Bonjour Genève !


A little over two weeks ago, I started a new chapter in Geneva. After nearly a decade of living in New York, I picked up and moved to Europe to get a leg up on my career and to finally be in the same place as my love. It has been a pretty big change of pace, to say the least. At 8.406 million, New York City's population tops that of the entire country of Switzerland by 325,000 — nearly twice Geneva's population of 188,000. So I spent most of my first few days wondering where everyone was until I realized this is everyone.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Like the swans on Lac Léman, I find myself sailing through daily life with minimal aggravation. After years of choking subway morning commutes, I can now calmly walk to work. On the days that I use public transportation, I always have a comfortable seat and a peaceful ride. At work, everyone says a polite "Bonjour" or "Bonne soirée" when we cross paths, and the men hold doors and ensure that I enter the elevator first — gracious behavior I'd largely forgotten in the daily New York rat race. When I go out with friends and colleagues, there's always ample room — whether it's at a lakeside terrace, a bar on a boat, a trendy cocktail bar or a popular fondue spot. The city is incredibly compact so even when nights out run late, we can always walk home. No power tripping bouncers, no shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, no pricey cab rides. The struggle is over, it seems — for the fun stuff, at least.

Rebuilding a life, however, takes time. I arrived with my passport and contract, and had to rebuild everything from there. We forget about it after staying in one place too long, but it's all the little boring details that make us a "real" person (though paradoxically, all on paper): a bank account, a functioning debit card, a residence permit. Day by day, with each piece of paper signed, sealed and delivered, I am starting to feel more and more like a real person again. With God's grace (and the infamous Swiss Régies' blessings), I might even have a proper address soon! In the notoriously difficult Swiss housing market, one can only hope.

In the meantime, I soothe the relocation stress with bread dipped in melted cheese and swills of Swiss wine. And day by day, I find little things to love in our new home.

End Scene, New York


I started watching Sex and the City again at the beginning of this year. It seemed appropriate; I was going through my KonMari purge and sifting through all the things I've accumulated over the course of the past 9 years, which felt very much like a re-assessment of my New York life. After I got over my initial annoyance at Carrie and crew's man-driven neuroses (what a difference in my personal perspective 18 years makes), I dove right back into the entertaining New York dating scene pastiche cobbled together in this series. And as I watched Carrie fall in and out of love and stumble through life in this maddening yet beautiful city, I said goodbye to my own version of a somewhat similar past. I thought at first that I was just bidding my single life farewell as I started my new life with Johan. Little did I know that I would soon be saying goodbye to my other great love.

Just as I was watching the final season of Sex and the City, I received some life changing news: I landed a job in Geneva, one that I have worked so hard to get and that significantly changes the trajectory of my career. I was thrilled to have finally cleared what once seemed to be an insurmountable hurdle — but my prize came at a cost. Claiming it means this could be my final season in my beloved city, New York.

My love affair with this city is one for the books. It's where I came to know myself and where I learned all the incredible things the world has to offer. I've been here for nearly a decade yet never tired of this fast-paced, ever-evolving city. This is the city that sets the standards for the rest of the world, and it has truly set the bar high for what I consider to be the best city to live in. While I am filled with excitement for this next stage in my life, I am also sad that my New York story is coming to a close. But, as I should have learned by now, I should never say never. I could fall in love with another city or we could find ourselves circling right back to New York in a few years. After all, life has always had a funny way of surprising me.

But one thing is for sure: You're going to be a tough act to follow, New York.

Loving Old Las Vegas

It wasn't my first trip to Las Vegas but somehow this time it felt new. Ironically, it might have had to do with our fascination with finding relics of Vegas past. Away from the strip, we found some of what made the Vegas of old so spectacular, intriguing and glamorous. 

We spent a warm February afternoon exploring the Neon Museum, a boneyard and final resting place of sorts for the retired glittering lights of the Strip. The clam-shaped lobby itself is a relic, once the lobby of the 1961 La Concha Motel before it was taken apart and rebuilt where it stands today. The boneyard holds towering remnants of old Las Vegas: the Stardust, the Moulin Rouge, the Riviera, the Golden Nugget, the Stardust, the Sahara and the Aladdin — some peeling, some shattered, but all somehow retaining some of the pomp and pageantry they once imparted. Visitors can visit the boneyard on guided tours and hear about all the stories behind these once flashing lights.


We also visited the Mob Museum, which recounts the history of the mafia throughout the US and specifically in Las Vegas. The story begins with the mass migration of large groups of Europeans fleeing war and famine to the US, back when the Five Points was contested ground among the gangs of New York. It goes on to the Prohibition Era, which turned "nobody's into wiseguys." Artifacts displayed include tommy guns and bags with false bottoms used to smuggle alcohol flasks. The rise of gambling and the mob's role in it is also delved into, of course, as this is Vegas after all. It was interesting to see how Sin City sprung up following the construction of Hoover Dam, which brought scores of men to the area who needed to unwind with booze, gambling and women during their downtime. The exhibit also goes into how the law eventually caught up with the mob, as well as how the public remains transfixed by this underworld. It was fascinating to explore every floor and look back on this bloody yet completely intriguing era.


