Sunday, June 19, 2005

Manila girl in Manhattan

I composed all my blog entries from June 13-19 on my PDA, then transferred them to my PC and did some editing, so this will be a very long (even longer than usual) but hopefully entertaining entry. I broke it down into sub-entries for easier reading, hope that helps. Enjoy!


Whenever I travel, I tend to develop a heightened wariness with a touch of paranoia: Did I forget to pack something? Will the airline lose my luggage? Will I leave a valuable personal possession behind on my trip? Will anything/everything go wrong?

I also get separation anxiety, particularly when I am not traveling with my siblings. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't like being away from them for extended periods of time, and even when I'm enjoying myself on my travels, I keep on wishing they were with me to share in the experience.

The paranoia and separation anxiety combine to make me a very edgy traveler... and not the most compatible traveling companion for my dad, who is a paranoid and panicky traveler in his own way and needs someone patient and stable enough to help him along. We were stuck with each other for a week, but we managed to make the most out of the situation.

City of Angels

There are no white people in Los Angeles. That was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when we arrived at LAX. Everywhere I looked were Asians, African-Americans, Latinos... but very few Caucasians. So who's the real minority here, huh?

We had a four-hour layover before our flight to NY, so Dad had arranged for one of his former students (Pa was a table tennis coach in his twenties; he was a player for the national team too) who lives in LA to come to the airport and take us to dinner. Ahia Michael picked us up and brought us to Beverly Hills. All the shops along Rodeo Drive were closed at that time of the evening, but Dad enjoyed looking at the show windows and picking up ideas for our own store displays. We ate at The Cheesecake Factory, and I had a slice of the richest, most sinful cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life: chocolate-peanut butter-cookie dough. I would have died a very happy pig right then and there.

Who says TV isn't educational?

I couldn't sleep on the plane from LA to New York, so I alternated between dozing fitfully and reading the book I had brought. It's an interesting book called "Everything I Know I Learned from TV" by Mark Rolands, who uses popular TV series like Friends, Sex and the City, and Seinfeld to explain the philosophical concepts of Aristotle, Sarte, Nietzsche, and other deep dudes we took up in our college Philo classes. Anyone who hated studying Philo back then will enjoy this book and come to appreciate what our profs were actually blathering about.

Weird weather

We were surprised by the cool temperature that greeted us in LA, so we expected more or less the same thing for New York. We were even more surprised when we got there, because it was unseasonably warm, and I'm talking Philippine-summer, buckets-of-sweat-producing warm. Newscasters were calling it "August in June." I wished I had packed shorts instead of the jeans I wore on the one free day we had. But then I took the sentiment back the following day, when it suddenly turned brisk and cool, just as it had been in LA... and of course I had to step outide wearing a sleeveless blouse of thin material. The weather gods were bent on torturing me.

Luxury hotel, my ass!

The international Arrow licensees were billeted at the Parker Meridien Hotel on West 57th Street. After lunch on our first day, my dad and I were going back up to our hotel room when we got stuck in the elevator. It stopped on the third floor where someone got off, then the doors closed and the elevator refused to budge (at that moment I remembered-- and regretted-- laughing at Tarin for getting stuck in a bathroom cubicle in Europe). We were trapped with a man who spoke English with a Spanish accent, and he took charge and pressed the alarm button and used the phone to call maintenance. We waited for around five tense, stuffy minutes until the elevator lurched back to life and deposited us back at the lobby level. Stupid hotel staff didn't even bother to call us to apologize. I vowed to fill up the guest comments card in our room with scathing remarks about the incident.

Getting down to business

The Arrow conference kicked off with a breakfast buffet where I met some of the other international licensees. My dad knew the delegations from Thailand, China, Singapore, France and Portugal, and I got introduced over and over again as his "daughter who just joined the company last April." I liked the Thailand group, they spoke decent English (with their distinct Thai accents) and were fun to talk to (the only woman in the group, a former Ms.Thailand, has a Fil-Am father). I guess there's a certain comfort hanging around people who come from the same region, an affinity that comes naturally to people of the same background, funny accents aside.

The presidents of Arrow Portugal and Singapore brought their sons along, so I wasn't the only C.O.O. there. The Singapore son looked like the fifth member F4 kicked out. The Portugese guy was cute, but his English wasn't that good, although he did the translating for his father. As I sat in the dimmed conference room admiring his chiseled profile and impeccable fashion sense, I realized that no matter how hot/smart/rich/nice a guy is, if I can't communicate with him in perfect English, it's not going to fly (even if he has nice hands... I like guys with nice hands, and when I shook his hand it was my type of hand ;p).

