We all long to go back to traveling, but the pandemic has made it difficult and unnerving. But this is exactly the reason why this NewsFeed360 contributor set out for an adventure that the faint of heart would dare not take. For this courage, the rewards were life-changing!
Crazy was the word that every friend and colleague of mine used when they heard that I decided to spend a couple of weeks in the United States. Aside from the fact that it is extremely risky to even go out in Manila, my country of destination is equally, if not more, chaotic. The timing of my departure wasn’t really ideal, too, since cases in the Philippines were reaching new record highs.
Little did they know that I have been part of the daily covid statistics and have successfully recovered, which made me quite confident that I have my immune system ready to fight the virus, if ever. I’ve never been that certain in my decisions – I knew I needed to go.
As soon as I entered the airport, I immediately missed the loud chatter from travelers and airline announcers. It was, as they say, the new normal, but it wasn’t the kind of normalcy I expected. What used to be a place full of rush and excitement was overcome by the gloomy sight of people just blankly staring at the screens through their face shields, waiting for their turn to board. Quite the contrary, my excitement didn’t change. Maybe my friends were right.
I had all three seats to myself throughout my almost 24-hour flight
After 23 hours of struggle finding the perfect sleeping position while wearing a mask and shield, I finally arrived in the land of the free.
Of boat docks, antique shops, and stolen rocks
I’ve only heard of Long Island in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – the tragic love story bridged yet broken by the distance between East and West Egg. As one of my all-time favorite novels, I’ve always wondered how this historically vibrant place would look like in real life. I was fortunate to actually live in it and retrace the olden days.
Pomegranate margarita at The Whales Tale and the serene view at Northport Village Dock, Northport, New York
In the first week of my arrival in Long Island, we drove for more than an hour to have afternoon drinks by the dock in the traditionally maritime village of Northport. The weather was full of vim and vigor, although I had quite a bit of struggle with the cold sea air that occasionally bit my ears. Ironically, I eventually stopped complaining about the chilly weather when the iced margaritas, along with the fish and shrimp tacos, came pouring in.
With the lined-up boats against the blue sea and skies within my view, Northport gave me a glimpse of the nautical life – of sailors studying their maps and compasses, while some pull up the sails towards their next adventure. That day, I also felt like I was in a boat gently rocked by the waves, waiting for my next quest. I guess I need to give some of the credit to the margaritas from The Whales Tale.
Peered through vintage cameras older than I am and CDs of unfamiliar artists in the antique shops at Cold Spring, Philipstown, New York
A two-hour drive away from Long Island, I found myself walking through the quaint streets of Cold Spring – perched on the scenic Hudson River – where the buildings and structures are artisanal yet cozy. I wasn’t as cold as I used to be because summer was starting to kick in, and this small village offered that type of warmth you feel when a person or place genuinely pulls you in. With antique shops lined up on each side of the street, the bygone days of Cold Spring were not so bygone after all.
History here is both immaterial and material. I read that Cold Spring, in the early 1800s, was one of the major industrial sites in the US that provided munitions for the Union Army during the Civil War. By the latter half of the 19th century, it became a destination of choice for artists, writers and well-known families who wanted to spend the rest of their lives reveling in the beauty of the highlands. I was privileged to walk through their wisdom. Cold Spring is steeped in history, and it wanted me to be a part of it.
On days when everyone was at work and I couldn’t sleep anymore after working ‘til 6am, Morgan Park in Glen Cove, Long Island was my go-to place – a hideaway for when I needed to clear my mind, when I wanted to get to know Michelle Obama through the pages of her soul-stirring book, or when the inner child in me just had to play with the sand and gleefully steal shiny rocks and seashells. I remember collecting too much that my tumbler wasn’t enough – I had to put them in my pockets, and everyone wondered why it was so sandy at home.
My favorite spots at Morgan Memorial Park, Glen Cove, Long Island
I spent so many days in Morgan Park that I witnessed how the place sprang new life, with the trees finally blossoming into lush greens in time for my migratory peers to visit the park again. The waves, like the cold winds, weren’t as strong as when I first came by.
