Young Man Went East #2: Settling In, Or Trying To

Jenn and I made the big move to the big city about three weeks ago and I have yet to write about a single day (luckily for you, Jenn is up to her eighth post about New York in her blog jenNYdreams). It’s not for lack of experiences to relate, but rather because I feel stuck in a period of waiting. Until now, I’ve felt uninspired to write a story when I have yet to live out the ending. It’s been three weeks and we’re still living out of suitcases and sleeping in living rooms. Not that I’m not grateful for those living rooms nor the hospitality of those who own them, but I’d rather ride a train back and open a door with a key that I’m not borrowing. When I can finally unlock the door to a place of my own, I’ll dazzle you with a detailed story of bumming and begging, worrying and waiting, complete with a happy ending.

Apartment-hunting might be the most pressing (and depressing) aspect of my New York experience so far, but it’s not the only one, and the others are much better.

Work has finally become enjoyable, as well as profitable. It was hard at first transferring from the Bubba Gump in Honolulu to the one in New York, but only because it was a strangely retroactive sensation to go from a seasoned, server-training old-timer to the new guy who needs to ask where we store to-go boxes. However, the menu is mostly the same, the layout of the restaurant was easy to learn, and being a transfer from the far away Hawaiian islands makes for an easy conversation starter. I’m adjusting quickly. Now that I’ve been working pretty consistently for a couple weeks, I’m known by most of the other servers and have a good report with a handful of them. These new coworkers, by the way, are for the most part actors aspiring to make it big on Broadway. They can sing, they can dance, and they all ask me what my “thing” is. It’s quite an entertaining group of peers. They can in no way replace the friends I’ve made at the Honolulu Bubba Gump, but it’s nice to run into a familiar face on the subway.

Jenn came in during one of my first shifts at the Bubba Gump in Times Square. Weird thing is, this is the first photo I’ve seen of me in my work uniform, and I’ve been a server for over two years.

Exploring the city’s wide range of food options has been another great aspect of my experience, especially because I do it with my girlfriend. After I get out of work, I meet up with Jenn — usually at a nice coffee shop in an upscale Manhattan neighborhood — and we venture out in search of a good, affordable meal. We almost always find an interesting restaurant that settles our cravings for that day (whether it be pizza, a burger, Chinese, etc.) and are rarely disappointed. During the first week or two, we made sure to save half our dinner to be our breakfast the following day in an effort to cut down costs. However, dining out takes its toll, even on my restaurant-blogging girlfriend. We’ve since opted to cook breakfast and dinner, eating out for only one meal. This not only saves money (breakfast is consisted of eggs, bacon, and fried toast while dinner is fancy Top Ramen), but also occupies our time with one of our favorite activities: cooking. Even though it’s not our kitchen nor our cooking ware, the meals we make together are completely ours, and that makes them special.

Not having a place of our own yet has been fine since all we do at our friends’ place is cook, eat, and sleep. For the most part, Jenn and I are busy roaming the greatest city in the world. We’ve watched fireworks over the Hudson River and a sunset from a park in Chelsea; we’ve eaten raw beef at a Korean restaurant and pot stickers from a food cart; we’ve stumbled upon swing dance festivals at the Lincoln Center and a massive yoga class in Times Square. We’re living it up. Now it’s just time to settle in.

The signature ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar just might be better than any I’ve had in Hawaii.

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Young Man Went East #1: Hana Hou

I’ve done it again. I sorted through my possessions, packed up the priorities, and moved to the end of the country. This time I went east. And I wasn’t alone.

Jenn and I both had been wanting to move to New York. I thought I needed to play nomad in a few more cities before making it to the Big Apple; she thought she needed to be accepted to a grad school there. We both stopped relying on those excuses and relied on each other instead.

Having a significant other is not the only difference between my move to Hawaii and this one. This time, I had a job secured; I am transferring to the Bubba Gump in New York located in Times Square. While I don’t plan on being a shrimp-slinging waiter for the rest of my life, it will be nice to have an immediate income. Especially considering our housing situation.

