Life On Cebu
“In my first report from Cebu, in the Philippines, I gave you an idea of just how affordable life could be on this tropical island. You could live here comfortably on US$1,000 per month or less.
“But what would your life be like?
“I first arrived in Cebu nearly three years ago,” writes Philippines Correspondent Victoria Clair. “I spent my first three months living in a retreat house in Banawa Hills, a suburb of Cebu City.
“It was a good getting-started choice. I had a pleasant enough room with bath and three meals and two snacks for less than US$20 a day. Even if I didn’t plan to eat lunch at the hotel most days, it was a great deal, and it gave me the opportunity to explore the area and to make choices about where I thought I might like to live on a more permanent basis. Pensions are another good getting-acquainted choice, though they do not provide meals.
“Cebu City is densely populated; the noise and air pollution levels can be jarring. This is one reason I chose not to live in close proximity to the city. On the other hand, the city offers amenities that can’t be found in the smaller towns and villages and that would be especially hard to come by on the small, nearby islands.
“There are many colleges and universities in Cebu offering courses in English. If you’re thinking you’d like to expand your horizons by taking a course in your new life overseas, this is ideal. Tuition is about US$100 a month for a full course load. You could audit a class for US$50.
“There are also golf courses, nearby Cebu City, and the public pool, in the heart of the city, is new and clean. Filipinos don’t typically learn to swim and are not fond of the water, meaning the pool is never crowded.
“The Sports Complex where the pool is located has a walking track. You appreciate this after spending a little time here. Sidewalks in Cebu City, with their street vendors, sandwich boards, and parked motorcycles, are not walker-friendly. This is not a city for pedestrians.
“That said, a lovely new park is under construction, close to the central post office, the Cathedral, and the pier. I think it will become a favorite place for families to spend time outdoors; it is already used for concerts and festivals.
“When I lived in Maine, I ushered for the Portland Symphony, the Portland Stage Company, and the Portland Concert Association. This meant that, during the season, I might find myself at one event a week. It was heaven! This is one area where Cebu falls short. There is no local symphony or concert association to provide inexpensive venues for listening to classical music. A new playhouse has recently opened in the city; however, I believe that the plays are in the local dialect.
“One of the things I most appreciate about life in Cebu, on the other hand, is how little it costs to get a full body massage. The standard price is US$5 for a one-hour massage, and this is the price even if the massage therapist comes to your home or hotel.
“Ayala Mall is the largest and more upscale of the two malls in Cebu City, with an outdoor courtyard and a stage. Concerts are often held here free of charge. Ayala Mall also has a spa attached to it, an upscale dental office, and two eye clinics. There’s even an American chiropractor in the complex.
“In addition, this mall has other places that help the expat feel less like a fish out of water. Starbucks is always filled with foreigners, as is Bo’s Coffee Shop. There’s a great place to get ice cream, and another that sells rich and creamy gelato. An authentic Italian restaurant, owned and run by a man from Italy, serves up great salads and pasta dishes, and one of my favorite restaurants, The Canvas, is run by an Australian who offers bangers and mash, steak pie, baby back ribs, and a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce that reminds me of the day after Thanksgiving.
“There are two bookstores in Ayala Mall, but they are nothing like bookstores in the States. I used to spend hours browsing at Barnes and Noble. Here, books are shrink-wrapped, maybe to keep them clean. A staff member will take the wrapping off a book for you if you ask, but I’ve been too shy to ask that this be done more than three or four times in one visit. This makes browsing difficult.
“The bookstores tend to carry the latest bestsellers but don’t have much stock in many areas. They can order any book for you, but it can take one to four months for that book to be delivered to the store. In this part of the world, Kindle is a godsend.
“Of the two supermarkets in Ayala Mall, Rustan’s is my favorite because it carries lots of things I miss and occasionally splurge to buy–things like canned cranberry sauce to go with a roast chicken dinner; German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish sausages; bleu and feta cheese; and imported chocolates from around the world. They also sell whole bean decaf coffee, something that even Starbucks doesn’t have.
“Another great thing about Cebu is the local tailors and seamstresses. Take a pair of slacks or a skirt, for example, along with fabric (which you can buy at the mall) to a seamstress or tailor, and, in a week, you will have an exact duplicate in the new fabric. A custom-made dress costs about US$8. Seamstresses and tailors can also work from a pattern, but you need to bring those with you because I have not found a place in Cebu that sells them. They aren’t seen as necessary.
“The Philippines is a land of fiestas, most connected with the church. These start with a novena (nine days of special prayers) and end with one or two days of public parties that include lots of music, dancing, food, drinking, and cockfights (you can bypass the cockfights).
“The big fiesta in Cebu City is in January, the celebration of Santo Nino (Holy Child), when streets are blocked off and a huge procession is staged featuring the original statue of Santo Nino. People dress in elaborate costumes, and I’ve been told that literally millions attend, many from Manila and even outside the country.
“One thing an expat considering Cebu, or anywhere in the Philippines, needs to understand is that the pace of life in the tropics is much slower than in other climates. You may be accustomed to getting into your car and running four or five errands in an afternoon. You’re not going to do that here. Everything takes longer than you’re used to or than you probably can imagine.
“Recently, I needed to make arrangements for a moving truck to have space on the barge that will take my furniture and belongings to Olango Island, where I’m moving in two weeks. I found the name of the barge company on the Internet but couldn’t find a phone number. Finally, I realized I’d have to go find the barge in person. I took two jeepneys to the pier on Mactan Island, then the ferry over to Olango, and then walked down the pier to where the barge was docked. The captain and the purser came out to talk with me, and we made the arrangements on the spot.
“That’s the way it’s done here–not with phone calls, but in person. The round trip, counting time waiting for ferries, took me five hours. That’s typical of how Filipinos do business on the smaller islands. Nobody is in a hurry, and it never dawns on them that another approach (publishing a phone number, for example) might be more efficient.
“After all, there’s only one barge making that trip. It’s not like they have to worry about the competition.”