Traveling and the lessons we learn along the way

It’s been a while since I traveled to a new city. After moving to Singapore, I decided to stay put for a couple of months to get settled so I can call this city home.

Some time in February or March, one of my favorite artists Ingrid Michaelson released a new album and along with it, a tour across the United States. Lucky enough, another favorite, Idina Menzel, is making a Broadway comeback through the new musical If/Then. I figured these are good reasons to make the trip. They are more than good actually, they were perfect.

People may call it weird, strange or lonely but I find traveling alone a good opportunity to reintroduce myself to myself, and life to myself. Being on your own while learning the ways of the world is a liberating experience for me.

A view of the Empire State Building (May 2014)

When I arrived in New York, I was advised by my Airbnb host to take the subway and because there’s no better way to know a city than do what locals do, I took the subway from JFK all the way to the apartment in 6th Avenue with a suitcase and a bag.

It was rough, and because I couldn’t take the stairs, looking for the elevators slowed me down. But it was worth it. In the one hour or so that I was moving out of JFK, hopping from one train to another, I humbled myself and ask for directions. And everyone was helpful. From the Metro officer who told me not to get the card from the vending machine because it charges one more dollar to the men who helped me lift my suitcase and everybody who kept the elevators open while I was making a run for it. The cynic in me would think people wouldn’t bother, and I have never been happier to be wrong.

Lesson #1: There are people who care. Sometimes, you just have to ask for help.

After dropping of my luggage, I decided to physically exhaust myself so I can sleep at night and avoid as much jet lag as possible. I started walking from 10th Street and ended up in 46th Street with a few stops.

The Flat Iron Building (May 2014)

I sat across the Flat Iron building for about 20 minutes and just stared at it. It’s the stuff you see in movies. A couple more blocks and I went to the Empire State Building’s Observatory Deck and again stared at Manhattan skyscrapers.

From 5th Avenue, I slowly made my way to Times Square. I had a peek at the bright lights from Herald Square and that somehow hit me.

When I got to Times Square, I sat at the red stairs with a lot of strangers and just watch people and cars come and go and billboards change. I somehow thought that while I was alone, at that moment, I am part of a group of people soaking in the madness that was New York.

Lesson #2: It’s true when they say, stop and smell the flowers.

My ticket for If/Then was scheduled the next day but people at the Richard Rodgers Theatre stage doors are lining up waiting for the cast. I had no playbill or poster or anything I can ask the cast to sign for me but I decided to join the bandwagon.

I was able to get a picture of Idina Menzel up close. And while the whole waiting and pushing was really stressful it was fun to just express your admiration for somebody’s talent.

The next night, I did the same thing after watching the show. This time, I had more to say to the other cast members than just “hi.”

(If/Then was worth the travel and not just because of Idina. The story is a good reminder about the choices we make in life and the entire cast was talented. Every single one of them connected to me).

I only knew Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp in the cast so when I met LaChanze, I couldn’t help but tell her it was so amazing to come all the way from Asia for something like If/Then and for a moment, I’m sure she was not sure if I was serious. She thanked me and said that was really music to her ears. Jenn Collela was natural in her role as Anne. She told us that there was no better way to end a working day than to hear the audience’s words of kindness.

A view of Boston from the JFK Library (June 2014)

The following week, I was in Boston to watch Ingrid Michaelson. I love the energy of House of Blues that night and was really delighted that she sang new songs and old favorites. She thanked the audience and fans every chance she gets.

Ingrid Michaelson had two front acts, Sugar + the Hi-Lows and Storyman. I only knew Trent Dabbs of Sugar + the Hi Lows but listening to both bands while waiting for Ingrid was the best treat.

After the show, I wanted to buy a souvenir poster but ended up buying the two bands’ CDs too. Never have I imagined telling Trent Dabbs face to face that I like his songs because I can feel that they come from the heart.

I also told Storyman that of all the songs in Lights Out, it was You Got Me (a song Ingrid collaborated with them) that I enjoy the most. We had a conversation about doing a tour outside the United States (they’re from Ireland originally) and while Kevin May personally wanted to introduce their music to Asia, there are no opportunities at the moment. I told them that I’ll introduce their songs to people I know (or at least to those who appreciate the music that I do).

While all this is happening, I’m in a queue to get a Lights Out poster and overheard Amy Stroup of Sugar + the Hi-Lows saying they only had three posters left and they couldn’t resell the posters the next night because that was the end of tour for them. They were willing to sell the posters for a dollar each (originally $5) and yet the 15 or so people in line wouldn’t nudge.

And so I said, I’ll get them for my friends who I’m sure will appreciate their songs. I paid $3 for the posters and they signed the posters with my friends’ names on it (mine didn’t had my name on it) and they gave me another CD (originally $15). My $3 went a long way!

(I know that $3 can buy more essential things life, but I’ve always believed that any art form has a price, and it is not cheap.)

Lesson #3: Always, always, always show your appreciation for a talent or great work when you come across one. It can go a long way.

I’ve met a number of interesting people along the way.

In a conference I attended in New York, I sat next to a lady whose expertise is archiving. She told me that when they were curating the photos of Al Gore during his presidential campaign, they found out that most of the published photos showed him leaving the White House or outside of it. Probably a subtle sign that he’s never going to win the election. It could be a coincidence for all we know but I don’t think it is.

In Boston, I met a retired couple who have seen 18 of Ingrid Michaelson’s shows and have been following her Lights Out tour in the East Coast. They’re from Rhode Island and saw her show in New York City, and will be coming back the next night to watch her again. (And I thought I am the biggest fan!)

On my way to the West Coast, I sat next to an old lady who lives in Atlanta but regularly goes to the Bay area to visit her kids and grandchildren. I don’t exactly remember how we ended up talking about smoking but it struck me when she told me the story of her mother who died of lung cancer. Her mother was a chain smoker and she said that she still can’t forgive herself for giving up easily on her mother and her smoking.

Shame on me for not remembering their names (blame the lack of sleep) but I’m proud to retell their stories.

Lesson #4: Everyone has a story to tell.

Of all the art forms, it’s music that I love the most. It inspires me to always do better, it gives me energy and most of all, it is my favorite reminder of how precious time is.

Why?

If you only have 3 to 5 minutes to tell (or sing) a story, it better leave a good impression. And so I always think of those 3 to 5 minutes and how I spend them.

I discovered Ingrid Michaelson and her music in Grey’s Anatomy in 2007. It was the Season 3 Finale and Keep Breathing was the final song. I have followed her ever since and promised myself that one day, I will see her perform live.

When she went to Singapore in September 2012, I was a week late and couldn’t make the trip because of a family trip to Hong Kong that was earlier planned.

It took seven years but it was so much more rewarding. The best part of going to a concert (I think) is being able to sing with the artist and I was able to sing along with all her songs and I enjoyed it.

Lesson #5: Dreams do come true if you really want it to. It may happen soon or it may take seven years, but if you want it and you work hard for it, it’s always only a matter of time.

When people hear of how much traveling I’ve done in those couple of days, they sometimes wonder how I was able to see as much as I did. But beyond all the flying and hopping and moving, I am glad I got to know me again and life itself in traveling.

Originally posted in June 2014

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