They sent me to Binghamton

I've always wanted to be on the east coast, and the universe responded…by sending me to Binghamton, NY. Oh you've never heard of it? Neither had I, but I do so love adventures and that's how I choose to view this. Let the adventures begin!


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I’m coming home…but not today

home·sick
adjective

experiencing a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

This was a feeling I had never experienced in all the times I had moved. Sadness? Yes. Excitement? Yes. That bittersweet feeling of having to let go of something that just started? Absolutely. Nostalgia even. But homesick? That feeling of actually wanting to go back home? Missing home at the present time and not just with thoughts of the past? Never…until recently.

Perhaps enough time has passed that the novelty of a new routine filled with new people no longer outweighed being surrounded by the familiar and knowing you will always be supported by family and old time friends. That having new places to explore isn’t always the most exciting thing if it means almost always exploring alone, even if alone time is highly valued. That at the end of the day, no matter how successful, how big of an impact relative to the size of the community, how many new friends are made, it doesn’t mean anything without feeling supported or appreciated for the effort. That being taken for granted no matter how much admiration is given is still just being taken for granted. That perhaps Dorothy was right and there really is no place like home.

I started thinking about this.

The Bluff, Loyola Marymount University

Could I possibly be happy here again? Bask in the seemingly endless blue skies and bright sunshine?

Huntington Beach Pier

Hold on to the adventurous spirit that had awoken inside me when I moved to upstate New York and explore places I had never been to before?

Thousand Steps, Laguna Beach

Thousand Steps, Laguna Beach

Thousand Steps, Laguna Beach

Wake up the foodie inside me and eat all the things?

And then I drove for a couple days and experienced the traffic – which has only gotten worse! – and decided that, nah. We cool as just homies, LA.😂 Although I very much enjoyed this visit, both the new places I’ve been and the familiar faces I spent time with, it was just that. A visit.

I will say though that for the first time, coming home in a year or two is now an actual option for me. Not that I was opposed to it before, but I hadn’t taken it seriously as something I may actually want to do some day. Who knows what time will bring and what I may want in the future, but for now, my heart is still in New York, and given home is where the heart is, New York is home.

View from a plane flying out of JFK airport

…even when it’s technically spring and you get this white stuff instead.

Downtown Binghamton during “spring”

Besides, I’m not done. There are still places to go, people to connect with, and a community to help grow. Time to hit pause on this thought for a year or two and then reassess later. For now, time to hunker down and enjoy the second winter. 😂

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The Misadventures of Palawan, Philippines

At the end of last year my boss had informed me that my company was pulling me out of my assignment in Binghamton, NY and sending me back to work in my normal office in Irvine, CA. Now this shouldn’t have surprised me given that my assignment was originally set for 6 months only and I ended up staying in Binghamton for about a year. Actually, everything about last year was such a shock, including the opportunity to work over on the east coast to begin with. Looking back, it is so amazing to me how so much changed in just one year and how it seemed to go by so quickly! I will never forget this turning point in my life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. A friend of mine was getting married in the Motherland (Philippines) over the winter holiday so I decided to combine going to her wedding with going back home to visit family and friends. At the same time, I was going through a bit of a first world crisis, not knowing if I should stay in CA or pursue another job in NY. The timing of this trip was perfect! I was hoping to get away from everything so I can find some clarity on what I really wanted. The soothing, relaxing white sand beach of Palawan seemed to be just the cure for my dilemma!

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We started by going Island Hopping with our first stop being Starfish Island. Typically, Starfish island has little to no current and the water is so clear you only have to go about knee deep before you can start feeding the fish and seeing the beautiful reef and corals. While it was indeed beautiful, the current was pretty strong. This meant that we had to go in a little deeper because of visibility and at times the current would slam us against the reef…

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Ocean – 1, Me – 0

Needless to say, I stayed on the shore after I realized what a bleeding mess I was. It was still beautiful though, especially seeing the starfish just hanging out.

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Around the back of the island were these cool Mangrove trees.