The conference was, as expected, just a bunch of corporate people in suits blabbing from behind a lectern, aided by their flashy PowerPoint slides. Nothing worth writing home about, and nothing worth writing about here. There was a buffet lunch, then some more talking suits, and then we got the rest of the afternoon off. We had cocktails and dinner that evening, and all the mingling and small talk were taking their toll on my meager social skills. I don't like hobnobbing, it requires too many pleasantries, and I'm not the most pleasant of people (besides, I didn't get to talk to the Portuguese guy all night, hmph). The following day we had a couple of meetings with the Arrow licensors, and that more or less took care of all the "business" we had to conduct in New York.

When in Rome...

The rest of the time we didn't have to "work," Dad and I walked around the city sight-seeing and shopping. As much as possible, I try not to look like a tourist when I'm walking around in a foreign city. I read somewhere that if you walk quickly with a small scowl on your face, chances are people, including muggers, will leave you alone. I think I do it even without intending to, especially in fast-paced, crowded cities, and New York definitely fits that category. My dad kept on telling me to slow down and relax. Whenever we stopped to snap pictures, I did not like dawdling because nothing screams "tourist" like taking photos of everything. Unfortunately for me, Dad likes to take his time with the camera, so we might as well have had "tourist" stamped on our foreheads.

At least I didn't sound like a tourist. I love being in a country the language of which I am completely fluent in (as opposed to China, where I look like I belong, but sound like a waiguo ren). I like seeing the look of surprise on American faces when they hear a stream of straight American English coming from me. Some of the Arrow licensees asked if I ever studied in the US, and when I told them no, they asked how my English got so good. I laughed and told them that I had American TV to thank for it. Chalk up another one for television.

Speaking of television...

Whenever we were back in our hotel room resting, we switched on the TV and channel-surfed. I love American sitcoms, and a lot of the channels were showing reruns of some classics like The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls. One day they were also showing a rerun of a Stanley Cup finals game between my two favorites teams, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, in what was my favorite NHL season (I think few of my readers know that hockey is my favorite spectator sport; I hate it that ESPN and Star Sports in the Philippines don't air any NHL games). I harbor no illusions (or is it delusions?) about improving the quality of Philippine TV programs, but at least I wish we could have more access to good American shows.

Land of the free

I have always had conflicting feelings about the US of A, and these feelings were reinforced on this trip to New York. I love and hate so many things about America and Americans, but what I love/hate most is the awesome freedom they offer. The sense of freedom that permeates everything American both exhilarates and terrifies. It's refreshing to have the liberty to be/do/say anything I want, but at the same time I don't want to think about the kind of things I'd dare do living in such a liberated environment. I have never been a loose cannon, but I am fully capable of doing some very stupid things (my closest friends know what I'm talking about), and that's given the rigid Chinese-Filipino background I came from. What more if I were to live in New York for a year or so? I don't trust myself enough to not screw up my life in spectacular fashion if I moved to the US.

Besides, there's no place like home. Humidity, pollution, crime rates, ultra-conservative social norms and all. At least I don't have to shell out 100 pesos for a bottle of soda.


We were in a cab on our way to Ground Zero when we passed by the TRL studio in Times Square. In the street surrounding the building there was a sizeable mob of fans, mostly female, gazing upward and waving and screaming at someone. I looked up and saw the Backstreet Boys standing at the TRL window, waving back at their devotees. I wish it had been someone worth jumping out of the cab for (like Rob Thomas, who to my delight kept on popping up everywhere I looked: magazines,television, posters, even a huge billboard along 7th avenue, which I took a pic of especially for Karen ;p).

Sacred ground

Our cab dropped us off right in front of the WTC site, and as soon as I stepped onto the curb I was struck by how eerily quiet the area was. In one of the noisiest, busiest cities in the world, in the middle of its bustling financial district, here was a place that seemed protected from the metropolitan madness by an invisible bubble of sacredness. There were dozens of tourists milling around, but the mood was markedly subdued. Everyone stood there in a somber silence, peering through the fence, or reading the posted storyboards about that fateful day in September. Even those taking pictures seemed to be doing it with a certain reverence. I saw a woman in front of me wiping tears away.

