In New York State of Mind

If you have been reading my blogs, you probably already know that I once lived in New York City. I left New York seventeen years ago, though I came back once for a visit, and that’s seven years ago too.

But now it’s time to visit New York once more.

When you hear New York, you picture in your mind the big crowded city. But in reality, a large part of New York State is mountains and forested areas. And that’s where we started our visit.

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Yes, the above photo is New York.

We did some not-so-serious hikes up the mountains, and the view there was breath-taking. Breath-taking, not just because we were panting after the climb.

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It’s not all work though, for we did some relaxing as well. Lots of relaxing. Especially beside a lake. We even went for a calm boat ride.

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Beautiful mountains, trees, a lake, and some quiet time. What could be better than that?

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Well, this: to enjoy it with the love of my life.

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While in upstate New York, we also visited the Culinary Institute of America. Besides touring the place, we also ate a sumptuous meal there (see previous post).

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Another place we went to is the Walkway Over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, New York. This is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, spanning 1.28 miles over the Hudson River. It is actually an old railroad bridge that they converted into a pedestrian bridge.

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After spending a couple of days in upstate New York, it was time to visit the city.

We decided to stay not actually in New York City, but across the Hudson River, in New Jersey. So we can sleep with a view like this (photo below). And going into the heart of New York City is just one ferry ride away.

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Though we stayed a few days in the city, I’ll just chronicle here a one-day trek that we did through the city.

We started at the new improved Chelsea Market. It is an enclosed food hall, shopping mall and offices all rolled in one. It was built at the old Nabisco factory complex, where Oreo was invented and produced. They transformed the factory, but kept many of its original structures.

IMG_5733IMG_5734IMG_5737IMG_5736There were places that we visited that were not existent yet when we were still living in New York. Like the High Line Park, a long elevated linear park at the West Side of New York City, which opened in 2009. This is again an old elevated rail road track that was repurposed into a park and walkway.

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Walking this park gives you a unique perspective of the city, as well as get interesting stories as you peered through buildings, neighborhood and people’s backyards.

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And yes, we walked the whole 1.45 mile span of the High Line Park.

The photo below shows typical New York. That means construction never stops in this city.

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Besides walking inside the city, we also rode the ferry to get a different “feel” of New York City. That is, to view it without the noise, the hustle and the bustle.

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United Nations Headquarters (white building)

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The Empire State building from afar

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Midtown Manhattan

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Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan

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Statue of Liberty from a distance

We got off at the Brooklyn port from the ferry, and then we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by foot back to Manhattan.

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the city view from Brooklyn Bridge

As you can surmise from my account, we did a lot of walking that day. In fact, according to my phone app, we walked 7 miles or more than 18,000 steps that day.

After all that walking, I got hungry so I got something to eat. Iconic New York City’s street food, of course!

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We ended our tour at the One World Trade Center, which has become the emblem of New York City’s tenacity and resolve. Photos below show the One World Trade Center and the Oculus NYC.

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Finally I stopped at the 9/11 Memorial and spent some quiet moments besides the reflecting pool. I uttered a prayer and paid respect to the thousands of lives our nation lost there.

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After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, we decided to call it a day.

On our way home, we rode the subway. Though for some reason, it was not crowded at all. Is this is the World Trade Center’s ghost subway train? Nah!

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From New York,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*Photo credit: Pinoy Transplant and his unofficial photographers)

Don’t Take Your Valuables

Last summer, we took a long road trip that took us from the cornfields of Iowa, to the mountainous wilderness of Montana, and to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles California. As we were pulling up into a parking lot in Los Angeles, we saw this sign that said, “Please take your valuables with you.”

I think that is a fair warning, as they don’t want you to lose something that is important. Or perhaps they just don’t want to take responsibility of any theft that will happen. Or perhaps they don’t want you to tempt others of bad thoughts by displaying something valuable, or something that they would think is valuable, inside your vehicle.

I don’t think this warning applies in Los Angeles only, as it is true in many parts of America and the rest of the world.

I remember when we were still living in New York City, somebody tried to break in into our parked car, and in the process broke the door lock of our car. And there’s really nothing of value inside, except maybe the car itself. They took my tire hub caps and antenna instead. Then we had some friends whose car windows were shattered just to get some change of coins and some barely valuable things inside their car. Maybe the thief needed coins so badly for a cup of coffee or for a ride on the subway.

Same in the Philippines. When I was still living in Manila, there’s an instance that me and my dad witnessed a car theft while we were parked near Binondo. It happened in a blitz, and they acted so smoothly that we think these guys were “professionals.” Bad use of their skills and talents, I guess. With dexterity and quickness like that, they could be show-time magicians. On second thought, they were already magicians, making things disappear!

