Posts Tagged Cebu

For God and Country: Notes on Filipino Nationalism

11 December 2011

Despite my apparent popularity as I walk any street on the isle of Cebu– “hello!” “good morning!” “how are you!”– the white man a has a checkered history in this part of the world. Magellan was the first to arrive in 1521; he was promptly beheaded by Chief Lapu-Lapu, and his crew excused themselves in short order. The next Spaniards arrived some decades later, and had what must have been the surprise of their lives when the native Cebuanos whipped out a figurine of the Santo Niño that Magellan’s crew had left behind in their haste.

Taking it as a sign, apparently, the Spaniards set about their missionary business with diligence, and had a terrific run over the subsequent 300-odd years until William McKinley took the restive Philippines off their hands. Washington was planning to liberate the country until a bevy of Republican Senators intervened and, well, actually maybe we’d better hang on to those islands after all. Following further decades of colonial oppression and attendant rebellion, MacArthur fled before the Japanese, who got their wartime use out of the Philippines most notably as a death-march locale and a favored source for “comfort women.” Then the Americans came back and finally made good on their promise: Filipinos walked free in 1946.

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Hanging out the second story window of a professional development center in Cebu City a banner congratulates “our students who will be leaving to work in the UK and Canada!” It’s a commonly felt sentiment here. “Honestly, there’s nobody in this country who doesn’t look at that and feel some envy,” said my friend Steve (a Filipino). In the Philippines, it seems, there is no higher mark of achievement than to leave the Philippines. The government actively promotes it, urging people to move abroad if they can, and don’t forget to write– overseas Filipinos send home billions of dollars annually, making up a full 10% of the national GDP. Even the Pope has chimed in, discouraging birth control in the Philippines because human bodies are the country’s biggest export. (This in an increasingly overpopulated country: one of the only net rice importers in Asia.) (more…)

Jeepney Ride

5 September 2011

I begin my morning in Cebu City by clambering into the back of a jeepney, the Philippines’ ubiquitous vehicle for public transit. First, as ever, I smash my head on the low roof as I crouch-walk between the benches on either side of the bed. Then I take a seat, and hug my backpack to my chest. When the back of his truck is full to the driver’s satisfaction, he releases the parking break and accelerates into a high-speed slalom down the narrow road winding out of Peace Valley. Chickens, children and dogs dodge the jeepney, and the jeepney itself dodges potholes, low-slung branches and chickens. The passengers are like popcorn kernels.

The original jeepneys were built from the Jeeps left behind by the US military after World War II. The back of the Jeep was sliced off and replaced with an extended bed, and, voila, public transit. There are many jeepneys still on the road today in the same style and construction: they look like junkyard frankensteins, all bulging curves and polished chrome embellishments, soldered together out of obviously mismatched parts, and slathered in whatever colors of paint happened to be available at the time.

The newer jeeps have a boxier, more clean-cut look, but with equally outrageous paint jobs: I’ve seen firebreathing dragons, abstract cubism, and a life-sized Yoda wielding a light saber. Also painted on is the jeepney’s route (e.g. “APAS LAHUG CARBON JONES & vice versa”), and often the name of the driver, or perhaps his boss, or maybe his wife (e.g. “Jose Vincent” or “Ramos Brothers” or “Severina”), and occasionally a total non-sequitur (e.g. “Duran Duran” or “Stairway to Heaven” or “Powered by Linux 2.8!”). (more…)

Cloudburst Refugees

22 August 2011

It’s the rainy season here in Southeast Asia. In practical terms, that means it starts raining every time I walk out of a building. After a vain attempt to leave work on Friday, I spent half an hour stranded under a bus shelter not 40 paces from the front door of the clinic. This was the scene:

New Town, New Faces

27 June 2011

I left the Philippines on Friday five kilos heavier (pork, mostly), one cell phone lighter (sticky-fingered cab driver, probably), and so much the better for a quorum of new friends in Cebu, many of them my colleagues in the fight against dengue fever.

I’m in Bangkok this week, and let me tell you, this city is enormous and the food here is really delicious. Yesterday was the “pre-election day” — one week out from the July 3 poll, those citizens with good cause can cast their vote early.  Over two million people showed up, suggesting very heavy turnout to come on Sunday. Interestingly (at least, interesting to those deleteriously affected, such as myself), the sale of all alcoholic beverages is forbidden on pre-election day, presumably to prevent erroneous ballot-casting. The finer hotels in town to go great lengths to ensure that minibars remain fully stocked; I stuck to some orange drink for the day. (It’s just as well… on a hot evening, a malty Chang Beer can’t compete with a crisp and refreshing San Miguel Pale Pilsen– the choice of the Philippines.)

Here are a few of the characters I met during my first weekend in Bangkok:

Grilled Meat Market

23 June 2011