To celebrate a special night, we paid a visit to the Golden Steer, which is not a museum but a veritable Las Vegas institution. In a city where you can't throw a poker chip without hitting a steakhouse and where something old is constantly being torn down for something new, the Golden Steer has managed to stand strong since 1958. Its tufted read leather banquet seats have seated the most famous figures in recent history: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali. The steakhouse's late owner, Joe Kludjian, would tell stories of how mobster Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and FBI chief Joe Yablonsky used to glare at each other from across the room. On the Thursday night of our visit, we were all mere mortals in the room but to me at least, the air felt thick with history. We ordered a bottle of beautiful Shiraz and started with the Caesar salad for two prepared tableside in the style of a bygone era. For our entrees, we ordered filet mignons, which were cooked to perfection. We had planned on ordering one of the spectacular flambéed desserts but the Golden Steer had other plans for us. They surprised us with a sparkler-lit slice of chocolate cake, which we enjoyed tremendously. For that night at least, with me clad in diamonds and fur and he dapper in his suit, we felt some of that old Las Vegas glamour and magic, and we will always remember it fondly.


Me and KonMari


"The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own,
identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose,
expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell,
is really about examining yours,
a rite of passage to a new life."
- Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
(Image via Urban Outfitters)

I have long fancied myself as someone detached from possessions. Between my big move from Manila to New York nine years ago, and my subsequent tour de Manhattan before settling in Brooklyn Heights, I was under the illusion that I was traveling light and constantly discarding the unnecessary. It took reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and following the steps laid out by Maria Kondo, guru of joy-sparking minimalism, for me to confront the uncomfortable truth: I had in fact dragged a tremendous amount of mostly useless excess baggage all across New York over the past 9 years.

Learning to Let Go

The basic premise of the method which has come to be known as KonMari is that you should only keep what sparks joy in your life. Kondo asks you to go through your possessions by category in a prescribed order, starting with clothes then books and so forth until you end with mementos. You must hold every piece in your hands and assess whether it brings you joy. If the answer is yes, it stays; if the answer is no, you must thank it for the purpose it served in your life (keeping in mind that the purpose could simply be to teach you what does not work for you), and then let it go.

The book includes testimonials from KonMari believers testifying how this exercise led to life changes as radical as quitting an unfulfilling job or even getting a divorce, which I at first thought was a hard sell. As I went through the exercise, however, I began to understand how such big life changes could come out of this process. KonMari is very much a paradigm-shift; the habit of letting go of what doesn't suit you can work just as easily for shoes as for men. Once you start thinking this way about your possessions, you just may start applying it to the rest of your life. After all, taking on the gargantuan task of tidying up your life is not really just about the things themselves ...

What kind of life do you envision?

At the beginning of the process, Kondo asks you to picture your endpoint—not just a clean closet, per se, but visualize what a joy-sparking life looks like to you. I remembered how happy I was when I first moved into my apartment; it was perfectly tidy and I was always ready to have guests over for a cocktail. But as work, graduate school and our long-distance relationship took over, my apartment became my very last priority. Things started piling up everywhere and before I knew it, it was a bonafide mess. Having a friend pop in to quickly use the bathroom became embarrassing; forget ever hosting a cocktail party again!

But with grad school finally done and dusted, and our relationship transitioning into a new phase, I could now re-examine my vision. Yes, I could bring my apartment back to pre-grad school, cocktail party-ready tidiness, but I also had to re-imagine it as our home. I dove into KonMari knowing that I needed to clear up the clutter of my past to make room for my future. That goal motivated me to discard clothes, shoes and accessories so ruthlessly that by the end of the process, the things that bring me joy fit neatly into one closet and two drawers, leaving my husband-to-be plenty of room to settle in.

Examining your choices

One of the things I learned from KonMari is that deciding what to keep and what to discard is ultimately about taking an honest look at the choices we have made. This tendency to avoid examining, learning from and accepting our bad choices is largely why we accumulate so many things we don't particularly like. Even though we know that something is not quite right, we still try to live by the choices we've made, ignoring what that ultimately costs us. For possessions, that could mean draining our bank accounts by purchasing more storage solutions, upgrading to bigger homes or renting extra storage units. Wouldn't it be so much cheaper to let go of those pretty but painful shoes that you never wear than to buy even more shoe racks for your unused quasi-treasures to gather dust in?