The name Ground Zero took on a new significance for me that day, because there it was, right in front of me, this big, gaping hole of... nothing. Where once had stood one of the tallest structures on the planet, where thousands had worked-- where thousands had died-- there was now nothing. Zero.

And yet, despite the emptiness, there was something... full about being there. To be on hallowed ground, to share in the collective compassion of those gathered there to remember, honor, and mourn, to see pride that was broken made stronger than ever... it was beautiful in its bleakness.

Before I left Manila I was joking with my mom that I'd be going to the WTC site to laugh at the biggest blemish on the bloated American ego. But when I actually got there, I never got around to my planned derision. Instead I found myself awed by the magnitude of not only the tragedy of 9/11, but the passionate patriotism it fired up in Americans, New Yorkers in particular. That's one quality Americans have that I admire, even envy. Would that we Filipinos feel that kind of intense loyalty and love for our tragedy of a nation.

Service with a smile... and then some

Overly effusive, abnormally chipper waiters/store clerks/hotel staff freak me out. I imagine it takes staggering amounts of caffeine to fuel a perpetually perky workforce (no wonder Coke and Starbucks are such American institutions). I am by no means a cranky customer, and I'm never rude unless provoked, but I like to be left alone until I'm good and ready to order/buy/ask for something. In other words, don't call me, I'll call you (and if you ask me one more time how I'm doing today I will cheerfully stuff your tip up your nostril). Give me inattentive, aloof, inept and agonizingly slow Pinoy service anyday.

Restaurant reviews

Prior to leaving Manila, I chose the places we would eat in with the help of restaurant reviews I read on the Internet. I am considering writing and sending some reviews of my own now that I have personally dined at the restaurants (isn't that such a dream job? to be a restaurant critic?). For this entry, I will only name the places and give short comments as to the quality of the food, service and ambience.

Burger Joint - tiny hole in the wall hidden behind a curtain in one corner of our hotel lobby (they call it their "best-kept secret"); serves great cheeseburgers at only $6 (for a hotel that's a steal); orders take a while to be served but the burger's definitely worth the wait

Arte Cafe - lovely, cozy Italian place on the Upper East side; serves excellent pasta at reasonable prices (the set lunches are around $9 and come with a soup or salad); my dad loved the linguine vongole and I loved the chicken parmigiana; capuccinos are huge, frothy and yummy; service is fast and friendly

Michael Jordan's The Steakhouse - location is a bit odd, right inside the train station on Vanderbilt Avenue; the air-conditioning was weak, almost non-existent, and given the weather that day it diminished our dining pleasure considerably; the prime rib and side dish sampler are excellent (best mac and cheese I've had in a while) and predictably, the prices are on the high end; service is efficient but the waiters don't seem to get along because we overheard them arguing; overall, not bad for a place that has a basketball superstar's name attached to it

Norma's - coffee shop of our hotel; famous for its scrumptious breakfasts; the prices are on the steep side but the portions are generous (and delicious) so you get your money's worth; Pa had the egg-white omelet with shrimp, I had Norma's eggs Benedict, which was divine; coffee wasn't very good, and overpriced; service was unobtrusive (the way I like it) and a bit on the slow side, but with food that good I barely noticed

Serendipity - only place we went to that was based on a personal recommendation (thank you Tangsoc!); my dad and I had their Frrrozen Hot Chocolates (see pic below), which were huge and yummy and worth waiting 45 minutes for a table for; receptionists were snappish (the long line of impatient patrons must have peeved them) but the waiters were friendly, not to mention cute :p

More to see than can ever be seen

We managed to get partial view seats for the Broadway musical The Lion King, and the show was well worth the 80-dollar tix (we got our own private box right beside the percussions, which weren't ear-splittingly loud, thankfully). The Lion King is my favorite Disney full-length feature, and let me tell anyone who has seen and loved the animated film that the musical gives the story a wonderful new magic. Never mind if the singing and acting were not quite Tony-caliber; the cast was an entertaining enough ensemble who obviously put a lot of heart into their performance. The real star of the show was director/designer/lyricist Julie Taymor. I salute her creative genius (or as Pumbaa says, I "gravel" at her feet); the sets were breath-taking, the costumes dazzling, the props ingenious, and the puppetry brilliant. My eyes kept on darting around to take in every inch of the spectacle unfolding onstage-- every tiny detail, down to the ethnic prints on the fabric that made up the animals' skins. The stampede scene, where Mufasa comes to Simba's rescue, blew me away (my dear old dad slept right through it), and I could imagine how much more awesome the impact would have been from the better seats in the theater. I would gladly spend another 80 dollars to see this show again, partial view or full.

