Here at Preen, we’re fully aware that adult life doesn’t always go as smoothly (and look as beautiful) as curated Instagram feeds. We all face challenges amidst all the good things. Meet Mikka Wee, a former food editor-turned-working gal in Singapore, who’s about to share all the ups and downs that come with adulting and living. Welcome to Bless This Mess!
I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I immediately think about the “livability” of the city or country I’m visiting. I guess I like finding home in unfamiliar places. Here’s a fun fact: the first overseas trip I paid for with my own money was Kuala Lumpur and Singapore with a group of friends. This was way back in 2011, and if my memory serves me right (which I am pretty sure it does), I made it a goal of mine to move to Singapore. This was when I was fresh out of university, struggling with my first job. I was 20 years old—funny how life surprises you.
Last week, we talked about the “offline” Camie Juan, and today, I asked if she would be glad to open up about a topic close to my heart—living in a different country, and in the Big Apple, no less.
“Gab (my husband) and I have been living in New York for a little more than a year now, and to be honest, one thing I realized was how much I miss my family.” This was the first thing she told me.
“Recently, when my family came to visit, I guess I was in denial about being homesick for so long. I always said, ‘I miss my family,’ but I didn’t realize how much I really missed them until they visited me last month. They stayed in my tiny apartment—imagine, a tiny space with inflatable beds and a fold-up couch! Five of my family members came to visit—my three half-brothers, my younger half-sister, and my mom. And imagine having seven people cramped in a tiny studio apartment! It was crazy, and a lot of the time I enjoyed their company, but as an introvert, I felt like I needed my space. I wanted to step out to the balcony and breathe, but it was too cold to do that, so I would just let it go.
“And then, the day they left to visit my stepmom’s family in Virginia, it was suddenly so quiet in the apartment. It was so weird for me because all of a sudden I couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t here [in my apartment], and I was like, ‘Oh, this is so weird!’ and I ended up crying so much. I cried again when they left, and Gab was just hugging me, and I was just crying in bed, as in hagulgol,” Camie recounts.
“I realized how much I missed them. It’s really different, but especially because I rarely saw my family even when I was still living in the Philippines. When I was in Manila, I was staying in Gab’s house in Las Piñas, and my family lives all the way in Quezon City. Sometimes, I’d only see them during Sunday lunches when the whole Juan clan gets together in my grandma’s place. Sometimes, it was super-random like once a month, and then I wouldn’t see them until after three months. That’s just how we were at home; that’s just how our family dynamic was.”
This was so relatable, especially to me. When I was living in Manila, I, too, was living with my then-boyfriend. I would rarely see my family, but when they came to visit me in Singapore, I was also a crying mess when they left.
“So I thought, moving here, it wouldn’t be so difficult. But then I realized that I was missing out on so much. You realize how valuable family is. I was so in denial, and then I cried so much that Gab even told me that he never saw me cry that way ever.
“It was actually such an eye-opening experience for me because I remembered how sensitive I am—especially when it comes to relationships (and I’m talking about relationships in general, including platonic ones). I am the one who usually forces myself to take a step back because I’m so scared that if something happens, I won’t be able to handle it. Recently, I also realized I have attachment issues because my real mom left our family when I was only three years old. That affected me in the sense that I don’t want to get too attached because that person might just leave. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. I’ve had best friends in elementary and high school, but now, we’ve drifted apart already.”
But of course, there are the lessons learned while living in a different country. I ask Camie what are the biggest lessons that New York has taught her so far.
“Patience, a lot of patience, because I’m living completely alone now with no support from parents and family—it’s just me and Gab now, and there’s a lot of patience involved in that.
“Perseverance, especially when things don’t go your way. It has also been such a humbling experience, especially when Gab and I first moved here [in New York]. Initially, our parents would help out. My mom gave me a supplementary card that I could spend $100 on each month for groceries or whatever else we needed, but my pride was so high that I didn’t want to spend any of it!” Camie laughs.
“I wanted to prove that I could make it here on my own, and it was the same with Gab. The only times we did ask for help were times when Gab immediately needed to pay a deposit for school tuition. And then, come December 2017, we were financially in trouble. When we moved in here in October 2017, we had savings of around $6,000; half of that went to rent, because we needed to pay a 3-month deposit upfront—we had no history of credit in the United States; no taxes, no job at that time. We were grateful that our landlord put her faith in us, and so, we paid three months worth of rent, which amounted to half of our savings. We also needed to pay for Gab’s school, so our savings were depleted immediately.
