Cebu despite its blemishes
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - July 14, 2018 - 12:00am

Metro Cebu has been rocked by a number of killings these past few days. Four killings in one day, all in high-profile context, and people are pondering if the metropolis is still a safe place to live in.

In describing the peace and order situation, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña himself has said that the city is “not so safe anymore because criminals are not afraid” and he urged the PNP to take action.

In contrast to the sad news on the killings, it was reported recently that a New York-based travel magazine has listed Cebu in its top 15 destinations in the world. Cebu (ranked 8th) is in the company of Palawan (6th), and the Indonesian islands of Java (1st), Bali (2nd), and Lombok (3rd) in the list of Travel+Leisure’s “most beautiful havens in the world.”

The other day I was discussing with a colleague of mine how we feel about living and raising a family in Cebu amid its congested roads, runaway development, and now its highly-publicized incidents of crime.

Unsurprisingly, we both agree that Cebu has to be one of the most beautiful places to visit and live in the world. Needless to say, we would never trade living in Cebu over any other place in the country, including that remarkable city in the south made famous for its order and discipline, hyped to be the handiwork of an iron-fisted leadership.

Our love for Cebu is not for the obvious reasons written in travel magazines. This was the point when I likened Cebu to Kimchi, one of my favorite dishes since I was introduced to it in kilo packs not so long ago by a Korean friend.

Kimchi is food I can keep in the fridge for days and then cook with just about anything including fried rice during days I don’t have much time to prepare a meal. Its flavor notes include sour, sweet, spicy, and umami, the latter brought about by the lacto-fermentation process which involves some smelly type of good bacteria.

The multisensory experience of eating Kimchi can be described in two Cebuano words – “tuhop” and “manuhotsuhot.” The natural process of time and the interaction of organic elements bring forth the distinct and complex flavor that permeates the senses.

It’s not so much about the taste, really. To a national taste bud that craves for dishes simply salty or sweet, Kimchi cannot even be described as delicious, “namnam” or “lamian”. Kimchi is all about the balance and the depth of flavor – something organically rich and pleasurable.

Our city is sort of something like that. It is not some sterile or sanitized version of a city in our part of the developing world. Neither is it some characterless place unspectacular in its synthetic and contrived imposition of order and discipline.

Despite its imperfections – bedeviled by the complications of continuous and dynamic economic growth – Cebu has held on to the fullness of its character, identity, and above all, its soul.

Whereas there are, for example, in Cebu the nice and well-groomed areas filled with fancy restaurants and shops – a taste for western-inspired modernity and social ordering – there remains the established “inato lang” places where a cross section of the community gather or “tambay”; where those stark and subtle social realities lay unconcealed within the relatively benign confines of the community’s self-defined civility.

I could mention Colon, Carbon, the siomai strip in Tisa, the larangan-tinola-tuslob-buwa stalls in Pasil, the barbeque stalls in Larsian, among others. These comprise the underbelly of a city fermented by time, experience, and an unpretentious culture distinctly Cebuano.

If I may borrow the words of Anthony Bourdain in describing the places that brought joy to his travels: “It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description…For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there - with your eyes open - and lived to see it.”

Cebu is such a kind of place. It’s a challenging metropolis that’s been through a lot due to its dynamism and economic development, and so definitely it needs a lot of fixing here and there. But it would be a big mistake to follow the much-hyped Davao model.

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