Back to the parking lot in Los Angeles, we kind of chuckled when we read the sign. Not because it was funny nor it was an unreasonable or unusual sign. To us it was just interesting that few days before that, when we were in a national park in Montana, we read several signs that contain a completely different warning.

The warning sign when we were in the wilderness of Montana states, “Please take your trash with you.”

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It was just sensible that they don’t want you to litter in such a pristine place. Plus the wild creatures, like bears, can get attracted to your trash and rummage through them. This may endanger their well-being. More so, your well-being and your life may get endangered as well, if the bear cannot find what it’s looking for (a jar of honey?) and is not happy with your trash and attacks you.

It was a totally different perspective. In one, “take your valuables with you.” In the other, “take your trash with you.”

Yes, there are places in this world that they don’t care about your valuables. It does not matter whether you’re lugging a Louis Vuitton bag or a DSLR camera with an ultra zoom lens. Just don’t leave your trash too!

This made me think, in this life, there are things that we consider our valuables. Like our fancy jewelries, our expensive toys like our cars and gizmos, our pricey wardrobes, our houses and estates, our bank accounts, and other worldly treasures. And it’s not only that there are places that they will not matter, but there will come a time as well, that all of these will be deemed worthless. Rubbish. Garbage. Trash. For you cannot take them forever with you.

I do hope that we discern what really are the important things in this life. The “valuables” that no thief nor anybody can take from you.

(*photo taken last summer in Montana)

 

Puto Rounds

Sometime in the year 2000, in the heart of New York, New York. In the hallways of the intensive care unit (ICU) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a world-renowned hospital, and one of the best cancer center of the world, if not the best. Five doctors – four were fellows-in-training and one young attending physician with a specialty in Critical Care – were in a huddle, making their rounds on the critically ill patients.

The doctors were scholarly in their discourse of each case, deliberating what the best management approach was for each individual patient. There was nothing really special in their rounds, especially given that it was a regular occurrence and practice in an academic center. Except that they were all speaking in Tagalog – deep in the bowels of New York City, a thousand miles away from Manila.

Of course English is the official language of the academe and of this country. And those Filipino doctors were discrete not to talk in their native tongue in the presence of other people. There were several other doctors-in-training as well as consultants of other races aside from Americans in that institution. But in this opportune time, with all of them Filipinos, they felt comfortable speaking in Tagalog. Who says Tagalog or Pilipino cannot be the language of the learned?

All of those young doctors finished their medical education in the Philippines. They came from different schools though: one from University of the Philippines, another from University of Santo Tomas, one from University of the East, one from Lyceum-Northwestern University  in Dagupan, and another from Saint Louis University in Baguio. That they  ended up in one place, at one time, is a happy twist of fate. And here they were all now, in an Ivy-league-affiliated hospital of Cornell University. Who said Philippine schools do not produce world-class graduates?

After a demanding few hours of rounding and working in the ICU, those Filipino doctors took a break. They did not go down to the hospital cafeteria for an american doughnut or for an English muffin. Instead they headed back to the fellow’s call room, and snacked on home-made puto (rice cake), brought by one of them. No one asked for dinuguan (blood stew) to complement the puto. I guess the gory sight of some of the ICU cases were deterrent enough to make dinuguan unappealing. So you’d think puto is only found in the streets and markets of the Philippines?

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Was the puto special? Does it have cheese on top? Or salted egg perhaps? Did only the Tagalog-speaking doctors eat the puto? Or did they share them to other people?Did the puto made the medical rounds noteworthy? Did the puto made the doctors more brilliant? Did the puto help cure the sick patients? Was puto prescribed to the patients to be taken at least once a day?

Is the puto even the focus of this story? I don’t know.

Twelve years have passed since those puto rounds. What has happened, you may ask, to those young Filipino doctors? The young attending physician then, is now the chief or Program Director of the said training program. One of the doctors after completing her training, went back to the Philippines, where she now practices her profession. She is also an elected congresswoman.

The other three physicians-in-training then, found their niche in different areas of the United States, where they are now specialists, involved in private practice as well as in some academic institutions.

How do I know this story as a fact? Because I was there. I was the one who brought the puto.

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(*image from here)

(**compliments to my wife for making the puto, and the story it inspired)

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Post script: This piece was later published in Manila Standard Today, on Oct. 2, 2012.

In Memory of 9/11

On this 10th year anniversary of Sept 11…..

I give my respect to the lives whose dreams were abruptly snuffed out on that fateful day;

And I give honor to the heroes who bravely laid their lives for our freedom,

So that we who are left behind can continue to pursue ours;

While I offer a prayer of peace to those whose views are different from ours.

me and my wife looking across the harbor of dreams (taken at Statue of Liberty island)

I’m a Father of a Teenager

It seems like yesterday…….

