Sunday, August 20, 2006

House Warming

Manhattan, NY: I have lived here in my apartment since February 2003. It is my first apartment. It is also the first time I had my name in a lease here in the US. It also happens to be the smallest, tiniest space I have ever called my residence but somehow with good humor, I have learned to love it and seems will continue to call it home for another year.

Home is a studio on a 3rd floor walk-up. It was gut-renovated and so when I got it everything was new. It has hardwood floors, a full kitchen – stove/oven, full sized two-door ref and a full sink. It is not your typical New York apartment, often basically installed with a mini bar ref and a bar sink. When I first saw the apartment with my friends Karen and Gerry, I fell in love with it.

It is quite spacious for a Manhattan studio, about 500 square feet with 10 feet high ceilings and two tall windows facing the east that welcomes the sunrise. I have a view of the park across the avenue which livens up with activity during the summer weekends and the windows have a wide ledge where I can sit. I have access to a fire escape that could function as a small balcony if not for the fact that I have an absurb fear of heights. It has laundry facilities at the basement which means I don’t have to step out in the winter to do a much dreaded chore.

When I first moved in I had a roommate. Moving in day, we cabbed from my aunt's apartment with only luggage and two inflatable beds. And so the first purchase had been two single beds then a 13” TV. Then she moved out and then the starter furniture gave way to real ones including a real full size bed. Since last year I’ve started disposing many things to make way for more space. Much as I do not really buy much, I still discover that I still accumulate a lot of stuff.

My neighboorhood - the Upper East Side/East Harlem area

It is three blocks away from the subway and the bus stop is right across the street. Everything is within walking distance – the cinemas, the shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets (that deliver so I don’t have to carry the heavy bags up the stairs), the library. The thing I love about its location the most is that I am three blocks away from the promenade of the East River and four blocks away from Central Park.

I have invested many memories here. If these walls could talk, they’d share with you the joys, fears, frustrations and tears I had gone through adjusting to my new life away from my family and just really growing up and being on my own.

Since the onset of the year I had been contemplating about not renewing my lease, perhaps moving to another location. My boyfriend and I searched for apartments for a while – not just in Manhattan but in Brooklyn as well. I had hoped that the rent I paid for my crib could have an equivalent outside of the city but with bigger space, hopefully a one bedroom. There were some that were 'interesting' prospects but in the end, my faint heart couldn’t comprehend life outside of Manhattan. I had been assured that many people have moved out of the city and have survived. But I didn’t think I could be brave enough. And around Manhattan, the studios that were of the same price range as mine were old, rundown with musty smelly lobbies.

My lease renewal arrived tonight. A few days ago my landlord called to apologize that he would have to ask for an rent increase since he had locked my rent for the same amount since I had moved in. My friends freak out when I tell them that now I have to pay an extra $33 after my lease renewal. I shrug and acknowledge my gratitude for 'rent control' and whoever invented it. Nowhere in Manhattan can you find an apartment like mine for the amount I pay, despite the increase.

I signed on the dotted line.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dragonboat Festival 2006

There will probably be just two or three PERFECT weekends in a year in the eastern seaboard. This week will make it to the top of the list. Almost cloudless skies, a slightly cool breeze, almost zero humidity, lots of bright sunshine. My friend and I thus joined the exodus to Willet's Point in Queens to watch the 2006 Hong Kong Dragonboat Festival.

The festival's website: Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Beyond Shiksa

In Christine Benvenuto’s book Shiksa, The Gentile Woman in the Jewish World, she tells the story of Marisa, a young Filipina and her first American boyfriend who is Jewish. They met in medical school in Manila and although they spent a lot of time together, he had made it clear that because he was Jewish and that she was a Filipina woman, there was nothing to be expected from their relationship because it “wouldn’t make the grade” with his parents. He notes that she was ‘beyond shiksa’.

Ms. Benvenuto then asks: When a gentile woman enters into a relationship with a Jew, how are the dynamics affected by her class, race and ethnicity? Can a convert who wears her otherness on her skin find a home in Judaism?

When I shared this with my Jewish friends they shrugged and noted that this was the ancient way of thinking. It is more relaxed now, they assured me. Ask someone who is in a relationship with a Jewish man and she will tell you that ‘nothing at all has changed’. There is still an aversion to intermarriage – evidenced by the refusal of many rabbi (even those from the less Orthodox stream) to officiate in such ceremonies. And the Jewish mother will continue to be non-accepting of her son’s gentile partner until she has been immersed in a mikvah.

