MovementsTransition

My New York isn’t dead

28-year-old Filipino interior designer tells
what it’s like to live in the pandemic

My morning walk to work

I moved to the US on the last day of June 2019. I deliberately scheduled my departure on that day to keep a promise I made to myself: to leave Manila on the first half of the year.

I kind of remember when I decided to leave— it had been on my mind for years, but I was always too afraid to take the leap. There were two incidents in 2018 that pushed me to start to think seriously about moving. The first was that I had gotten my heart broken. It’s so cliché, I know. The second incident was getting passed for a promotion at work. That really hit me hard, and I was so demotivated for a while.

These two things led me to be more introspective; I reassessed my goals and thought about where I wanted to be in the next year, five years, 10 years. Contrary to popular belief, interior design professionals don’t really make a ton of money. I worked for one of the top architecture firms in the country, yet I wasn’t making enough to even consider moving out of my parents’ house, even though I was in my mid-20’s. I loved my job and the design industry, but living paycheck to paycheck was disheartening. There were numerous times I questioned my decision of going into my profession.

I found work about a month into my move. I was surprised that it went that fast—I was very lucky. I had talked to some acquaintances and friends who emigrated to the US before I did, and some of them struggled to find work. I noticed though that companies started replying to my applications only when I had a US address and number. When I was sending in applications from Manila, no one ever replied to me.

My transition to work was fairly easy. I had been afraid that I would struggle—the codes and laws here are different, and (for some reason) the English system of measurement is still used in America. Luckily, I’m a quick learner and my co-workers were nice enough to guide me on things that weren’t familiar to me.

I am lucky to have moved to the US just at the right time. If I delayed my move by even a few months, I’d probably have no job prospects, due to COVID-19. I have friends from Manila who plan to move at the end of the year. I can’t imagine how the job hunt would be, given we’re in a recession. I am thankfully still employed with the same company, but these past few months have been scary.

When COVID-19 hit New York, things happened so fast. I remember our office telling us we were just going to test working from home on a Friday. But then, by the time the weekend rolled around, they informed us that we would be working from home indefinitely. I remember going to the office the Monday after to pack up some material samples I needed to send to a client. I thought we’d be on lockdown for a few weeks at the most and didn’t bother to collect my personal items. It’s been seven months since then. At this point, I’ve been working from home longer than I’ve worked in our physical office. I find that so crazy.

April and May were such scary months for me. The projects I was handling were put on hold, so I suddenly had a lot of free time. That made me so anxious because our office started a series of lay-offs and pay cuts. At that point, I figured I’d be happy to take a pay cut if it meant I could keep my job. I actually had plans of moving out of my relatives’ house and moving in with some friends during the summer, but I decided to push that back because of my lack of job security. Also, things weren’t looking so great for my family back home. My dad is a flight purser, and all flights were cancelled. My mom did some admin work for a hotel and some restaurants, and they all closed. Since then, my dad has begun going on flights again, but limited compared to before. My mom hasn’t gone back to work, but she started selling her home-baked goods online to make ends meet. My parents never asked me to support them, but I decided to help them out by sending monthly remittances.

Whenever anyone asks me how I am, my reply is, “same s—, different day.” I wake up at 8 a.m. and start working at 8:30. At 5:30 I clock out, have dinner, then watch some BTS videos while waiting for my friends in Manila to wake up. Since March, I have gone out less than a handful of times. There are numerous factors at play, the first being a deep fear of contracting the virus. I was never a germaphobe, but I’ve had asthma my whole life. Just thinking about losing my ability to breathe spikes my anxiety to whole new level.

Second, I’m in the suburbs of New Jersey. There’s nowhere to go if you don’t have a car, and public transportation is just not an enticing option to me. So, my days are spent at home, save my monthly excursions to the pharmacy to pick up my meds and buy some snacks. Occasionally I accompany my aunt to the grocery, but that’s the extent of my time outside the house.

My company’s physical office in Manhattan has been open since July but working there isn’t mandatory. Until it is, I will continue to work from home. Things are looking up a bit, work-wise. My old projects are still on hold, but we’re getting a few new ones. I’m not completely at ease yet regarding job security, but I’m definitely not as anxious as before. As businesses start to come back to New York, work should start picking up for me as well. Things are looking good, but fall/winter is basically a waiting game. There’s really not much to do except wait and see, hope and pray.

I’ve been to New York City a grand total of three times in the past seven months. I cried all three times because I missed New York so much. I’m such a big city girl, and I thought that by this time this year I would have moved there already. In my mind, all my plans and goals are just on pause for this year. I hope that I get to fulfill them in 2021.

The first time I went back to New York since March was in August. I tagged along with my cousin when he drove to the city and I decided to meet up with a friend who lives in Brooklyn. We had lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown that had outdoor dining, and we walked from there to Washington Square Park.

The next two times were for work. I recently got involved in a new project and had to do a site survey. Honestly, I tried to get out of it, but my co-workers insisted I go. I was so uneasy the nights leading up to the site survey because I didn’t want to ride public transportation. Looking back, it wasn’t so bad. There were very few people during my commute to the city, although it was much busier when I was coming back home. I’m glad to say that most people I encountered in the city were wearing masks.

Recent news said that NY has a low transmission rate, but I still can’t rest easy. With schools open, and restaurants back to (limited) indoor dining, there seems to be an uptick with the virus spreading. Numbers are going up again in some places in the outer boroughs of NY, as well as in New Jersey. The US as a whole still has an alarming number of cases. So even if I had gone into the city, I don’t think I’ll be making it a regular thing. I still want to be cautious. Any loneliness or sadness I feel is trumped by my need to feel safe.

Hello from me and BTS’ Jimin in NY! BTS Armys celebrated Jimin’s birthday in BTS-theme cafe in Manhattan last October.

A few months ago, there was an article that spread online about how New York is dead. I don’t think New York will ever die. The city is always in a state of flux anyway, pandemic or not. Sure, she may “never be the same,” but it doesn’t mean she’s dead. I am confident that this pandemic will just be another page in the history of this city. I, for one, can’t wait to see her rise again. Until then, I will be waiting patiently, trying to stay sane and healthy.

COVID may have thrown a wrench on all my plans this year, but as BTS said in the 75th UN General Assembly, “life goes on, let’s live on.”

About author

Articles

Born in New York but raised in Manila, she is a 28-year-old interior designer who can't wait to call NYC home.

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