born to a staunch Catholic father, baptized Catholic and schooled by Catholic nuns from the time I was five, the Catholic doctrine was tethered to my education. I don’t regret this at all. I still remember my lessons the year of my first communion, how I marveled at the mysteries of faith and the stories of Jesus’ life. The values I hold dearest to my heart today are very much anchored in the love, compassion, kindness and passionate conviction I learned about as I got to know Jesus, the man-God.

In my senior year I applied to the top three universities – two were Catholic and one was secular. There are still discussions on which is the toughest to get into, but I got into all three. Even though I got into the honors program at the leading Jesuit University where my best friends went, I still chose to go the state university’s main campus since year after year, they only accept the upper 1 percentile of the nation’s graduating class. This was perhaps one of my life’s greatest tipping points.

In this godless left-leaning University I found depth of faith and spirituality, broadness of thought and true humility. I distinctly recall feeling all cocky about the 99% score on a Math 1 exam as I preened in my spic-span Keds. No sooner had I patted myself on my back did I notice the quiet rural boy next me secretly smiling to himself as he held onto his exam paper – on which I saw 110% - he got all questions and all the bonus ones too!

To be surrounded by so much intelligence from people and places you’d least expect is a thrilling experience I highly recommend to anybody who has ever rested on her laurels as she sashayed through the hallways in her pumps.

June 15th, 1974. Weepy Weather Girl

I was three and a half when I started going to school. By then I had already begun to read and it made all sense to put me in preschool. This was no guarantee that I would be one to cooperate with this logical plan though. Evidently (and there are fotos to prove this, much to my dismay!) I would throw tantrums everyday, in fits of fury when either parent attempted to leave me in school. I am told these tantrums subsided once said parent had been gone for a while, and that I quite enjoyed school.

This is not how I remember it, though.

What I remember is that my teacher gave me the important job of being the class Weather Girl. It was my responsibility to record on our weather board if it was a sunny day, a cloudy day or a rainy day. If I did not get to class early enough or if I failed to do my job properly, my classmates would not know what weather to expect!

At three and a half, some days wearing red rain boots and other days wearing gold ballet slippers, I felt a sense of authority and responsibility that not many at that age experience. And I liked it! Almost four decades later, I still wear red boots and gold ballet slippers, I still check the weather every morning. And I still feel like the supreme authority over most things in my life. And on some days, I even feel I have authority over the weather!