A broken heart and an empty pocket are indeed the best reasons for change. I learned this back in 2014 when I committed several mistakes.
Four years ago around December, I was evicted and had to say goodbye to everything that I owned.
Yes, you read it right. This is a story that I have not dared to tell anyone. Why? Shame stopped me.
As an idealist and an eternal perfectionist, I found it as a hard pill to swallow. Yet it is a part of my past that I look back to not in bitterness but in bliss.
There are usually two perpetrators that creates change in a person’s life, one is voluntary and the other one is compulsory.
As I continued living my big city adventure, I haphazardly decided to devout more time for a relationship, one that I thought was worth throwing everything all away. Little did I know, this choice would bring my worst downfall. No year can ever compare to 2014, for the moment at least, when I took a crazy plunge and fell hard in a deep ravine.
Half blind, I woke up too late from a dream and realising I have made a nightmare.
2014 started quite promising, I just had a major victory winning the first placement for Philippines in Miss SCUBA International. My aim was to take a year off to go full-time on volunteering for causes that I believed in. So I packed my backpack to join an acquaintance on a rebuilding effort in Bantayan Island, Cebu.
I stayed with a local family along with the other volunteers I met during the Typhoon Haiyan evacuation operations at Villamor Airbase. We stayed for about a week then decided we needed to go back. I confidently left a small amount of money to donate for the boats being built by the Bantayan Back to Sea. After spending a big part of my prize money to the cause, we ended up crashing my sister’s place in Cebu as we booked a ticket on the ferry to head back to Manila. Weeks later, we found out that the volunteer who initiated the fundraising scammed us. Joshua Magalong (not certain til this day if this was his real name) ended up stealing the funds we raised, taking my personal donation with him.
Brokenhearted, I decided to stop volunteering for a months focusing on trying to earn money to cover for a contract that I signed up for without knowing the financial burden it placed on me. This contract I signed because I wanted to live with a guy I dated which I found out months after was still seeing his ex girlfriend but since I signed a year-long contract with my name on it, I had to deal with it. I would spend weekends at least 8 hours in summer wear in different computer stores in different malls promoting a certain brand of laptops just to make enough money to pay for rent because I decided that freelance work was better and event modelling would be enough.
May came and I ended up in another relationship that seemed promising. I would spend more time with this person than focusing on making a living to the point of cooking breakfast and lunch daily while trying to get booked for events. I even ended up being a stunt double in one of the local movies.
By the end of November, I was flat broke. Despite my mother’s financial assistance it was not enough. The same month the ex boyfriend left to return to his country and I barely heard from him. He also had his own battles and was still adjusting to life after internship. From then on, it just went downhill. I went out with friends who were promoters and compensated badly. I reached my point of desperation where I could not make any good decisions. I still tried to raise money through side gigs and even putting all my money to compete in an International Competition in China.
I remember the day of my flight, my landlady already gave me a notice for eviction and so I had to leave early for them not to notice. I brought all my stuff and only had enough money to cover for the travel tax. I had to take the bus with all the luggage and walk to the international terminal from the bus stop just because I was low in cash.
I made it to Shenzhen because the modelling agency covered for all my expenses. I would do my best for the next ten-day to compete and be the top candidate. While competition I had gotten a blister which worsened to a full on infection. My left foot was swollen but I could not afford to fail. The girls saw me limping but when I was on stage, I smiled like it did not matter. I had my eyes on the prize. This was my last chance to win a good amount of money to payback my mother and the rent. However, the competition turned out to be fixed and was already planned. I went back to Philippines with worse depression, I did not know what to do. It was almost Christmas and about two days after I took with me a small bag to go with a couchsurfer to walk around Binondo when I went back to my apartment, they asked me to leave.
