Right through the very heart of it: New York City

I flew in from JFK twenty-four hours ago, I'm waiting for my swab test results, wearing my auntie's comfiest FILA sweats, and enjoying the rainy-but-relatively-warmer-compared-to-the-East-Coast weather. Hello SFO, here I am, barely avoiding omicron. Until I've fully righted myself to Pacific Time, let me share about my NYC trip!

I arrived in New York and at once felt at home and homesick. Living in a quiet city like Concord made me miss the hustle and bustle of Manila — the noise, the dirt, the pollution, the mess. The commotion, the battling emotions of excitement and fear. Can I find my way there? Can I find my way back? Am I surviving this subway ride? (A dark thought nowadays, if you think about it.) The rush makes you feel alive like nothing else can.

At the same time, because of the impending holidays, I couldn't help but long for home. Winter in New York? Sounds magical. The bright lights, the giant Rockefeller Christmas tree, the garlands, the festive feels! It's the most wonderful time of the year! But I'm missing my family terribly and it's my first Christmas away from home. In any case, I was not about to let that get in the way of enjoying all the holiday cheer. So off I went! 

(Warning: long post ahead! Strap in!)

The last time I was in New York was in 2009: I was just about to turn 18 and was entering my sophomore year in college. I was so young, na├»ve, and full of hope! I also had really poor outfit choices. (See below for proof.) Now, I'm still-young-but-not-that-young, a little more jaded, and a little wiser. But at least I have nicer clothes now! 30-year-old me is definitely cuter, no doubt. 

17yo me, just below the Brooklyn bridge. I don't even know why we're so far from it.

An evolved Pokemon now, thankfully.

This trip has actually been planned months in advance. My closest friends (Mithra, Kay, and Anjalika) and I have been meaning to go to NYC ever since we had our first wine night back in August. It was one of the first things we ever agreed on — our love for alcohol and wanting to spend winter in the Big Apple. So to have it finally come to fruition was actually a major thing on our LLM bucket list. I had to make scheduling adjustments though since I wanted to spend Christmas with my aunt in California. Since my friends aren't Catholics, they were planning on coming a little closer to the 25th. So I ended up going ahead of them for a few days and just meeting up with them before flying to San Francisco on the 22nd.

I stayed with two relatives in New Jersey during my stay: an aunt, and a cousin. From New Jersey, I'd just take the bus to the city. It took about an hour to an hour and a half, which isn't so bad, and beats staying in a hotel in the peak of the season at a very steep price. Plus, every day I'd get to see the Manhattan skyline from the other side of the Hudson River, and boy, what a sight. 

The NYC Bus Station is right across the New York Times and to come face-to-face with it every morning literally sent me goosebumps. As a creative writing major, I used to daydream about writing for the NYTimes. It was one of the many stops I cherished in this tiny pilgrimage in honor of my so-called ~*Writing Dreams*~ (insert guffaws from the audience). 

Another very important stop in my Karla Used to Dream About Writing For A Living NYC Tour: the 30 Rockefeller Center. Home of NBC. Ah, be still my beating heart. If it hasn't been obvious yet, I still have dreams of writing for television. I specialized in screenwriting/playwriting precisely because I loved TV shows. I grew up falling in love with fictional characters on our television. I found my sense of humor and my tendency to always look at the silver linings (sometimes to a fault) because of the comedies I stayed up all night to watch. So to be at the heart of where some of my favorite shows began and thrived: Saturday Night Live, Friends, Scrubs, Parks and Recreation, Late Night with Conan O'Brien — it was fascinating and exhilarating and almost a little too bittersweet. Is it too late to change professions at this point?! Why am I filing infringement suits and opposing trademarks for a living?? I should be writing jokes and pitching sketches instead? 

*Cue Saturday Night Live theme song*

"And your host: Karla Bernardo!"

I was also thrilled to see the NBC News logo, partly because it used to be a Bernardo tradition to watch The Today Show reruns for dinner (cable in the Third World, amirite?) Aside from that, when I was a little kid, my default answer to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was "newscaster." (There's a video of 3-year-old me answering this very question, complete with the narration of that day's "news" — which was, in fact, one of my nursery classmates having chickenpox. Breaking News!) And so, that whole NBC compound was basically just a mecca for the dream upon dream upon dream left unfulfilled. Ha! The only thing that sucks was because of COVID, studio tours are still closed, and so I couldn't go inside or even get tickets for Late Night with Seth Meyers. (Here's to hoping it'll be much better come May when my family comes over!)

I also got to see the studio for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert! Conan is still my absolute favorite hands down, forever and ever, cross my heart. But Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers are tied for second place for me, and maybe Colbert inches him just by a little bit because of his depth and understanding of grief and faith. (I've talked about that here.) It's really a shame that Omicron started rearing its ugly head just as I got here. But at least most places are still open. (Again, hoping for better things this May!)

