I told myself before leaving the U.S. that my first month in Mactan I wasn’t going to talk to anybody. I wasn’t sure who I could trust for one thing. I mean, talking to strangers is one of those things you’re not supposed to do right? Me, it’s kind of a habit. I find people interesting. I like to draw out their background and how they got from wherever they ‘were’ to where they are now, and what they learned along the way. But, being as how I was moving to a whole other country, I told myself, “Just get situated.. don’t talk to anyone. Just take care of getting acclimated.”
At first I limited my trips to town to the nearby Mall, which includes both a hardware store and grocery store along with all the usual ‘mall’ type stores. I could get most everything I needed there. Back and forth, like an ant on a mission.. for days I carried stuff back to my studio that I needed, mostly household stuff. And yes, the people who work there did begin to realize I was a “new guy”.. not from around these parts. I was thinking I was just another forgotten face in the crowd. You know, like in the United States. I kind of like that sort of anonymity. It’s almost comforting in a strange way.. like having the super-power of invisibility.
After my first week I began to notice that the same security guard at the mall would specifically ask me, “How are you doing today, sir?” I noticed he does not say this to EVERYONE, I watched him from the mall entrance at the top of the stairs. Usually he directs the taxi traffic or checks for weapons without saying much. But after three weeks, I kinda felt obligated to either nod or say, “Hello!” as I pass by him. He’s a friendly guy. Might be good to know he’s watching my back in case something went down there on the mall steps or the ATM machine.
Just after getting off the plane my very first day, that afternoon I went straight to the mall to get online and let everyone know I’d made it there safely. But I was having trouble with logging into the Mall WiFi signal. I was in the food court and had been trouble-shooting it for about ten minutes when a young man came over to ask if everything was okay. He worked at one of the food kiosks a few feet away. Even though he was a tiny, little guy about the size of a 12 year old, I made a quick note of where my laptop bag was under the table and which direction he’d be likely to run in case he decided to bolt with my laptop or bag. (Call me paranoid, I just think in terms of possible scenarios.)
I got even a little more paranoid when two other young men and a transsexual were now surrounding my table looking at the screen trying to figure why I was “Connected” but not getting any actual Net access. (To this day, still not sure what the problem is.. I get signal at all the other cafes.) Frustrated and in need of Net signal, I packed up my stuff, thanked them for their willingness to assist me and went in search of another business that offered free WiFi until I could buy my Net Adapter and service.
So I crossed the street and went into a place called ‘Café Malmo’. A unique café in that it’s very fancy and high end despite the less than fancy area of town I live in. They served me iced tea and gave me a note with the WiFi password and, bamm.. I was online. I like the place so I’ve been going back there for the last month to enjoy the ambience.
So, during my visits to Café Malmo, I’m trying to figure out who the owner is.. if he ever even visited the place. The décor is sort of a fusion between Rodeo Drive and Denmark, if you can imagine that. So.. naturally I’m looking for some blonde haired, blue eyed Danish person. I’m at the Café late one night, around 2am (they close at 3am-ish) and I find myself chatting with this Korean man named ‘Chang’. At least he looks Korean to me, might be Chinese. I’m telling him about how I appreciate this nice place to be able to write my articles in and show him my website. One thing leads to another and it turns out Chang is from… Denmark, and he’s the owner of the place in need of a website. Cool. I met his wife and always get a warm reception from the staff there. I’m working on a draft for his website as I get some photos together.
So then, on another night.. I’d been tapping away at the laptop there in the Café for over five hours when this young African woman sits at the table next to me. She’s about 22 years old and amazingly beautiful with a British accent. She asks me if she’s disturbing me and next thing I know we’re chatting for 30 minutes at her table. As it turns out her name is ‘B’ and she’s a student at a college on the island. That’s when this young man, an Austrian, named Gerald arrives. The three of us end up chatting some more for a while and it turns out the two had made plans to meet there over the phone or net. But before I made my leave to give them some privacy, Gerald asks for my number because we both have an interest in online marketing and he needs a good Photoshop person. So I get his number and the next day we’re on Skype and working out a business plan for online services, splitting the profits he and I. Our first service already went online just a few days ago so we’ll see if the marketing pays off. (He’s taking care of that end.)
