When The New York Times announced in October 2017 that they were looking for a travel writer to send to 52 destinations around the world for a year, it blew up social media and the publication ultimately received over 13,000 applications in total. I, for one, played a part in that frenzy. The deadline for applications was on 31st Oct 2017, and like a lot of opportunities I’ve come across in the past I couldn’t help but think that I was ~destined~ for this job. After submitting, I was constantly checking the web for updates. I obviously didn’t get picked but it’s fine because fortunately I’m used to being disappointed by life. (#notbitter, or at least not bitter anymore.) The job went to Jada Yuan, a 40-year old biracial (Chinese dad, white mom – unofficially disclosed but I can tell by her surname and facial features) American writer who has worked for New York Magazine.
Although I’m somehow surprised that it wasn’t some popular travel blogger/vlogger/influencer/what have you who was chosen, and disappointed that we’re hearing from another writer who has a powerful First World Passport Privilege (vs Third World like mine), I’m sure the editorial/hiring team of The New York Times made the right decision in choosing her out of 13,000. But why did I ever think that I had a fighting chance when in the end I didn’t even make it to the shortlist of candidates? It’s because I saw their expectations/required qualifications and thought I met each and every one of them. In hindsight, even though this might be the case, I realized that I can’t possibly be the only person in the world who is as qualified as I think I am. It was naive of me to think so. In case I really was more qualified than majority of the applicants, that doesn’t mean I’m THE most qualified of them all. Oh, and I happened to be ‘doing the New York thing’ at that time, Broadway and all, and was living in NYC until I left in November which added to my delusions of ~destiny~.
Let’s have a look at Job Description from their job post and how I (thought I) fit in, shall we?
The ideal candidate is:
- a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world. ME
- This person should have a well-worn passport. I’ve renewed my passport before not because it was expiring, but because I ran out of pages, 2 years before it was supposed to expire
- the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images. I have experience as a contributing/assigned travel writer in the past…
- Media experience is required. …for several online and offline travel publications.
- as is fluency in English. Obviously
- expertise in social media. Instagram.com/thetravelguyshops, Facebook.com/thetravelguyshops
- and facility with digital devices. I’m a millennial!
- Familiarity with languages beyond English is a plus though not a requirement. Chinese, Filipino, some Japanese and Taiwanese… Did I mention I speak a foreign language? Then again, I assume so does Jada.
- Has traveled to several destinations. Does visiting 33 countries before I turned 30 count towards ‘several’ destinations?
- Have documented travel in writing, social media or elsewhere. See above
- Is active on social media. See above
- Has prior experience at a magazine, publishing company, newspaper, digital publication, film or other media organization. See above
- Can commit to a full year. Who wouldn’t for this job?
As you can see, I’m totally qualified. Right? (Insert affirmation here. Please note that I am fully aware of how cocky and self-entitled my writing style may appear to be.) At the same time, I also thought about why I possibly wasn’t chosen: I was kind of a hot mess. I basically panicked when their website wasn’t working and the deadline was fast approaching. The screenshot of my emails to the Monica Drake, the Editor-in-Charge, below should explain everything:
Nonetheless, below is the cover letter and the two essays I wrote as part of the requirements for the application. I hope you find my perspectives at least interesting.
Yes, I do have a passport. In fact, I have my current one because the last one ran out of pages. However, filling them with stamps and visas wasn’t as easy as you might think. It was a struggle, to say the least.
For one, I have far from what’s regarded as a ‘powerful passport,’ meaning I cannot freely travel wherever and whenever I want to because I need to get a visa for most countries of the world. There are immediately assumptions about me as a person simply because of the citizenship I possess, and sadly it’s a completely accepted form of discrimination in the world we live in today. Neither am I the heir of a rich clan, nor an ‘Instagram-famous influencer’ who relies primarily on sponsored trips. I didn’t even have the least bit financial or even moral support from my family. Coming from a different generation, as far as they’re concerned I should be stuck in an office cubicle for the rest of my life. I lived my whole life misunderstood by them, but I realized that no one else is responsible for pursuing my dreams and happiness but me – the same way I can’t be solely responsible for theirs.
The two things I could always rely on were my instinct – that only I know what’s truly best for myself – and my perseverance. So despite all the obstacles and limitations that stood in my way from the moment I was born, so far I have fulfilled my personal goals of being a published travel writer, starting a travel blog, running a travel agency, speaking over four languages and above all, visiting over thirty countries across six continents before I turn 30 this 2017.
…Which brings me to my most recent trip and where I am today: Manhattan, New York. I’m not sure if Americans are aware of how pervasive U.S. television and movies are in the rest of the world, but New York is everything I expected and much more. I decided to move here after working in Tokyo for two years, and living here is another goal I achieved before I turn thirty. I arrived in August and will be here until November 2nd before I fly back home to Manila.