Another highlight for me was visiting the Hudson Yards, where some scenes of HBO's Succession were shot, particularly Kendall's birthday. Louie and I are obsessed about this show, and when I say obsessed, I mean, we've spent quarantine and much of this year poring over every single detail about this show and discussing character motivations, cinematography, soundtrack, the whole thing. It's sooooo gooooood. Over the course of this pandemic, we've turned into this one giant annoying blob-couple, an entity who just keeps telling friends to watch this show because it's that freaking good. Anyway, seeing this cool structure made of connecting staircases was really neat! It's an architectural marvel. I wish I could share this moment with my late aunt, Tita Gina, who was an architect, and who I'm sure would have loved hearing about it.

View from inside the Vessel

Cue Succession theme song

Other places that I got to visit, this time with my friends: the Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central, Bryant Park, New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All fascinating, exciting, and every bit as captivating as the movies make them out to be. Even better in the winter. (Even though it was mostly just drizzle rather than snow.) I also visited the Whitney Museum of American Art, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Saks 5th Avenue, the Lego Store, and Tiffany & Co. (Am I dropping a massive hint? Maybe I am and someone should take note.) Major photo dump below:


...one more time just to be sure :P

I also made time to meet up with UP Law friends who are in New York and taking up their LLM too: Portia sis Carla (from NYU) and blockmates Karl and Lars (from Columbia). It was nice to catch up and share our experiences with each other. We all felt like we took our master's partly for career advancement, but also as a seeming antidote to a sort-of not-quite-midlife crisis. We're tired of working! But now we're tired of studying too! We don't know what to do! It's funny and sad and true and incredibly privileged. We're very thankful, haha. But I'm really happy we all got into our programs and are having the best time. 

With Lars and Karl

Karla with a K and Carla with a C!

And did I mention the food? Food, glorious foooood. Once again, my words will not do them justice, so let's just let the pictures do all the talking instead:

(Side-note: Of course, I will not miss this opportunity to share a photo of the Crown Building [at 57th and 5th] one of the buildings purchased by the Marcoses in the 70s for. SHAMEFUL. They stole our taxes and continue to wreak havoc in our country by denying their crimes, rewriting history, and continuously displaying their greed. I hope they never return to power for the disgusting things they did to our country. #NeverForget)

I couldn't see all the places I wanted to visit due to the time constraints, but I promised myself that I will go back with my family after graduation. I actually couldn't fully relax when going around because even though I'm pretty confident even when traveling alone, these days, it's quite terrifying. Aside from the pandemic, the rise of crimes against Asians is a real threat. Even though it was exciting to be there, I never felt like I was completely safe. 

One question that frequently pops up during this LLM journey is: "Will you take the New York bar?" The answer is no. I can, but I won't. The simple answer is I don't want to study for it anymore. I don't think I have it in me to study other subjects that aren't IP-related. And I don't need it for my career goals anyway. But my honest answer is this: I think I have finally reached this point where I don't need these tests to define me. So much of my law school experience back home was defined by how well I did on an exam — and it was crushing. I made a vow to myself that I will pass the Bar exam on my first try because I never, ever want to take such a career-defining exam again. And I did. Now, I'm in law school again, sure, but they're only subjects I genuinely enjoy and with a program that allows me to do research and write for topics that align with my interests, but not sit for another Bar. Until another career opportunity comes my way that requires it, perhaps I'll consider taking it — but right now, I'm good where I'm at. 

And I guess there's a part of me that could never see myself settling here too. At least not right now. More than missing my family and boyfriend and friends back home, I miss the genuine feeling of belonging. No place has made me feel so desperate for an embrace than New York. I wanted so badly to be a part of it. But right now, considering my priorities and my dreams, it's not the place to settle down in.

New York feels nothing like what I actually find comfort in. I used to dream of living in this city (who didn't?) and maybe a part of me still does. But it also feels so alien, so far removed from the quiet kind of modus vivendi that I've nestled adequately in at this age. There are so many places! So many people! So much of everything! It's exciting, yes, but it can be a little overwhelming. It has everything for everyone - but somehow doesn't feel like it has anything specific just for me. Whereas in Concord and in Manila, and even in Boston, I can find a place that won't make me feel like I need to fight for it. Somehow, New York makes me feel like every second I have to prove why I deserve to set foot in it. Even as a transient visitor. 

And I think that's okay. So many things have changed since I was last here 13 years ago: 
who I am, who I wanted to be, what I've become. The beauty in letting time - lots of it - pass by is it allows for growth and a deeper understanding of what you truly want. The curveballs, the failures, the unexpected triumphs - they all led me here, to a happy medium where I don't get to be everything I ever dreamed of, but I also don't become the stranger I thought I'd be. And I'm perfectly fine with that. New York is symbolic of that character development I guess. It's everything I used to hope for and everything I'm now happy to let go of. It's nice to see it in person, but it's also very, very comforting to leave it all behind. 

Here's a picture with my best friends and the Rockefeller Christmas tree + 2009 me and 2021 me, to close this post with. Thankful, grateful, and very happy to be here. 

Ugh, those faded jeans. #NeverAgain din 'to hahahaha.


Happy Holidays from the Cool Asians!

And here's me wishing you the happiest holidays and the merriest Christmas, all the way from cozy California! West Coast time in 3, 2, 1. 

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