My third day on the island I’d gotten a ride from a Tricycle driver who had taken me to a bar that nobody would otherwise know was there. It was just a narrow door, with no sign or anything that led up several flights of stairs to a karaoke bar at the top. One night I figured I’d get some exercise and go for an evening walk. I kinda remembered where it was. I found it but had no intention of doing karaoke. I’m not that good and all I wanted was a cold Red Horse while I listened to other people ‘sing’. Long story short, next thing I know a bar-girl is doing the usual routine that is common for these type of places. I really only wanted a beer and music so I thanked her for her offer but made it clear I just wanted to have a beer and leave. She drifted back to the crowd of ladies along the wall who work there.
Now, in case you haven’t frequented a place like this in Mexico or elsewhere, each one has it’s own nuance and protocol but the game is pretty much the same. Those girls are not visitors to the place, like you. No.. they work there. They get either an hourly rate and/or percentage for whatever they can convince you to order.. beer, food, snacks, karaoke.. private massage time, etc. So the basic rule in such an environment is, “Don’t believe a thing you hear.” These are hired-guns. You could have one tooth, beer belly and a whacked eye and they’ll still call you ‘Handsome’. If they start telling you their Mother is in the hospital and needs an operation.. you know it’s time to leave.
Despite all this, before I could finish my beer an insanely beautiful Filipina.. too precious to be in a place like this, asked if I’d join her at a table. “Sure.” Huh? Did I say that? It just kinda flew outta me before I had a chance to process it. We’d been talking for about 20 minutes when I simply got real with her and told her, “Look, Steph.. you’re a sweet person and very lovely but, I’m only here for a beer. I’m just saying.. I don’t want to waste your time, I know you’ve got a job to.” Something about my flat, honest tone caught her sister’s eye, who had been watching us and suddenly she appeared at the table. Geez, Louise!! Is everyone in her family an undiscovered model? Her sister is just as lovely but with a more protective personality, looking out for her giddy, sweet older sister. She asked if everything was okay and I repeated what I told her sister. She sat down and from that point out we just talked like normal people. Not potential ‘customers’.. just talking about their families, kids, her second job, etc. I told them I was seeing someone already in Cebu and they were impressed that I’d chosen to have a Filipina as a girlfriend. I asked them about how they came to work at this place and it was a private, somewhat somber story which I’ll keep in confidence.
While I wouldn’t exactly say we’re ‘friends’ on the same level of friends I have back home.. I was starting to meet people about as easy as falling off a banana boat.
So much for Plan B. And then it starts to hit me.
I was itching to read some more of Conrad’s, “Heart of Darkness” so I stuffed my copy and reading glasses into my backpack and went to a restaurant on the mall balcony where I could get some good light and iced tea with air-con. I’m sitting there reading when who walks by?.. Gerald. Only he’s there to meet with an attractive Filipina for a few minutes. We spoke quickly as he passed my table and off he went. I stayed to do my reading. Strange. I don’t normally ‘run into’ people just out of the blue like that. Once every few months maybe. But after only a few weeks in a foreign land? Hmm.
Skip forward to yesterday afternoon. There was a sudden down-pour of rain and I wanted to get some video footage of it from the balcony of the Mall.. so, off I went. The storm passed by that time so I figured I’d get my dinner there in the food court. Who do I run into? Well, the same young man who offered to help when I first got there. Now, that makes sense since it’s the same food court and that’s where he works all week. But what was strange is that he remembered me after three weeks and came by to say hello. I was nice and we had some idle chit-chat before I left to find something to eat. I see a food kiosk in the distance that makes some sort of spiral potato into a snack. It sounds interesting, so I go to check it out.
I’m looking at the flavors of this strange, spiraled potato and choose ‘BBQ’. I look up to confirm my order and it’s.. nobody I’ve met before. ‘She’ happens to be either a transsexual or CD (I didn’t check or ask). I take it all in stride and am waiting while she.. Angel, prepares my snack. Out of nowhere, the same five people or so that first surrounded me at my laptop are now at the potato kiosk.. all wanting to know who I am. I couldn’t remember all the names, but all the men, women and ‘Angel’ (prepping my snack) were very friendly and interested in what brought me to the Philippines. I gave them the short version, not wanting just anyone and everyone I run into to know my life’s story (I save that for online) and next thing you know the six of us are all chatting away for 40 minutes or so.
It’s about 5pm and all of them insist I should go with them to some festival happening on the other side of the island that night. They said it would be outdoor music, food, booze (booze?) and lots of fun. I’d been spending most of my nights either working or watching boot-leg DVD’s that kept freezing up my computer so I figured, what the heck.. it’ll be fun to get out.
So much for Plan C, staying ‘in’.