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The next island we hopped to was a bit of a wash, so I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that when we got in the water, we couldn’t really see anything because of the current. The “island” is basically a man made floating island over a really cool looking reef that you can see when the water visibility is good, which unfortunately it wasn’t. Oh well, it was a nice break, I suppose, and the weather was still beautiful. After a brief stop at that island, we went to our final destination, Cowrie Island, where we ate delicious food and finally got to relax.

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I’m a CrossFitter so of course I had to do the obligatory handstand pose

The next day the plan was to go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River via a boat ride that my dad excitedly referred to as the MacArthur landing. My dad tells the story much better than I ever could but the reason this was significant is because during World War 2 the Americans wanted to reclaim the Philippines from the Japanese and so trying to go to Palawan was very dangerous at that time. According to my dad, or at least based on my terrible memory, General MacArthur had already left the Philippines for safety reasons but had promised to come back to the Philippines despite the danger. He was advised against this but he had made a promise (to whom, I don’t know) and so to enter Palawan, he went via boat in this sneaky route that we were supposed to follow to get to the Underground River.

Because of all this hype my friend and I were so excited to experience this MacArthur landing as my dad described it! Alas, it was not meant to be because the current was so high no boats were allowed. But not to worry, there was an alternate route to the Underground River which was to hike the 3.3 km trail. Now that didn’t seem so bad at the time but given our unpreparedness (we were in flip flops), the storm, and the canceled boats, the trail was muddy and crowded. What ended up supposedly being the most chill part of the trip turned out to be the most adventurous! We were all troopers though, my mom especially, who repeatedly got called grandma so she sought to prove everyone wrong! Until it started getting dark and we had to get rescued…:D Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cave (nor do I remember since I started nodding off while in the boat), but here we all are at the entrance:

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Just look at those tired, smiling faces!

We also saw some monkeys and a Palawan Monitor Lizard!

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The next day we went to the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center where there was a defined trail and no more muddy adventures! We saw some pretty big alligators (or were they crocodiles?) and some baby ones as well.

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These babies jump and one of them even managed to go over the wall while we were there!

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We meandered around and just enjoyed nature surrounding us.

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Now that we sufficiently recovered from the unexpected adventure of the non-MacArthur landing, we were ready for what was supposed to be the most adventurous part of the trip – Ugong Rock! Now here we were going to go through a mountain that had vibrating rocks (when you hit them, you can hear them vibrating), climb using ropes, go through thin crevices, then go ziplining.

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It was not at all strenuous, especially in comparison to our unplanned hike to the Underground River! 😀

On our last night, we went on a firefly kayak tour where we went down a river and got to see a lot of fireflies in the trees. It was a full moon that night so we couldn’t see the fireflies as easily but it was still just so beautiful! As a bonus, we got a little lesson in astronomy as well while we gazed at the night sky.

firefly

This was by far my favorite part of the trip. It was at this moment I stopped churning about CA vs. NY and asked myself the following question:

Taking away your friends, your family, and CrossFit, what do you see yourself doing and do you feel happy thinking about those things?

The reason I took away those things from the equation is because regardless of where I find myself, I will always have those things. Yes, certain friends and family will be far away, but they’ll always be there for me regardless of where I find myself. So I took the time and envisioned what my life would be like if I stayed in CA and what it would be like if I moved to NY for good this time. From then on, I had my answer and now it was just a matter of following through and making plans. I will always go for what makes me happy. 🙂


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Temecula Adventures: Wine Tasting…and Olive Oil Tasting?

Yup, olive oil tasting. I know it seems strange but a good olive oil tastes incredible, no bread needed. The first time I heard about it I admit I was a bit appalled…I mean…you drink the olive oil? As in, by itself?? WHY.

why

Once I tasted fancy schmancy olive oil though I understood. Really good olive oil is truly delicious, but actually, it’s the fancy flavored balsamic vinaigrette that I really enjoy. Ever since then I’ve gained a much better appreciation for good olive oil and unique tasting balsamic vinaigrette.

