Although it’s still debated which country invented karaoke (an abbreviated compound word meaning “empty orchestra” in Japanese), a Filipino was definitely the first to patent it in 1975. And in my brief Filipino travels, Cebu City proved to be a legitimate karaoke capital. All the singing footage in "Filipino Flair" was taken in Cebu City or on Cebu Pacific Air. These Visayans don’t shy away from live performance.
Cebu City, known as the "Queen City of the South,” is the fifth-largest city of the Philippines with around some 800,000 ang mga tawo. Its residents speak Cebuano, one of the eight major dialects spoken in the Philippines, as well as the Tagalog and English that all Filipinos learn in school.
It’s a place reminiscent of many parts in Southeast Asia, as you walk past roosters roaming, or caged, on the street. It’s reminiscent of towns in Spain when you pass tiny bakeries like Muy Bien – just one of the numerous influences of Spain’s first permanent Filipino settlement here in 1565. Hop into one of the ever-present American jeeps left over from WWII, known as “jeepneys”, and arrive at IT Park. You’ll find yourself in an American setting surrounded by 25-plus-storied condominiums and smart, trendy restaurants - it seems just a matter of time before 7-Elevens start popping up.
My plans fall through to go to Kawasan Falls on my second day. Cebu City offers other enticing day trips: the islands of Bohol and their Chocolate Hills, the Mactan Islands’ beautiful beaches or numerous diving spots. But I don’t have time for that. My goal is to take a walk through history here in downtown Cebu City.
“You shouldn’t go down there, especially with your nice camera. It’s dangerous,” is the reply I get from more than a few locals. But all I really need is one person to confirm what I want to do.
Instead of feeling danger as I meander the streets past the Magellan Cross, Fort San Pedro and other historical landmarks, I ask three ladies to watch my Nikon D40x camera and mobile phone while I join in a pick-up basketball game. It’s the first time I’ve played full-court basketball in sandals and the first time that I’m forced to be a center, not a guard – talk about foreign.
After two games, complete with friendly pushes, competition and a crowd looking on, I graciously thank my camera guardians and I’m off.
About a block away from my hostel, a security guard (with a semi-automatic weapon hanging on his shoulder) waves at me and says, “Hi Dominic!” I briefly met him two days earlier, and the guy remembers my name. It’s a perfect end to a beautiful day hanging with the Cebuanos.
I’ve been in contact with the Cebu Couchsurfing community for over a month, starting back in the States. It’s a community of extremely open and helpful people living in Cebu. Turns out that on my last day a booze cruise has been organized.
It’s a boat of about 40 individuals, mostly locals with a mix of foreigners. Ages range from 21 to 42, and we’re all there to do one thing: have fun. It’s the Filipino way – smile, emit positive vibes, drink up, and of course, sing. Forty strangers effortlessly turn into forty friends of mine just five and a half hours later.
My Cebu mission is now complete. Time for some AA BBQ, a few more drinks, and some sleep for my flight to Manila tomorrow…