I meet them at the close of the Mall at 9pm and there are about five of them there. Some new faces and a few missing. We’re at the intersection, lots of traffic going by, they’re speaking in ‘Taglish’ so I’m able to pick up on a few phrases. One that stuck out was, “…is not kind of dangerous that area?” and “..promised him I be his tour guide.” There was a bit of confusion all around. I broke into the conversation and said, “Well, wherever we’re going.. we should get a taxi, no?”
Next thing I know everyone disbanded except for Angel, her fiery friend Linda and the gay-ish dude. Even he disappeared as we tried to secure transportation to the festival. It was still early so I wasn’t too worried, I hear street festivals around here can go way late into the night. That’s when Angel asks me, “How about we go in..” and this is where I just could not make out what she was saying. It sounded like she said, “..we ride the hub-hub”. Hub-hub?? What the heck was that? A blimp? The only thing that came to mind was the Hubble Space Telescope. I’ve always been a fan of NASA and since taxis and Trikes weren’t going to take our money I said, “Uhh.. yah, sure. We’ll ride that. Where’s it at?” “Are you sure you ok with that?“, she asked again. I’d have ridden a mule if it was fast enough at this point. I just wanted to get there and mix into the thick of things.
We walked across the heavy traffic on this Saturday night and approached what I’d always assumed was a rich-kid motorcycle gang. (Shows what I know.) They all had the same jumpsuits and their motorcycles were assembled away from the taxis and trikes. For whatever reason they aren’t allowed to pick people up in front of the mall. The girls worked out the fare, to keep them from overcharging me. (That’s a whole other issue, I’ll write about that sometime later.) The next thing I know, the two of them are on one motorcycle and I’m climbing on the rear of another. I have only been on a motorcycle one other time my life.. I was 17 and I crashed it in a field going over the handlebars. Other than a short ride in Northern California 25 years ago.. not been a fan of riding motorcycles.
But there I was.. ripping along between the traffic as this ‘Hub-hub’ or whatever it was sliced into the cool evening air. The motorcycle with Angel and Linda rode alongside me. Angel was calmly doing her makeup while Linda was already screaming at the top of her lungs with her hands out-stretched as if madly insane.
So.. getting back to how it’s a small island after all. We went first to the Festival and, frankly.. I could have stayed there all night. The streets were closed off and there were hundreds of people in the streets while both a live band and recorded techno music blared from every street corner on huge sound systems twenty feet high. All through the darkness there were lasers and strobes cutting through the night as food and booze vendors sold their goods everywhere in between. I loved it there. We got a table near the stage and ordered up something that looked like a pitcher of margaritas. Not the best I’ve ever had, and certainly not for the price. We gulped it down though for its medicinal purposes and enjoyed the band blaring at us from 20 feet away.
That’s when I could hear enough of Linda telling the vendor what a rip-off their booze was and she should know because she was a bartender at a fancy club. The vendor didn’t seem to care. Linda was fired up and next thing I know they took me by the hand, one on each side, as we made our way through the crowd to a row of Trikes in this area that I think is called ‘Cordoba’ or ‘Cordova’ (?) Maybe it was just the festival, or that part of town, but we had no problem securing a Trike there and off we went to some place Linda guaranteed had better booze for the buck. Peso. Whatever.
Once again Linda was screaming like a banshee as our Trike putted through the darkness to another part of the island. Something about the night wind just seems to set her off. I find such people good to have around because I feel just a little bit saner by comparison. At this point I have absolutely no idea where I’m at and have lost all my bearings. But I know we’re still on the same island, that much I’m sure of. Meanwhile, whatever was in that pitcher of liquid was starting to have it’s way with my brain.
After much putt-putting we reached our destination. A dark alley. We climbed out, the Trike disappears as my de-facto tour-guides/bodyguards lead me arm in arm down a very long.. okay, semi-lit alley with nothing much to see at the end of it. For a moment I felt like I was in some other version of a scene from the Wizard of Oz. Well, looks can be deceiving. Two or three blocks in we came to a large, white metal gate with a side-gate to the right. It’s like $2 cover for me and they get in free. A wristband, some plastic cups and on the other side of that white fence was one of best clubs I’ve been to in a long, long time.
A huge, rocking sound system. That’s just for starters. A large, outdoor patio with videos projected to the outside wall like a drive-in theatre. A great place to rest and get fresh air, which I appreciated at the end of the night/morning. Inside, this was not some restaurant converted into a club.. no, this was a place BUILT for having 24/7 drinking, dancing and.. whatever. Lots of tables, lasers every which way, a rocking live-band plus intermittent DJ, pretty ladies dancing on the bar in school-girl outfits, strobe lights, a sexy-dance contest and lots of booze. While it was far too loud in there for anyone to hear me, I couldn’t resist shouting out loud, “Now THIS.. is my kind of place!”