I am Asian and there is no easy way to hide that fact; the same thing with my Christian faith, which I wear on my sleeve. I can relate to my Brazilian friend who, although is non-practicing still considers herself a Catholic. When she shares with me the horror stories of her relationship with her Jewish mother-in-law, it is not to seek my sympathy but to encourage me to steer away from the complicated.

I always say that it is difficult enough to find someone that you can get along with without putting the specifics into the picture. If I had met a man with whom I can share a mutually pleasant, stimulating and balanced relationship where there is equal respect and consideration, would I walk away simply because we worship in different ways? Isn’t there just one God, anyway? I probably wouldn’t. I definitely would stay. Especially if I know that the man sincerely loves me.

Would I convert? Maybe I would consider it but I do not know if I would find any sincerity in my decision if it were just to appease his side of the family. If I ever I would choose to be ‘in the same faith’ as him, I would think that it would be because that deep inside I would find myself believing that it gives me more peace than what I have now with my Catholicism.

In New York, which carries the next biggest population of Jews outside of Israel, a majority of Jews are more open to having inter-faith relationships. The Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) notes that in 1990, there were already 720,000 interfaith married couples. It currently estimates about a million Jews married to non-Jews. It also noted that the rate of intermarriage was 52% (website here).

The old image of the tall, blonde and white Shiksa is now also the petite Asian or the sweet curvaceous Latina. Gentiles and goys (non-Jewish male) come in all shapes and forms and each one do find their place in the hearts of young Jews. Like my friend, many of them don’t lose sleep about not being accepted into the exclusivity of the Jewish social circle.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Another one

I just had a thought. If I kept at it til the end of the summer, I would have had exactly the number of barbeques attended as how many weekends there had been from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It had been a never miss, really, that it is now the same Friday night joke between my boyfriend and me: do we have another barbeque this weekend?

Another girlfriend had given me a margarita kit as a 'summer gift'. I won't drink by myself so I decided to bring it with me to the party and before long was churning out glassfuls of frozen margarita like an expert!!!


Saturday, August 05, 2006


My dad is celebrating his 69th birthday on Monday, 7 August. I will go to mass tomorrow and give thanksgiving for the gift of a wonderful man for a father (and with an equally superb mom to boot!).

I will continue to wax poetic about my Pingping. In this lifetime there is just not enough words to put together to describe how he has influenced my life and my siblings to what we have become. No man I know has the patience, love and tolerance for his brood like he does.

He rarely got angry and when he did we knew we had crossed the line. Of the few instances that I remember when he lost his cool it had been about work, or traffic or anything else. He was very protective - not just of the family name but specially of his kids. He never got used to having my sister and I being away from home. Whenever he can, he would still find a way to press us to come home for the holidays (and I always end up flying home in time for noche buena). When we were in high school and had to go to a bivouac as part of our military training requirement, he'd drive to our campsite on our last day away with my mom to fetch us. They would pack a warm meal, fresh clothes and stuff that totally embarrassed us being in high school and smothered. Of course it didn't come across as very endearing to us back then specially for my sister who happened to be the corps commander.

Nicole will always be his favorite girl. Now in her senior year in college, my dad still insists on driving up to her dorm to fetch her in the weekends. He finds it unacceptable for his grand daughter to take the bus and commute. And then he makes sure there is a pillow for her so she can nap on the long drive home. Seems to him we will forever be his babies, regardless how old we get.

When Nicole had to go through her emergency surgery in June, Francis, Gigi and I tried to keep things under wraps from my parents until the last minute when we had all the facts and the arrangements to minimize their worry time. And during that moment when I was a wreck, I made sure that I had composed myself well before I talked to my parents to not burden them emotionally of my distance. But as soon as my father came to the phone and I heard his voice, it was goodbye composure and I was instantly bawling. His voice so comforting felt like the warm embrace I always long for when things go wrong and I am far away. The kind of love that is unspoken but is genuinely felt and is a constant presence.

Not many have been blessed with parents like mine. I thank God everyday for them and their gift of unconditional love. And I pray everyday still that they continue to stay healthy and that they may be gifted with many more years to share with us and in the successes of our lives to which they had given so much.

Happy Birthday, Pingping!!!