Photograph by Rico Cruz
Travel Destinations

Teddy Boy Locsin’s New York stories

He just got appointed the next Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. But when we met with him in March, Teddy Boy Locsin was just too glad to be a New Yorker again 
Rico Cruz and Jerome Gomez | Oct 11 2018
“I have a problem being here,” says Teddy Boy Locsin in his Manhattan office. “I love the city so much.”

Since assuming his post as Philippine Representative to the United Nations last year and moving to New York, the erstwhile angry man of the Twitterverse has just been working and walking. “I’m not athletic but I could walk from 42nd street to the 112th to the Labyrinth Bookstore, now called Book Culture, or down to Union Square, and real athletes would fall behind,” he says while standing beside his desk at the Philippine Consulate building in 5th Avenue, behind him an H.R. Ocampo, to his right a map of the world. “I can’t run a block— I’ll pass out— but I can walk forever.” Walking was one of the first things in the diplomat’s mind as soon as he got settled, signing up for the New York Walkers Club and committing to two-and-a-half-hour walks around Central Park every Saturday. “I’m not exactly with the athletic group,” he admits. “I’m with the old guys. It’s actually a long walk but it’s nice. Every month we have breakfast together. And then after that, I go home and read.”

It’s a fresh twist of fate, but one he’s not totally unfamiliar with. He’s lived here before, a few times in fact, since his studies in Boston. His brother was in New York during Martial Law. “He decided that there was no future in Manila so he came over and got himself an apartment. And then towards the end of Martial Law, my father—he was first in jail and then house arrest, and then city arrest—he was allowed to go to New York to be with my brother.” The young Teddy Boy would visit the city to be with the men in the family. “In fact this is where my father met Ninoy Aquino on his way home. Ninoy said ‘I’m going home, nothing’s happening out here.’ And my father said, ‘You’re gonna be sorry. What if Marcos does not hurt you?’” the UN rep remembers his old man saying. “’What if Marcos instead sends a limousine to pick you up in the airport? And you obviously have to take the limousine. He is the president of the country,’—you know the old generation they obey—‘and when you get in the limousine no matter what you say to Marcos, no matter how you stand for democracy, the f__king Filipino people would say’— that’s how my father would talk, old school eh, ‘The f__king Filipino people would say you sold out and that’s it. All your sacrifices, gone.’”
"On a busy day, right after the high level meeting, which you would think is when the foreign ministers go home and the presidents go home. Things should slack. Actually no. That’s when the issues come up and you start addressing it."

Teodoro Locsin Sr. is gone now, of course, and so is Ninoy. Teddy Boy is turning 70 and New York is no longer the gritty accumulation of scary, though highly glamorous, neighborhoods it once was. It’s been Disneyfied, some say. Although not entirely.

“I always said when I’m old, I’m gonna stay in New York because I don’t need anybody in New York. I stay in San Francisco or LA, I need relatives to pick me up in their car and take me around. That means you owe them your life,” says Teddy Boy. “In New York, you come down from your apartment, you get a bus, and it crisscrosses the city. On the other hand, you can get in the subway. But if you really want to get killed you get a taxi— but they’re always infinitely polite. I’ve never heard a New York taxi driver shout, 'Hey come on, old fogey!' 'That old man can take an hour.' And no one complains. You take a bus, and the bus kneels for the old.”

It was all kindness and generosity until he left his first Kindle in a bus. “I’m not good with this machine, I kind of panicked, I don’t know what it meant to lose it,” he recalls. “I called up [the bus company]. From the time I called up, they kept calling me back. We’re tracking the bus, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. And then finally, they actually got through to someone.

‘We got a call. Would you like to take the call?’"

“We have it and we would like to give it to you,” said the man on the other line.

And then the man’s son took over and said, “You have to pay.”

A friend told Teddy Boy to, as one fictional New Yorker would famously say, forget about it. “C’mon, the Kindle is just a hundred dollars, let it go.”

And he did. “But what about my books?”

Teddy Boy would later learn that he can disable a Kindle, but the books? They vanished.

“So there, that’s the kind of city it is. It may not be warm to you, etcetera. but if you look confused in the streets, [people will approach and say] 'You don’t know your way right? Where do you wanna go?' I love this city.”

Enjoying downtime at Bryant Park. 