Boys in blue

Walking along Broadway on our way to and from the theater, we saw several NYPD cops stationed at street corners, some on horseback. And I must say, New York has some fiiine police officers. Who knew law enforcement could look so good? You certainly can't tell from the members of the PNP. Shudder.

Here's a pic of Times Square (minus the cute cops, although there's a squad car in the shot):

Shopping list

Wincing every time I multiplied prices by P55, I was Scrooge-stingy with my budget and only purchased some items I wanted badly enough. I got a copy of Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless, the fifth and last book in his H2G2 trilogy, which is impossible to find in even the best of our local bookstores (futile as it is to wish for better book vendors here in Manila, I wish Borders or Barnes and Noble would open a branch here, with the same extensive selections they have over there). I also bought three Nike Lance Armstrong "Live Strong" wristbands (one each for me, Hanks, and Bens), an I [heart] NY pin, a New York Mafia license plate for my sister the mobster buff, a Lion King souvenir program, some Lion King plastic folders for my mom, and a Lion King notebook. My most expensive purchase was a Coach purse, which I almost did not get if it were not for my dad's "you-know-you-want-it" devil-on-the-shoulder routine. It took me a day to reconsider and then we went back to the shop, which was providentially near our hotel. I felt a bit guilty (and scared that my mom would scold me) for splurging but was assuaged when I later found out that Coach prices are cheaper in the US than here in Manila.

Manila in the morning

I can’t recall if I’ve ever arrived on a flight home as early as I did this morning (a bit past 5). As the plane started its descent towards NAIA, we were treated to a beautiful view of Manila, street lights still glowing in the dawn light. It was so still and serene, it was nice to imagine that at that moment, not a single soul in the city was stirring, and no one was doing anything criminal, cruel, immoral, or stupid.

Then I stepped foot into the chaos and confusion of the NAIA terminal and the bubble was burst. Oh well. Home sweet home.


At Monday, June 20, 2005, Anonymous rachel said...

I never thought anyone could possibly beat the length of my China entry and somehow someone did. Unsurprisingly, it was you. And to think I stayed in China for a longer period.ö

So many many comments, don't know where to start.

-I made fun of Tarin too and hopefully I won't have to regret it next time. :)
-Hey, being touristy isn't so bad! I love snapping shots of everything I see around me
-Did you take a picture of Ground Zero?
-You actually fancied the Portuguese boy? Were you staring at him the whole time? ;p
-As funny as it sounds, Tarin and I used to have a crush on Nick Carter. Why we did I really don't know but we were only 10 anyway it's forgivable.
-Shopping: Lesson learned. Never bring a calculator with you when you're shopping overseas, especially in US.. or else you'll end up buying only a few items.

I'm glad you had fun during your trip! It's good to have you back :)

At Monday, June 20, 2005, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

I don't think I was staring at him the WHOLE time (I think that translates into "loser" in any language), but I sneaked a few glances every now and then, haha.

I hope the Ground Zero pix I emailed met your high standards. :p

At Monday, June 20, 2005, Anonymous maribel said...

welcome back sis! =) finally i got to "comment". tsk tsk tsk...sowee...imagine me, the mis grad...can't even make a decent comment on a blog. sigh! the shame the shame!!!

isn't it nice to come home to the philippines and realize that all the "service" people here are much nicer and less i'm-nice-to-you-only-because-i-live-
for-tips? i was very aware of this when we went to the states for our family vacation last summer. in the past trips, i was considered a kid therefore i wasn't aware of the tipping requirements at all! i've never felt sooooo tiny with all the conversion that we automatically go through at every purchase. sigh...

At Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Anonymous Jac said...

