In Search of the Infinity Bench

Friday, February 23rd, was the day I was to leave Amsterdam. I just knew I had to search for THE bench to complete this trip. So, I woke up early and decided to do one last roam before I make my way to Schiphol for my 2pm flight to Dubai.

I still had my 24-hr tram ticket I purchased the day before with about 4 hours credit left to it. I was already inside the tram a little over 7am. I knew the bench was located at the Leidsegracht canal district, and that I had to be dropped off Prinsengracht area, take a 2-minute walk and it should be there. I was worried abit though, as I have been reading from some articles that the bench had been removed due to alot of tourists vandalizing it, but I kept my hopes up.

Dropping off of Prinsengracht, I walked, made my way through a couple of streets, saw some Heineken logos along the way, but can’t seem to see signs pointing me to Leidsegracht. I saw the  American Hotel, which the film used to replace Hotel de Filosoof in the novel, and thought “Oh it should be near here!” but still was unlucky.

Passed by folks busy sipping their cups of coffee, hurriedly making their way to their workplaces, I hesitated to ask questions. The Dutch and their blond hair, tall stature, and their bright, beautiful faces have intimidated me so much, a realization that dawned over me the past 6 days, but I thought I needed help.

Finally, a young woman who showed abit of smile when I passed by her, opened an opportunity for me. I asked her where Leidsegracht canal is…

What? (dammit, she may not speak English?)

I repeated the question and before I was even able to complete..

“Oh Layd-zegrakt!” I said Leed-zegrakt at first. 😑

Apparently, I was treading the wrong street and should have turned right the moment I stepped out of the tram.

I thanked the woman and she gave me the sweetest smile and the kindest “goodluck!” I’ve heard my entire stay.

I took the directions she gave me and what I realized is that Leidsegracht is not just 1 canal but a series of three! I had to go through the first two, inspect them with the TFIOS photo in my phone and got frustrated that I cannot see that arrow sign right next to the door that’s indicative that I am in the right place. Just when I was about to lose all faith, I headed my way to the third canal and saw this bench right there! – gloriously tied up with love locks, lovingly marked with notes and mementos – silently a witness of the greatness of love between Augustus and Hazel Grace and the pains they had to endure.

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I have always considered John Green as that literary aspiration of my 30s as JK Rowling is of my 20s. I sat there, breathing in and out the cold Amsterdam air, recounting the events of Gus’ and Hazel’s last moments and thought to myself how thankful I am for the infinities that I enjoy – with a loving wife, wonderful kids, a caring family, a rewarding and a fulfilling job – all in all, a great life.

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Bridges and Dreams

I want to say Brooklyn has always been a dream.

It was a 28 deg F late afternoon. The conference has ended and we decided, since we were already around the vicinity,  to might as well experience the famous bridge that connected Manhattan to Brooklyn.

It was mesmerizing.

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On our way to Downtown NYC. My first glimpse of the romantic Brooklyn Bridge (rear) and the formidable Manhattan Bridge (forefront)
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Bridges have always fascinated me. With their colossal structure but profound sense of purpose and symbolism, they often become metaphors of many we hold significant. Connection. Affinity. Relationships.

The cold was unbearable, but it didn’t stop me from appreciating what once was just a figment of my imagination; something that only exists in the books I read, and in the songs I sing.

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I am in love. ❤

Pinch me, one bit. This may be one of my many daydreams. One where I don’t want to wake up from. One where I want to get lost in a cloud of dreams come true; where I indulge in my fantasies and delight in the inevitabilities.

I wonder how I will react when the day comes that I will see my other dream destination, London, and it’s Tower Bridge.

Man, I might as well just lose it.

My 10-year Love Story With MR

I have been in the market research industry for more than 10 years now. Wow 10 years!  Time flew by really fast! I haven’t even realized it’s already been a decade!