My friend and I decided that we wanted to go olive oil tasting first at the Temecula Olive Oil Company in old town Temecula before doing any wine tasting. Our reasoning was we wanted to be completely sober in order to truly enjoy the different olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette options. That and so I would be better able to curtail my shopping…

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We ended up trying 3 “pairs,” if you will. The Olive Oil Barista (I have no idea what they’re actually called) offered us the olive oil first, then mixed it with a complimenting balsamic vinaigrette. That way we could taste the olive oil on its own and then paired. I ended up getting the plain olive oil, basil-infused olive oil, and the honey balsamic vinaigrette.

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After that we headed over to the Lorimar Loft Winery, which was just within walking distance.

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None of the wine really stood out for me but what did stand out was the unique and clever description of each wine. Some of my favorites:

“This wine is deep, so deep Jacques Cousteau can’t fathom its depth.”

“In a recent study this wine was voted, ‘The best wine you will ever have in the world’ (Focus group: our moms).”

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Then we proceeded to our final destination, Wilson Creek Winery, which was outside of old town Temecula. (Good thing my friend drove as I was already feeling pretty happy at that point. Much like this: 😀 )

Wilson Creek Winery is a huge venue and really beautiful. Of course, it helped that it was such a beautiful that day too, like most days out here in southern California. 😉

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I honestly feel like I’m saying goodbye to California these days, so I really enjoy these local trips on the weekend. I don’t even mind that I’m missing out on snowboarding season this year since my board and gear is still back in Binghamton. I’m just trying to absorb as much sunshine as I can and enjoy southern California winter. You know, the type of winter where I just went bathing suit shopping for another upcoming trip to Palm Springs. 😉


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Facing the Naked Truth in Santa Barbara

I recently met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years who was unaware of my short-term relocation to Binghamton last year. Once again I got the whole,

“Wait, wait, wait…you were assigned to upstate New York, pretty much the middle of nowhere…and you LIKED it?!?”

Ya, bruh, I tots did. What can I say? Being used to this question by now, I gave my usual responses,

“The people are so amazing. Living in a small community type of place really made me feel at home.”

“I just really felt like Binghamton was a great hub for all the places I want to explore on the east coast. Only a few hours drive from many different cities I haven’t been to yet.”

“Yes, I know, 5 hours is a long drive…but STILL!”

“Dammit! FINE. IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE.”

Needless to say, I was unable to convince him. No matter, I don’t really need to convince anyone why I loved it, nor do I need other people to understand. What’s important is that I understand and that I now know what that type of happiness feels like.

But you know, that conversation did make me think about it. Why did I like it so much? Yes, the people are amazing but I am blessed with amazing people out here too and I’m pretty sure there are actually a lot of amazing people everywhere, so it can’t possibly be that. The weather? Yeah, sure, seasons are wonderful but I’m loving the sunshine out here too. The location relative to other cities? Hmmm yes but being in LA allows me to go to the desert, beach, and mountains all in one day if I wanted to.

Then it hit me. Living in Binghamton where things are not as convenient, from the weather, to being able to use Yelp, to being able to have a variety of options to eat breakfast on a Sunday morning, made me really slow down and think about what really made me happy. Being able to go to a juice bar doesn’t really make me happy, it’s just damn convenient. Using Yelp to look up places to go doesn’t make me happy either, but going to a really good restaurant or good massage place does. And hey, I guess I could do this thing they do over there called talking to people for recommendations to figure out where I should go. 😛

With my typical activities taken away from me, I was kinda forced to think about what else I could do. So then I started going out on mini-trips on the weekends by myself, since I didn’t have friends at first. I started going for walks because it was just so beautiful. When I did make friends, I started hanging out at their house, having dinner and a glass of wine. And just like that, I realized it’s really the simple things that make me happy. How could I have forgotten how much I love going for walks? Or how much I enjoy long solo drives? Or even solo trips? I just felt so free, my thoughts were no longer as jumbled as before, and I finally felt at peace with myself, which made me just so SO happy.

Being back in California, I realized I could still do these things. I may still feel like I belong in the east coast and I will eventually end up back there but for now, why not do the things that made me so happy while I was in Binghamton? So solo local adventure it is, this time to Santa Barbara! I’ve been there before but not by myself, so in a way, it seemed new again.

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Naturally, being a foodie, I sought out some great places to eat. Did I mention how excited I am to be able to use Yelp again?