Morgan Park in March (left) and in May (right)
Morgan Park was my turning point. Just like the changing seasons, it allowed me to transition from a person who felt like she didn’t belong, to someone who knew that the world – or at least this park – was for her and her alone. I didn’t worry when the sand entered my shoes or filled my pockets. I wasn’t afraid when I jumped from one giant rock to another or when I had to sit at the edge of the walled fortress. I’ve always thought that belongingness is dependent on other people’s decisions, but I was completely wrong – all I had to do was to welcome, with arms wide open, who I am and embrace it. I belong to myself, and it’s all that matters.
Conquering the big city
After having enough of water and sand, there was only one place in my bucket list that I wasn’t allowed to miss – New York City.
A ‘now or never’ moment at Glenn Street Station when I decided to travel to the city by myself (left), and the ‘pandemic distance’ in the once packed NYC subway (right)
Riding the subway was quite different from when I first held onto those silver rails five years ago. While the speed of the train did not change, the pandemic slowed down the passengers and further forced that odd distance amongst them. To me, however, that familiar feeling of adrenaline was revived. I wanted to visit as many places as I could. My time here was limited, and I thought I needed to make the most out of it.
I wondered if it’s a New York City “thing” – the thirst to beat the clock and the desire to accomplish everything all at once because the opportunity to live in the “now” is scarce. Suffice it to say, at that moment, time was in my hands.
The ever-iconic Empire State Building (left), big screens along W 48th St. campaigning against the recent wave of Anti-Asian sentiment in the city (middle), and the Flatiron Building which was sadly under renovation (right)
As I walked from Penn Station towards my very own version of “Top 5 Places You Shouldn’t Miss This Time in New York City,” it suddenly dawned on me that I was all by myself. I was free, yet vulnerable. I’ve listened intently to lectures about the dangers of NYC, especially amidst the increasing hostility towards Asians driven by the pandemic.
In between blocks, my sunglasses and face mask were removed and returned several times – the fear of being harmed because of my race and identity getting into my head. But I firmly told myself, “Now or never” – and that’s when I decided that the city was mine to conquer.
Times Square, New York City
From a distance, one could tell that Times Square is one of, if not the busiest, intersections in Manhattan. It was the evening of March 14, 2016 when I first set foot in Times Square, and I remember my eyes widening as I looked in amazement at the biggest digital billboards I had ever seen. I went here during the day, and it was equally breathtaking!
It wasn’t as energetic as it used to be, but NYC definitely did not lose its charm. It was the first foreign city that I fell in love with, and I found myself falling in love again. As I stood in the middle of the plaza, I felt small for I was just a point in an overwhelmingly dotted place full of people walking in all directions. Yet, looking up at those wide, well-lit screens and sky-high buildings gave that feeling of endless possibilities – that I could do anything as long as I believe in it. It is the one thing you cannot miss in the city.
Six oz. chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery (left), my vanilla gelato from the neighborhood of Little Italy (middle), and the life-changing corned beef sandwich on rye of Katz’s (right)
Enjoying my cup of cold brew coffee at Central Park
As I closed my adventure in Central Park with a cup of cold brew coffee, I retraced my steps that day – I missed the right stations and took the wrong line a couple of times, had a big cookie to myself without worrying about the sugar, laid down on the grass in my white shirt, walked for three hours, and took a lot of photos like how a typical tourist would do. I was exhausted, but I’d do it all over again.
Time to go home
Did I find what I was looking for in New York? Hardly. But I looked back to 2016 and remembered the vigor I used to have – the belief that I am going to be someone someday. I think I got it back. I spent days considering that staying here might be good – mostly because I didn’t want to lose what I have found.
Nothing but beautiful endings
But then again, finding oneself is not really the destination. It’s in our ability to let go of what we know about ourselves in order to freely breathe in, to calmly listen to the gentle lapping waves, and to genuinely smile at the sight of birds singing and jumping from one tree to another. I don’t know if I really found myself, but I’m glad that I found my journey.
May we all find whatever it is we’re looking for the most in this life.
About the Writer
Samantha S. Ching
Samantha S. Ching is a graduate student of Master of Arts in Development Policy under the Political Science Department of De La Salle University. Concurrently, she is a Senior Associate for Public Affairs at WSP, Inc. – a Filipino-owned communications company. Her current engagements are in the areas of public relations, public policy, and international affairs. Samantha obtained her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies major in European Studies, with distinction, from the same university.
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