*This was the piece I read for the Folk Fiction x Cebu Literary Festival in Ayala over the weekend. Hope you enjoy it.
First of all, thank you Hendri for the opportunity to speak in LitFest, I just want to let you know that it’s an honor to be here, but at the same time, also incredibly scary.
The only direction Hendri gave me was to write something with a Cebu angle. I proceeded to make a list of potential titles that included topics like Cebu’s drinking culture, the differences between living in Madrid and Cebu, being in a band in Cebu, and so on. The topic that eventually stuck was, “Why do I like living here in Cebu?” This one struck a chord and turned out to be much more difficult to write than expected – mostly because I didn’t know the answer.
Like many of you, I have plenty of friends and relatives who have decided to leave Cebu for better opportunities. Many of my best friends have moved on to new lives far from Cebu. You can’t blame them. It’s hard to compete against a high paying job, a less frustrating government, a cleaner city… I could go on and on. This begs the question, “Why are we still here?” I can’t answer that for you, but I’ll make an attempt to explain why I chose to live here in Cebu.
Te Echo De Menos
After graduating college, I moved to Madrid, Spain to teach English. Looking back, it was a great experience. Although I didn’t love my job, it allowed for plenty of free time to explore the city. Life was good. I met new people, tried new things and made more than enough money to satisfy my fresh out of college needs. Living away from home has its fair share of personal benefits – a new perspective and an open mind are just the tip of the iceberg.
But there was something missing. Every night before sleeping, I found myself scouring the internet for Cebu blogs and forums. Istorya.net, I’m looking at you. This was before Facebook and the proliferation of social media. I missed home. I was itching to speak Bisaya. I listened to Urbandub over and over again. I corresponded with my family. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t until I got back home, when I realized what I missed the most.
I missed being able to easily connect with people.
Allow me a short explanation. In Spain, it was difficult to strike up a conversation with random people. Not only was there a language barrier, but there were cultural barriers as well – little things that we don’t notice until they aren’t there. Jokes that worked in Cebu did not go over well in Spain. Connections with other people weren’t the same. Honestly, this likely says more about me than anything.
Story of a Taxi Driver
A few months ago, back here in Cebu, I was taking a taxi and I struck up a conversation with the driver. His name was Arthor. He started out as a tricycle driver then moved on to renting a cab. Most taxi drivers in Cebu don’t own their cabs. They usually pay a daily fee to the cab owner. Arthor eventually saved up enough money to buy his own taxi cab.
As he was bringing me to my destination, I was surprised to hear him talk about the virtues of hard work and being smart with money. He had been driving a taxi for twenty two years. Every day, he would wake up at 5am to catch the morning rush of commuters and work till he filled up his daily quota. He knew how much he had to make every day in order to feed his family, maintain his car and even save for the future. On good days, he was done by 8pm. On slow days, he was forced to stay out later than he wanted. Not only was he motivated to get home early to see his family, but he wanted to avoid the evenings. That’s when less desirable costumers like drunk college kids, hold uppers and delinquents tended to use taxis. Driving a taxi was his business.
Arthor told me about his family. His wife stays home to do odd jobs and to take care of the two kids. His oldest just finished college and his second is about to start. His nephew recently started driving a cab. Arthor saw to it that he teach his nephew the ins and outs of this business.
Not once did I hear Arthor complain about his life. I’m sure he had plenty to complain about, but it seemed to me that he accepted his circumstances and found ways to make the best out of it and even thrive.
Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone is like this. Another taxi driver I met needs a one liter Red Horse bottle every night so he can sleep. His story didn’t inspire me as much. Arthor’s story lingered in my mind longer than I thought it would. I listened to a man who, despite the problems in the Philippines, decided to make a life here. No matter how hard it turned out to be. His story showed me that it was possible to put your head down and do the work. He may not have a lavish life, but it was an honest one.
This brings us back to the question, “Why do I like living here in Cebu?” I can give you plenty of on the surface answers like – my family is here, I met my wife here, I like the small town atmosphere, the beach is a short drive away, I enjoy running into interesting people in coffee shops, a quick beer with a friend is a phone call away, the generally sunny weather, etc.
You would be surprised to hear that it isn’t like that in many places. In bigger cities like Madrid, if you need to take three trains to a destination, you are not likely to want to go. This makes a quick beer with friends in the other side of town a bit difficult.
In the end, I realized that I like being able to connect with people. Just being able to talk to anybody and have an instant connection, a connection that can only apply to people of the same hometown.
Stories like Arthor’s are everywhere. Not just in Cebu, but having grown up here, I feel like I’m in a position to better find those stories.