I arrived at Cebu’s airport, which is located on the Mactan island where Ferdinand Magellan introduced Christianity in the Philippines in 1521, and where he found his demise, killed by local chieftain Lapu-lapu in the Battle of Mactan.
A taxi took me over the bridge, connecting Mactan to the rest of Cebu, and we went through busy Lapu-lapu City with its many packed jeepneys. After 45 minutes, I arrived at Cebu City, where I checked into a nice budget hotel, and ventured out into the city.
The jeepneys are again the most convenient (and cheapest) way to get around town, although it is a little difficult to find out which one will get you closest to the place or street you want to go though (although everyone is very eager to help, fellow passengers erupting in a heated discussion on what is the easiest way for me reach my destination). Unlike in Manila, here in Cebu, sometimes a husband and wife operate the jeepney, with the husband driving and the wife sitting in the back, collecting the fare. My fellow passengers usually have a towel or small piece of cloth, to deal with either sweat or the pollution, as the jeepney continues its journey, stopping frequently to let passengers on or off.
Cebu City’s Colon Street is reportedly the oldest street in the Philippines, and boy, it sure shows. The buildings are dark grey, sometimes completely black from all the pollution, as the wide street is busy with traffic, many jeepneys, cars, trucks, and taxis. On the side of the road, vendors are selling fruit, watches and clothing, next to big, old-fashioned shopping malls, fast food restaurants and cinemas. In the evening, when the vendors have closed their stalls, the homeless take their place, sleeping on the concrete in front of the closed doors of the shopping malls.
The northern part of Cebu City couldn’t be more diffferent, with luxury hotels, relatively expensive bars and restaurants, and modern shopping malls. To the northeast, adjacent to slums, lies an affluent, gated area, aptly named Beverly Hills, where the rich of Cebu reside in their large villas or luxurious apartment complexes, as always with security guards present. In this part of the city, up in the hills, a Taoist temple is located, painted in white with red and green decorations, a dragon on the roof, porcelain statues of bearded men inside. In the main temple, a board provided instructions on how to get answers from God to all your questions, by throwing wooden kidney-shaped blocks on the floor. The position in which they ended up would represent a “Yes", “No", or a frustrating “Maybe". Outside, a well-kept garden, and a nice view of Cebu City in the distance, with many ships sailing to its busy port.
I met some Korean students, who were studying English for up to six months in Cebu City. Never say South Korea - there is only Korea and then that isolated country to the north, with its dictatorial regime. Explaining which country I am from is easy. “Do you know Guus Hiddink?", I ask them. Their face brightens immediately as they exclaim “Aah! Hiddinku! He’s our hero!” [ Hiddink was the Dutch football coach who led the Korean 2002 World Cup team to the best ever showing by an Asian country in the tournament’s 72-year history. He now has, for instance, a stadium named after him, the Guus Hiddink Stadium in Gwangju ] The students introduced me to Korean cuisine, pork belly (which coincidentally also is a Filipino favorite), which you cook yourself with onions and garlic on a hot plate. We had a very spicy vegetable mix called Kim Chi, and a very nice alcoholic (almost vodka-like) drink called So ju. We discussed Korean and Dutch culture, the influence of Confucianism in Korean culture, and the change in customs and values for Korea’s younger generation (with for instance, the abandonment of arranged marriages). As they had been in Cebu City for a while, they showed me around to nice places, including a lovely coffee shop called “Off Roads Coffee", where you sip your coffee on the roof, under the stars.
After a couple of days enjoying this nice city, I would continue on to another part on the island of Cebu, the small town of Moalboal, as I was looking forward to finally doing my first scuba diving in the Philippines.