Getting back to , it’s a small island after all.
I wont’ go into all the details. Suffice it to say that not only was this the place Linda had previously bartended.. so I was introduced to just about everyone working there.. including the owner of the place himself. I later saw on the flyer I found my pocket the next day we had found our way to “Chicago Joe’s Bump & Grind Club”. Between the Club, the Massage Services and Scuba Diving School.. Chicago Joe is doing very well for himself, let me tell you. In addition, even more friends of Linda and Angel showed up. I must have been introduced to over 20, 30 people that night. Some cousins of theirs, some work-friends, some male, some female, some.. I really just couldn’t tell one way or another. One thing I knew was that, compared to my exploits in Mexico’s clubs years ago.. I felt a WHOLE lot more welcome and safe here on this little, Filipino island than I ever did watching my back in Mexico all those years. I still kept feeling for my wallet in my front pocket, but there was no need. People were there to get away from their hard-working lives and just have some fun. (Here’s a link to their own, official video – Chicago Joe’s Bump & Grind Disco Dance Club.)
And then it hits me again.
After several rounds of truly superior strawberry margaritas and a little (very little) coaxing.. the six ladies had me out on the dance floor. After about.. geez, time just sort of became irrelevant at this point but, after awhile I’m there and who do I see there on the dance floor a few feet away?? Gerald!! The same Austrian guy I met at the Café that I am now doing an internet business project with. He’s there with two other guys and some lovely woman (non-Filipina.. but exotic none the less). More festivities and then somewhere around 2am I’m getting a guided tour of a residential area so one of the girls can change shoes at her place, then back to the club for a while until I finally had to bid them ‘adieu’ as I clambered onto the back of a motorcycle. A bit less preoccupied this time since I was not quite as sober as the initial ride. I managed to hang on though and after a short walk to my studio for some much needed cold pineapple, water and a shower before crashing to bed.
Just earlier tonight, as I sat on a stump of concrete out on the edge of town around 11pm, a man came from across the street to stand near me. He was hailing for a Trike and needed one going the direction my side of the road. I could tell he was not Filipino, although he was Asian. Turns out he was from .. Canada. We ended up talking for over 45 minutes and exchanged numbers. He’s an engineer, married with a few kids and came in from Canada after some time in Europe. Says he’s trying to get immigration status for himself and family since none of them are Filipino. His parting words to me as he boarded a motorcycle was, “Remember.. you be careful out here.”
So.. in my first month here, despite my initial resolve to keep to myself, I’ve managed to meet a variety of people that I now keep running into. Living on a small island is like living in a small town.. surrounded by water. This morning I went into the Mall food court and now the friends of Angel and Linda are introducing themselves, curious about what brought me to the Philippines. The security guard still gives me the nod and eye contact when I enter the Mall. The girl I’d spoken to the week before at the Japanese Soup place.. now she knows me because she’s a friend of Linda’s. The guy who took my order at the Jollibee’s, he’s Angel’s cousin. After more than a week not visiting the karaoke place, a text from Steph asking if I was ‘OK’. Joy, my landlady, apparently I met her sometime last week and didn’t even know it since I’d made all the arrangements for my lease through my girlfriend.
The group of five men or so that are usually gambling near the end of my driveway stop to wave and say, “How are you, Jose?” Most foreigners here are called either ‘Joe’ or ‘Sir’ so, being Hispanic-ish they dubbed me ‘Jose’. Dan, the guy who I usually go to at the Mall with my cell-phone questions recognizes me now. More and more each day I realize that since Day-1 they notice when someone ‘new’ shows up. They know their community. I’m a friendly person and all but.. I’ve always enjoyed being somewhat anonymous as I’m left to my thoughts observing people in public, wondering what the details of their lives are. Well, now I don’t have to wonder so much. They recognize me, sit beside me and just share it with me.
After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. I spent a year getting all the information I could online and in July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself first to Mactan and then began my trek through Cebu, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong and now living in Cebu City, here in the amazing Philippines.
Starting in January of 2019, I will begin a slow trek through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and possibly Malaysia, China and Japan. My itinerary is open with no big rush since I hope to share in detail what each place is like as I enjoy it for months at a time.
I am a single man taking an honest look at all that Southeast Asia has to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my channel informative and/or entertaining. 🙂
I hope you will make use of the links I provide as they help to support some of the costs of making this channel possible. Thanks!