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.

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