Thursday, December 8, 2011

Discovering Unknown Roots...

Thanks for tuning in and checking out my first post. It was basically a very abridged version of my August trek back from Japan. Two big omissions from the month were traveling all over Western Japan with my beautiful lady, and catching up with old friends and trying disc (Frisbee) golf.
A Japanese garden in Kumamoto City, southern Kyushu
My good friend Drew on the left and our intrepid Emily and Catherine.

So back in New York, September 1st was quickly approaching and I only heard back from one possible place to rent, which I couldn't visit until the trains started back up after Hurricane Irene. Desperate, I asked Carlos, my Colombian sub-letter if he had any temporary spaces available.

Carlos, to his credit, tried to help by taking to me to a a young (younger than me) man who was fixing up a room, and was due to have a Japanese roommate move in soon. But the neighborhood had a shady vibe and having to rent from someone who didn't look old enough to buy his own beer also helped me to quickly decide against that spot.
"You know," Carlos said in an uncharacteristically tentative voice, pausing.
"I have a space on the second floor with the Japanese people you met before. It's not really a room, but do you want to check it out?

"Sure," I said. I had wandered up before the hurricane and introduced myself to two Japanese roommates and they seemed nice enough...

The space turned out to be a cubby made out of two empty entertainment centers, turned inward, a door screwed on one and wedged against the other to make a doorway, about a foot of space between them and the twin bed squeezed in, reminiscent of a Japanese internet cafe booth.
Like this, but no computer, no chair, and not as clean.
But it was also built against the living room window, was plenty of space for what little luggageI brought with me, Carlos was only asking for $120 a week, and finally, he said I could stay there as long as I needed. Although I was still foolishly optimistic that wouldn't be more than a week or two, it didn't take a mathematician to figure out that the price was less than half what I would pay once I moved in to a real apartment. It would also give me a chance to save up some money while I worked at my new job, so I accepted!

Meeting my roommates took some time because everyone tended to stay inside their rooms, doors closed. After a couple of days hanging out in the common area when I was home revealed them to be:
a Japanese guy, just 19, attending college and studying business/marketing, and avid death metal fan;
a young Japanese woman, recently graduated, and changing professions. Her boyfriend moved in to her room a couple weeks before I left, and was a really cool dude;
a young Chinese woman, with similar circumstances, including the boyfriend moving in to her room;
and the youngest, an 18 year-old from Saudi Arabia, studying at Columbia, or somewhere impressive like that. He was really shy, probably about speaking English, but it wasn't bad, and his bashful manner was, for lack of a better word, cute.
I was surprised to find that everyone was actually quite friendly and personable. I guess though, that it never occurred to them to try making friends with each other. You couldn't say we became close, but in the month I ended up spending there, we all learned each others' names and would occasionally hang out, do laundry, or eat dinner together.
I did make it a point to eat this as soon as possible!

2 of my apartments former tenants! <3

Okay, finding an apartment in New York is hard, you get it. Sorry. I won't drag this subject out any longer. To summarize, I will tell you that the first person who I mentioned got back to me had a great place, in the neighborhood I wanted to live, at a great price, and even the intersection was awesome. After a lot of legal aches and pains, all hinging on her getting a job in California, which she did, I was finally able to move in...after October 1st!
But with the knowledge that I would have a place, to myself, to live for the next year, I was finally able to turn my attention to the next big thing:
My new job!

I went in before my first official day to practice finding the place, and meet everyone in person.
Okay, this is just the roof, but still cool, no?
As far as first impressions go, I was blown away. Everyone was nicer than I could have hoped for, and the office looked great, if not a little big and intimidating. But the first week of work was mostly getting IDs made, just so I could actually GO to the places my job requires (the building I work in included!). This was a huge help with giving me time to get settled, learn everyone's name, and start studying the industry jargon (in both languages!)
And that is one of the best things of all; since everyone in the office speaks English and Japanese well enough that I can be understood in either language, I am free to speak English, and still get plenty of Japanese practice. Since losing my Japanese ability when I came back to the U.S. was a major concern of mine, that was a huge relief.
But no sooner was I starting to think "I can handle this", than I was thrown into the circus that was covering the 10th anniversary of  the September 11th.
Toward the end of the ceremony, I was able to walk right up to where family members were reading the names of the deceased.
A model of the future skyline around the World Trade Center. This was actually inside the new Building 7.

