More than bright lights and bestsellers pt. I

It always amazes me how many people see themselves living in the big city. I, on the other hand, was never up for the challenge; I'm not made for fighting over someone for cab rides to get to weekly board meetings on time. Nor am I meant for drinking countless cups of coffee (Not a fan of caffeine) and putting on a hefty amount of concealer (I only wear make-up on special occasions) to disguise my horrible eye bags all because of a report I wasn't able to finish until sunrise. These are the top two scenes that would cross my mind whenever I think of post-grad life in New York City.

So busy and chaotic—which was why, at first, I wasn't so thrilled about visiting. Though most of my favorite movies and shows were set in the Big Apple and the prospect of going would allow me to walk down the same streets as Leighton Meester, Anne Hathaway, and Darren Criss often did, I was more scared than excited of going. For a frequent news watcher, police reports and issues about security and safety all over the nation would replay in my little head and therefore cause bouts of anxiety every now and then. Getting out of the house, especially in the metro, is becoming much of a risk these days. What more danger would a tourist like myself encounter?!

I worried so much, and that also says a lot about my planning phase. For most of my travels, I tend to give utter importance to every detail—from the big problem of getting there (plane, train, or bus?) to the minute dilemma of what to wear. It's all a big deal to me and therefore bears so much weight on my part. However, after weeks and weeks of waiting, I came to the point of forgetting about my troubles and just looking forward to being with my closest uncle again. The thought of seeing my mom's second-youngest brother (who is only a decade older than I am!) after five and a half years made the rest of my concerns seem useless and rather childish. Besides, it's normal to feel such wide range of emotions on one's first time in a new place, right?

Thursday night the relatives drove me all the way to Baltimore an hour before my trip, thinking we still have some time to spare in case we got lost looking for the station. We passed through the toll gates only to be greeted by a traffic jam and a sea of people dressed in purple rushing to cross the streets and into the big stadium; had we known there was a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars we could have left the house a few minutes earlier. Thankfully I didn't miss my bus! The driver was about to close the door when he saw me and my aunt running towards him, waving our hands like lunatics.

I hurriedly hopped on and seated myself next to a lady in her early twenties who was already busy listening to her iPod. We left shortly after and for a while I regretted not bringing along any novel for the three-hour-and-forty-five-minute travel. Much to my delight, I found out that Bolt Bus was equipped with wi-fi and a bathroom. Definitely not bad for a thirteen dollar ride! I kept myself preoccupied by browsing through my networks, daydreaming about the fun I'll be having over the weekend, dozing off for fifteen minutes, and eavesdropping on a conversation between strangers who just met and were discussing about their plans after college.

Suddenly the hours felt like minutes and before I knew it I was welcomed by Times Square with open arms. Five minutes and a few passersby after, it was my Tito Tan who took me in a familiar embrace. "Manang, you're finally here!" We stayed at the area for a little while and I marveled at how big and bright everything was, the number of tourists happily snapping photos at every possible angle (even at midnight on a weekday, the place was still filled with people), and the fact that I was one of them.

Later, Uncle and I took the subway to the Upper East Side and dropped off my stuff at his humble abode before heading out for some place to eat. We celebrated my arrival with drinks (wine for Tito and Shirley Temple for me) and prosciutto and mozzarella at one of Tito's favorites, Uva. With its intricate interiors, cozy atmosphere, and a cute waiter who remembers your name after hearing it once for the first time and in spite of the number of customers he's assisting (Teehee!), the wine bar restaurant was one for the books!

I wasn't completely sold to my uncle's plan of spending Day 1 in NYC jogging around Central Park at seven in the morning and grabbing a quick breakfast after—I didn't have extra clothes for it and we slept at two o'clock—so it didn't come as a surprise that we woke up at eight. Instead, we had an egg and toast breakfast at his apartment while watching the news about the Empire State shooting (luckily we weren't anywhere near there when it all happened) and got to the park at eleven wearing our modest summer outfits, scrapping the idea completely.

Central Park was an experience in itself. Even though we practically had to brisk walk to see to the monuments and the famous shooting locations before it got infested with tourist groups, I still enjoyed it. I could bizarrely hear Amy Adam's singing That's How You Know as we walked past the long and winding paths...or maybe it was just me, singing. Which would be very typical of me, especially when I'm with my Uncle Johnny. And my, how clean the park was! I might come back to New York just so I could stay at the park every afternoon. I would have my very own spot at the lawn and there, I would not have to worry about my writing assignments; inspiration is always at the tip of my finger.

At the Upper West Side, we reached the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts, a complex I recognized from most of the series and films I watch. Being a huge fan of the arts and performing—be it in my choice of movies or the shows I watch live—it's been my dream to visit the place. When I was young I even thought I would have a shot at Julliard, but what with my meager talent and lack of self-confidence, I don't think I'm qualified to audition. Being in the midst of great performers is enough to make me happy. It lifts my spirits. I'd love to witness their concerts one day.

While taking pictures of streets and infrastructures during our short walk towards the Met Opera from Central Park, I noticed a signage atop a brick building but could barely make out what it said (The walls of the skyscrapers next to it hindered me from seeing the whole thing). As we got closer and I had a better view, I could feel my fangirling heart beat twice as fast—we were outside the Empire Hotel! Tito Tan offered that we have lunch at the rooftop if they do have a restaurant there and all I could do was jump in excitement.