For Christmas eve, I was homeless but I could not afford to tell anyone else apart from my family. My mother scolded me and told me she would be okay if I got sent in jail. For days, I would just walk around the mall and luckily a friend offered a place for me to sleep. No one knew that I have no other place to go. I just kept pretending everything was okay. I would just sit for hours at the park crying and thinking why I ended up like this. It was only until my sister called saying that she was sending money that I found hope. This is how I ended up in Tacloban. With the little money sent to me, I bought a couple of pieces of clothing and a knock off North Face backpack. On the day that I was about to leave, I made a resolution to let go of everything in Manila. To forget the hurt, the lies and the life. I wanted to rewrite every failure and start to rebuild my life.
“…throw roses into the abyss and say: ‘here is my thanks to the monster who didn’t succeed in swallowing me alive.”
Nothing like a quiet drive around Siargao Island to clear the mind and reconnect with nature!
This is one of my favourite things to do when in Siargao. The minute I arrive in General Luna, I pick up a semi-automatic motorcycle from a local shop. They already know me well that I just send them a message and they already prepare the board rack and my essentials.
WHAT ABOUT MOTORCYCLES?
As a teenager, my mother never wanted me to learn how to drive a motorcycle because she knew I always did insane stunts from climbing our balcony, sliding down trees with the use of a bamboo pole and even standing on hammocks pretending to surf.
LEARNING TO DRIVE
I followed my mother’s advice and stayed away from driving motorcycles but growing up seeing Jessica Alba as Dark Angel looking all cool, the idea never left my mind. During my volunteer trip to Tacloban, I was riding at the back while we visited different spots. One of the unforgettable and probably the most painful in the butt was when we decided to go to Biliran and chase waterfalls. The trip took more than 3 hours being on the motorbike however the scenery and the perfectly paved roads. I have been at the backseat most of the time enjoying the breeze, and checking out the scenery. I love the feeling I get from adrenaline rush that speed gives me. After I ended my volunteer work, I had a relationship with a guy who also loved weekend adventures and it was with him that I decided to stop being fearful and learned to drive.
Luckily I knew already how to balance and ride a bicycle so I started learning basics driving an automatic scooter. It has been three years since I mustered the courage to drive and it was at Camiguin, then I tried again in Siquijor and Southern Leyte. My third time would be in Siargao alone. My first trip to Siargao, I was just riding with people from the hostel but I realised how limited I was. I decided to rent a scooter on my own. I was driving at 30KPH, slowly and surely, I got the hang of it. After that trip, I returned with more confidence and with the supportive locals, I was encouraged to try the Honda XRM. It was not as intimidating as I first imagine it to be but definitely exposure to rough terrain and the need to see more of the island forced me to toughen up!
I am a worrier and it usually does not help you. I remember my first bad turn, how I drove to the other end of a street just because I was so bad with turning on sharp curves. I would give up driving the scooter and asking my bf then to drive but after we broke up, I had no one to drive for me! It was May 2017 when my first main accident happened. I ended up with several burns in my right leg after a bad turn on our way to Magpupungko Rock Pool. I noticed the junction late and tried to turn quickly but I ended up in the rocky portion and panicked so instead of slowing down, I revved up! The worse part is that I have high pain tolerance so I thought when I fell over it was just a bit warm from the metal absorbing the heat from the sun, it turns out, my leg was against the engine! Fortunately, I was with my good German Couchsurfing friend Yasha who was also a nurse so we drove a couple of meters to find ice and guess what? I still surfed that day!
The next motorcycle accident that spooked me well was the recent one earlier this year, I was driving on my way to Salvacion a surf spot in Pilar. I decided to go ahead of everyone to save time and just wait for the rest there. Everything was going well until I reached one rocky area and the board rack snapped. The surfboard was starting to go up and my reflex was to hold on to the board, I ended up hitting my head on the ground and having a couple of scratches in the legs. It reminded me of my stupidity of not only putting more concern over the board than my own safety but also of not wearing helmets. It was a good location for the board rack to snap though because there were several locals on a break from the road construction. They helped me pick myself up and tie the board rack back to the motorcycle. Despite this I still decided to drive ahead despite terrible road condition. It was my last day in the trip and I wanted to leave the island stoked. The locals who saw me driving to the spot would look and think how crazy I am to be bleeding and still want to surf.
