Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cebu, where sun, sea and fun are in abundance

Arriving in Cebu, I was greeted with a landscape that was totally unexpected. In my mind, the Philippines is "branded" with the over-populated and congested images of Manila, so when the welcoming coast line and blue water came into view, I knew I had to reset my expectations about this place.

Despite having been told by my Philippino colleagues that Cebu comprises of many beautiful islands and is an ideal vacation destination, I was skeptical about it all as I thought they could be tinted by the patriotism and national pride that seem to flow in the blood of every Philippino. But now, I am truly convinced that "beautiful" is a word of understatement.

Whether it is the white sandy beaches that emerged during low tide...

Or the fancy corals and colourful fishes you'll find when you snorkel in the turquoise clear water...

Or the sea that glitters so brightly in the far horizon under the afteroon sun, as if someone has spilled gold onto the water...

There is only one way to explain these grandeur and beauty, that is our Creator had planned these for us, in the world that he built.

Often, our selfish pursue of nature's wonders inevitably lead to destruction of things which were once beautiful and precious. Part of the primitive charms would give way to modernisation and development. You'll know that a place has become "touristic" when you feel instantly at home after you arrived. In many ways, Cebu has been tailored in a fashion to suit the needs and fancies of the foreigners. All the familiar amenities and international brand names can be found with relative ease in Cebu city. The "poor" and the "unsightly" bits have been "censored" out from a typical touristic itinerary. And together with the propaganda speeches by a trained tour guide, you may be compelled to believe that all of Cebu is as good as the sun, sand and sea it has to offer.

The truth is, for many of the natives who live in Cebu, life is not exactly a permanent vacation. When comparing the per capita income (about FY2005 - 2006) of Singapore (US$29k) against that in the Philippines (US$1.4k), it is not difficult to imagine the disparity in the standard of living and quality of life of people in the 2 countries. If economic jargon is hard to digest, we can also measure quality of life by the volume of shampoo purchased. Here, we buy them in bottles, sometimes 2 or more at a time, saving them for "god knows when" the next time we'll run out of some. In Cebu, shampoo (and other basic necessities) are sold in small sachets, as people live by the day, buying more on days they feel wealthier, lesser or none on all other occassions.

People who live in make-shift houses under bridges, men who haul and pull ropes for tourist boats to dock... I don't think they appreciate the sun and the sea exactly the same way as the occassional visitors do. But I am sure the beautiful natural setting do mean something to them or they will not be boasting it so much to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, tourism in Cebu (and the Philippines in general) has suffered much injustice because of security concerns over the Abu Sayyaf and annoyance caused by the rowdy crowd at Lucky Plaza on weekends. However, as soon as we let go of our preconceptions and learn to embrace differences (ha, it is funny that I should be saying this), we will find some truly amazing things, especially in this place where the sun and sea are in abundance.

More Photos here!

Video courtesy of K.B. Adore him, listen to his breath haha...

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