My Arrival in Cebu & 5 Gallons of Happiness

I had left for my flight to the Philippines, from LAX in California, around 1:30am.  All went fine.  I’d flown all night to Hong Kong, enjoyed a few movies and even got about 7 hours of sleep along the way despite the limited space you get in Economy class.  With a 2 hour flight from Hong Kong to Cebu-Mactan Airport I stepped off the plane wide awake and ready to take on the day.  It was a new day, a new country and I was ready to take on everything it had to offer.

I was a bit concerned that my suitcases, which had more computer equipment than clothes, might get stuck with a hefty tariff.  But my concern was for naught and I pushed my luggage cart out the front lobby of the airport into the warm, afternoon air of Mactan.  I scanned the crowd and there it was.. something I’d wanted to see all my life.  To arrive somewhere and see someone holding a paper sign with my name in bold across it.  The tiny , thin woman holding the sign was Bebs, my new maid and general liaison between myself and the handyman at my studio since his English wasn’t so great.

We loaded everything into a taxi and soon were weaving in and out of traffic along the main circumferential road along the island.  After a bit of in town driving we were parked outside my new studio, which I’d only before seen in photos.  The photos did NOTHING to convey the incredible humidity, by the way.  Heat.. I’m used to heat having been born in Tucson, Arizona, spent time in the 80% humidity of Corpus Christi, Texas, 118*F in Palm Springs in August, the sweltering humidity of Hemet, CA at the base of Idyllwild, the 109*F heat waves of the Inland Empire in Southern California year after year… I was no stranger to heat.  But THIS humidity was an onslaught of such abundance, surrounded by ocean on every side of an island less than 14 miles by 7 miles wide.  There was no escaping and no respite from it.  It’s either adapt to the humidity.. or leave.  I chose to adapt.

Once that sank in, I moved on to the next items necessary for embedding into any new environment.. Communications and a Fresh Water Supply.  After the maid helped me get everything into my studio I sent her home with a cab and then proceeded to walk a few blocks to the nearby Guisano Grand Mall where I was ‘told’ I could tap into their free wifi.  With my laptop in my leather bag I made my way into the entrance and was immediately greeted with waves of cool, refreshing air-conditioning.  (or, ‘air-con’ as it is referred to here)  Both my spirits and my step picked up as I found a food court where I immediately set about the task of latching on to the mall wifi signal.  No luck.  No password required.  The signal stated I was connected.  But no actual access to the internet.  Hmm.  Time for ‘Plan B’.. find another signal.

After having a refreshing Pineapple/Coconut shake from a vendor, I left the cool confines of the mall to re-enter the muggy heat.. without my sunglasses which I’d forgotten back in the United States.  I went out to the sidewalk, bustling with taxis, people, tricycles and the occasional dog and scanned my surroundings in detail, 360 degrees, looking for any place that might have wifi.  Nothing.  Just street vendors and a place to get a haircut.  I ventured around the corner to scan another block and there I found a classy little place called ‘Cafe Malmo’.  It was a place more befitting of downtown San Diego or Rodeo Drive even, and yet.. there it was amid the randomness of central Lapu Lapu.  Convinced it was not a mirage, I ventured toward the door.

A security guard opened the door for me and immediately I was greeted by the friendly staff who led me to a table.  I ordered their ‘Bottomless Iced Tea’ for 88 Pesos (about $2 USD) and began to set up my laptop as I adjusted to the soothing air-con.  My tea arrived along with a note which had the password to their wifi.  In minutes I was online and ‘connected’ to all that I knew in the virtual world.  Via MagicJack, Facebook and Skype I was immediately able to inform everyone that I’d indeed made the trip safe and sound.  That accomplished.. I proceeded to drink 6 glasses of iced tea over the next 3 hours as I caught up on e-mail and what my friends were doing on Facebook during the time I was soaring over the midnight ocean of the Pacific all evening.

But my second task was not yet complete.  The sun was beginning to settle and I still had not secured clean drinking water for my studio.  While my laptop bag is not all that heavy, in this heat it seemed heavier than usual to be lugging about.  I decided to leave it at my studio and thus cover more area more quickly in search of water.  I walked the few blocks to the driveway that leads to my studio when.. there it was, a water purification store.  And just at the end of my driveway!  “Thank you, God.” was all I could mutter as I entered their fine and most welcome establishment.

The owner of ‘Larlettes Purified Water’ is a woman by the name of Everlette, a most gracious and I must say, very beautiful, woman with whom I settled the details of my water delivery.   Not only would I be getting a hot/cold dispenser with no deposit required, she would see that her helpers delivered it along with 15 gallons promptly to my studio.  My neighbors are also her clients and when I described the location of my studio she knew exactly where it was.  I returned to my studio and, sure enough, two young men arrived in fifteen minutes and I was now set up for all the clean drinking water I would need.  They enjoyed the American 80’s music I had playing on my iPod and wanted to know the artist names.  (Glad to hear some people in this world still appreciate the 80’s.)