Cool! Very long blog entry but, it was pretty interesting. Haha :D I can't remember how NY looks like anymore. About the pictures...i can't picture you out of the ICA teachers' uniforms! Hahahahaha :D Seeing you in civilian clothes was a shock! What does C.O.O. mean? The chocolate-peanut butter-cookie dough cheesecake made my mouth water! You have no idea how i've been really addicted to reese's peanut butter cups here what more something with cheesecake...cheese, choco, peanut butter! Oh man! Talk about weird weather! Canada has a pretty weird weather too. Being locked up in the elevator...not bad..i was locked up in our bathroom for about an hour last year, the lock got jammed! Tsk tsk. Communication is the key in any relationship. :D Ohh Rob Thomas...i miss his chubby days...he looks cuter back then with his curly hair too. :D Oh, you'd hate me serving you. I'm perky when i'm at work. I always say "hi" and "hello" that's why nobody wants to pair up with. I never seem to run out of people in my booth. Haha :D Anyway, getting pretty chatty here! Toodles! :D Happy happy joy joy i'm done with my tests! Whoohoo! :D

At Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Anonymous Maddy Ong said...

You are the coolest ex-teacher ever. I love it when people take note of their travels. (Especially since I can't travel very much myself. -_-) I hate officious service too, but they do that a lot in the Philippines, I think. When they think you're too young or dark to afford something they coming along and say "Yes, Ma'am?" The natural reaction, of course, is to go away. In effect they're scaring their customers away, which is equally bad for both parties. Argh. /rant

Was your visit to WTC part of the tour? You're so mean, btw. :\ The tragedy didn't just affect America, but also the rest of the world. After all, Bush used it as an excuse to start war; war = bad for everyone. Bah! /rant

Sorry for the style, or lack thereof. Haven't written in a while. Hehe.

I'm still stalking your blog. :)

At Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Anonymous rachel said...

Hey, i don't have high standards! they're cool and the pictures you posted are pretty good too :p

At Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Anonymous karen said...

frozen hot chocolate...

napanuod ko yun sa oprah..wish ko nga na kaya mag pass through ung kamay ko sa screen para matikman ko din.. *drools* teka, mali. gusto kong magpass through ung kamay ko kung yung show ay: 'oprah's favorite things':O

miss lim! sobrang daming cute noh? ako din eh nung nasa states ako me nakatabi akong cute sa tower of terror! ahaha gusto ko nga na bilhin ung photo na kinukuha pag nasa taas na ng tower kaso ang pangit ko sa pic eh.. haha wag nalang. :P

dapat kinuha mo number ni portuguese boy...
kung ayaw mo, akin nalang. magaaral pa ako ng portuguese for him! =D HAHAjk


ang op ng comment ko.
ako lang nag tagalog.

hihi oh well.. <- oy english to! =)


p.s. photo = not rob's best shot. not in 'costume' eh. hehe *evil grin*

At Tuesday, June 21, 2005, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Bel: Finally, sis! A comment you posted on your own, haha. :p

Jac: I would much rather your mental image of me be in civvies than in those godawful ICA uniforms, thank you very much. :)

Maddy: We weren't part of a tour, my dad and I just took a cab to Ground Zero and walked around by ourselves. Yes, I'm a mean, insensitive beast, but hey, at least I'm repentant. :p And your hatred of Bush is something I share. Funny enough, he didn't cross my mind once when I was there at Ground Zero.

Rachel: I'm deeply honored my photos met your approval. Haha.

Karen: I have the Portuguese guy's email address, do you want it? ;) There's an excellent article written by Rob Thomas in a recent issue of GQ (the one with Brad Pitt on the cover). I now have even more respect for him after reading it. I should send you a copy, maybe you'll stop picking on him. :p

At Wednesday, June 22, 2005, Anonymous kassiewassie said...

ms. lim! =D haha when i read the first heading (praning), i thought na english word siya pronounced as "prey-ning" hahaha everytime you speak, or even write in tagalog parang weird eh. i guess nde lang ako sanay hehe!

At Wednesday, June 22, 2005, Anonymous Laureen said...

Know that someone in the world is very, very jealous of you right now. :)

It goes without explaining because I envy anyone who travels, but you went to New York (and watched Lion King) and that makes you a hundred times more enviable. :D Oh well. Reading this post makes up for some of it. Haha!

And those Frozen Hot Chocolates look sinful. And delicious. Ack.

At Thursday, June 23, 2005, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Kassie: "prey-ning"? hahaha :p Ms. Cua and I miss you, by the way. Let's get together one of these days.

Laureen: I do hope you get to go to New York someday. It's a fabulous city that lives up to all the almost-mythical hype surrounding it. I wish we had the time to go to some museums because I've never been to any of the ones in NYC. P.S. the Frrrozen Hot Chocolates were very VERY delicious. I'd kill for one right now. Slurp.


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