Solo Stories

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Solo in Scotland. This was taken on a magical trip to the Isle of Skye ~ with a trusty tripod!

I like doing things by myself. When it comes to writing, I absolutely must do it alone. When it comes to traveling, I adore doing it solo.

As a child, I spent huge chunks of hours in my room, which both awed and bewildered my parents. I would emerge for meals, moody and preoccupied, and then slip back into my solitary world of books, writing, painting, crochet, or whatever it is I was obsessing on. I distinctly remember being so smitten with the songs “Tenderness” and Grease’s “Summer Nights,” — that I spent days painstakingly transcribing the lyrics from a cassette tape.

When we moved to Singapore, I converted our guest room into a writing room, where I hide when I need to be alone with my thoughts. But this didn’t mean I was able to churn out the words easily. I’ve had (and still do) many, many blank-screen days, long stretches where I just browse through Net-a-Porter or Sephora and debate with myself whether I really need Rihanna’s new Fenty lipgloss or not.

Still, I enjoy going to cafes, watching movies, shopping, cooking, and eating a meal by myself — extra happy points if it comes with a glass of wine.

I’m forever curious about new places and I’ve learned that not having a travel companion is, actually, okay. In fact, it can be quite fabulous. I have a yearly travel date with my husband, but when he can’t get away from work, I don’t hesitate planning the next trip on my own.

My first real solo travel was in Boracay thirteen years ago, where I spent three days sun-tanning on the beach (a practice I regret now), trawling the talipapa, and eating dinner in family restaurants. I remember coming back to work cheered-up, rejuvenated, and strangely empowered. The second time was after a press junket in Paris: I opted to tour solo and stayed in a cheap hostel where the shower was ensuite but was in a teeny-tiny corner of the room and… doorless. I took my showers when my Mexican roommate was asleep.

Now I can’t count how many times I’ve traveled on my own. I’m no adventuress, but I’ve been left stranded on a dark mountain road and had all my belongings taken away from me in Sapa, Vietnam (I’ve conveniently borrowed some details for my book, Miss Makeover!), relentlessly chased by an amorous Italian in Rome, and gotten involved in a nerve-wracking Rimowa tug-of-war with a stranger in Munich.

But I’ve also had the pleasure of having my Airbnb host (hi Ania!) take me out to a local lunch in Gdansk, having waiters watch out for me in Piran, strictly Spanish-speaking taxi drivers trying their best to help me in Granada. There was even a barman in Amsterdam who asked exactly what time my flight was, so he could remind me to go (in case I get drunk from the pint I was enjoying too much). Strangers, I’ve realized, can be really kind.

When I think of these moments, I’m filled with all kinds of positive vibes. I laugh at myself — though I also take pride — at how I’ve lugged my big-ass suitcase up eight flights of stairs, on and off train platforms, and to as many ten cities. Best of all? I think I’m slowwwly mastering the delicate art of asking strangers to take my picture!

First Times

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My first time in Saint-Petersburg, Russia

I’m thinking about firsts: the first time I got inspired to write and the first time I realized I wanted to see the world.

I’ve always been a reader, but it wasn’t until I was in Grade 4 that I fell in love, hard, with writing down words. Our English teacher asked us to compose a poem and I tried my hand at writing one about the rain. I enjoyed searching for the right words to make it rhyme (at age nine, it felt that poems just have to) and for it to make sense at the same time. And then I discovered a crumbling old poetry chapbook at home and read and re-read that along with my growing stash of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High books. Along the way, I decided to keep a diary and I still remember the first one: small, thick and pink, with a (kinda useless) lock on the cover.

I ended up writing for a living, first as a lifestyle writer for TODAY where I wrote lengthy features on everything from food, travel, fashion, arts, and… showbiz. I also still remember my very first time at a press lunch, in a posh Makati restaurant for an Italian fashion brand. I couldn’t get enough courage to ask my question and didn’t utter a word during the whole thing, that the host asked if I was sick!

I eventually found myself writing and editing in women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan, Preview and Harper’s Bazaar. I got lucky and was asked by Summit Books to write my first chick-lit book, No Boyfriend Since Birth. I remember the surreal feeling when I got a call from Unitel, who told me they were considering it for a movie. It was eventually made into a short TV series for TV5. When I moved to Singapore, I had the good fortune of working with Marshall Cavendish who published my novel, Budget is the New Black. Now, I just finished my fourth novel, Miss Makeover, and I’ll be telling you more about that soon!

Traveling wasn’t really new to me. My parents were from the Visayas, so I was already doing airplane rides as a toddler to visit relatives in Iloilo. Because my dad was in the military, I distinctly remember summer vacations in Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, and Tawi-Tawi.

But I was twenty-two when I had my first trip out of the country. I had finally scrounged up enough money for an uber-cheap, buy-one-take-one ticket to Hong Kong. I traveled with my best friend, and we flew to Hong Kong without any hotel booking whatsoever. We ended up using a payphone in the airport and found a spartan room in the notorious Chungking Mansions.

Being my first time in a foreign country, I was ignorant of the very basic things, like dressing right for the weather (it was chilly when we got there, but I’d only packed T-shirts and sleeveless tops) and using pedestrian lanes — I crossed anywhere and at anytime, until my friend had to hold me back. We unwisely spent most of our time shopping for cheap clothes, missing out on the sights. It would be years before I’d see the famous Victoria Peak for the first time!

I love ruminating on these innocent firsts. It reminds me why I choose to continue writing even if I sometimes want to give up, and makes me creative on the ways I can see the world, even when at first, it didn’t seem at all possible.