When you arrived into our world and I held you for the first time, in a hospital room that overlooks the New York’s Central Park.

When I danced with you in the middle of the night, as you would not sleep, while the Number 7 train roars from a distant track.

When I pushed you on a swing, in a crowded playground in the middle of hustle and bustle of upper Manhattan.

In our New York Apartment (Number 7 train in the distance)

Was it only yesterday…….

When you ran in your swimsuit on the grass, with the sprinkler on, as you gleefully soaked in water under Florida sun.

When you played and dug in the dirt beside our apartment, with the nearby fragrant orange groves in sight.

When I pushed your stroller as we walked in Downtown Disney, to watch the fireworks in the humid Orlando night.

It was like yesterday……

When you first stomped on the freshly fallen snow and scooped it up with your bare hands, in the dead of Des Moines winter.

When you roamed in our yard picking dandelions, while the distant fields of corn swayed in the breeze of Midwest summer.

When I held and steadied your bike as you first learn to ride, in the driveway of our home here in Iowa.

me and my daughter in our backyard, here in Iowa

It was like yesterday, that you came into my life, and I became a father.

Where did time go? Now, I am a father of a teenager.

Yes, a teenager! But’s that’s not a bad thing, in fact, it is a wonderful thing.

My baby, is now a young lady. And I’m looking forward to more happiness you will bring.

New York’s Higher Learning

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.” …….Frank Sinatra

New York City. Arguably the center of the world. Many people from every part of the globe would like to make it their destination, and find their luck there. And like in Sinatra’s song, “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.”

And it was.

I had so many experiences and lessons learned during my few years of stay there. First, was the educational and post-graduate specialty training that I received in the top medical institutions there. This became the foundation of my professional career, from which I draw my livelihood to sustain my family. Somehow, I still feel proud, unwarranted or not, to claim that I am New York-trained.

Second, it was in New York, that my first child was born. It was here that I first experienced the joy of fatherhood. With that though was the realization of the responsibility beyond just fulfilling my own dreams, but also providing for the future and dreams of my children. For this reason, I learned to strive even more harder.

It was also in here that I learned to tap on my apartment’s ceiling at 2 o’clock in the morning, to stop my neighbors’ dance party, who lives above me, so my wife and I, and my newborn baby can sleep. I guess you need to learn to fight for your right and speak up your mind, if you “want to wake up in that city that never sleeps.”

waking up in a city that never sleeps (image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk)

This is where I chased an intruder who was able to enter my apartment, out of my door, down the stairs of the apartment complex, and through 2 blocks of crowded streets. On hindsight, I should have never run after that thief, for I could have been killed, especially if he was carrying a weapon. But when the adrenaline was pumping through you, I guess it bypasses your brain and your better judgement. It awakened my territorial and survival instincts.

It was in New York City that whether you are at work, commuting in the subways, or walking in the streets, people have learned to: mind your own business; rely solely on yourself; trust no one; and don’t walk, run. And so did I.

But it was in the last few months of my stay in New York that I received my greatest education. After changing my decision to stay in the US for my children’s sake, instead of going back in the Philippines after my post-grad training, I had to switch my visa from an exchange visitor (needed for the training)  to a working visa (needed for a real job). A process that can take some time. And in my case, it did.

After completing 6 years of specialization, and armed to the teeth in training, I was all gung-ho to start work. But I was put on hold……Suspended animation….. As I cannot work without a change of visa, I had no choice but wait. Days of waiting turned into weeks……and weeks turned into months……and months into several more months…….

In a place that is always hustling and hurrying, a place where it only takes a fraction of a second from the time the traffic light turns green to time the car behind you honk its horn, a place where times ticks a little faster like in a New York minute – is where God taught me patience, and the virtue of waiting.

With no work, no income, and with a 5-figure amount in dollars of credit card debt, that was increasing by the day, I was forced to leave my apartment because I plainly cannot afford it. My family became one of  the hundreds of homeless people in New York City. Our only difference from the other homeless people who wanders in the streets, was that a caring family took us in and let us stay in their home, without paying rent, and even fed us for free.

homeless in New York (image from http://www.dgrin.com)

During the several months that I was jobless, we moved from one family’s home to another, relying solely on their goodness and mercy. It was here that I experienced complete helplessness in providing for my family. I realized that in life, diligent and hard work may not be enough, for we all need grace.

Then every week, when we went to our church, church members and friends who knew our predicament, will quietly hand me $10, $20, or $50, telling me to buy something for my daughter who was 2 years old then. I knew these people were not rich. They too have barely enough and just trying to make both ends meet, but they shared the little that they have. It was a touching experience. And it was a humbling experience.