I started off with a wonderful dinner at Scarlett Begonia in downtown Santa Barbara.

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Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Roasted Duck, and Caramel Toffee served with wine that I did not get carded for

The following morning I had my favorite of all time breakfast, Eggs Benedict, over at Jeannine’s American Bakery Restaurant. It was pretty crowded, but since I was alone I had no problem getting seated at once. The benefits of a solo trip!

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Eggs Norwegian but with a Quinoa Patty, because I’m LA like that lol

Then after that I went to get some macarons at Renaud’s Patisserie because why not? So what if I’ve gained weight since moving back here?

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I didn’t want to just sit at the cafe and eat it though. No, not I! I wanted to eat them at the beach! So after driving in circles for about half an hour, I finally found the closest beach, which was More Mesa Beach and sat down to enjoy my macarons.

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Coconut, Pistachio, and Raspberry Macarons

The sun was being a little finicky, playing hide-and-seek behind the clouds, but it was still a warm and beautiful day.

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So there I was, enjoying my macarons whilst listening to the waves and looking out at the ocean when I see this man walking along the shore, picking up shells. “Oh how nice. Another person who enjoys the simple things in life. Wait a minute…is he..? Is that his…?”

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I should mention that More Mesa Beach is a nude beach. Now, I DID know this but it still managed to surprise me. I’ve mentioned before that pretty much every time I go on a solo trip, I end up meeting someone. Well, on this trip, I happened to meet The Naked Man. He came up to me and casually asked if I wanted to join him. He seemed like a nice guy so I said, sure, why not. We ended up chatting for about half an hour, me in my jeans and tank top, him in his birthday suit, and it was just fine. He turned out to be a pretty cool guy. So although nothing extraordinary was said or done, I’m pretty sure I will remember this for a long time. After all, it’s not everyday you meet a stranger in all his birthday suit glory but end up talking about the weather. True story. 😀


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Wonder

Last weekend, I went up to San Francisco for my friend’s birthday.

SF

It was an extremely beautiful weekend in San Francisco! Warm weather, clear blue skies, both of which are very un-SF like. I felt like I was still in LA!

I had a really great time especially since I had not seen this particular friend in quite some time. It was great to catch up, reminisce, and just get away for the weekend. One of the things we ended up talking about is our love of books! We literally spent about an hour just talking about the books we just finished, which books we would recommend to each other, and books we were currently reading. One of the books they both recommended to me is called “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. I just finished it tonight, and I…well…I’ve got a serious case of the feels.

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It is such a well-written book! The story is told from different perspectives, including one from the antagonist, and it is really just so, SO good. It is a serious tug in the heartstrings. The story is about a middle-school kid, Auggie, who was born with severe facial abnormalities and who will be attending school for the first time in his life (previously he was home-schooled). It follows his journey through his first year at a regular school and does a great job of showcasing each character’s strength, courage, and humanity. He is not painted as this angel who just takes it all, head held high and neither is the antagonist painted as the devil, completely devoid of any empathy. The author does a great job of developing each character, flaws and all, and by the end of it I really just had to stop for a moment and gather my composure. The author provided the perspective from the antagonist after the book was first published and that just tug my heartstrings even more.

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I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good fiction book, especially the younger crowd. Its main theme is to be kinder than is necessary, and the author manages to portray this through the characters’ actions in a really touching way.

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Visiting the Motherland

It has been almost 10 years since I last visited the motherland over the winter holiday. Well, “winter,” in this case, is used very loosely as there is nothing winter about the Philippines except, perhaps, the air-conditioning that is blasted in vehicles, malls, and other indoor establishments.

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Winter, brrr!

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My Childhood Home

I used to go to the motherland every two years or so and my mom would always say, “Why do you choose to go home? The world is such a big place and there are so many other places you can go explore,” to which I would always respond with, “But…but..our family! My friends!” Then she would just shake her head and reply with, “Our family and your friends will always be there. You can always come back. You should take that money and explore the world instead, come home later.”

I didn’t get it at the time, but I certainly do now! Since then I’ve made it a point to travel to at least one new place a year, preferably some place international. But…it is nice to visit home now and then, especially seeing my childhood memorabilia.