I realized that the same thinking applies to our personal lives, too. I sorted through my belongings while watching old episodes of Sex and the City, which is not Kondo-approved but nevertheless felt appropriate as going through my old things was akin to seeing reruns of my past life. Looking at my past through KonMari lenses, I couldn't help but think about the decisions I had made back then and how, had I stubbornly stuck with a choice that was not entirely right for me, there would not have been room for Johan to come in. Just as discarding a ho-hum pair of shoes will free up closet space for your dream pair of Louboutins, letting go of relationships that don't serve you well will leave space for the right person to come into your life.

You deserve better (not necessarily more)

We tend to think that having more will bring us more happiness, but KonMari taught me otherwise. Throughout the years, the things that brought me joy had gotten buried underneath an avalanche of "meh." I kept thinking that I needed more because I could never seem to find anything to wear despite having two overflowing closets. I grew to despise doing laundry because there was never any space to put the clean clothes away. Getting rid of all that excess allowed me to rediscover my favorite things, and having no so-so fallback items ensures that I use the things that I love much more frequently.

I guess that's one of the gifts of KonMari: it forces you to take stock of what you have and how much room you actually have in your life to enjoy any of it. When I was confronted with just how much I had, I realized that there was no way I could enjoy every single one of my possessions. And after I had pared everything down to the things I truly loved, I realized that I still have more than enough. People who have suffered a huge loss tend to say that it took losing everything for them to realize what truly mattered. In essence, that's what KonMari does, but in far less dramatic fashion. You have control over what you keep and what you let go. You don't have to lose it all to find out what truly matters to you—you just have to let go of the things that are weighing you down.

Epilogue

I'm halfway through my KonMari process, having sorted through my clothes, jewelry, books and cosmetics. The changes I've made have already improved my life considerably. Getting ready and doing laundry is a stress-free affair because everything has its place and I can see exactly just how much I have. Seeing my things displayed in a way that allows them to shine brings joy to my everyday routine (this jewelry organizer is pure joy). I gave away about 3/4 of what I owned but have not felt a moment of anxiety over the things I've discarded since I let them go. There's a lightness that comes with freeing oneself from guilt and bad choices. I'm motivated to continue the process of ensuring every part of my life sparks joy.

Our happily ever after

When you watch enough Sex and the City and spend your fair share of time in the New York dating spin cycle, you come to a point when you question the possibility of having absolute certainty when it comes to deciding to spend the rest of your life with another. I never took it for granted that a romantic engagement was in the cards for me. After all, I have never been the girl who daydreamed about her dream proposal or knew her exact cut and carat requirements for the perfect engagement ring. The one time I recall seriously thinking about engagements was back when I was single and free, and it was only to ponder whether it was possible that there was someone out there who could inspire such clarity in that fateful moment for me.

I am happy to have found out that it is possible.

A month ago, the man I love asked me if I would like to marry him, and without a doubt in my mind, I answered yes.  


I thought that I would have a clue when the time came. It's not that Johan and I hadn't talked about our future. We spoke about it freely and we were both sure that we would spend our lives together. But as you may have noticed by now, I like thinking that I've got life figured out, and I was convinced that we had to go through a series of logical steps before we got to the fun part (you know, stuff like living in the same continent, for one). But Johan decided to flip the script, and he well and truly swept me off my feet!

On what seemed like the most ordinary of evenings in Amsterdam, Johan led me to a quiet canal where a beautiful saloon boat was docked. I was certain we were highjacking someone's special evening in Amsterdam—not because we never do special things or because Johan can't be romantic, but I was sure our plan was to hop on a run-of-the-mill tourist boat to see the Amsterdam Light Festival. "I don't think this is our boat," I said worriedly as the captain took our coats and poured us glasses of champagne. Johan enjoyed my absolute confusion for a moment before finally assuring me that we were not hijacking a boat because he had booked it especially for us. As the relief and happiness at such a lovely surprise washed over me, I somehow missed the clue that there might be something more to this evening. We sailed on, enjoying our champagne and the fact that we were not standing in line in the cold, waiting to board a tour boat. When the boat sailed on to the Ij, Johan suddenly said, "I actually have another little surprise." At that point, I finally realized that something else was afoot ... but then, another twist! Instead of pulling a ring box out of his coat, he handed me a flat leather pouch. Ever the easily distracted little bird, I immediately forgot about the possibility of being presented with a ring and thought, "Oooh, he got me earrings! I love earrings!" I eagerly opened the pouch, expecting to find a pair of sparklers, but to my surprise, there was just one beautiful ring. "No way," I said in disbelief and when I looked up, Johan got down on one knee and popped the question. I could not have said yes more quickly. I cannot express how happy I have been since then.

I started this blog with the conviction that one's happily ever after should not be contingent on Prince Charming's arrival and that we should always be responsible for ensuring our own happiness. I still firmly believe that happiness ultimately comes from within—but there's incredible joy that comes with finding the person with whom I would love to spend the rest of my life and knowing that we have made the first step to building our life together. I am so excited to see how our happily ever will continue to unfold.