As a bit of a background, I finished college with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Took the boards twice, failed twice –  all that fun history 😐. Honestly, I didn’t really take the course, much less the boards review, seriously. I winged both of them! I’d even go to as far as saying I was lucky I finished the degree in the first place! Pasang awa, really

Of course, that’s for a totally blog post featuring a totally different story. I want to talk now about how I’ve come to love marketing research.

If you’re privy to my LinkedIn account, that by the way, is so gloriously updated 😁, you’d know I entered the industry first as a data collector for a quantitative market research program in Convergys. I would like to think I was good at the job, because I got two promotions while in the team – first to being a quality evaluator then eventually, as a supervisor. I managed survey projects for about 5 years, manned a team of data collectors and also facilitated trainings on the side. It was my first job and I thought that my progression in it was more than satisfactory. I enjoyed it, learned alot from it, and met so many people from the experience of it.

A total of 8 years in that program and I knew that it was time to move on. And so I met my current company!

I thought being in here, now for three years, has made my growing relationship with market research come full circle. While I did quant with CVG, this time I am working in qualitative! Though I do not actually do the research, I have been made familiar of alot of online research tools and it has introduced me, officially, to the vast expanse of the industry.

I also am happy to say that in those three years, I have been transitioned to several job responsibilities that further strengthened my skills in this field and allowed me to learn more about the job and the clientele that it serves. I was first a client services facilitator for about 6 months, then an account team manager and was quickly promoted to assistant delivery manager. My shifts from one post to another had been so challenging and fulfilling at the same time and they kept me motivated to always give it my all.

The primary reason why I was sent to the States a couple of months ago was for me to experience how it is attending marketing research events. That is, on top of me completing my training as an Operations Manager. It also was an opportunity for me to be in our company headquarters in New York, as well as for me to meet our American colleagues on that other side of the world.

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The Civicom Marketing Research Services Team Back (L-R) Irene, Rebecca, Andrea, me! :), Kevin Front (L-R) Stan, Annie, Anna
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Majority of Civicom Inc. Atlantic Team, (clockwise) Anna, Nina, Jose, Joe, Renee, Annie, Andrea, Stan, Michael, Kevin and Me! 🙂

We were scheduled to attend two major conferences – Quirk’s East in NYC and the IIEx Health in Philly. In between those two events, we were lucky to have been given a chance to attend a QRCA (Qualitative Research Consultants Association) NY chapter event in Columbus Circle, as well as a client visit and product presentation in the PA office of marketing research organization, Research Partnership US.

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The Quirk’s East Event that happened in Marriott Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
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Civicom’s booth in Quirk’s East
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Me with the ladies of Civicom MRS – Irene and Anna!

 

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Filipino contingent in Quirk’s East in NYC
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A session on online bulletin boards at Quirk’s East
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Happy hour at the event. Explaining to this lady how our company helps her conduct her research, instead of taking her job away from her. 🙂
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The Whyy Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the IIEx Health event took place.
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Attending one of the talks in IIEx – this one about patient journeys by Fulcrum Research
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The Time Warner Media Center reception area in Columbus Circle, NYC where the QRCA NY chapter event happened.
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The Time Warner Media Lab in The Shoppes at Columbus Circle, NYC

A presentation done at the QRCA event where the speaker talked about the many different kinds of leaders in an organization. This one particularly showed a profile similar to that of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly.

I feel so privileged to have been able to meet alot of people in these events. And to have been given a chance to speak to event attendees, prospective and current clients, moderators and consultants, competitors, industry experts and all our other service vendors. On top of that, I was also allowed to attend some of the event sessions that talked about industry innovations, product developments and new and different approaches to doing research and gathering customer insights. The experiences were truly one for the books!

I am so looking forward to exploring this industry more, and increasing my knowledge of it exponentially as the years go by. There are certainly alot of ways to go from here! I did data collection, now handling technology for online qual; I don’t think there’s anything stopping me from being a moderator eventually! I have also been thinking about learning new languages to make myself a resouce for more global MR services. Who knows?

Perhaps one day, my other dream of being in the UK, maybe even in Amsterdam, can be realized. The same way my NY-American dream did.