We didn’t secure a plane to stay before we moved. Similarly, I hadn’t found a place in Hawaii prior to moving there three years ago, but I had family. I never intended to impose on them for too long, but I knew I could if it came to it. I don’t know for how long we can crash with our various New York friends.

So here’s to adventure. Here’s to discovery. Here’s to finding a place, finding new food, finding more friends, and, perhaps, finding my future.

At least I can stop looking for love.

Don’t let her fool you, this picture was HER idea!

P.S. If you hadn’t noticed, this blog has a new name and a new URL (that means “website address” for the less-than-savvy folks). Be sure to change your bookmarks to YoungManWentEast.com!

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Young Man Went West #43: Why I Left

Take-off from Honolulu International Airport: Wednesday, 6/6, 7:15. Local time.

It has been two years, eight months, 20 days, 19 hours, and 35 minutes since I landed at that same airport to start my nomadic lifestyle. My initial goal was to make a year, but no more than two. My time in Hawaii stretched out even longer than that, not for lost ambition nor an addiction to beach-side living, but rather for logistics. If I had moved before my road trip–as I had originally intended–it would have been less than two years but I wouldn’t have had enough money to move. And I wouldn’t have met Jenn.

I’m glad I stayed as long as I did.

But now it is time to go. I had previously wanted to move to a new city every year to fulfill my fantasy of a nomadic lifestyle, hence the one-year-in-Hawaii time limit. After a few stabs at starting anew, I would have eventually moved to New York for my finale. As it were, I found myself in Hawaii for nearly three years and with a girlfriend who’s had a decade-long dream of New York. I’m ready to fast-forward to that finale.

Jenn and I left Hawaii to arrive in California just in time for my sister’s 30th birthday and my cousin’s wedding. I know meeting a hundred family members would be overwhelming, but she has been taking it with grace. My parents love her and she formed a bond with my sister within hours. The tables will turn during our second week in California as she reunites with some of her west coast-based friends and I try to live up to their expectations of me. At least it’ll be on my turf!

We will finally arrive in New York the following Wednesday (all my adventures seem to start on a Wednesday!), where my nomadic lifestyle will come to an end. . . as will this blog. It wouldn’t make sense to keep writing under “Young Man Went West” if I’m no longer in the West. . .

Hence why I bought the domain YoungManWentEast.com!  Go ahead and type it in, you’ll be redirected back to this home page.

Be sure to change your bookmarks to “Young Man Went EAST” (because “Young Man Went WEST” will become defunct soon) so you can keep up with my next big move the best big city.  No time limit this time, just infinite dreams for an indefinite future.

Young Man Went East [dot] com

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Young Man Went West #42: Just One More State

As we made our way from the snack stand to the fake river’s edge to watch the “Rainbow of Paradise” canoe pageant, a thought crept into my head: “I’ve done this before.”

This exactly? No. I had never been to the Polynesian Cultural Center before. I had never filled up on a meal of chili rice and mac nut ice cream. I had never squeezed in among tourists to watch a river parade.

But I have done “this.” I’ve explored the most touristy attraction of a region with equal parts admiration and cynicism and my good friend Ian by my side. Sure, our summer roadtrip had ended eight months prior, but apparently he and I had one more state to explore: Hawaii.

Ian came to stay with me during the second week of May. He had been talking about visiting since I moved here almost three years ago, but it wasn’t until news of my impending move reached him did he make plans to come. That, and his savings account had to recuperate after our cross-country adventure. I was excited to have him come. Ian and I went to the same middle school, high school and college. We have a lot of the same friends, interests, and opinions. We spent three months together in a Honda Civic. It was weird to think that something as familiar to me as Hawaii was something he hadn’t truly experienced before. I couldn’t wait to fix that.