I gave them a tip which I practically had to force upon them and they were on their way.  I still had to secure Internet for my studio but, considering it was still my first day off the plane I counted it as enough progress for the afternoon and began to unpack.  I’d only done so for about.. two minutes when I found myself drenched.. actually DRIPPING sweat profusely from my hair down my face to drip to the floor.   I had to do something.. there was no way I could concentrate on any tasks until I found some respite from this incredible heat.  I turned on the small air-con unit in my bedroom window and within minutes that one, particular room was now a haven of coolness.  The rest of the studio.. not so much.  This would not do.  I needed a solution.

Locking the door behind me, I ventured back out into the sweltering heat of the day.  I had noticed a large hardware store down the street and went in looking for an oscillating fan.  The only one they had that fit what I was looking for was the ‘demo’ model.  I said I’d take it (it saved me the hassle of assembling it anyway.)  but first I wanted it plugged in so I could be assured it was working.  Turns out.. the motor was locked up on it.  Immediately the attendant assisting me began to dissemble it in quick fashion.  After a few moments I looked away to realize that I know had at least fifteen other attendants of the store looking on and giving sporadic bits of advice.  Meanwhile I found a few dozen clean hand-towels (for wiping the sweat from my face) and some electrical items.  They couldn’t get the fan to work so I purchased the other items and continued my search elsewhere.

I remembered seeing a small hardware store in the mall, near the Healthy Juice vendor and yes.. they had at least five models of what I wanted and all assembled.  I got one at half the price of the previous place and gladly carried my find back to the studio.  That standing, oscillating fan is now my one companion helping to keep the air circulating throughout the day.  Mission accomplished.

By this time I had already changed shirts twice due to them being drenched in sweat after only a few hours of walking about.  I figured a shower was in order at this point.

Now, here I come to the very meat of my post this day.  Many things in life have brought me happiness and what I was about to experience would suddenly rank up high with the many pinnacles of joy I’ve been blessed to know in my life.

My bathroom is not a conventional American bathroom, it is a conventional Philippines bathroom.  I’d guess about 75% (or more) of people here in the Philippines have this sort of arrangement.  It is completely tiled, from floor to mid-wall height with the floor slightly angled so that all water moves to a common drain at one end.  The commode is at the right and to the left is what has now, quickly, become my favorite place to be three times a day.. the ‘showering’ area.

Back home, I’d adjust the hot and cold water until I got it ‘just right’.  Meanwhile a gallon or so of water goes down the drain.  Then by the time I washed my hair, shaved. pondered whether Bruce Lee could win in a battle against a Predator.. after going through about 30 gallons I’d turn off the tap and dry off.

Not so here in the Philippines.  To begin with, the bathing water has to be pumped into a tower in order to give it any pressure to go through the pipes so.. there is ZERO pressure for a shower-head.  Secondly, because the pipes are above-ground (not buried like back home).. there is no ‘Hot’ or ‘Cold’ water knob.  Just one knob.. water is either ‘on’ or ‘off’ at the ambient, yet cool temperature of about 69*F.

Below the spout is a large 5-gallon tub with a wide opening and a plastic cup with a handle that holds about a half-gallon of water per scoop.  Standing there in the tiled ‘Comfort Room’ (CR) you simply fill the plastic cup with water and pour it slowly over your head as it drains down your body.  This is how you take a shower in the Philippines!

I’m telling you, it felt SO GOOD to have that cool water repeatedly upon me that it was almost a spiritual experience.  To return to such a basic form of bathing and find such immediate relief from the mugginess of outdoors was nothing short of a new break in my psyche in regards to happiness.  It was like wandering in from the desert and finding, not just a real oasis.. but a cool waterfall!

My first concern was that it would not be as practical for eliminating excess shampoo.  Not a problem at all.  Even after becoming clean sometimes it’s just great to enjoy a few more refreshing waves of water.  And, amazingly, I rarely use more than 7 gallons of water!

On any given day now I take three showers a day.  Upon waking, midday and before bedtime.  It is one of life’s simple pleasures that gives me some solace from the midday humidity that I can count on being there as sure as sunshine.  We often hear about ‘simple pleasures’ in life and occasionally come across one.  Despite all my lifelong, Western ideas to the contrary.. it turns out that returning to this basic form of bathing is one of them.

Henry V.

Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. So happy to hear you are settling in so nicely, Henry! Having lived in the PI for a few years myself … I really enjoyed your first article 🙂 looking forward to the next one!!

    1. Thanks! Everything is still so new to me, I hope to capture many of the same experiences persons such as yourself did during your initial ‘adjustment’ period. 🙂 Thanks for checking out the article, hope to see you again! — Henry.

    2. Thanks! Everything is still so new to me, I hope to capture many of the same experiences persons such as yourself did during your initial ‘adjustment’ period. Thanks for checking out the article, hope to see you again! — Henry.

    1. I am actually here in the Philippines to stay, as my new home. For now I am in Mactan perhaps for the next year, maybe longer. If I discover another area that interests me near Cebu I may move, but I want the Philippines as my new home. 🙂

    1. ‘Tabo’.. gotta add that to my list. It’s gonna take me awhile to learn all this Tagalog and Visayan, and not knowing which is which.

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