One thing’s certain. The possibilities are endless. So stay tuned. 😊

The US in 4 Seasons…or something like that. 

They all said spring should have sprung the moment we landed on JFK airport’s tarmac. Nope. As I recounted the events in my previous blog, our trip was at the same time when the biggest snowstorm this year, so far, hit the Northeast US. So nope. No budding of flowers, no showing of green, red, and orange leaves. Instead,  what welcomed us was some feet of snow.

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Very first photo I took off of my phone. On our way to our Port Chester office, from JFK airport

I thought you know, so long as we safely landed and are comfortable in the office, in the house where we’re going to be staying in or inside one of our colleagues’ cars, we would be okay. And I really am the it is what it is kind of guy.  I took it as some divine intervention for me, a first timer, to actually see, feel and experience how it is when it’s the winter season. You see weeks before we flew out, everyone in the Atlantic office had been telling us how we will be missing winter and that we’ll arrive same time spring arrives. I thought, ugh bummer, would’ve been really nice to actually see snow for the very first time! 

And I think the heavens heard me muttering.

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Took a photo of one of Port Chester, NY’s quaint churches.
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Train view from Port Chester to my first weekend visit to NYC
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First photo I took soon as I got off the Grand Central Terminal. After this was taken, a homeless man standing by the terminal’s gates shouted – “Enjoy New York City with your eyes! Not with your screens!”
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By the doors of the Plaza Hotel, fronting General Sherman’s statue on one of Central Parks many entrances

Our trip gave us how cold New York State can be when it’s snowing. And boy, it WAS cold! I’ve never felt colder my entire life! Walking through blocks of snow wasn’t all easy and fun. Yes, at first, it can be interesting and out-of-this-world for someone who doesn’t always get to see it (Pinoys). But be with it for an extended time and it is not anymore. It can be damn slippery! I think I’ve had a couple of times I almost slipped and hit my head! My nights are spent with me tightly hugging all of my 5 pillows and my comforter covering me from top to bottom! I was assigned the room in the attic of my boss’ classic, all-American house with white picket fences in Greenwich and I think with me on elevated floors, the cold stooped to an all-time low!  The 3 out of the 4 weeks I was there was spent with me wearing puffer jackets, layers and layers of clothing and a number of scarves – items we’ll never ever find comfortable wearing when in the tropics.

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Front lawn of the house where I stayed the entire 4 weeks.
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Backyard of my boss’ Connecticut home

Though I thought it was cool and nice to have those for #ootd shots. The whole ensemble – the overcast, the falling snow, the beautiful NY architecture, the busy yellow cabs everywhere, and clothes layering made Bien very instagrammable.

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By the streets of NYC. One of New York City’s public libraries behind me.

Man, I go out of topic everytime I just blurt out my thoughts about everything NY. Not very obvious that I’m in love with it! 

Anyway, so mid-third week until my last, spring has sprung! The trees have started to have colors, the roads have cleared up, the freezing feeling had been replaced with a very cool, not-so-warm-but-warm sensation. Snow had melted and soon evacuated the streets. It was a lovely sight!

It’s funny too because everytime we tread the roads of Greenwich on our way to Port Chester on weekday mornings for work, the sight of a number of trees starting to bear leaves makes for a fall-y sight. No orange, brown leaves on the ground to complete the autumn feel, but some rows of trees with barely nothing on them and all skeletal kind of gives me NY state scenery in the fall.

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A public school I saw on the way from Greenwich to Port Chester.
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Downtown NYC. One of my very first glimpses of the Brooklyn Bridge (behind the Manhattan Bridge)

And our trip to DC (that I will tell you all about next time) kind of gave me an impression of how the East can be in the summer! Though I heard it can get waaaay hotter, being there the 1st week of April was hot enough that I was allowed to only have one layer of clothing the entire time and that I also have gotten a little darker by the time I got home.

That, or too much roaming around DC with the sun high up. 

