My Life in New York City

Rachel Alejandro
The real adjustment I didn't expect is being alone all day and coping with the loneliness.

UPGRADED VERSION. Rachel Alejandro blogs about learning to rely on herself in a new city

For most of us, moving to a new city is hard, at the very least challenging. What more moving to another country, a whole other continent, away from everyone and everything you know and love?

I had to make such a transition a mere 7 months ago and yet in such a short time I feel like I’ve grown and learned more about myself than perhaps half my lifetime.

After a crazy year of shuttling back and forth between Manila and Bangkok to be with my then fiancée Carlos, we got married on April 9, 2011 and, together, we moved here to New York City.

Carlos was granted a transfer to the Manhattan bureau of his news agency.  I’ve held a U.S. resident card since 2003 and always talked about but never actually tried auditioning for Broadway musicals.

It seemed New York was the perfect place to begin our new life.

NEW HOME. Rachel Alejandro takes a stroll through a New York parkI was practically only a child when I started making money and had my own apartment by the time I was eighteen. Some would say that makes me pretty independent but actually the opposite was true.

Like many Pinoys who have the means to employ maids, yayas and drivers, in my case being  the offspring of music legend  Hajji Alejandro ( which you could compare to being Lisa Marie Presley), I grew up never having  to learn to drive, cook, do laundry, iron or perform any basic skill every adult should know.

In 2004, I started a health food catering business called The Sexy Chef with my sister Barni and since then I’ve been spoiled with daily meal deliveries of anything I wanted from our menu.

My computer skills were limited to emailing and paying for bills online and even that, most of the time, my assistant would do for me. My manager made sure that my singing engagements were so well- ironed out that all I needed to do was show up. She even handled my Facebook accounts (I’m the one handling it now).  

On a typical day in Manila, I would work out in the morning, get pampered at the spa,  get dolled up at the salon just  in time for a quick gig in a hotel somewhere.

If I had no work that day, then I’d go to dinner and a movie with friends. No doubt about it, ang sarap ng buhay ko! I had it good!

So you can imagine that what I feared would be the hardest thing about leaving this comfortable existence was having to live like an ordinary person and do everything myself. But as it turns out, it’s not in the way I expected.

I always thought I would be too lazy to cook but, after experimenting on a few dishes, I discovered that I can cook well and actually enjoy preparing food for my husband!  He admits he had very low expectations at first and hoped I wouldn’t set our kitchen on fire.

LEARNING INDEPENDENCE. Rachel, who says she never tried taking public transportation in Manila, proudly says she can get now around Manhattan by bus or subwayIn Manila I had never even tried taking public transportation, so I was terrified to go out on my own. Now I feel quite proud that, even if I get lost now and then, I can get around Manhattan by bus or subway.

The real adjustment I didn’t expect is having to cope with the loneliness. Not only was I doing everything myself but most of the time, all by myself.

New Yorkers are known to be workaholics. They don’t think twice about clocking in nine-ten hour days. With Carlos away all day, I’m alone a lot. I’ve become a housewife with no real purpose of my own.

Back home, every minute I would get a text or call from someone asking to meet up. Here my cellphone is silent.

My new routine is to walk Carlos to his office in Midtown then take the train to my gym. After that, not much else but make dinner and wait for the hubby to come home.

For work, occasionally I would fly to a different city or Manila to do shows. One day I got so excited to find a casting notice announcing auditions for “Rock Of Ages” on Broadway. I put on my best rocker chic outfit, had my piano piece in hand and was all ready to wow the judges.

ALONE IN THE BIG CITY. Rachel says the hardest part is learning to cope with loneliness

Upon arriving at the venue, I was told the audition was moved to a different studio.  I ran like hell but by the time I got to the correct place, I was too late. They weren’t seeing any more non-union member applicants.

My heart sank as I turned and walked back to the subway. Only one place to go–my favorite burger joint in the Upper East Side, Shake Shack.

It was packed so I ordered, sat on a bench outside and quietly ate a sandwich and  fries all by myself.  A couple of weeks later, I got a callback to perform for a music venue in the Lower East Side but by the time I received the email, I was in Manila for some concerts.  

I realize now that if I want to find work here, I must stay put, dig in my heels and see it through. The difference between me and other artists starting from scratch here in the Big Apple is that I have the option of going home to Manila to work.

OPTIONS. Rachel says having the option to work at home is good but not having that option forces a performer to commit to a new life

I’m grateful for that but in a way, it might be good for a performer NOT to have that option because it would force him to commit to his life here. Otherwise, he will always have one foot in and one foot out the door.

Since I left home last July my Lola, the one who raised me, has been worried about me.  So I wrote her a letter reassuring her that I was fine and “Worst case scenario, if things don’t work out for us here in New York, there is always a Plan B”.

My sister Barni said that Lola has interpreted this “Plan B” as “B” for “buntis”!

Clearly it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing but to me the lessons that I’ve learned these past months are priceless.

I used to panic at just the idea of having nothing to do or having to spend a day alone.

I was afraid of leaving my comfort zone and my fear was keeping me from trying new things.

Though I still miss my family and friends back home and look forward to the weekends with my husband, I have learned to enjoy my own company.

I’m an upgraded version of me. –

Rachel Alejandro has been in Philippine showbusiness since she was 8, conquering the worlds of music, TV, and theater. She moved to New York after marrying Spanish reporter Carlos Santamaria.  She continues to perform for Filipinos around the world.

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