Monday, 18 June 2012

Cebu, Cebu!

For nearly nine months, Cebu has been home. Now, as we think about heading back to the UK, it is time to remind ourselves how many of the things which have become so familiar are actually so foreign and different; how the street scenes which have accompanied our daily life for the past months are ones of which we may not see the like again, certainly not in the near future, and which are completely alien to many of our friends and family.

Cebu is a city of confusion and contrast.
Overloaded tricycles of questionable road-worthiness jostle for space with sparkling chauffeur-driven four-by-fours. Gated estates of sizeable concrete houses overlook the unstable-looking shacks from where large families spill outside on to the streets. A short walk takes you from air-conditioned shopping malls, a haven from the sun and heat, to outdoor market stalls where waving a plastic bag on a stick keeps the flies away.

It is a city of noise and colour.
Struggling motorcycle engines and a cacophony of horns fill the streets and there is invariably karaoke blaring out from somewhere. Vendors of cigarettes, individual sweets and of course, tropical fruit, brighten the sides of the streets. And then there is the jeepney: noise and colour all rolled into one: with their loud engines and drivers shouting for business and their bright coats of paint with religious images and cartoon characters vying for space.

It is a city of the past and the future.
Cebuanos are proud  of their city's history: the place where the Spaniards first came ashore, planting the first seeds of the Catholicism and bringing the beloved Santo Nino. And the place where the Spaniards were first defeated too, independence dreams before colonialism had a hold. But not far from the 500 year old Magellan's Cross you also see Cebu struggling to find its place in the future: young professionals working late into the night to staff call centres serving the other side of the world; and everybody's fingers permanently glued to a mobile phone.

It is a city of pace and patience.
Always busy, with traffic, with people, Cebu is not a place for staying still, it is a place of movement; but with gridlocked streets and engines too small for the vehicles they propel, it is a place where no-one is going anywhere quickly. It is a place which at first glance might seem in a hurry, but really is taking its time: time to say hello, time to stop and smile.

Cebu is even a city which has its own theme tune (in both English and Cebuano versions). With the Filipinos inveterate love of Karaoke, it is not hard to see where a song like "Cebu, Cebu" came from, and it is a song I have more than once had stuck in my head. I am not sure I complete agree with Dandin Ranillo's assessment that Cebu is "the paradise of the orient" but I salute anyone who thinks that "you can go shopping at Gaisano" (a local shopping mall) and "there's barbecue and puso" (hanging rice) are great lyrics for a song! Maybe, like me, it is trying to sum up something of what this place is like. Maybe it can't. I know I can't.

It is a city of which, even now, I am sure I have barely scratched the surface. It is a city to which, in spite of its poverty and its pollution, its traffic and its turmoil, its frustrations and its failings, I will be sad to say goodbye.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Steph, these reflections and the video give us just a little insight into what life is like in Cebu.So hughely different to life in the UK!! It will surely seem very strange at first when you come back.

    I am sure the community there will miss you and Matthew, as you will miss them but your teaching legacy will hopefully live on.
    It must seem a little like goodbye Cebu, hello Northern Ireland!Let's hope you have an equally rewarding time there.