Taking a Break at Home and Thinking of Life Plans

It’s Memorial day weekend, and I’m back home in LA, spending time with family and friends. I’m here for a celebration of us three graduating in 2014. I love being at home. I’ve made many trips back home while living in Chicago, and I think this is the first time that I feel the most content. I still have homework to do, study proposal letters to write, and a list of things on which to follow up, but I feel a sense of calmness and stability these days perhaps due to the point in my life I’m in right now. I’m doing well at new job that was a source of a recent promotion, I just moved to a beautiful apartment, I’m about to graduate from my master’s degree, and I’ve been checking off a lot of things on my bucket list. Life is good, and I am very thankful for everything I’m given.

They say that you discover what you love best when you let your mind wander and see what you always come back to. If there is a recurring thought in my life, it’s traveling, exploration and writing. When I graduated from undergrad, I told myself that I am going to make it a point to travel the world. I’ve been to my share of great destinations and adventures, and I seem to want more. It’s when I’m out there– in a different place, or getting lost in an unfamiliar city, or even waiting for hours in an airport hearing different languages– that I feel at home. It’s when I’m in between places that I feel like I’m in the right place, and this theme is definitely a thread in my life. Growing up in a different place, living between different cultures (both my own and my friends’), and now based in a city that is entirely different from everything I’ve known before moving there 3 years ago… these are the factors that further reinforces this hybrid thematic in my life.

Every time I catch myself having some free time, how ever long or short, whether I’m on the bus, walking or even laying in my bed just after waking up, I’m always thinking about where I’m headed, both in terms of location, and direction in life. I dream of having a bit of time to travel many different places and exploring as much as I can, and right now, these are dreams. I haven’t thought about the details of activating them, because whenever I begin to, I’m always stopped at how, from which I can never proceed on the next thought. How am I able to do this when I have a job to keep? How am I ever able to do this without my savings taking a blow and possible detouring other plans that I have? The easy answer to this is to take a job abroad, and I’ve been researching options currently that will take me in this direction.

I’m always in the mindset that I can pack my bags and leave, and this drives a lot of decisions in my life. It affects where I put my money, the job I take, the degree I pursue, how much stuff I accumulate, where I attempt to make connections, and so on. I also always dream of writing, more so before graduate school when I have more time to dream, but writing is something that can be done anywhere and I will always have. The only key element needed with writing, is time, which sounds simple compared to what’s needed to travel, such as financial resources, personal connections, among other things on top of time. But time may be the one factor that is scarce in my life right now, which hopefully won’t be for too long since I am about to complete my master’s degree.

Life is great right now, and I am always trying to steer it in a direction that makes it even better. Right now, I feel that I can accomplish anything I want to do, I have the support of wonderful people in my life, I enjoy making new friends and I believe in myself. I also acknowledge that all of these– the ability to do anything I want, and all that is present around me which enables this– are great luxuries for which I’m thankful, and I hope to further use toward that which is good.

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Remarkable Experiences of 2013

The year started off filled with building excitement for travel and marveling at art. I went to a travel expo where I not only sampled foods from all over the world, but also experienced cultural shows in the form of dance (Mexico) and music (Ireland).

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Chicago’s Chinatown and walking around in search of mooncakes (my fave!), rose tea and almond cookies. It’s also a year of baking when I can. I don’t do it much, but when I do, it’s always a delight. Making homemade biscotti in February with my aunt in Rogers Park was exciting, as making chocolate chip cookies and lemon cupcakes in December.

The beginning of the year was about anticipating the Art Institute’s Picasso exhibit. When I finally saw the exhibit, I understood the genius behind his work, which I once upon a time resisted. I was skeptical of his many works that carried the theme of a “woman’s profile,” because I did not see how elemental lines put together in a seeming disorder can depict the women he featured in his work, among other creatures. I saw the light on my first visit, and I returned 4 times more. I was amazed at the breadth of work this artist had created over the course of his life. And it compelled me to pay more attention to his public art installations all over the city of Chicago. I love understanding art, despite the struggle, especially comprehending what the artists is communicating through his work. Beyond Picasso, this year was also marked with multiple trips to this art museum, where I basked in Chagall’s windows many times over and drunk copious amounts of hot chocolate.

Studying on the go was one of the main activities in 2013. I read textbooks on the bus, highlighted academic papers while sipping coffee, studied presentations while eating lunch. In the bleakness of the winter, it was hard to do any other activity. It was a struggle to find joy, especially when your plate is packed with work, school and the minutiae of everyday life… and your environment is devoid of sunshine. Being someone who thrived in the sun, there were times in the winter when I couldn’t recognize myself. Nonetheless, I searched for beauty and found it.

In between the winter and spring quarters, I flew to Texas to lead a team in a social media competition, and we won second place!

Aside from museum trips, I also made sure to party like they do in advertising!

Friends and I celebrated July 4th this year with a delicious barbecue. Celebrating holidays and friendships more deliberately seemed like a recurring theme in the mid-year. I flew to San Francisco to find adventures in the city with my bestfriend Aiza and good friend Tracy.