I don't want to go into too much more detail about my job, because a lot of it is much less exciting and sexy as a topic, but September was certainly a "baptism by fire" (although I find that phrase to be overused) with all the stories I had to work on. The ground zero reconstruction, NY Fashion week, and UN General Assembly were just a few of the things in the news I had to work on, learning my job as I went.
Oh yes, there were mistakes, and a lot of times I still feel like dead weight, but again, my coworkers have and continue to be so patient and understanding. I am beyond happy with how my life is playing out.
I'm a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the CATWALK!♪

The last and most important topic I want to address are the "unknown roots" this post refers to. Most of you probably don't know this about me, but pretty much all of my immigrant roots, came to the U.S. through New York. In fact, mine is the first generation of my family in America born OUTSIDE New York. So the unknown part for me is "going home" to a place I've never been. And two points, more than any other, signify this return:

First is my dad. He grew up in Manhattan (in the 1940s mind you), moved to Arizona, and got a job in the news industry in his mid-twenties. I, also in my mid twenties, was born and raised in Arizona (putting aside 9 years in California), moved to New York City, and got a job in the news industry in Manhattan! To be honest, I think he is more excited about this serendipitous turn of events than I, but it is still quite the remarkable coincidence.

Then there is my cousin Bob, or whatever the proper term is for a great-cousin. Bob is my mother's cousin, and the child of my grandpa's younger sister. As a child, I was lucky to have my grandfather in my life, and during those 9 years in California I got to see him fairly often. Although I was by all accounts an insufferably brat, I adored my grandpa and cherished the time we spent together. Now as an adult, my memories of him are mostly a patchwork of favorite moments, and family rituals, so it came as an enormous surprise to me when I got to New York and got in touch with Bob over the phone. If you were to ask to describe my grandfather's voice before talking to Bob, I could recall it as bold, confident, with a slightly older, different way of speaking. I couldn't really place the accent or hear it in my head though. But Cousin Bob's voice suddenly connected to my ear, was so identical, it could fool a security system straight out of Mission Impossible!
Now, all of the sudden, my hereto-forth unknown relation, with the same voice box as my grandpa, was picking me up and taking me to Italian for lunch! It was amazing and I am very grateful that this is happening, not just now, but specifically now that I am an adult, because if this had happened as a teenager, I don't think I would have been mentally able to process this man who grew up very close to my grandpa, his uncle, in New York, and with so many memories and impressions of the man himself, that I feel like I am relearning who my own grandpa is, vicariously, through his stories.
Sadly, I have been so busy with work and settling in to my new life, that I haven't met with him again in person since, but rest assured, next time I do, it will be a blog of it's own.

I leave with this:

Yeah, that's subway break dancers. Boom.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's the Wind-up...

Welcome back to my impossible life.
Recently, a good friend commented that I am living proof of karma. It was meant as a compliment, but I feel like that puts me heavily in debt to universe; an ironic situation since for the first time in my adult life I am debt free and saving money, without sacrificing my personal goals to travel!

Back up:
Note: TBS does NOT stand for Turner Broadcasting Station
I got hired to a Japanese television station's News bureau in New York City as an associate producer.
I was sitting in my underwear, in a tiny apartment in Hiroshima, Japan, when I read the email offering the job. My thoughts exploded into an endless fractal of what to do next, but at the genesis was my decision whether or not to take the job: Yes.

