As I write, it's 11:02 pm and the night just started to roll around. I'm in a posh inn in New Jersey (I really don't know why anyone would wanna bash a state with Hampton Inn) and they have free cool is that?

Anyway I digress. Before I put my award winning piece about New York, a disclaimer: to any native New Yorker who gets to read this, rest assured that I have nothing against your fair city. In fact, it's become one of my most favorite cities in the world. I saw New York through a foreigner's eyes, and any comment I say should be taken with do they say it...a grain of salt?

Disclaimer over. Let's rumble!

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New York. The city that absolutely never sleeps. And the fact that it's 7am and there were a gazillion people on the streets only hinted at what was in store for me and my family as we stopped and gawked in slack-jawed wonder at the city that was New York.

After a brief but embarrasing altercation with one of New York's/New Jersey's bus drivers (in fairness to us, we didn't know the fairness to him, ignorance is no excuse), we got off at the very busy bus station and didn't know where to look.

Our first stop was Empire State Building...the (apparently) seventh tallest building in the world and the unofficial city landmark. Fortunately for us I printed out a map of the vicinity the night before (thank you Yahoo! Thank you Hampton!) Unfortunately for us the weather was less than cooperative and a trip to the observation deck (outdoor yun...sweaty palms need not apply...tatangayin ka daw sa lakas ng hangin) was out of the question. So after taking cheesy pics inside the lobby, we made the most important and probably the most excruciating decision we've made our entire lives: to rough it and visit each and every landmark in New York on foot.

Now, granted, New York is a pretty big place, but thankfully, some of the stuff we wanted to see was pretty much accessible on foot (wanted to take the cabs, but Mom was scared of the drivers...again, not my fault). I gotta hand it to ya, New York. You really know how to impress the foreigners. The blunt-force realization that I'm actually in New York dawned to me the moment I saw every slice of New York life I only thought I could see on TV. Every busy street, every tall building, every architectural wonder, every quirk and tick was there as my imagination saw it.

Rockefeller center was more glorious than I could have ever seen it (TV really cuts a few pounds). I bought some T-shirts in the NBC Experience store (FRIENDS shirts, SCRUBS uniforms, CONAN O'BRIEN mugs...). After that, I told everyone with me that I can't leave this blessed hell-hole without visiting the infamous Times Square.

The billboards, the trinitron TV's, the stock tickers, the street vendors, the big name brands, the crowd...Times Square was absolutely teeming with life. After seeing the giant screens on the sides of the buildings telling me to buy a VW Rabbit and the billboards for Beauty and the Beast, the Color Purple and Avenue Q, I now know that I have absolutely arrived. This is New York, and I'm not dreaming.

But the real icing on the cake was my first hand experience of New York at night. That skyline with the glittering lights will forever be burned in my memory as the most beautiful skyline I have ever seen. Not to mention the nightlife, which shows a very different side of New York that's impossible to be seen in daylight.

They were right. New York really does change you.

After all the side-quests and last-minute shopping, we went back to the hotel with heavy shopping bags and a blown-out brain...not to mention a smile on my face. I told myself, this was the kind of city I could get lost in. I know in my heart after the airplane takes off for home that I will miss this jewel of a city. The city that never sleeps. And I will make sure I get back there as soon as I can and experience her all over again, because I know I have barely touched the surface, and this city still has lots of stories to tell...stories I want to hear.

--next: the Liberty Island Experience

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