They say that ‘If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree’ and the first time I read this profound advice, I was enlightened – so I moved. They also say youth is wasted on the young. But I hope that with what I wrote here, I have proven that this doesn’t have to be the case.
Most Interesting Place I’ve Been to and Why
Overall, Singapore has to be the most interesting place I’ve been to. Like many countries over the past fifty to a hundred years, Singapore is known to have advanced from a ‘swamp to skyscrapers’ in a relatively minimal amount of time as a result of the governance of good leaders. Unlike those other countries however, to me Singapore didn’t remain stuck in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s. It still continues to forge ahead into the future technologically, politically and in more aspects.
Singapore has retained a lot of its colonial remnants such as the Raffles Hotel from the 1800s, but at the same time its subway system is truly state-of-the-art and world class, and Changi airport is consistently the best in the world. Like New York, Singapore has one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, but the difference is you can still find cheap eats. Sure, New York has affordable options, but does it have $2 meals like Singapore does? We all know one New York bagel doesn’t even cost that little. For $2 New Yorkers get guac on the side, while Singaporeans could potentially have a Michelin-starred meal (as long as they’re willing to wait in line.) On a related note, the entire city of Singapore is immaculate and free from grime or litter, thanks to the self-discipline of its inhabitants. New York, on the other hand… has room for improvement.
As an outsider, I have observed that possibly the most significant distinction of Singaporean society that it happens to share in common with the United States is its multiculturalism, as opposed to the general racial homogeneity of other countries in Asia (or the world, for that matter.) In Singapore, majority are Hokkien Chinese – those who came from a region in Southern China. Majority in this context refers not only to population, but also power. The most substantial proof of this is through their politicians and media: TV shows and advertisements. So in a way, the Chinese of Singapore are like the white people of the U.S. For the record, my background is also Hokkien Chinese and I belong to a minority in the Philippines where I grew up. Whenever I’m in Singapore, as a Hokkien Chinese who speaks Hokkien, Mandarin and English I think to myself: “So this is what a Chinese Singaporean in Singapore and white person in the U.S. must feel like.” I easily blend in and feel normal and completely not out of place – all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, (despite the racial diversity) Singapore is completely safe. Race-based violence is rare if not inexistent. It might have something to do with the fact that the entire nation is united by English (albeit with a specific accent and eccentricities) known as Singlish. Unlike rare occasions in some parts of the U.S., no one would ever even fathom calling out people, who are speaking Hokkien, Malay or Tamil on the phone or among themselves, and not English. A testament to Singapore’s dedication to racial harmony transpired just recently. In 2016, amendments to their Constitution were made so that only candidates from specifically other races could run if they were not represented in the past five presidential terms. True enough, in August 2017 Singapore’s latest President is Malay – who also happens to be a hijab-wearing Muslim female.
Could this be the best application of affirmative action the world can learn from? Only time will tell.
Themes I would like to Explore during My Travels
Most of my grandparents moved from China to the Philippines almost a century ago. I grew up in Manila and was based in Tokyo until recently, but somehow people always assume I’m American despite me being literally from halfway around the world. Maybe it’s my accent, even though I think I have a neutral one. Perhaps it’s exactly my lack thereof that makes me seem akin to Americans, but I think it’s mostly my kind of sense of humor and perspective on things which is a result of my constant exposure to U.S. media and to some extent, history played a part too. During World War 2, the U.S. took over the Philippines and taught us English so I suppose that’s where it all began.
Why am I rambling on about myself when I should be discussing “Themes I would like to Explore during My Travels”? Well, I discovered first hand that the world we live in today also has a colorful background like mine. It is replete with contrasts and contradictions, yet poses striking similarities. Whenever I pass by the produce markets and traditional medicine shops in Manhattan’s Chinatown, I would swear I was transported back in Manila’s Chinatown – the world’s oldest – where I grew up. That is, until I see the dollar signs and find that everything costs over three times as much as it did back home. On a recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia, I found that their Ciudad Amurallada (walled city) and almost everything in it was a near replica of Manila’s own Intramuros back home (or vice versa) – both thanks to the reach of the Spanish empire. I would have never known about this had I not personally visited Cartagena (or spent thousands of hours on Wikipedia clicking one hyperlink after another.)
Those who have been to parts of Southeast Asia have probably come across the phrase ‘Same same but different,’ and this is perhaps the most applicable way to describe anything, really. Nothing is ever permanently the way it has always been, and that’s what makes it all precious and relevant in any given moment.
My blog URL and social media profiles are as follows:
Attached and below are samples of my published articles and photos:
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