From being independent, to becoming fully dependent. From minding my own business, to others caring and looking after my own business. From trusting no one, to fully trusting and having faith. It was a complete turnaround. It was in New York City that I found renewed confidence in people and a stronger reliance in God. It was here that I received a course of “higher” learning.

After more months of waiting and still out of work, my family and I finally flew to California and stayed with my sister-in-law to escape the harsh winter. I left New York City with a heavy heart but thankful, humbled but not defeated, broke but hopeful. I admit, I was also wiser, more enlightened and insightful.

Three  months after we left New York, only then did I received what I was praying and waiting for.

New York, New York. Yes, I made it there (though barely). And I believe, I can make it anywhere.

There Are Places I Remember

Here are the pictures of places where we used to live, and hospitals where I did my training. It’s hard to believe that it has been more than 10 years since then. (Photos taken during our recent trip back to New York and New Jersey area.)

Drive-by Shooting…….Pictures.

Last week, we had a really long drive to New York. We also did some drive-by shooting……… shooting pictures, that is.

After passing miles and miles of cornfields and farmlands from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, the scenery changed drastically when we reached Pennsylvania, with its mountains and forested areas. The fall foliage colors was also in it’s peak.

sunrise mountains

beautiful fall colors

"Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long." - Rascal Flatts

"It's a long lonely highway when you're travellin' all alone." - Elvis Presley

quaint town

"The long and winding road......." - Beatles

Over the mountain........

.....around the mountain,.....

......and through a mountain (tunnel through a mountain somewhere in Pennsylvania).

New Jersey continued on with similar scenery……..

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Garden State Parkway (New Jersey)

When we got to New York City, it was a different jungle altogether.

view of Manhattan skyline from Queens

under the Number 7 train in Queens

Park Avenue. Buildings in the middle of the street. (at the end of the street is where Central Station is)

Time Square (yes, we spent a lot of time there, due to the traffic!)

The Plaza Hotel. This is where we stayed.........I wish. (the policemen directed us somewhere else, ha ha)

horse carriage at Central Park (watch out for the droppings!)

Columbus Circle (No, this is not where Columbus first landed. It's where he first did his shopping!???)

Straight ahead is Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Finding for a street parking is impossible. 4 hour parking at a garage is as expensive as your dinner!

One of my wife's favorite places.

Street sign. Most of the streets are one way!

What? No traffic! Perhaps this was just a glitch.

Here's some light traffic (near Queensboro bridge).

And real heavy traffic.

And more traffic. At least this has a beautiful view of the Hudson river and George Washington bridge.

And more traffic.....

Leaving New York City. Crossing George Washington bridge at sunset.

Mula Palayan Hanggang Maisan (From Ricefields to Cornfields)

Nagsimula sa isang malawak na palayan sa probinsiya ng Norzagaray, Bulacan. Ay  may isang batang nangarap. Habang ang kanyang pastol na kalabaw ay nagpapahinga sa ilalim ng puno ng kawayan at ang mga magsasaka nama’y abalang nagtatanim ng palay. Duon siya nangarap, na makapag-aral, makapagtapos ng kolehiyo, at tapos ay makipagsapalaran sa Maynila. Maraming taon ang lumipas….. at ang pangarap niya ay natupad. Ang batang ito, ay ang aking tatay.

Sa isang masikip na kalye ng Sampaloc, Manila. Ay may isang batang nangarap. Habang mga traysikel ay umamarangkada at ang mga tambay ay nag-iinuman duon sa harap ng maliit na tindahan . Dito siya’y nangarap, na makatapos ng pag-aaral, magpakadalubhasa, at pagkatapos  ay marahil makarating sa ibang bansa. Maraming taon ang lumipas……..ang pangarap niya’y natupad din. Ang batang ito’y walang iba, kundi ako.

Nakarating sa Amerika.  Tumira sa isang magulo at maingay na kalsada ng New York City. Dumudungaw sa bintana, habang umaalingawngaw ang serena ng pulis at ambulansiya, at dumadagundong naman ang nagdaraang subway train (Subway line 7, sa Queens). Sa magulong mundong ito ako’y muling nangarap, na mamuhay at magpalaki ng aking pamilya sa tahimik at mas mapayapang mundo. Ilang taon ang lumipas…..ang pangarap ko’y muling natupad.

Sa isang matahimik na lugar ng Iowa. Ay may mga batang  nangangarap. Sila’y nakatanaw sa malawak na bukid ng mga mais. Habang ang mga ibong ligaw ay naghaharana, at ang mga tanaw na magsasaka, sakay ng kanilang traktora, ay nag-aani ng mais. Ang mga batang ito, ay ang aking mga anak. Ano naman kaya ang kanilang mga pangarap? Saan naman kaya sila dadalhin ng kanilang mga pangarap? Alam kong sa paglipas ng maraming taon…….ito ay matutupad rin.

(*all photos from internet)