Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buy the Barkada Pack: Cebu, Philippines

This past September was Korean Thanksgiving, or Chuseok. What that means for foreigners is: Bonus! What country can I check off my wishlist? People have been coming back from the 'ppines with stories of paradise all damn year and I felt like it was time to give it a try. My fellow 2nd floor English teachers and I (July, Swarna, and Michael) brought our luggage to school and practically ran toward the airport the second 5:00 ticked over. Our first indication that this is the Latin America of Asia was during my currency exchange at the airport. NEVER would a young Korean man be so bold as to hit on a woman during a transaction. Maybe that's an overstatement....no, pretty sure that would NEVER happen. It was a welcome change and we soaked up the compliments...who doesn't want the supermarket bagger to tell them, "Goodbye, Miss Beautiful,"? As we drove through Cebu City, Swarna and I decided that a better descriptor (based on our knowledge up to this point) is that the Philippines are a wacky and colorful (I'm talking literal color) mishmash of Latin and Indian culture. Indian because of the particular kind of poverty that results in row after row of blue plastic lean-to's. Latin, because of the friendliness and genuine happy-go-lucky attitude in spite of it all (and no, it wasn't only randy men who were exceptionally friendly). Filipinos are very humble people and their ability to make you feel at home is astounding.

Take Michael's Malapascua water adventure. As usual, all through breakfast we'd heard the sweet sounds of old dudes gettin' serious with some videoke. We finished, started back toward the hotel, when Michael decided to run back to our little corner store for some water. We stood for a while, got chatted up by some locals (by the end of the trip, people would shout "GINA!" at us everywhere we went. They never bothered to learn anyone else's name...it was more like plural noun). Well, Michael took a lot longer than expected, so we backtracked and found him inside the little store/shack with a microphone, singing along to a Filipino music video. The guys told us to come on in and passed us some ashtray-flavored beer and shrimp chips. By this time, we had quite the crowd...faces pressed up to the windows and scrawny kids standing in the doorway. Finally, they found some English songs for us and we belted out Bon Jovi with all the passion we could muster at 10 AM. It pretty much ruled.

Malapascua was eventful, to say the least, for a tiny and untouristy island. The beach was immaculate...almost unbelievably white sand and clear blue water. We befriended the guys who took us over from the dock and they gave us a decent snorkeling tour before we decided Josh, the Boat Principal (our secret name for him) was maybe a little off his rocker. We couldn't seem to shake him and finally agreed to meet up with him for dinner. After a haunting walk through dark, quiet fields dotted with houses blasting videoke (at 9 PM...presumably going strong since morning), we arrived at..sure, a great restaurant, but seriously...it was in the middle of freaking nowhere and NOT where you want to be when your tourguide launches into intense stories of his past. We nervously laughed and/or tried to not appear freaked out as Josh held our gazes a little longer than is comfortable through tales of heads being crushed by speaker boxes. Weird. Where oh where had our way more fun boat companions (Boat Pro, Ice Man/Chomps, for example) gone??

On our last night in Malapascua, they had a disco party on the beach, where I cha-cha'd with a big ole jolly Hawaiian and got to really, intimately loathe red rum. The music on the beach was loads better than any we've heard at a Seoul club, but I think Swarna and I were the only women there. On the return bus ride, pretty sure I became unofficial godmother of the child next to me, who basically napped in my lap for the two-hour ride. The thing about the Philippines is this: there's some degree of people-watching, and it's fascinating. But before you know it, you somehow become involved in the scene. I handed my bag over to a father whose son's tummy wasn't taking the bumpy terrain well. Some little boys smoking a cigarette on the hood of a car noticed my picture-taking and jumped down, break-danced, then gave me a sly wink. Swarna, absently staring out the window, noticed a guy playing with a stick. He turned it this way and that, letting a row of spiders scurry from one end to the other. Just when they were at the edge, he popped them in his mouth and flashed a toothy grin at Swarna.

After a night in Cebu City, we decided to head to Moalboal, based on several recommendations. Maybe this place is fun during peak season, but in September it'd DEAD. We walked by what looked like fun spots, but we were the only people there. Finally, after a few uneventful bar stops, we decided to make our own entertainment at a videoke bar. We were getting into it when our room got invaded by a karaoke professional and her minions. This girl worked the room, told us about her semi-professional gigs, and then began a steady stream of memorized selections (she didn't even need to look at the book). At around 3 AM, we started walking back for home and passed a restaurant that looked possibly open. Apparently they weren't, but they reopened the kitchen just for us and we ate some surprisingly good Filipino food, while being entertained by the tranny waitstaff. I even learned the Shakira Waka-Waka dance from one of them.

The next morning we met our darling Creen Creen, the masseuse/manicurist/Arabian prince lover. Although we loved him, he had the most hilariously bad setup for a spa...a basket of half-filled polishes in old lady shades and a facial that featured St. Ives products. We ate one last delicious adobo meal before grabbing Take Two burgers and hopping on the unairconditioned bus.