Hometown: Overstaying in Cebu

Author's family on the terraced garden in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, where the Cebu Portland Cement Company (cepoc) was managed by my dad; Isabel is seated on the lowest step (Photo courtesy of Isabel Taylor Escoda)

Author's family on the terraced garden in Tinaan, Naga, Cebu, where the Cebu Portland Cement Company (cepoc) was managed by my dad; Isabel is seated on the lowest step (Photo courtesy of Isabel Taylor Escoda)

Why Cebu? Friends asked when I told them I was finally leaving Hongkong after almost 40 years not just because of advancing decrepitude, claustrophobia over cramped living, and mental and financial meltdowns. I also cited nostalgia for the old place where my siblings and I grew up in a large house on a hill overlooking the cement plant my father managed, and saying "pastilan!" and "buang-buang!" with childhood chums. But my Hongkong pals asked why not the U.S., where your two daughters are, or the U.K, where your mate comes from; but I said Cebu was where I was born in the last century, which makes it the logical place in which to die in this century, especially since I frequently used to visit my sister and brother before they died. Cebu is also where I often saw old friends, many of whom "passed on" to Vancouver or California or wherever their mates had taken them. So that's my usual reply to that pesky query.

Why Cebu? Well, because I speak the lingo, and interesting stuff goes on here.

For example, over radio (remember that old invention before TV came on the scene?) one hears smarmy salesmen touting the latest herbal potions guaranteed to cure most ills plaguing mankind; you can hear fire-and-brimstone preachers (mostly male) pontificating on how to find eternal life, and commentators (mostly male) backing their favorite politicians' agendas, all the while playing golden oldies from the ‘50s as they air their freaky philosophies, occasionally squeezing in local news reports about shoot-outs between police and drug dealers, accompanied by canned laughter that starts with a sneeze and ends in childish giggles, interspersed with "kadyot lang" pauses for soap and beer ads (which explains the ubiquitous phrase "for a while" that's become part of the Visayan/English lexicon); and you hear birthday greetings to the announcers' family and friends, and joshing about how much "more pun in da Pilipins" but actually sounding like a wish to join relatives in Toronto or Texas; there's absolutely nothing as colorful as all this on KQED, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. or BBC radio.


Why Cebu? Because all things considered, where else can you enhance your English vocabulary by learning to say single, double, “traypol” (for triple), first, second and “turd.”

Why Cebu? Because the future is bright, according to real estate developers, one of whom has broken ground for a 38-storey New York-style condominium named 38 Park Avenue (what else?) due for completion in 2020, by which time I'll be dead (or, as my pals, if still alive themselves, will surely say, "passed away"), not to mention that the drought will be worse than it is now since that commodity has been trucked in to places low and high for decades, by which time it will be interesting to see if they've learned something about water conservation, not to mention hydroponics, the science of growing plants in water instead of soil---a system used in Korea, Japan, China, Spain and Turkey---but not in our own country, a pity because, according to agri-food expert Rolando T. Dy, we rank last among ASEAN nations with "our uncompetitive agriculture and agro-industry business, low farm productivity, poor track record in crop diversification, substandard infrastructure and a weak manufacturing sector that adversely affects exports, neglects research and development" and investor worries who, according to UK-based Capitol Economics, wonder about our politics and chief executive's "abrasive rhetoric and dictatorial tendencies."

Cebu today (Source: Wikipedia)

Cebu today (Source: Wikipedia)

Why Cebu? Because while energy companies keep spinning their wheels promising better services in all sectors, they now say Russian firms "want to explore nuclear energy potential and focus on power generation especially in Mindanao" (a region that academician Flor Temple has called the ‘battleground of empty promises’)," raising hopes that the country will be able to avail of Russia's nuclear industry's products and services in the near (or far?) future; and to rev up more hope, they cite a Marikina consortium which plans to give Danao's paltik cottage industries in Cebu a run for their money with plans to supply, not just guns to individual buyers but also grenades and howitzers to military agencies. All good news for the administration who thirsts for more fire-power to get rid of terrorists and, while it’s at it, wannabe Clint Eastwood types and the odd criminal gangs.

Why Cebu? Because despite wobbly economic statistics, the always self-sacrificing and ever-cheerful OFWs (mainly female) are willing to leave their children behind with their long-suffering Nanays, having given up hope of support from their disappeared partners, to go slave for foreign families so they can feed their own at home, especially young children whose growth, according to nutrition experts is generally stunted because of chronic malnutrition. But the OFWs, says finance undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua, need not worry that their remittances will be taxed; good news for the women even if it means that jobs at home won't be generated as promised because the government is much too engrossed in exterminating drug dealers in the slums (bypassing those in gated communities), and jailing protesters who claim human rights are being ignored---all because everyone knows our leader is a man willing to lay down our lives for his country.

Why Cebu? Because all things considered, where else can you enhance your English vocabulary by learning to say single, double, "traypol" (for triple), first, second and "turd," and rejig your spelling when you say your name and get a receipt made out to "Esabel Iscoda," and meet fine doctors with great humor--one of whom, when I asked if we oldsters are really "on life's departure lounge," quipped, "Actually you're overstaying!" Only in Cebu!


Isabel Taylor Escoda

Isabel Taylor Escoda

Isabel Taylor Escoda has written about migrant workers, especially in Hongkong where she lived for many years before moving in 2015 to her birthplace of Cebu. She is a contributor to the Philippines Daily Inquirer and her books include Letters from Hong Kong, Pinoy Abroad and two children’s books.


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