On Being A Mermaid on a Motorcycle
It was in Siargao where I learned the most because of the offbeat trails that have either mud or huge rocks. It was because of my love for the island life that I conquer my fear given to me by my mother after here motorcycle accident. I do understand the dangers that comes with it but it does come also with freedom. The freedom to breakthrough terrible traffic or even just simply the feeling you get while driving through beautiful landscapes. Women riding motorcycles is still uncommon in the country. I had one chat with an Angkas driver and he told me out of all the drivers in Cebu there were only 2 female Angkas drivers. There is still a stigma about women doing dangerous stuff. For decades, riding motorcycles have been considered more of a guy thing. However, we are not at a period where the disparity between men and women as growing thinner.
Despite the accidents and norms involved in riding motorcycles, I bought my electric scooter just last year. Now, I not only drive around the island but also through Cebu City. I learned how to drive in between cars and other hacks for driving in the city just like how Angkas drivers do.
To me being an autodidact is quite rewarding, I went from noob to confident rider and knowing that somehow when I drive a motorcycle men will turn their heads and think:
” She can definitely drive.”
I am indirectly changing norms that motorcycles are just for men and encouraging more women to do the same.
In the end, you can basically learn and change anything in this world with the right motivation and a whole lot of grit.
What have you pushed yourself to learn or change recently?
Helplessness and hopelessness, all spring from the perceived absence of choice.
For years, I’ve resigned control over my life to a lot of external factors. I grew up used to an oppressive culture that has long pervaded my country. It is the worst kind of poverty. Poverty of the mind robs you of the opportunity to live fully. As a victim of your own thoughts, you end up closing more doors than opening possibilities.
We were not well off when I was a kid. We had instances where we only had rice mixed with soy sauce. I could not get the toys that I wanted each time, I had to wait for birthday and Christmas. We were not extremely poor but back then even having a meal in Jollibee was already considered a luxury. My parents were earning just enough to sustain three children.
I had big dreams as a ten year old kid, I wanted to own a social enterprise so I could employ people and be able to support their children to get good education but to me it would only just be a distant dream.
The bullying during elementary also did not help either. It greatly affected my confidence and stopped me from taking a bunch of opportunities. I would always tell myself, “You are not good enough and you will just mess it up.” I kept on telling this regularly that it became a daily negative mantra.
It was not until I reached breaking point when I reached the age of 22. Yes 22! I was already a thesis away from finishing my masters degree in Medical Surgical Nursing and had just quit my mediocre job working as a company nurse where I got paid a measly net pay of P 7,500 per month. This job required me to spend almost 20 hours of my day including 4 hours of travelling back and forth without travel allowance.
I got tired of the repeating ordeal. I did not love what I was doing and it felt very much like being alive and yet dead. What I did first was go for event modelling, I remember by first gig in Bantayan where I got paid about P 6,000 per day, it was not the best promotional work either as it was for a cigarette company but this small change influenced me a lot. I started gaining more power on my own life.
The biggest decision came when I took the time to think about my past as a kid and constantly saw that I always had a knack for seeing opportunity and making a business out of it but I thought to myself that enrolling again in university is not only costly but also time consuming with this I came up with my own hack. Learn business in real time and in reality. I luckily managed to get a position for a start-up run by three expats and this has helped me gone from just another victim to someone who actual had control over her life. I stopped being influenced by circumstances and started creating my own realities. It is not a perfect journey though but I am glad that now I know that I always have a choice on whatever happens to my life. Getting much inspiration from the first few people who believed in me, led me as well to pay it forward to others. I am glad that I have also given opportunities to others to be captains of their own fates. I am nowhere near my biggest plan but I am moving forward, no longer a victim but a victor.