So yeah. Why I think being in the Northeast US was best mid-March to first week of April? I feel like I got to experience all 4 seasons. In just one visit. In a month’s time.

Or ya know, maybe I was just lucky. 😊

The Small Town Boy in the Big City Part I

I think I’ve already mentioned in this blog several times that I  haven’t traveled outside of the Philippines. I have had quite a number of travel experiences, but only locally – visiting the beautiful beaches of my home country.

Nothing internationally.

Well, surprise readers. Not anymore. 😉

March of this year, I was given the privilege and the opportunity by the company that I work for that I be sent to the US of A for a month of training and conferences.

No less than the United States of America! My first out of the country and it’s a total of 23 hours on the plane and in the land flowing with milk and honey! Who would’ve known?!

So,  for my maiden post about this trip, let me talk about flying with the best airline in the world, Emirates.

Our flight going to the US was about the same time hurricane Stella hit New York and other northeastern territories of country. We got stranded in Dubai for about 24 hours because JFK has been closed due to two feet of snow. It was an emergency situation that I wasn’t prepared for. Like I said,  I don’t have any prior experiences traveling abroad and the thought of staying in Dubai International Airport for one full day  is not very pleasing to me, no matter how beautiful it is. Yes, Dubai International Airport arguably, is the most beautiful airport I have ever seen (not that I’ve been to alot) . It’s huge and you can easily get lost in it.

Thankfully,  Emirates took care of us in this whole ordeal. They made sure that we had the proper accommodation for the overnight stay and that we were fed appropriately. My colleague and I have been given double rooms separately,  and the meals that covered our entire stay we’re all on buffet setup!  I didn’t feel inconvenienced at all. It was like I was given an extra day to enjoy another country on my way to the United States. As a bonus, we have been granted a 96-hour transit Visa and so we were able to utilize that to go around the open city and enjoy some of Dubai’s world class attractions. We were able to go see Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa, along with some Muslim temples, as well as take a glimpse Atlantis The Palm Jumeirah. All in all,  it was an awesome experience. Personally,  I don’t think I would be spending a lot of money just to see Dubai again; but being there one time,  and enjoying what it has to offer I think is enough.

Being in the desert is not so bad, afterall.

My hotel room in Copthorne Hotel Dubai.
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Beautiful Dubai!
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Dubai looks to be very obsessed with skyscrapers
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The Burj Al Arab with Mae and Anna!
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The mighty and glorious tallest structure in the world – Burj Khalifa
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Atlantis The Palm Dubai


Additionally, my sidetrip to Dubai has also been an eye-opener for me. I used to have feelings of fear whenever I think about Muslim countries and being around Muslim people. These people are actually very nice! The person who drove us to see some of Dubai’s attractions is a Pakistani immigrant in Dubai who works as a driver and as a hotel staff. He was very easy to talk to, very kind, very patient and it inspired me that he’s so much like some of us Filipino OFWs – he works in a different country so he can provide for his family.

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Our chauffeur who brought us to some of Dubai’s tourist attractions, on a Lexus!

We are afterall, more alike than what we think.

So,  thank you Emirates for such a fun-filled experience flying with you!  I had the time of my life being in a Super Jumbo A380 plane, with drinks overflowing and the fantastic food that I was served. ICE was also very entertaining! I got to watch a lot of movies, catch up on some shows and the in-flight view was absolutely amazing! If given the chance that I would be able to go back to the US or maybe even just travel anywhere outside of the Philippines and I have the necessary funds to choose whichever airline I would want to fly with, I would choose Emirates in a heartbeat.

Oh and I would also like to note that I have extreme paranoia everytime I fly, but with Emirates I didn’t feel anything at all. I simply enjoyed the 9-hour flight to Dubai from Manila and I absolutely was thrilled on my long-haul, 13-hour flight to JFK.

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JFK Airport, waiting for boarding.
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Aboard the A380

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Emirate’s award-winning, in-flight entertainment, ICE
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Aboard a 777 for DBX