Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cebu One - Getting Rained Out in the Queen City of the South

I consider myself a Cebu denizen though I wasn't born here. But my mother was. As a timid college student, she met my father here, then they moved away elsewhere. Started from literal scratch, slates all cleared. Growing up, I was weaned on stories about this city, and this current visit isn't my first, or second, or third. I have been here several times. I even featured Camotes Island in in-depth posts. But Camotes isn't Cebu City.

Most times when I am here, I lazily navigate between the hotel and the malls so nothing much differentiates it from my Manila existence. One night, I realized I know more about Bangkok, Vientiane, Hanoi, Delhi, or Phnom Penh than Cebu. And that doesn't sound right.

But the very moment my 1 hour flight from Manila touched down Mactan Island's wet tarmac, a gentle drizzle had materialized from the heavily peppered cumulo-nimbus clouds in the sky. It wasn't a good start, to be honest. I took the airport taxi (yellow cars), which was a mistake since it starts with P70 then charges P4 every 300 meters. I wanted the white public taxis but for some reason, I ended up at a different booth. Dang!


This ride snaked through unbearable traffic jams. I was impatient because Cebu was never like this. What should have been an easy 20 minutes took 45, and since this isn't my first time, I wasn't pleased. By the time I reached Pacific Pensionne at Osmena Avenue, the meter had reached P330. Adding insult to injury, the driver told me that he doesn't have a P20 change. Readings in LP reveal that this is a common practice among Cebu drivers. They refuse to give change (in the guise of having none to dispense) - thus tourists should prepare exact change. Imagine if I had a thousand bucks. But what is P20, right? Fact is, I want the prerogative to offer the meager change to drivers. It was mine to give after all. What's worse, I didn't even hear a "thank you" or a smile.


An hour after I deposited my bag in my room (318), I headed toward the roundabout, Fuente Osmena Circle (where it's a death-defying act to merely cross the street). One general observation: Cebu has indeed some of the country's prettiest girls. Though the Philippines is an economic laggard (compared to her Asian neighbors), good looks spill over every nook and cranny. And Cebu even fares better than average. This surfeit of beauty is noticeable as you navigate around the semi-cosmopolitan streets. Another unsavory observation: Cebu City, despite its economic gains, remains to be the Homeless Children Capital of the Philippines.


If you roam its streets, you will find children begging for food whether you're in Jones (Osmena Ave.) or in chaotic Colon (the country's oldest and first ever official street). What's more alarming is, you find these children mostly asleep most of the day. I'd be happy to see them begging as this would mean they're alive. What squeezes my heart strings is seeing many of them stuporous in the midst of all the congestion.

I found a child is such state near Osmena Circle. I'm told that these hungry children resort to sleep to get through hunger pains. Isn't that sad? As knee jerk reaction, I bought P50 worth of bread and went back to where the child was hunched in deep slumber. I nudged him thrice, and he wouldn't wake up. If that isn't a scary realization, I dunno what is. I just left his bread beside him, praying he'd wake up with food by his chest. Where is Cebu's Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) , and why are these children largely ignored or abandoned?


I passed by a DVD stall, a Rizal Museum, Cebu Doctor's, Red Ribbon, a couple of Jollibees and a buffet restaurant (all-in at P189). Along the way, I consumed a P10 maruya (fried banana), P35 giant "mangga Cebu", and a piece of pineapple-filled Bavarian donut with iced coffee at P40. These were rest stops as I braved the city sidewalks in torrential rains. There were puddles and incipient stages of flooding. What was my emerging impression of the northern city limits?

Disappointing! I was holding on to a stick from my banana, waiting to find a garbage bin. But 4 blocks later, the stick was still in my hand. I noticed newly installed concrete boxes, with rubbles of blocks just thrown beside the work area. Work in progress? It's a convenient rationalization, but under torrents of rain, the sidewalk is a veritable mud walk, uneven, puddly, litter-filled streets - right in the heart of what should be the Philippines' second most important city. Transient visitors who only have a week or less to check out Cebu would forever think of the place as "ugly". I thought Cebu has embraced modernization to the hilt, including the concept of waste management. I finally saw a green trash bin near Anita's Bakery - the lone symbol of disposal miracle in the whole darn avenue.

One of the hundred homeless children in downtown Cebu. They're not even begging, but you find them asleep all day.

Fuente Osmena Circle: death-defying street crossings

Downpour along Jones, I had to stay put and observe the heavy sputtering of rain for an hour.