In this New York chapter in his life, Teddy Boy lives, with his wife Louie, in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by groceries, which he loves. Morton William’s, Grace’s Marketplace, and further down, Whole Foods. Food has been a particular concern, mainly because of a combination of two things: his health and his age. In fact, he says he lost his appetite since the move. “I used to make a joke about it, that even with the food at home we use American ingredients, like meat,” he offers. “Too clean, there’s no salmonella.” He laughs. “No taste. [But] It could be old age.”

But he eats, while aware that he needs to keep things in moderation. “After the heart surgery, I’m supposed to lose (weight),” he says. “I don’t really eat out so I go to a place and order a martini.”

He remembers the last time he lost weight in New York. He was with Mar Roxas, then fresh from losing the vice presidential elections.

“Come, let’s have dinner tonight with Korina,” Mar said, “and then I’m going home.”

“Why are you going home?” Teddy Boy recalls asking.

“Well, I’ve been here getting over the thing.”

“Yeah but if you go home you’re going home to the Filipinos.”

“So?”

“You don’t know the Filipinos? They’re the type of people who will tell you, ‘Pareng Mar, ang bobo mo naman, ang yaman-yaman mo natalo ka pa.’”

Teddy Boy asked Mar to stay until Christmas. “And all we did was walk up and down [the city]. Interesting conversations. And then I lost weight—because I had heart surgery and I was not losing weight until that moment. Apparently, Mar doesn’t like to eat. We didn’t eat.”

Mar: “Teddy Boy, people in Manila would say, ‘What happened to those two? Useless?’”

“No! When they ask you about me you say, ‘Oh, Teddy Boy? We’re always walking everyday but this week he’s in Langley, Virginia.”

“What about me?” Mar quipped.

“You? ‘I didn’t see him, don’t know. he seems to be with Obama!’ Haha!”

“So that’s about all they deserve about the truth back home,” says Teddy Boy now. “And he did well. But unfortunately he joined the Aquino administration.”

But back to eating. The former publisher and politico reveals he is not adventurous when it comes to food. He goes to Chinatown for the fruits. He just discovered Tommy Bahama, and mentions Ippudo, the ramen place, when asked where he goes for lunch. After reporting from The Plaza on the anti-Trump demonstrations for ANC over the Christmas season last year, when he was advised by the guys from Manila to just employ his personal iPhone to record his stand-upper (Tony Velasquez said “it was the best broadcast they’ve ever seen me do”), he discovered the eat-all-you-can at Todd English in the swanky hotel, where oysters were a dollar each and you could swill any drink. Mojito? Sure. Margarita? Have at it.   

Getting a bite at Waffles and Dinges. in 6th Avenue. “I used to make a joke about it, that even with the food at home we use American ingredients, like meat. Too clean, there’s no salmonella. No taste. [But] It could be old age.” 

If there’s anything the former journalist misses in Manila, apart from the grub we put in our mouths, it’s his friends from The Thursday Club: the Zamoras, Lito Albano, Greg Garcia. But no matter how much he wishes for old company, flying back often is a burden. To begin with, he doesn’t really like planes. “I flew in a plane once when I was young and I got hepatitis,” he says. “I swear it’s from the farts there.” He’s not joking, too. He made a study of it and published it on a newspaper.

So for the meantime, he’ll take New York. He enjoys going to the bookstores—Book Culture has the best academic books, he says. Bryant Park is a go-to when he’s craving waffles. Mansfield, a former gentleman’s hotel, has a good bar, he offers. He usually orders hors d’oeuvres and a martini. “The martini is the sustenance,” he adds.

"I have a problem being here. I love this city so much."
 

But unlike most visitors to the city, he doesn’t go out to see the Broadway shows. “Except when my brother forced me to watch the Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables,” he says. In a few minutes he would put on his quilted blue jacket and prepare to step out to springtime Manhattan, but not before offering the interviewer a bit of Grey Goose from the bottle in the room. “And I never watch movies because this city is so beautiful to me. I know it’s grimy. [But] You couldn’t make me enter a movie house because, why would I be in the dark where I can’t see New York and feel the pavement?” He steps out the door, which says "Permanent Representative" in gold, and makes his way towards that pavement, walking as he always does in this the greatest city in the world.   

 

Interview and photographs by Rico Cruz