And I was invited to speak at Stanford GSB to share my career journey and inspire college students!

When I got back to Chicago from SF, I visited my family in the suburbs for our family clan reunion, to meet with family who flew in from the East and West coasts (and Texas)!

And again, parties cannot be avoided when you work in advertising, and I made it to a Lollapalooza pre-bash with Rolling Stone magazine at Paris Club. Oh, and I also saw Janelle Monae (who always puts on a great show!) at The Vic in Lakeview.

2013 Collage 1

2013 has been good for my traveling spirit. I was one of the organizers of a class trip to bring 25 master’s students and 2 professors to Asia. We went around Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, met with top companies and their marketing executives, and connected with alumni in the region. I stayed in Asia for a week more and went to Singapore and Manila, where I networked with new acquaintances and spent time with family and friends. Perhaps one of the biggest gifts this trip brought me was helping me find, challenged me to redefine and learn how to assert my multifaceted identity (Asian, Southeast Asian, Filipino, American).

A huge thing I did this year was to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to Singapore. It was a grueling process and my application is now in review- a lengthy time period and I’m sure other applications are biting their nails anxiously for the decision as we speak. I’m still keeping ALL my fingers crossed for a positive outcome for this one. My research topic of focus is how media influences identity and how this identity can be turned into power, in the Southeast Asian context.

We welcomed fall 2013 with a homecoming party in Evanston to show our Wildcat school spirit. Also, I played tennis this year, and I wished I went to the gym more but I just couldn’t find the time and energy. I will change this in 2014.

2013 Collage 2

In addition to connect with art through museums, I was invited to go to an art charity event which the Chicago advertising/creative community sponsored. I can say that I have been spoiled by the art gods in 2013. One of the best books I’ve read is Milan Kundera’s identity, which was apropos especially since this topic was a key one to me in 2013.

I had my fair share of networking events, and some of the notable ones include: Emerging Markets Summit at Chicago Booth, Chicago Ideas Week, Design Research Conference, IMC TalentQ event.

I spent the holidays in L.A. with the family and we spent time in Palm Springs, as well as the beaches and Hollywood. I love being at home. My sister and I are currently making plans for 2014, which we’re gonna make sure will even be more spectacular than this year!

Very much looking forward to ringing in the new year! 2014, here I come!

To my 27th year

I turned 27 last month. It feels odd writing that age down, as it sounds old. I really don’t have an idea of what 27 is like, since really, as a kid all I wanted was to be 16 like Cher on Clueless. Anything beyond that, there are no expectations.

There are two important realizations I had as I turned 27: I own myself and my actions, and I am a role model for others. The former gives me confidence in exploring life, since I know I can create the life I envisioned for myself. The outcome of this is the latter. This second realization makes me slightly nervous, but motivates me to be responsible for my actions, decisions and how I present myself because I am seen by others as an inspiration. This feeds back to the first realization. What a virtuous cycle, which I hope it continues to be so!

To my 27th year, that I may continue to have faith, to reach the dreams I set out for this point in my life, and to continuing becoming a woman of confidence, courage and candor. I expect success and I am determined that I am going to achieve it. No complaints, just hard work 🙂

Cheers!

Home reminds us of who we are and once were

I flew to California on the 16th, a week before Christmas week. I was able to string enough vacation days to grant me time to stay in LA for two weeks. LA welcomed me in the same way as it always has; the familiar sights of bright, flickering lights like stars on the ground and structured into a grid stirring my feelings of home as we descend from thousands of feet high. I hurriedly made my way through the airport, the “Welcome to LA” signages greeting me like a prodigal daughter who has finally returned. I waited a few minutes for my parents to pick me up, and upon their arrival, we whizzed through the freeways that I used to frequent to find my way home.

When I’m in Chicago, I have always felt that I’m a Californian girl at heart. I constantly miss the west– the progressive thinking, the obsession on health and fitness, the experimental artistic drive, the general sense that in this place, creativity is nurtured. I imagine the coastal cities share these like NY and SF, as well as college towns. Chicago is many wonderful things, but I have not experienced it quite reaching the heights on these factors. Perhaps I need to work harder in finding people involved in the progressive, fitness and arts subcultures. It may not be as apparent. Even if I don’t see them, it would be surprising if a large, important city as Chicago don’t have people who are passionate about these three. I know they’re there.. somewhere.

In Los Angeles, while I know I’m home, I was surprised how different I had become since the days when I lived here. My interactions with my family brought this to the surface, and our house was filled with reminders in the form of pictures, notes, tokens, and clothes. I was not only transported back to how I was 2 years ago, but I was made aware of the distance between then and now. I interpreted this in both positive and negative ways. I’m amazed and proud of how much I’ve grown as a person, which is not always so discernible in the day to day. On the other hand, I wonder if my personal growth is also causing a distance between my and my family. They do things as they’ve always done, in the same place. They have also grown in many ways but not as much as I have, with my exposure to a different city other than where we had settled after we migrated.