The bellboy ushered us in, we made our way to the elevator and through the stairs, and lo and behold, we had the view of the city all to ourselves! Never mind that we may have disobeyed hotel policy (The note by the door that led to the roofdeck said "for hotel guests only"), Tito and I were already documenting the experience with our cameras and would gladly leave the area if we were told (No one did). Unfortunately for us, there wasn't a restaurant but a bar that opens at five. We let ourselves out and found the nearest place that serves lunch.

Luckily, Restaurant Week was extended and one of Tito's favorite bistros, Bar Boulud, happens to be participating in the much-anticipated tradition. We decided to dine al fresco and took our time eating our three-course meals: salad, shrimp pasta, and fruit sorbet for Tito and cold tomato soup, herbed veal, and chocolate mousse for me (I forgot the names of our dishes, they were in French and the menu on their website has already changed) and I must say they were delicious! Definitely a must try for those in the area, especially during Restaurant Week!

Next on our list of things to do was to say hello to Lady Liberty. Since we didn't want to spend so much time and money, we took the one-hour free-of-charge ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and back instead of the three-to-five-hour twenty-four-dollar Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour. I had a lot of sightseeing to do that day and didn't want a minute of it put to waste. But the boat ride was fun: Tito and I had to compete with other tourists for a good spot at the ferry, and without a doubt we were right where we wanted. We got to see both the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty in all its glory.

The rest of the afternoon was spent frolicking in the city, visiting every well-known place we recognize—mostly from Gossip Girl and then from other films and a novel I loved—and remembering each scene that took place there: Jonathan and Sara's ice cream date at the Serendipity 3; Dan and Vanessa's anniversary gift-shopping and conversation over at Dylan's Candy Bar (Yes, that's real candy on the steps!); Blair and Serena's sweet and unforgettable photoshoot along Grand Army Plaza; Liv and Emma's dream of "June weddings at The Plaza"; Holly's Breakfast at Tiffany's; Emmy, Leigh, and Adriana as they were Chasing Harry Winston (written by Lauren Weisberger); Train's Today Show performance at the Rockefeller Plaza right outside the NBC News Studio we missed that morning; and a lot more.

Later, we tried our chances at the Wicked ticket lottery and for a while I thought we could actually score two front-row seat tickets for only twenty-six dollars. Tito Tan even kept saying he had a good feeling about it, but I have learned never to trust feelings. We arrived a couple of minutes before 5:30pm, making us one of the first few who were in line. Later a lot of people started joining the queue and I felt giddy inside, hoping that fate was on our side.

While waiting for the drawing of lots and the announcement of winners, we lounged at the Azalea bar. Understanding the tiny detail that I don't have alcohol privileges (thus hindering me from taking a sip of the Wickedtini), the bartender was thoughtful enough to make me my own drink, "Springo," which is actually just Sprite and Mango puree combined. The fact, however, that he made Springo for the first time is what makes it special and even better, "mine."

Meanwhile Tito Tan, who watched Wicked nine times and who took part in the lotto ten times and only won once, forumated a theory. He observed that Asians—or at least those with Chinese/Japanese-sounding names—had better luck than anyone else, and because of this speculated that the man who usually and mysteriously dressed in all-black and with shades (without fail) was picking out the names himself, being unfair and biased to what he thought were tourists visiting the city. To prove his point, he started counting those chinky-eyed in line, claiming that our chances of winning were being threatened by the minute. I laughed and thought he was just being silly.

But when the thirteen names were called, I was shocked. Not at the fact that we didn't win (I know I don't have a lucky bone in my body) but that there were eight Tius/Sys/Cos/etc! in line, somehow confirming Tito's funny suspicion. I just couldn't believe it! We purchased our tickets at regular price anyway, bought pizzas to go, then rushed back to the apartment to freshen up and get ready for what would be an experience of a lifetime!

Wicked has ultimately become one of—if not—the greatest highlights of my NYC visit. To tell you quite frankly, my interest in the musical was only sparked because of Glee; I only know three of its twenty songs and that the story is somehow related to the Wizard of Oz. For the rest, I just crossed my fingers and hoped it was worth every penny and minute. And it was!!!

It's been running for seven years and it's no question why people keep coming back to Broadway just to see it: the music, the costumes, the set, everything was perfect! I only wished I had my twin sister around to share that magical moment with me as she's more of a diehard Wicked fan than I am. After the show, Tito and I lined up at the stage door to get autographs of Jackie Burns (Elphaba) and Chandra Lee Schwartz (Galinda). They were both so nice and humble, it made me appreciate the theater life even more.

Before calling it a day, we walked around Times Square and ended up at Shake Shack for a midnight snack. On the way to Tito's pad, we sang all the songs we could remember. For Good was still my top pick; for me, it captured what the show really was about: a friendship that changes one for the better. We got to bed with huge smiles plastered on our faces and The Wicked playlist on repeat lulling us to sleep.

My first day in the big city was already phenomenal, Saturday had a lot to catch up on. To be continued...


  1. Iss, I really enjoyed reading your article. Not only is it well-written, but it is funny, enjoyable, and entertaining. You were certainly able to convey your enthusiasm and excitement about being in New York City from the time you boarded the bus until the end of a very busy, fun-filled day. Your knack for expressing yourself with very appropriate words and phrases have developed beautifully; but there is always room for improvement so write, write, write!!! I look forward to reading Day 2! with much love, Tita Baby

  2. Four words and a punctuation: WHERE IS PART TWO?

  3. Oh, "Wicked" is even more stunning in book form. Read it a while back and haven't seen the musical yet, but been wanting to!