New York: My first anniversary

July 25th, 2012

I’m celebrating my first anniversary in New York today.

I flew in on a one-way ticket, not knowing how long I would stay, or how the year would turn out. Like many immigrants, I immediately got caught up in the energy and ambition of the city. Sometimes I love New York; sometimes, it drives me into fits of anxiety and depression. But mostly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

A friend sent me an excerpt from a classic E.B. White essay, “Here is New York.” I couldn’t have said things better myself.

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable.

Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night.

Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer.”



J and the missing day-to-day matters

October 26th, 2011

I miss the green scent of his cologne.

And how holding his hand makes my own feel small and delicate.

I miss the comfortable silences on long car rides, and marathon snacking sessions over movies. I miss being able to call him anytime I want to. I miss poking his nose.

I even miss arguing with him sometimes, because it would mean that we’re running at a normal pace again, instead of tiptoeing on eggshells in a long distance relationship that needs to be handled with care. When you’re thousands of miles away, there are no impulsive house visits with a boxful of pastries—just emails, Blackberry messages, and occasional video chats. I love New York and can’t bear to leave it anytime soon, but I do miss my boyfriend.



Storm troopers

August 27th, 2011

New York, the city that never sleeps, is devoid of people on the streets today. People are home, nervously boarding up windows and stocking up on bottled water and canned goods in preparation for Hurricane Irene. I’m not so sure what to make of the situation myself, as I come from a place where typhoons occur on a regular basis and week-long class suspensions aren’t unusual. I’m a tempted to say that shutting down the train (for the first time in over 100 years) and pre-hurricane evacuations are a little over the top, but then I realized that this is what sets places like the U.S. apart from developing countries such as the Philippines. The only thing is that I wish my country could afford to be paranoid, but we don’t have the resources to de-clog streets and prevent floods, much less evacuate millions of people who refuse to be displaced.

With all these hurricane-related thoughts, I dug up an essay I wrote for the Inquirer right after Typhoon Ondoy:

 

Thoughts from a half-submerged house 
By Bianca Consunji
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 07:27:00 10/03/2009
“I’M NOT so sure, but I think I just saw a turtle swim past me.” This was the first thing I told a friend when I called him up.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Get back inside your house!”

“I am inside my house,” I replied. “I’m knee-deep in water, and it’s looking worse every minute. That turtle that just swam by is from our fishpond outside.”

“What?” he said, stunned. “Then why are you even talking to me now? Go somewhere safe!”

“Right now, the house is the safest place for me. I’ll die if I head out in this weather,” I said. “And to be honest, things are so terrible, I just saw a frog ramming desperately on our window, trying to get shelter from the storm.”
Read More…



Three bucks, two bags, one me

July 31st, 2011

I haven’t been here for a week yet, but my first few days in the Empire State have been pretty eventful. I’ve gone from sleeping at a luxury boutique hotel in SoHo, eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, to camping out on an air bed in my new apartment in Harlem, eating cereal out of a box. I’ve gotten lost, tanned my feet under the scorching sun, hiked up the Morningside Park, renewed my MacBook battery and charger at the Apple store, finished a book, and bought furniture (still waiting for them to be shipped here). Classes haven’t started yet, but I’ve already dropped by Columbia just to try to find my way around town.

I met a couple of J-School alumni—bought secondhand furniture from them—who are leaving town. One of them told me that he was moving because it was cheaper to go back home while he was trying to figure out what to do next. It’s not a reassuring thing, knowing that an Ivy League diploma is no guarantee of success anywhere, least of all in New York. I’m a little anxious, especially since I’ve come from so far, but I’ve had plenty of time to think about things. No turning back.



Hello, potential flatmates

July 3rd, 2011

This post is mostly for the benefit of the people I’d sent out emails to regarding their apartment listings on Craigslist/Padmapper—I sent a link to my blog to make introducing myself a little easier. So to the handful of regular readers out there, sorry for the redundancy!

