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Monday, September 2, 2013

How to survive for 3 nights in NYC with $100

To be honest, I was really proud of myself for planning a long weekend getaway to NYC, getting a day off, booking flights in advanced and even planning out in advanced with my sister what to do and where to eat. This was my first time seeing my sister and step mom where I had a job and money to afford some of the restaurants and shops we would hit.

Then at the last minute, I found myself rushing out of work, packing, cleaning and showing up at the ferry to the airport with 30 min to spare. The ferry took more than 15 min to come, leaving me way too late to check in my luggage packed full of ice wine gifts. I was given an option to check the luggage into the next flight for $150. While deciding, I did scrounge around for my wallet and realized I had left it at home. Double fail. 

There was 1 minute until boarding...I had to think fast...what do I do?

If I got on the next flight I could run home and get the wallet but my family was waiting for me to land for dinner. I couldn't keep the ice wine if I wanted to make my flight and I would also have no money.

Always up for a challenge and a good story to tell. I rolled with it.

So I asked them to contact my friend who works as a flight attendant to see if she could hold it for me until I got back. If they weren't able to arrange something, the poor ice wine would end up in the garbage that evening. I ran through security and rushed right on the plane that was in its last call for boarding. I hurry to send a few last minute texts before I need to turn off my phone - to arrange my ice wine pick up, to tell my sister that she'd have to be my sugar mamma for the weekend and to Facebook to tell the world about my fail :)

When I opened up my passport, I found $100 USD bill. Great, at least I had enough to get myself out of the airport to the hotel.

During the flight, all I could do was grin at my predicament. I had been telling my step sister and her family how stable my life had become over the past year since they'd seen me last. That my simple life was uneventful - just consisted of working out, working and meditating. That my previous poor vegabond hobo life as a food&travel writer and startup junkie was a stark contrast to the life I lead today. But here I was, flying to NYC, practically empty handed and would definitely need a helping hand for the weekend. Why in the world would they believe me :) I had also promised ice wine for the hard work they had recently done for me. My poor ego didn't want to show up empty handed and ask for help.

As an aside, If you're here because you want to get tips on how to get around when you want to visit NYC on the cheap. Your itinerary needs to include walking thru central park and anywhere and everywhere you need to go. If you enjoy window shopping and taking photos in front of Apple stores and with Abercrombie models, that's free too. Also, you can spend whole days at the "suggested price" paying museums (like the MET) and spend hours at the gift shop in both the Museum of Natural History and the MET. Water fountains are abundant and cheap eats like Halal chicken and rice stands can feed you for days. Trader Joes offers cheap healthy tasty groceries and the pop up fruit/veggie stands are pretty affordable too. You can also sit outside of Starbucks for Free WiFi which could pass the day.

But if you think thats all I did this past weekend, you might not know me very well. There may have been a porterhouse steak, sushi, foie gras, a broadway show and shopping involved in my trip :)

What this blog post really is about what I learned this weekend.

1) After my post on FB, I received countless private messages on FB, email, texts and wall posts from friends & acquaintances offering their help or hooking me up with their siblings, coworkers or friends or wiring money if I needed. Even found out that a friend was coming to NYC the next day and could probably bring my wallet. It was amazing and heart warming to see that as long as I had access to FB and a phone, not having my wallet wasn't the worst thing in the world. I'm really truly grateful for the great friends I have.

2) I thought about my friend who just started working for Porter who helped rescue my ice wine gifts. I had met her in school ten years ago in Singapore, saw her in Australia five years ago. She ended up in Japan for years while I was on the west coast and last year we were unemployed together and even found jobs the same week in the same building. You really never could predict where the two of us will be and what we're up to, but by some miracle she now works for my favourite airline :) You just really never know who will stay in your life for a reason, season or lifetime.

3) Mostly, I thought about how lucky I was that I was meeting my sister and stepmother and how they'd probably be the only two people on earth that I knew wouldn't blink an eye in paying for the weekend and not judge me (much). :) How lucky I was to be meeting two people that I love dearly. My sis even brought over a whole bunch of stuff from VN that I asked for for which I didn't bring any money to pay her back. Triple fail. :)

To give you a background, I only got to know my sister in 2011 when I decided to travel through Vietnam and write my book. She was graduating high school at that time and became my best friend and chief editor for my book. It felt like reconnecting with a cooler, smarter, more talented version of me :) Her mother and family showed me such kindness and love that I had never experienced before. Ever since then, I had a real sister and best friend to gossip with, complain to, and share all our happy and sad moments. It's one of the things I'm most grateful for. It's also amazing I had a second mom full of knowledge, wisdom, insight.

It struck me that, if not for my urgent need to write a book about Vietnamese sandwiches, I never would have reconnected with my sister and her mother. Even more significant than that is if not for all the decisions that both our parents made in the past, we wouldn't even be in this situation of scheduling a reunion in NYC and living in the same time zone. Not only that, we share the same love of food and love of life. You can't really pick the cards life deals you, nor do you get the pick your family, but I can't help but be grateful that life let me connect with a second set of family.

What I thought about on my flight home is, money really isn't an indication of wealth and value. What's of value is love. Love and positive friendships and relationships can help you through whatever situation you find yourself in.

You don't get to pick the cards but you do get to choose how to play your hand. Focusing on the money exchanged from hand to hand isn't the point. It's getting to know the other players, having the motivation to step up your game and learning from others and collectively having spent quality time with each other. (Or maybe that's what I tell myself because I'm horrible at poker :)

Its important to recognize when you need help. Once you're willing to accept your vulnerability and ask for help. You realize that nobody is ever truly alone and it's really nice to know that when I need help, there's someone to lend a helping hand.

To make a long story short, I believe in Karma. Open up your place and call it Hotel 2 no matter what country or city you happen to be in. Welcome friends to your couch and let them rest. Treat people with respect and love and once in a while you get a free trip ;)