Family in Seattle

On top of not having to worry about employment after five years on The JET Programme, which paid for my flight home - a flight I used to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin in their new home in Seattle, before returning to Tucson, my new job was paying to fly me to New York. All I had to pay for was setting up my living arrangements from August until my first pay day, mid-September, and I had a zero balance on all my credit cards, so I even had some leeway. The only thing I worried about was packing, lugging my possessions halfway around the world, and finding an apartment in New York. In hindsight, the latter issue turned the first two into such minor nuisances that they are no longer worth discussing.

Sure, scary 'ol New York City is notoriously hard for finding an apartment, but I wasn't looking for a rent-controlled penthouse with a view of Central Park! I wasn't some aspiring artist with big dreams and empty pockets! I had already gotten a solid, respectable job, chosen a neighborhood (Astoria, Queens) well outside 'the hustle and the bustle' (as Strongbad would say), and had great credit BEFORE i paid of over 20k in student loans; realtors should be paying ME a finder's fee right?!? Wrong. But first thing's first, I needed a temporary place to stay for a week (HA!) while I find a place of residence.

After weeks of sifting and emailing through dodgy craigslist entries, I started getting crazy and desperate, but still cautious of being scammed. Finally, it was just three days before I flew from the safety of my little brother's couch in Arizona, when I settled on a Colombian who gave me his address, answered his emails from his smartphone, and would accept cash when I showed up on the doorstep.
Ok, maybe I didn't research as much as I could have...

Shit, I thought, I am still nervous as hell. I gotta be honest, even after arriving at the airport that first night in NYC, I was trying to find comparably affordable hotels or hostels so I could bail on this guy's offer and go with something that felt safer. I had left everything behind at my mom's place, and only brought a duffel bag packed with clothes, shoes, and a 5 year-old laptop, so I could use the internet if everything was alright, but I wouldn't be completely robbed blind if it was an overly elaborate mugging waiting to happen. Are you starting to feel the tension? I took a cab from the airport, and the guy spoke in a whispered indistinguishable language on his cell phone headset the entire time, missing the turn to my new street twice, heightening my nervousness. Finally, I arrived at the front door, knocked, and a Latina girl answered the door with an equal look of caution, which provided me with my first feeling of relief that day.

Then Carlos, El Colombian, brushed her aside and asked impatiently "why didn't you call?" I mumbled something stupid, as he waved me inside the hall and showed me to my room on the first floor. He was happy to let me put my things down, wasn't in a rush to get to my cash, and behaved like this was all as normal as the tide. Finally, he gave me the key to the front door, and separate key to my room, I gave him the cash, and sighed a deep breath of relief. I had made it to New York, and was doing way better than Joe's Apartment.

As my tension emptied, I was filled with excitement. After briefly introducing myself to my 5 Mexican roommates, including the first girl, I went outside to wander, unhindered by luggage. Just after 9pm, I found the closest subway entrance. Descending the staircase, I spotted a tiny booth outside the gates to the platform, and inside this booth sat David, an older man with the air of my Uncle Anthony, himself a New York native. David informed me how the Metro Card worked and that the trains ran 24 hours. That was all I needed to hear. I bought a card, and hopped on the next train to Times Square! That night I saw a withered, old, naked women with painted breasts, rats fighting on the opposite platform, and scurrying through the tracks, and quickly learned the pain of a society with very few public restrooms. Trying to get home, I learned that even though David hadn't lied about trains running 24 hours, the train I took to get there, the R, stopped running at midnight, and you had to take the E. Well! I took an N far enough to get nowhere near where an E would stop, and ended up transferring to a 7 to get back to my line and finally back onto an E home.

The next morning, jet lag woke me up early enough to buy food, snacks, and a bottle of tequila, which I would need for the ensuing house party, since just a few hours later, New York City was hit by a freak, once-in-a-lifetime hurricane that left everyone displaced or home-bound the whole weekend! 
Hey little guy! Are you welcoming me to New York? Thanks!