I had played tour guide to a number of friends before Ian, so I knew what I was doing. Jenn and I picked him up from the airport ready with a couple containers of poke. In the span of six days, he also tried traditional Hawaiian food, shave ice, Spam musubi from 7-Eleven, Storto’s sandwiches, Kahuku shrimp, and a Zip Pac from Zippy’s. We did the requisite trips up to North Shore, around Waikiki, and into Chinatown. And even though I couldn’t go because of work, he got to visit Pearl Harbor, too. I’ve not only eaten, seen, and done all of these things countless times before, but I’ve also made a point of introducing them all to my friends.

But this time, it was different.

I realized that these mini trips and food experiences were as much for my sake as they were for his; he was exploring these places for the first time, and I was exploring them for possibly the last. At least, the last time as a resident. A transplant local. Universities say you need to be living in state for a year before you can claim residency; on my one-year mark I got a tattoo in honor of my first “kama’ainiversary.” Since then, I’ve transitioned from wide-eyed newcomer to indifferent local. I don’t go to the beach anymore. I no longer walk around Waikiki for the hell of it. I barely leave my neighborhood except to go to work. I decided to use Ian’s visit as motivation to rediscover my island.

On Ian’s first full day here, I swallowed my pride and participated in a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. For the past three years, I’ve been told to avoid this tourist trap, but before our day at PCC  was even half over, I was legitimately enjoying the entire experience! Unlike Germaine’s Luau and Paradise Cove, PCC isn’t just a luau–which by today’s terms means a low-quality Hawaiian food buffet with a cheesy dancing and an even cheesier host–it’s a theme park as well as a stage show with high production value. I mean, it does have that aforementioned type of luau, but it’s sandwiched between two much better experiences.

Even though the layout of the 42-acre collection of “villages” looks as fake as Disneyland, it’s more of a living museum than a theme park. There are demonstrations at each of the six main villages every half hour. Each village represents a different major Polynesian culture (Samoa, Aotearoa a.k.a. New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and Hawai’i), and each is run by natives from those places who are dressed in traditional garb, demonstrate dances and instruments, and drop some first-hand knowledge of their respective cultures. I learned a lot from the demonstrations, and not just about the characteristics of those six cultures, but also about the distinctions between them. This came in handy for the evening show, which was an awe-inspiring spectacle that told a legendary tale while exploring the six major cultures through song and dance.  Ian and I were equally impressed with our time at the PCC, especially since this was supposed to be our ironically touristy day in Hawaii.

While Ian’s first full day at the PCC was an experience most locals don’t partake in, his last full day was something we almost all do: spend a day on the North Shore. It was his first legitimate Hawaiian beach day. We jumped off the rock at Waimea, got shave ice in Haleiwa, and ate shrimp in Kahuku. To top it off, we spent that Friday night barhopping in Chinatown and Waikiki with Jenn and her friends. It was typical and it was perfect at the same time. I’d never seen Ian lament over leaving a place as he did the next morning. He did just enough of everything in six days to realize that six days wasn’t enough. While I think nearly three years was plenty of time for me, I can expect that my last day here, much like Ian’s, will still be filled with a similar sweet sorrow.

The week Ian came to explore one last state with me was not only a good epilogue to our summer road trip, but also a good ending to my time in Hawaii.

My hat: the past. My shirt: the future.

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Young Man Went West #41: Jump Cuts 2 – Return of the Lazy Blogger

I’ve missed my last few blog post deadlines. This is due in part by 1) the lack of an obvious and easy story to tell, and 2) the fear of having to live up to the length and/or poignancy of my previous blog posts. But a writer’s gotta write, right? So, instead of failing to turn in an awe-inspiring post, I’ll instead successfully turn in. . . words.

Here they are.