When did you last made a choice for yourself? Are you still a victim or have you already converted into a victor?
When I moved out of our HR officer’s flat, I ended up renting at Kalayaan area it was basically the outskirts of Bonifacio Global City.
Just a couple of meters away from the posh bubble lies a cluster of houses clumped together. This is where the middle class and slum people mingle by day and stay at night.
My office, about 300 meters away.I rented a bunk bed in small room about 15 sq.m. Inside this little wooden room were three other girls. They, like me, were also starting out their careers in Manila. I would like to think of us all as predominantly provincial and naive girls, what we had in common though, is the need to change the course of our lives.
Jenifer, was a working student from Bulacan, she worked for GIZ in the morning as an office assistant while taking up night high school in La Salle as a scholar.
Meanwhile Ma-ann, a Bicolana accountant from Sorsogon was just starting out as a bookkeeper in Ford while saving up to afford finishing her course and licensure examination to be a certified public accountant. She stayed in the room together with her cousin, Elvie, who was also working for a different company.
I was the last addition to the group. It was my first time renting out a small bed in a humid room without any real windows. Smaller than 22 square meters, I remembered feeling still claustrophobic though lesser than the past year. See it was finally a month since I ended up living with our human resource manager after my talent manager deserted me in the apartment all alone in Quezon City. I doubt that I could get any more concerned about space after literally sleeping in one bed with our HR manager. She was the only person I knew after the only people I know left without telling me. They did not even give me the talent fee for the beauty competition. After finding this out, indeed, as a girl from a smaller city, I worried. I worried not only a little but a lot! I swore to my mother that it would be a great idea to learn business in the craziest city in the Philippines.
After making myself comfortable in the small room, I started talking more to Jenifer and Ma-Ann. Since we did not earn much, we would spend our nights buying a small serving of friend noodles. I would get the one that comes with two dumplings and save the two dumplings to pair with rice the next day. As a new employee, I had a smaller salary which was just enough to pay for everything.
I remember those times that with them, we would pretend to make it big. We would just spend our free time jogging around Bonifacio Global City, a bubble like no other in the Philippine. This place feels like Singapore to me always. I started founding groups that would give me part-time job as an event model. I tried to do as much side gig to supplement the income to cover all the expenses I had. The other girls were the same, we would do our own laundry and look for the cheapest meals.
Sometimes we try to imagine how life would be once we become successful. We went on sharing so many moments together. One day, I got tickets for a fashion show and knowing how extremely timid Jenifer and Ma an we’re, I knew it would help them be extra confident and courageous so I let them wear some dresses and made them all up. It was such a fun night with them. We felt like we were the girls from Sex and The City and I thought Carrie Bradshaw would’ve been proud of me.
After all the bonding time and Ate Elvie left, we decided to rent a different place because we became fed up with the landlady. We all slept on the floor with mattresses that were too thin just like having a thin sheet of cloth over a wooden floor.
After a couple of months of living in one small room together, we parted ways. Ma Ann found a place with a relative, Jenifer continued her studies and me, after being robbed by a guy with a knife near the area, decided to move with other friends from Couchsurfing.
Fast forward to 2018, Ma Ann got married last 2017 to her long time boyfriend and is employed in a good company. I met Jenifer over coffee in Cebu, she is working for GIZ the German organisation who also got her to fly to Germany for some training. I on the other hand, ended back in Cebu running a coworking space.
I still get updates from them over FB, I haven’t seen Ma Ann since we partied ways while Jenifer have gone to Cebu a couple of times and we would play catch up on what’s new with her. It really is different when you live with people for quite sometime, they also become a part of your history and these two girls will always be part of my motivation and a daily reminder that ambition with passion can really get you far. It is always interesting to see people evolving and how persistence is paying off for those with dreams. We were just a bunch of naive girls who were brave enough to go after our dreams and rewrite our story from victims of scarcity to victors of opportunities.