August 3, 2012
New York City
I had just dropped off Nat at Sephora Union Square and went my way to buy myself an American SIM card at Best Buy Mobile for my old Nokia phone. I am to be in the United States for two months and It would be impractical if I would be using my Filipino mobile service.
I had to trace my way back to Starbucks where Nat and I grabbed coffee earlier to use the WIFI to activate my mobile number before heading to Queens.
The night before, my ATM card was not allowing me to withdraw money. I was a little bit worried because, I was down to my last $50. I initially thought that it was an ATM machine glitch because I had a similar problem when I was transiting through Tokyo two days prior.
“There’s something wrong with my ATM card Nat.” I said. “I am not able to withdraw money. I need to contact my bank.”
“What’s your bank?” asked Nat.
“There’s a BPI in Queens! Why don’t you go there tomorrow to have it checked out. I think it’s along 72nd av.”
After going around in circles looking for the Union Square subway station and consulting the subway map application called NYC Mate on my Iphone, I hoped on the E train after changing at Lexington Av / 51st – 53rd St and headed for Queens.
Nat said that my stop would be at 71st Av and it would be easy to find my way around.
The train ride was very interesting and so was the view. I was looking at the buildings emblazoned with graffiti when my attention was diverted back to the carriage. The people riding on the train at that time was quite diverse.
There’s the Chinese couple beside me speaking in their native tongue, reminding me of my childhood studying in a Chinese – Jesuit school.
I hear Spanish drifting across the carriage intertwined with laughter. I am reminded of my days listening to Thalia hours on end playing on my walkman.
The two Italian men in front of me are speaking 100 miles per hour with fingers in the air trying to prove a point about the weather. While the tall Russian boys beside them are sitting silently zoning out to space.
And I exchange a smile with a black woman. I think she noticed the sly look of observation on my face.
The two Filipino women who were speaking in Tagalog were now standing up and heading to the doors as the train slowed down.
“This must be my stop.” I said to myself.
It wasn’t so hard finding Queens.
A typical Phil – Am store
From the corner of 71st Av, I was amazed to see that there were lots of Filipino stores and restaurants. I saw familiar brands of canned good being displayed through the window. A pack of instant noodles I had a week prior to my arrival, is being lifted off the shelf and placed unto the shopping bag. At that moment, I wonder why such little stores exist when all I hear from returning Filipino workers is how great things are in New York. Then I realized, these stores and these restaurants are the closest thing they have in remembrance of home.
I stared walking towards 72nd Av and made a mental note of eating lunch at Krystal’s Cafe once I’ve sorted my ATM card issues.
I found 72nd Av. No banks.
I walked further.
I must have reached, what appeared to me, a Little India of sorts. I decided to retrace my steps all the way to the corner where I first stood. I might have just passed it by.
I saw a Metrobank across and a PNB behind me.
Still no BPI.
Will kill Nat later. *Laughs*
I was getting a bit hungry because it was already past 1pm. I decided to attempt to withdraw one last time. I saw an ATM machine by the entrance of a Chinese convenience store manned by a old Tai Tai. I was hoping that her Feng Shui would usher the qi of my money out of the machine.
Alas it did not.
I made my way to Krystal’s Cafe and was instantly relieved when I saw the sign board that said “Credit Card Accepted. Minimum of $10.”
Adobo and Rice
I lined up and was greeted by a friendly Filipina at the counter. In rapid fire English, she told me about the specials of the house today, the buffet on the second floor and the array of desserts to choose from. In rapid fire Tagalog, I told her I wanted some Adobo, a big plate of rice and some Sprite.
The look on her face was priceless.
“Are you Filipino?” she asks.
“Syiempre! Bat ako mag ta-Tagalog sa iyo kung hindi.” I replied. Translation : “Of course! Why would I speak to you in Tagalog if I wasn’t.”
“For real?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yes, for real.”
I do look Caucasian. Being half Filipino (with diluted Italian blood) and half English, countless of times I have been mistaken to be Latino, Italian, Moroccan, Arabic, and even half Black. It always delights me when I travel and meet Filipinos. Its quite a shock for them to hear me speak fluent Tagalog, most especially when they find out I’m Cebuano.
I signed my receipt. Replaced my card on my wallet and took my tray of food and sat down in one corner.
I enjoyed my lunch while watching Eat Bulaga‘s Pinoy Henyo on TV.
I am now back in Union Square standing in front of Barnes & Noble. Nat informed me earlier that if ever i was in dire need of WiFi, it was free on every nook and cranny of any Barns & Noble bookstore.
I had to call my bank.
It would be very impractical for me to use my newly activated American mobile service and my Philippine mobile service to place an international call. God knows how much the call would have cost me while waiting for the service agent to pick up the phone. It’s a good thing I bought £10 worth of Skype credits before I left for New York, just in case of emergencies.
Once I secured a WiFi connection, I quickly opened my Skype on my Iphone and dialed my bank’s international access number.
It turned out that BPI or Bank Of The Philippine Islands had a new ruling. Before a client would travel out of the Philippines, that client should first inform the bank. A safety precaution against fraud.
Now that my ATM card issue has been settled, all I had to do was to wait for the international withdrawal capability to be approved. Which was to be activated by 9 am Philippine Standard Time.
It was 3pm EDT in New York. It meant I had to wait for 6 more hours before I could get some money.
I sighed my frustration and relief away. Armed with my Lonely Planet New York City guide, I decided to head for the Flatiron District.