“Luckily, I was slowly getting random projects here and there, but it still wasn’t enough. It was humbling because there were a lot of times when we were forced to really save and budget our money wisely. I remember this time, we were at the grocery, and we computed the total cost of items we had in our cart before checking out. It was like, ‘Okay, we can’t have milk first, so let’s put it back. For the eggs, get the half-dozen instead of the whole dozen, because we couldn’t afford it right now.’ We had a lot of those moments, and I was like, damn. I never really had that issue before because in the Philippines, it was a comfortable life.
“I wasn’t financially free back in Manila, but it was comfortable because I had other people helping me out such as family. But here, it’s really only just us. Eventually, Gab ended up getting work, and his part-time job involved scrubbing toilets.”
Beginning a new life in an unfamiliar city is hardly a walk in a park. You are forced to create a home in uncharted territory—it may sound fun and exciting, but the struggle is really real. However, there’s also a lot of good in it. Here are Camie’s favorite things about New York city:
“I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite food spot, but Shake Shack is really a must-try New York experience. I’ve been loving their ‘Shroom Burger lately,” Camie says. “I’m into Japanese food, but it’s so difficult to find a good sushi place here in New York. While I’m finding ‘the one,’ I am loving Yakitori Taisho in East Village—that one I really like because it’s good and it’s pretty affordable.”
When it comes to dessert, Camie and I have the same pick. “Insomnia Cookies!” Camie perks up. “I tried it in Boston; even if they were two days old, they still tasted heavenly. Milk Bar I find a bit overrated, but it has really good marketing.”
I also had to ask Camie what her favorite New York-themed book is. “Goodbye to All That (a compilation of stories, edited by Sari Botton). I was thinking maybe I could write my own version someday because I feel I’m not going to stay in New York for good,” she says. “Of course, I still want Paris, but it’s difficult to move there—I need to be super rich to be able to do that, but yeah! I feel like eventually I will have to move to the West Coast because of Gab’s acting.
“I’m dreading leaving because I feel my personality isn’t a match for L.A., but Gab thinks we will be here for another two to three years. I hope things open up here in New York for him because Netflix is here, H.B.O. is here… Goodbye to All That paints a very realistic picture of what it’s like to fall in love with New York, and also kind of fall out of love with it. I am still pretty much very, very in love with New York. But after reading that book, I read a lot of stuff that made me think this might also be the reason why I fall out of love for the city. You know, when you live in a big city like this, after a while it starts to choke you, and you get tired of everybody else around you and the go, go, go, go kind of lifestyle.
“One of the things that I find is so difficult here in New York is, as a transplant especially, is having a social life, and it doesn’t help that I’m an introvert. So when I meet people, and I like them, it’s still hard to keep a friendship going because people here are so busy. They have their own things going on, or even if I meet a fellow transplant, and she also didn’t have many friends, it’s still difficult to meet up sometimes.
“As for movies, I can’t really choose, but there’s this show called Broad City, which I feel captures New York so well, especially the crazy side. I mean, I wouldn’t doubt if there are people who are really like the main characters. But everything about the show is the real thing—like the train, the setting, the vibe, the way people are. That’s why I like the show so much.
“And oh, on a really nice summer or fall day, if you find yourself here, go to Washington Square Park. There are patches of grass on which people hang out on with a book, or they just nap, or lay down a picnic basket and chill there. I’ve taken the best naps there. Maybe it’s the fact that I could nap in the park, knowing I wouldn’t get mugged.
“I also love the New Public Library. When I moved here last year, there were no cafés I could to go to because I didn’t have money, so I would spend the whole day in the Rose Main Reading Room and get stuff done because of the super conducive environment.
“One of the rawest things I feel about New York is coming here and feeling like a small girl in a big city. One thing I love about New York is when I first got here, I felt free. I felt so liberated from the way Manila was—it was just so different.
“I feel free from the judgments of people and the constraints put against me with society back home. It’s so different. People don’t give a f*ck about you. Some of my followers said that the one thing they don’t like about New Yorkers is that they are so direct or outspoken, but I love that. I’d rather have someone tell me how it is instead of dilly-dallying and beating around the bush. Like for me, that’s not productive at all. When someone says get out of the f*cking way, to me it’s like I didn’t do anything? But then I catch myself and think, ‘Wait a minute, was I being considerate first and foremost?’ That’s what I like about New York.
“I’m learning to not take things personally, to be more self-aware with how I am, and to be more considerate about everyone else around me. I also just realized that with New York, for what it is, and with its size, and with how many people there are, it’s great for introverts because people don’t bother you. I noticed because when I told you all the stuff I loved to do, I did them alone—eating in the park by myself, taking a nap, I did all those things alone. And to tell you the truth, I’ve never felt so free.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Photos by Camie Juan
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