* * *

Hi, I’m Bianca. I’m 26 years old, an incoming M.S. Journalism major (specializing in Digital Media) at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I’ll be flying to New York on July 25, so I can start leasing by July 15/August 1 depending on the terms of the contract—if it’s a reasonable rate with a good room, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra to hold the lease down. Anyway, I’ve only been to New York once, but I’m pretty excited about moving there for school.

I think I’d make a pretty good flatmate. Even in Manila, unless it’s for work, I don’t really hit the clubs. When I go out, it’s usually something quiet and low-key, like dinner with friends or the occasional trivia night or two (because I’m a geek that way). I rarely drink; I do have wine once in a while, but nothing over-the-top, and no hard booze. I’ve never smoked or done drugs of any sort, but I respect your choices and lifestyle as long as you respect mine. I mostly keep to myself but I don’t want to live with complete strangers, so I’m happy to talk unless I’m swamped with work. I also clean up after myself and generally keep my room organized.

Privacy is a big thing with me, so I don’t poke around other people’s territories. I’m online a lot (for work and for talking to my family and friends), so a fast Internet connection is important to me. I generally don’t watch TV and would rather read or watch shows from my laptop. I also like cooking and baking, so I’ll be in the kitchen as much as I can (saves on eating out, too!)

Hmm, other things. I’m a big bookworm, mildly obsessed with looking for good food, try to go running when I can (not often nowadays though). Pop culture? I like Harry Potter and How I Met Your Mother, among many other things. I get cabin fever when I don’t get to travel. I like nicely scented rooms and white cotton dresses.

For more information about rent payments, feel free to ask me directly.

Some snapshots of my life:

This is a photo from my recently concluded job as a magazine editor. It was from a campaign for Levi's jeans and breast cancer late last year.

This is my boyfriend, James. He's a pilot. And yes, that's the same hat from the previous photo.

I love traveling and I'd like to see more of the world. This is from a 2009 trip to Rome.

This is from the International AIDS Conference in Vienna last year. I'm trying to get into more meaningful reportage, which is why I applied for grad school in the first place.

Another photo from the AIDS conference. I try to be as tolerant and understanding of other cultures as I can.

Feel free to ask any questions about me! I promise I won’t be a psycho flatmate.



Gateway to somewhere

May 26th, 2011

For the past couple of months, I’d been filling out forms, doing research, and basically spending a small fortune on couriers for various visas. The first one is a Schengen visa for a trip I’m taking to Bonn/Cologne, Germany for a media forum this June. The other is for my U.S. student visa, which required a lot of back-and-forth paperwork with Columbia before I could even schedule an appointment.

It’s happening all too quickly; I’m on my last few days of work with Metro, and I leave for the U.S. in a month and a half. The checklist of things to bring is getting longer, just as the time spent here with family and friends is quickly ebbing away. There’s barely enough time to spend with J, who’ll be leaving for Bangkok before I get back to Manila from Bonn; he’ll be returning a day or two ahead of my departure for New York. Whenever people find out he’s a pilot, they’re dismissive about the distance, saying that he can easily fly to visit me. Not really, because PAL doesn’t fly to the East Coast in the first place.

I’m excited and apprehensive, because for the first time in what feels like forever, I feel like I have direction again. I still don’t know where I’m headed for the next few years, but this feels like a leap instead of the baby steps I’d been making for the past couple of years.



A knee-jerk reaction

May 2nd, 2011

Rock Ed’s Gang Badoy expressed her reservations about the burgeoning street parties celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death. “It’s a weird reason to chest bump,” she said on Twitter. “But what do I know.”

I agree with her. While it’s understandable that U.S. citizens (particularly those who were affected by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon) would want to toast the downfall of Osama, founder of the jihadist al-Qaeda and self-confessed mastermind what is referred to as “the worst attack on American soil,” street parties seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to an event that still has unforeseeable consequences.