  • Two Sundays ago, I spent the entire day with my girlfriend’s dad. He asked me to help him record the audio of his Filipino organization’s bamboo band. It was just me and him on a mini-roadtrip to Waipahu, eating Filipino food all day, and playing around with a lot of expensive recording equipment. He seemed more at ease with me, and in turn, so was I around him. We ended that day by going out to dinner with the rest of his family.
  • My transfer to the Times Square Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in New York is pretty much set. It turns out, my manager had trained the person who is now manager at that location. He shot her an e-mail about me, giving me full stamp of approval. She said I just had to walk in and ask for her. Immediate income will be nice to have for the big move.
  • The last Sunday, I spent the morning with Mr. Bautista again. We finished covering the rest of his roof with reflective coating. Not only did the job flow more easily since we were seasoned pros and well-equipped (I bought a paint roller), but our conversation flowed more easily as well. I was less concerned with trying to impress him, and he seemed more comfortable around me. Even Mrs. Bautista seemed a lot less awkward talking to me. We ate out for lunch at a dim sum place, just me, Mr. and Mrs. Bautista, and Sam. Jenn was still at work, so she missed out on the deliciousness.
  • Now that it’s May, I have to focus on how to deal with all the stuff I’ve accumulated in Hawaii. I have to either pack it, sell it, or give it away. I really don’t have too much junk to deal with, it’s just that most of it is too insignificant to deal with in the first place. What am I going to do with my collection of cool beer bottles, for instance, or my worn out shoes? Eh, I guess I’ll be forced to figure it out eventually.
  • As a server trainer, I get to know almost every new person that starts working at Bubba’s. Lately, most of them have been really cool, and I’m a little sad that I won’t be spending much longer working side-by-side with them. It is somewhat rewarding turning newbies into fellow coworkers. Pretty soon, I’ll be the newbie.
  • Right now, my buddy Ian is crashing on my couch. This is the same Ian that roadtripped around the US with me last summer. I guess he wasn’t done couchsurfing in other states. It’ll be fun playing host and tour guide one last time; I’ll get to re-explore this place before I leave.
  • Bullet points are easy ways to convey ideas without needing to organize them.

My Future Workplace

And there you have my latest blog. Don’t worry, these will get more interesting when I move.

Until next time, Internet people!

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Young Man Went West #40: Meet the Bautistas–Part Two

Note: This note got pretty lengthy, even for me, so to spare you a dauntingly dense field of text to tackle, I split this post into two parts. This is the conclusion of the story that began with #39. – AR

As soon as we arrived at their single-story Kahala house, Mr. Bautista and I got straight to work. One section of the roof needed a layer of white reflective roof coating. We shared one broom-turned-paintbrush, two buckets of coating, and a partially cloudy morning sky. Jenn’s younger brother was on the rooftop, too, but he spent more time enjoying his rare vantage point than being our assistant. I couldn’t blame him; the mix of a young boy’s imagination and great heights is far more interesting than watching older people talk about grad school, writing jobs, history books, and martial arts movies. Actually, I take that last one back, Jenn’s brother came in and out of that martial arts movie conversation.

We reached the bottom of the second bucket before we reached the last corner of the roof. Though there is still some work to be done, Mr. Bautista and I made great advancements that morning. The same can be said of our relationship. And just like a far-fetched analogy, we left the unfinished job behind us and promptly moved on to the next part of our day.

By the time we had finished washing up, lunch was ready. Jenn’s mom prepared char siu, bok choy, and rice. Had I prepared such a lunch on my limited funds in my limited kitchen, I’d have been proud enough to post the whole process on Facebook. I complimented her cooking, but she brushed off my praises. To talented cooks like Jenn’s parents, this was just some random, last-minute, no-thought food. That, or they just thought I was sucking up.

Jenn’s brother, again his attention elsewhere, scarfed down his portion of lunch and retreated to his computer game. He left me and his two parents discussing family histories, a topic at which we arrived after I asked how each of their families found themselves in Hawaii. My plan was to segue that conversation towards a hilarious anecdote about one of my first memories of Hawaii (a story I can relate later if you all so wish), but the ensuing discussion took such a different turn that I forgot about my original intent. Nonetheless, it felt good to get both parents talking at length, and although they were just relating information more than interacting with me, I saw that lunch as a positive step with both of them.

