Commemorating 9-11, 16 years on

I learned about the tragedy almost 12 hours later, already a Monday morning in the Philippines. I must have been busy studying for a test when it happened. This was B.F. (before Facebook, but during Friendster) when there was still no instant notification, ubiquitous wifi, and phones were dumb. My main source of news was the newspaper (paper!) from my college’s reading room, and the occasional prime time news on TV. On my way out to class, I saw my dorm-mates in the common room huddled around the TV. I went in to find out what the commotion was about. I must have been the last person to know about it. I recognized the news anchor, and searched confirmed there was an on-screen graphic logo. It can’t be a movie.

What a horrible news, I thought. Then the news cut forward to the towers being engulfed by black billowing smoke. Then one tower crumbled. And then another.

It’s one of those tragedies that has occurred in my lifetime, that changed and defined (and has been defining) international affairs, world power, and terrorism and security.  Living in Washington, D.C. now makes all these more pronounced with New York City just a few hours away and the Pentagon right in our backyard. It’s difficult not to be paranoid at times. Things are now back to normal, but will never be normal.


Returning to live in Washington, D.C.

The National Mall taken from the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

I’m more than a month into juggling two jobs as a consultant, one at my old office doing some web and comms work, and another with the Climate Investment Funds on climate change and organizational learning. It’s amazing how things fell into place, how one lunch led to two coffee meetings, and then two contracts a couple of months later. I had an open plan when I came to the US- reconnect with family and friends, attend a writing workshop, and meet some old colleagues. If nothing came up in the work front, I was ready to pack and move on. But I only realized how much I missed the District as soon as I came back, and thought it would be nice to stay here for a while and find something to do.

“How long have you been in DC?” I often get asked when I reveal I’m not originally from the area, to which I have prepared a spiel of my DC 1.0 circa 20112013, and how I ended up again in the East Coast this time around. This bitemporal experience makes me appreciate this city all the more. I now look at the city with fresh eyes looking with delight at my old haunts, curiosity with new shops and buildings, and nostalgia with those that have closed down. Many of my fellow former JPAs have left, moving on to do their PhDs, or back home. People, just as with places, have come and gone.

Before I lived in Foggy Bottom steps from the World Bank and near the White House during DC 1.0, I’ve now moved farther to a friend’s house in the North East about half an hour’s commute downtown (that is, if the Metro is working- I’m looking at you, Red Line). But I get to work from home, or make that work from Brookland, where there are cafes and more dining options. I’ve established a daily routine: I wake up early and start working, walk to the hip neighborhood around 10 or 11 in the morning to grab an early lunch, spend the rest of the afternoon at a café at a bookstore, then try to be back home before it gets dark. Weekends are spent on more walking and exploring other nearby neighborhoods or towns.

I make it sound like I’ve got this adulting all sorted out. Yes and no, depending on how you define “sorted out”. My work is far from stable and cushy contrary to how others may perceive it. And that’s fine. With these social and professional changes also come personal ones, mostly on realizing what matters to me: going for long walks, exploring interesting neighborhoods, keeping in touch with family and friends, and defining and redefining personal values and lifestyles. Whereas I only used to treat Washington DC as the city where I lived to work, it has become a more meaningful place where I live to live.

Woah, that’s a lot of introspection. Something to get us back to reality: Donald Trump just got elected President of the United States of America.

Not an urban legend: cities are stressful

Stressing you out since 1950's

This article from The Economist reminds me of an icebreaker question people ask me when they discover that I am new to the city: What do I like least (and best) about Washington D.C.? To remain consistent with the article, I’ll stay negative for now.

It is the blaring sirens that slowly pierce my peace whatever time of day. I don’t hear it now that I am in my apartment (I just did as I am typing this line- no kidding!). I heard it frequently when I lived in Dupont Circle, and still do when I am in my office downtown. It’s gotten so bad (or good?) that I just assign it to ambient noise. It’s a different story when I am on the street. They are so loud that I have to cover my ears as the Doppler effect rings the highest registers of the decibel scale and takes its auditory assault.

Three things come to mind when I hear the siren: (1) something serious is actually happening, may it be a fire, a medical emergency or a police response, (2) Obama’s entourage is coming or (3) to announce police ‘visibility’, and send a (false) sense of security (If you’re in the Philippines, another reason is to get ahead of a heavy traffic, but that is another story).

I should not be complaining, as I’ve lived in big cities most of my life, save for my university days in laid-back Los Banos. Maybe I am still adjusting from living in the ‘quiet’ cities of Germany. There I barely heard sirens, and in those rare occasions  people would give a worried look as they watch and listen to a vehicle sounding off a siren and zoom by. They know it must be something really serious.

The next time I encounter these ear irritants, I just have to remind myself that this comes with the territory of living no more than six blocks away from the office, a hospital, and a cinema. I’m still a big fan of city-living for the accessible services, efficient transportation, and cultural offerings it has.