Some, particularly those who immediately visited Ground Zero in New York, saw it as a sign of closure.  After all, the quest for justice for the 3,000 people who died on September 11 had taken over nine years, and had claimed several thousand more lives around the world in George W. Bush’s resulting “war against terror” in the years that followed.

Make no mistake about it—symbolically, bin Laden’s death deals a strong blow to the al-Qaeda network and its allies. After all, being able to evade capture the U.S. government (with its deep well of resources) for nearly a decade is no small feat, and al-Qaeda’s resistance could be seen as inspirational, with bin Laden as the poster boy for resistance against American forces. However, as Time’s Mark Thompson points out, “Bin Laden’s death only excises a tumor… Whether his demise marks the end of a particularly virulent strain, or will trigger a violent recurrence, remains unknown.”

Thus, footage of Americans drinking and dancing to bin Laden’s death could trigger a nerve somewhere on the other side of the world, and be a cause for retaliation. Anticipating retaliatory attacks, authorities increased security in key areas, particularly in New York, Washington, and U.S. embassies around the world.

With a yet-to-be-revealed chain of consequences after today’s events, it’s difficult to exult in bin Laden’s death, because it doesn’t necessarily equate to al-Qaeda’s downfall. And for many ordinary people (particularly those who aren’t from the U.S. but have to live with the crippling consequences of 9/11 on the world), his capture and killing will not have visible results—at least, not for now. Nine years is a long time to wait, and the anger, fear, and helplessness that people felt upon seeing the planes crash into the Twin Towers have been reduced to concerns about convenience: “Do we still have to take off our shoes at the airport? Can we bring liquids in our carry-on baggage now?”

Osama bin Laden’s death is a colossal marker near the end of what Time dubs as “the decade of war and fear.” In a recap of the 10 Defining Moments of the Post-9/11 Era, which is studded with wars and bombings around the world, Gilbert Cruz noted, “Though the man behind 9/11 is dead, the fallout from that day—war and fear—remains.”

It’s hardly a cause for celebration.



Marshmallows

April 13th, 2011

Back when we were kids, a pretty popular commercial about “marshmallow kids” was often on TV. Children were given one marshmallow each; the premise was that they could eat the mallows right away, or have another one if they opted to wait. I was a little too old to have the marshmallow test done on me by then, but my aunt apparently did it on my sister Nikka, and she decided to wait a little longer for one more, passing the test with flying colors.

Unlike my sister, who was the type who studied on a Friday night, I’d never been much of a marshmallow kid. Back in grade school and for most of high school, my homework was done erratically, depending on the subject (I hated math, loved English, was on the fence about science because I was allergic to anything that involved computations but liked reading about how things work). Things changed in my freshman year at college, when I decided to take some responsibility for my life. I’m still nowhere near being totally in charge of things, but somewhere along the way, I grew up.

The past year was like an extended marshmallow test, except that I didn’t know if I was going to have one, two, or none at all at the end of the period. I was accepted to Columbia March last year, only to find out that there was no way I was going to be able to pay for the staggering cost of the tuition. I opted to defer for a year to buy time to look for scholarships (and beef up my credentials so I could actually deserve them). It was a crazy, crazy year, loaded with drama, self-doubt, and plenty of prayers.

A few days ago, I got an email from the school, telling me that I was given a substantial scholarship. I was in the pre-departure area of NAIA, waiting to board, when I got the news. Upon reading it, I broke down and started sobbing. I couldn’t believe the news! In fact, I was so paranoid, I emailed them right away to thank them, but also to confirm that the figure they listed used a comma and not a decimal. Today, I got their confirmation—and along with it, blessed relief.

The situation got me thinking: what if I had gotten the scholarship from the start? Would I appreciate it just as much, or would I have felt entitled to it in the first place? Would I have put in as much thought and planning into the process? Would I have wanted it as much as I do now? Probably not. Like I said, I was never a marshmallow kid. But circumstances forced me to be a marshmallow grownup, and I’m glad that I had to learn to be one. The payoff feels infinitely more rewarding.