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Six Months After in Cebu March 25, 2008

Posted by Janjan in cebuano, Seriously now….

This is reposted from my friend Jeneen’s Multiply blog: http://neenerish.multiply.com/reviews/item/12. Jeneen used to live in Cebu and wrote for one of our local dailies. This is one of her best pieces, which I’ve always loved the first time I’ve read it.


I should have known moving to Cebu would be anything but normal.

Twenty minutes into my six-month stay here, I found myself standing by a grassy embankment a few hundred meters from the Mactan airport, dumped by an irate taxi driver when I refused to pay the P150-fixed charge to my boarding house in Gorordo. I tried to keep my righteously disdainful look on, but it was hard with rain dripping from my hair. It seemed the city hated me at first sight.

Cebu, I soon found out, had a secret language all its own—I was doomed to getting dumped on some nameless road unless I learned it. No way was I standing on that embankment ever again.

I resolved that my first lesson in the language was to find my way around. I’ve never seen a map of the city, but I paid attention when my Cebuano friends toured me those first few weeks. Despite my poor sense of direction, I began to notice that Cebu’s streets make no sense at all.

Driving down the twisting streets that defied planning logic, we would end up back where we started by going in the direction away from it. On the other hand, supposedly parallel streets would lead to opposite sides of town.

Traffic flows in at least 10 different directions at the Gorordo and Mango intersection. Only one traffic light acts as referee. In any other city in the world, it would be a pedestrian’s nightmare. But not in Cebu where jaywalking is a foreign word.

At least four streets are named Osmeña in this city alone—Osmeña Boulevard at the Capitol, S. Osmeña along the pier, E. Osmeña in Banawa, J. Osmeña near Mango—even a Fuente Osmeña rotunda where the traffic routes are crazier than at the aforementioned intersection. Curiously enough, I’ve never met a Cebuano who confuses any of the streets.

Having a car is one matter, commuting another.

My first weekend, I decided I wanted house supplies from SM. I asked my neighbor for directions since all my Cebuano friends were out. “Take the 13C to Ayala,” she said, “You’ll find the right jeep from there.”

Not knowing what a 13C was, I took the first jeep I saw and said I wanted to go to Ayala. All the passengers vainly tried to hide their laughter. A kind soul said Ayala was “duol na”, and pointed to some vague, opposite direction. This jeep would take me to Colon, he said, where I could get a ride to SM. Who would have thought even Cebu’s jeeps had an alienating code?

It wasn’t long, though, before these oddities began to fascinate instead of baffle me. The crazy streets to me now are like secret passageways that somehow all lead to my street. It delights me that every road is connected to every other road, no matter how inconceivable it seems. I relish giving out jeepney codes like a natural when a stranger asks for directions.

And it didn’t surprise me to see bars and restaurants popping up everywhere when the national economy was supposedly at its worst—Cebu is a city you accept, not attempt to understand. Until you know this, you can never fully appreciate its charm.

I should have known it from the way I got out of that first sticky situation.

There I was, alone on the highway, with nothing but my staunch principles, a suitcase, and a box of worldly possessions at my feet. I was getting wetter by the minute and no passing car seemed to care.

Suddenly, rounding the bend was an empty taxi that stopped in front of me. The driver agreed that I pay by the meter. Exhausted, I exchanged only a few words with him, who thankfully did not force a conversation.

When we got to the boarding house, the driver even helped me carry my things! I couldn’t believe my change of fortune. I made a mental note to thank him profusely after paying my fare. As I opened my mouth to say “Salamat”, he stopped me with a barely audible yet definite “I love you”.

I couldn’t say anything, and he didn’t wait for my reaction. He simply rode off in his white taxi, never to be seen again.

No matter that my knight in armor looked like a cross between the April Boys and the Reycards, complete with longish hair, an earring, and oversized shades. He is ultimate proof that Cebu does love me—in its own unpredictable, often irrational, but always, always endearing way.



1. batang buotan - April 3, 2008

It pains me to know that someone had experienced those things in Cebu. On contrary, Cebu loves me – very much. And thanks God, I never feel that I’m not welcome here.

2. northwolf - April 4, 2008

Hehehe… thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂 Cebu always welcomes its visitors, albeit in its own way.

3. leylander - May 23, 2008

this is so awesome. cebu is different. true. but you’ll love it, nevertheless. and it loves you.

i love you too! hehehe. 🙂

4. linea777 - May 23, 2008

Really nice story… It sure did make me smile. Thanks!

5. Jerald - August 15, 2008

That was hilarious. Anyway, primary sources for information is very important. You can’t expect a city, more than 300 years old would fit a perfectly logically planned city. I know the place, but I don’t even know the names of the streets. Taxi’s I find are the best way of transport in Cebu when you don’t know where you are going – just say the name of place and they know it. I love Cebu.

6. propetang botboton - October 13, 2009

salamat – i love you
oh God, i love the taxi driver….. he’s driving me crazy

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