After lunch, Mr. Bautista gave me an old camera lens and taught me how to use it, then we sat down to watch a three-hour Taiwanese film titled Yi Yi. While the slow pace of the film would have tested the attention span of an average moviegoer, I actually–and thankfully!–enjoyed all three hours and tried my hardest to convey as much when we discussed the film afterward. My film studies degree had finally paid off!

Jenn came home from work during the last half hour of the film and after it was finished, the three of us started cooking dinner of steak, salmon, and pasta. Jenn’s mom and brother joined us and eventually everybody had a task in the kitchen. . . myself included. I cut the fish and the vegetables. Everything was perfectly spiced and even though I had no rice to go with my two types of meat, the pasta with fresh, home-made sauce was quite a worthy substitute. This time, the table was quieter, but I think that spoke more of the meal than anything else.

With each event of the day, I felt progressively more comfortable around Jenn’s family.  While I cannot say that I became a part of the family that day, I will say that by the time I we started to eat, I felt like I had finally earned a spot at their dinner table.

Maybe I should have taken a picture of the dinner spread.

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Young Man Went West #39: Meet the Bautistas–Part One

Note: This note got pretty lengthy, even for me, so to spare you a dauntingly dense field of text to tackle, I split this post into two parts. The story will shortly after with #40. – AR

Before last week, I’d never spent quality time with Jenn’s parents. Before last week, I’d only met up with them a handful of times for brief small talk over casual meals. Before last week, that small talk was always awkward.

That’s because, before last week, Jenn’s parents did not know of our plans to move to New York.

Being a more recent college graduate, Jenn was still juggling her post-college life decisions, e.g. teaching abroad, applying to grad school, figuring out what she’d want to study if she were to go to grad school, and so on. Every time an opportunity opened, closed, or altered, she’d also have to figure out the time and manner in which to let her parents know. I, therefore, did not want to be the messenger before she was ready to send the message, so I kept my conversations with her parents short and off-topic.

That is until last week when she finally revealed to them our awesome plan. Overall, it went pretty well. They were fine with her not teaching in Korea, postponing grad school, and moving across the country. They only thing they weren’t sure about was me.

Jenn’s parents didn’t dislike me, they just didn’t know me. How could they? The few times we had met, we both avoided real conversation. Now that the New York plan was out in the open, we could communicate freely. Or so I hoped.

Shortly after Jenn told her parents about New York, they invited me to join them for pizza at a nearby restaurant. Along the way, I practiced my responses to their probable questions about our plans, but the dinner turned out to be the normal stilted talk of before. There was a little discussion about New York, but it came and went with a fleeting speed. Mostly we just chewed food.

I found out afterward from Jenn that her parents just simply didn’t want to interrogate me over dinner, a notion I appreciate but would not have minded. I mean, I was prepped and ready! I had a cache of well-formed reasons, motives, and plans. Instead, all they asked me was if the Times Square Bubba Gump really needed another server.

I guess Jenn’s dad felt as unsatisfied with our pizza dinner as I did, so he had Jenn ask me if I’d like to help him repair his roof. Though Jenn thought it an insulting request, I was ecstatic! I’d be doing manual labor, which I actually like to do. . . on occasion. We’d also be having lunch and discussing photography as well. What’s more, Jenn wasn’t even going to be there; she had to work from nine to four that day. For the first time during my relationship with Jenn, I felt like her family wanted to get to know me. I jumped on the invitation to spend some quality time with them.

Mr. Bautista picked me up around ten in the morning on Sunday. Even though this was the first time I’d seen him without Jenn around, it somehow already felt less awkward than all of our other encounters. It may be because we had something to talk about besides me and my relationship with his daughter. It may be because I felt needed to fill a void his children couldn’t, i.e. walking on rooftops and lugging buckets around. Most likely, though, I probably felt comfortable right away because I knew I had all day to make an impression instead of just a single meal period.

I know that feel, bro.

To be continued. . .

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