Provincial Capitol

I hopped into the Provincial Capitol, gawdily covered with a huge trampoline pictured with people touted as the pride of Cebu (including a bishop, a lawyer, an actress (Gloria Sevilla), The Capitol has always been known for its semblance to the "White House", but on closer examination, stains smudge throughout the building. It is in desperate need of a new paint. This is an image of a robust local economy?

Much later, I trodded back to Osmena Circle and visited Robinson's Department Store - with its three-story white-painted vertical posts. Beautiful! Just outside this edifice are puppy vendors (each one usually priced at P1,500). I saw a Banco de Oro Building, a Robinson's Cybergate, Chong Hua Hospital, and several hotels (including Cebu Midtown Hotel). I stood by the overpass observing the rope slides at the towering Crown Regency.

The Strip, a commercial arcade along Osmena Avenue near the Provincial Capitol.

Another stop, coffee-and-donut break.

BDO Building along Fuente Osmena Circle, just beside Robinson's Cybergate Bldg. A block away is another BDO bank.

Robinson's Place and its immaculate white pillars.

I wanted to check out Maxilom Street (formerly Mango Avenue) until I reached JESA-IT Building that used to house Century-21 Theater. Now, its a shopping arcade on low-ceiling levels (think of a tighter Ali Mall). Nearby stands One Mango Place which has a more relaxed atmosphere - bigger spaces spread out in a 3-story establishment. The shops look new, and the crowd upscale. I checked my mail, which was really an excuse to rest my tired feet. I had been walking all afternoon under the rain. At P40 per hour, the rate at the "Business Center" (2nd floor, near the stairs) is among the country's most expensive internet service, outside hotels.

I didn't want to pay the extra P40 for an extension so I logged out and crossed the street. Opposite One Mango Place was the older arcade called Mango Square (notoriously known as a cruising area). The building is a 3-story unit with wide open spaces, small shops, and very few people. Perfect for cruising? I dunno. It doesn't make sense, when there's few souls around. Fronting Mango Square is National Bookstore. Just beside this is a massage spa and Beats (an entertainment center, a bar with live bands). Just below Beats is LE Internet Cafe where an hour costs P25! That's more like it.

It had been a wet day, and it hasn't been a flattering impression so far. I must have expected too much. This is my Cebu and I was underwhelmed. It must have been the rains; the absence of trash bins; the considerable number of neglected and homeless children. Am I witnessing signs of urban decay?

That's not a good sign.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

One Mango Avenue is a midlevel to upscale commercial complex spread out in two separate complex. This has become a "gimik" place for yuppies and Cebu's vibrant youthful crowd. It has restaurants and fine dines all around, a pricey "Business Center" shop at the 2nd floor, a KTV, etc.

A pizza house at One Mango Avenue. Now renamed Maxilom Avenue, its original moniker (Mango Avenue) was once lined with huge canopied mango trees which has almost been totally obliterated.

JESA IT Building (90 Maxilom Avenue) beside One Mango Avenue. JESA is an acronym of its owner who's a property scion in Cebu. This 5-story commercial property used to house Century 21 Theater ("Tuna University") which has since been demolished.

Mango Square is eerily underpatronized. Despite adequate space, this 3-level arcade has very few shops inside. There's a National Bookstore along Maxilom; a Persian Restaurant and a religious office.

Few shops inside Mango Square.

Beat, a club fronting Mango Arcade (along Maxilom Avenue). Below it is LE Internet Shop which is air conditioned and has affordable rate. On weekends though, you'd have to browse with wall-thumping beats blaring from the club above.

Crown Regency light up the night skyline. Much like downtown KL's Liuli Fountain, this hotel is adorned with changing colors the whole night through.


Ola said...

this is a city of contrasts-modern architecture and so many homeless kids...

eye in the sky said...

It has a lot of character. The history of the Philippines as we know it started here, thus it is historically significant.

Twin said...

One thing I love in Cebu is their deadly chicharon found in Karkar :)

eye in the sky said...

Anything delicious - and high cholesterol, they have it. :)

Ramakrishnan said...

I note the tinge of disappointment with the current state of affairs - Cebu is now a modern urban city & modernization does bring in its wake several shortcomings & disappointments . Thats the way of the modern world. Same story every where even in Coimbatore(Tamilnadu) where I currently live

eye in the sky said...

@ R. Ramakrishnan:

Sadly, I understand what you're saying. That was beautifully said. Very insightful.