It is so gratifying to feel we’re growing. Yet this feeling is so fleeting, all we know most of the time is the point where we currently are and where we were once. The growth that happens in between is mostly left unspoken, unless we have mementos that act as reminders such as a journal, a written note, or a captured conversation. Speaking of written notes, I was going through some photo albums while at home, and my mom being the ever-so-diligent documenter of experiences and memories for our family, I chanced upon an album containing letters that my father had sent us from Riyadh when we were kids. The letters were typewritten individually for each kid, and they were filled with greetings, advice, encouragement and gift notes. Compared to the letters my siblings received, mine also contained some math and science puzzles that my father asked me to solve. The letters were accounts of our childhood selves, and it helped not only trigger memories but allowed me to understand how I was as a kid. My father’s letters told me I was an analytical, curious kid who had encouragement to be assertive and participatory, qualities that I still value to this day.

My holiday vacation is winding down and I will be back in Chicago in two days. It feels like I was here for a good stretch of time, and in the same way, I feel like it hasn’t been enough. And that is the reality of growing up. We realize our time is fragmented and ever more so with the increasing demands for our attention, but we do the best we can, when we can. I’m off to maximizing the rest of my time in LA with family 🙂

My Los Angeles summer this year

Although my entire summer in Los Angeles lasted only five days, and mostly spent inside the house, it was five days of summer joy.

My flight from Chicago to Los Angeles for my sister’s housewarming party took over 24 hours, thanks to the ridiculous overbooking and poor customer management of US Airways. By the time I reach our house, I was tired that the only thing I was able to do was say hello to my family, pet the dogs who were as rowdy as I had seen them last, and pull my pajamas out of my suitcase.

As late as I retired that night, the succeeding morning was about earliness. A quick call woke me up– my mother compelling us to prepare for the blessing and housewarming party that will ensue in a few hours. What normally would be a moment to complain about being woken up especially after the whirlwind of the last few days, I turned into a situation of quick responsiveness. It is my sister’s housewarming party, after all, a big milestone for a 26-year-old woman. I helped clean, cook, and coordinate to set things into place– the food, tables and chairs, drinks and the ambiance. The thoughts of preparing for a big party recalls Italian family parties, but this is no Italian family. My Filipino family is not just loud, and we also multitask– I cook the spring rolls as I make lemonade as I cut fruit and entertain guests. My mom was in charge of main dishes, making sure there is a pan, plate and space for everything that will be served. My sister set the decor and was careful about the final touches, that the ambiance and tone of her house is conducive to a warm, Saturday housewarming party.

Everybody lent a hand, from grandmas to grandchildren. Despite the high stress of the situation, setting things up and making sure the details are not just right but perfect, the preparation was just a celebration of being at home as the party a welcoming event for the new homeowner.

The party was beautiful, and what joy was it to see my relatives and closest friends. We filled our plates with scrumptious dishes cooked in various kinds of sauces, stir-fried noodles and chili rice from different Asian regions. Guests sat in multiple groups all around the house. We uncorked wine bottles and passed them around to fill modern, stemless glassware. A cousin arranged a DJ-booth set up by the electronic area, complete with a karaoke machine, a laptop as synthesizer and laser lights that filled the whole room with green and red dots that transformed into different shapes with the beat. The weather was cooperating warm outside, the a/c kept us cool inside. The smiles and laughter cannot be exchanged for other expressions, and the camaraderie only deepened as guests came and went.

Between multiple rounds of picture taking, some candid, some with more direction, we handed out even more food and drinks– fruits and sweets for after-dinner, lemonade, coffee, and poisons of choice. More people came later that night to share in the celebrations and to congratulate my sister. We made our way through uncomfortable questions and inquiries of family friends that their curious selves did not hesitate to ask. My sister responded to questions about marriage, since apparently a woman who buys a house of her own can’t be single, as they had implied, while I had to respond to questions about when is the time that I will buy a house. In many social situations, questions like these are not readily asked, but I am reminded that we are in a party with Filipino guests and I had long realized it is the norm. Some even mistook me for my sister, shaking my hand and praising the house and decor of the house. I insisted I’m the middle child, the one who lives in Chicago now, which at times sounded like I was a daughter that had been exiled to a far away place, or more interestingly, the prodigal one who had just come home.

When the sounds had died down and guests had gone home, some family members stayed in the guests rooms. My sister’s 4-bedroom house is quite huge for a single woman, and there was plenty of room for three families to stay and gather for breakfast the next day. As the sun rose in the morning, I heard the reemergence of sounds spoken in a mix of two languages and two dialects– English and Tagalog, Ilocano and Bisayan. The first two our native languages, the last two are my mother’s and father’s own dialects. I was still in bed, eyes half closed, and I imagine them passing around the bread basket and juice flowing through all kinds of glasses. I hear laughter and communication in words, but I also know that more messages are exchanged with gestures. I fell asleep and when I finally woke up an hour later, it felt like a different day. My parents and grandma had gone with my relatives to the Valley, while my sister sweeps the hardwood floors as the Olympics is playing on the TV in the background. I take a mop with me and a cleaning solution, and joined her in what is about to be her weekly routine.