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It was really good to go to our annual family reunion in the Philippines. I was worried it was going to be intense, with its detailed programming, games, and family talent contest to be judged by a panel consisting of The Five Sisters, the eldest of which is my grandmother. As it turns out, it was a whole lot of fun! Every part of it! We won the talent contest but didn’t win the family collage. Not that I’m biased or anything, but I still think ours was the most artistic looking.

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Look at that masterpiece!

It was also very interesting to note that certain common terms in the US are also common in the Philippines…but used in a much different way.

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Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – Established WAY before American Pie

Since I spent part of my childhood in the motherland, I still have a few friends who I still somewhat keep in contact with. However, knowing that I had a jam-packed schedule while I was in the Philippines, plus considering how busy I was during the weeks preceding my vacation, I purposely did not contact any of them. I did not want to deal with coordinating because I had very few “down” days and also because I can’t really go very far in the Philippines due to the crazy driving conditions. Additionally, I didn’t like the fact that my friends would have had to cater to my schedule and my location. And because it wouldn’t have been the easiest coordinating, I have to admit I got lazy. In retrospect, I really should have reached out. Those who really care about you will make the time and effort to make things work. Fortunately for me, two of my oldest friends did. 🙂

I had forgotten to take a photo of my high school friend and me, but below is a picture of  my oldest friend and me, one I’ve known pretty much since birth.

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Words cannot express how good it felt to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in several years, and yet have it feel like it was just yesterday. They both told me to send them a message next time I’m in the Motherland. Why, yes, yes I will. 🙂


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I’m Going…Going…Back…Back…to Cali…Cali

Actually, that’s not quite true. I’m already back. I went to the motherland on Christmas eve, had a wonderful time with family and childhood friends, then got back to Binghamton this past Sunday. Then I had 4 days to pack before I had to fly back to California on Thursday. ‘Twas definitely hectic, to say the least!

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Now, I knew this assignment was going to end at some point and even though it ended up being longer than I thought (about 1 year rather than 6 months) it still took me by surprise when I got the final word in mid-December that my company, indeed, wanted me to be back in the California office.

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Then a couple days after I received the notification that my presence was no longer required to support those specific programs, my boss informed me that the possibility of my moving permanently on the east coast and working remotely was denied.

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My knee-jerk reaction was to quit my job and move to Binghamton anyway, even though a job possibility wasn’t quite finalized yet! You’re not going to give me what I want!?!? Forget you then!!

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But then I calmed down and realized that although my time in NY proved to me that yes, east coast is where I belong, there is really no rush or pull that’s making me stay there now. Perhaps the best thing to do is to move back to California for some time and then look for opportunities later. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine over brunch, he unexpectedly told me about a government position at the LA Air Force Base. He didn’t mention it to me before because he thought I was done with CA and determined to move to the east coast now.

Then shortly after brunch, my friend in NY told me that if I wanted, his company will open a position for me since there are not that many people in Binghamton with my particular background. Can you believe it? Two amazing opportunities without even me having to try too hard. The universe, God, or whatever higher being is out there truly must be looking out to me. And thus my first-world problem was born.

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Prior to my trip home to the motherland, which I will have to write about in another post, I was truly distressed about which option I wanted to take. The government position in CA will allow me greater flexibility in the future as far as applying for jobs within the country, plus the benefits of working for the government such as having all holidays off, pension, etc. BUT…I will be back CA and I already know I won’t be as happy moving back. The position in Binghamton has a far more interesting job description and I’ll live in the east coast BUT…I would take a pretty significant pay cut. My planned trip turned out to be perfect timing so I could get away from everything and really think about what I want.

The result?

I still don’t know (lol). However, I did get some clarity on what the deal makers and deal breakers are for each position. I will make a decision in the next couple of weeks and either way, I know it will be the right choice. One thing is for sure though: 2014 has been an amazing year and I will forever remember this time in my life. I got to travel quite a bit, I’ve met some amazing people, and most importantly, 2014 has been the happiest year of my life so far. I cannot wait to see what 2015 brings but I have a feeling this year will be amazing as well!

Cheers to life, changes, and the amazing things about to come!

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