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Cebu City: An insider's itinerary

The flowers themselves, once inspected, are nothing extraordinary. You can sprinkle the seeds anywhere and expect them to grow no matter what. They are annual and stubborn and can be considered weedy and annoying if not groomed.

Here in Cebu, we called them tapay-tapay; one of its two famous varieties resembles the cock’s crest, which is locally called tapay. Are the flowers really worth the trip?

Now, here is the tricky part. The farm is not a farm at all; there are only 4 plots of celosia, and you have to catch a P150-motor ride from JY Square and must pay a P20 entrance fee. If you find beauty in the ordinary and you know how to angle the camera (tip: a semi-worm’s eye view might do the trick), it is worth checking out.

TIP: Celosia farm is located on the slope of Mt. Kan-irag, you can have a two-day trek, camp on the plateau, and check the flowers on your way down the following day. 

A feast of street food 

A way of knowing a city is to eat the food of its ordinary people. Cebu City has a thriving street food scene popular among students and 7-to-5 workers. Across from Colonnade – one of the landmarks downtown – vendors peddling their food (be it tempura, spider conch, fried chicken, kwek-kwek and whatnot) lined up by the street amidst the familiar chaos of rush hour.

Another place I frequent is Taboan, located behind Metro Colon. At night, this place is the favorite of the city’s adopted children eating dinner before heading home or heading to their respective boarding houses. And oddly enough, there are nights when Zumba classes are held on this dimly lit alley.

For freshly boiled spider conch, balut, and many others, Freedom Park – in front of University of San Jose-Recoletos – is my to-go place, especially when I hit a wall on the stories I am writing. This park-that-is-not-a-park is a part of the forking paths of Carbon Market where I buy my fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ukay-ukay clothes. 

Street art scene: my route to work  

On weekdays, I walk past the posh business park where high-rises grow faster than kids and make my way to the little street between a scuba diving company and a camera shop.

On the intersection of Escario Street and Molave Street, I often pause and look at the walls. What has changed? What has remained? Last month’s poetic and nostalgic "We Are Children of the Wild" has now become a cute graphic of a baby with a greeting "Happy Birthday, Sky." 

Escario is one of the playgrounds, one of the wide canvases of Cebuano street artists. So every now and then, the city’s skin and walls peel off and grow something new.

Somewhere, there is a monstrous dog eating a smaller monster. Somewhere there is the word ANINO or nueve’s flirtatious stroke. Somewhere there are Soika’s wicked men. I am thankful these kindred souls exist. Because of them somewhere in the city becomes an exciting affair.

TIP: Street Konect documents all-art related events in Cebu.

Listening to our own local music

The community of young writers writing in Cebuano used to be small. We were considered baduy and not cool at all. But because of the great minds of contemporary musicians like Jude Gitamondoc (who has written songs for Gary Valenciano and Regine Velasquez to name two, and is one of the brains behind the success of Facebook: the Musical) and Lorenzo “Insoy” Niñal (a newspaper columnist, teacher, and frontman of the famous Missing Filemon), Bisrock and Vispop have become household music in the Visayas and Mindanao.

There will always be that someone singing the familiar “#hahahahasula” or “Principal.” There will always be a local band playing their own music somewhere such as the Headquarterz, Koa Treehouse, Handuraw, and the Monastery, among others.

Poetry reading at Handuraw

Me staying in the city on weekends is rather rare. Often I would be somewhere outside Cebu, most likely in a remote island where electricity runs from six in the evening till midnight or somewhere near the beach, romanticizing the possibility that writing comes easier when one is by the sea.

If I decide to stay for the weekend, there must be a good reason: say, a poetry reading, followed with few beers with poet friends. Just like writing in our mother tongue, writing and listening to poetry used to be an exclusive, marginal affair. But when Tinta – University of the Philippines Cebu’s literary org – took over the event, people gradually filled up Handuraw Event Café’s second floor. The crowd and the readers are predominantly young – the laughter ageless, the sighs at the end of a well-clinched poem validating. Poetry is alive. 

TIP: Check Tinta’s official page for the schedule of the public poetry reading. Listen! Or better yet, read your own work.

Sooner or later, I would leave the city for good – not to seek a better life abroad but to live my own version of a well-lived life. With me would be 15 years of beauty, aches, and personal disasters that the city bore witness to. I would leave my own version of Cebu, knowing that the city I would come back to someday would not be the same. –