I don’t think I can sleep without chickens anymore. Where I used to live in Portland Oregon, there isn’t much in the way of chicken noises, and there’s not a guy who sings “Ave Maria” on a loudspeaker every day before dawn. There are both in my barangay in the heart of Cebu City, and I’ve gotten so used to them I have bad dreams if they don’t sing out on cue…the Ave Maria guy starts at 4:30; the chickens add a squawking harmony at 5:00. This is about the same time our two cats, Zumba and Jose jump on the bed and start walking on our faces; they want to eat and they’re not taking no for an answer. I have a suspicion that the morning singers actually work for my cats.
I love my neighborhood, my barangay, in Cebu City. I’ve always thought that the Philippines, particularly The Visayas and Cebu reminds me of Mexico; there are good reasons for that. The Philippines was a Spanish Colony for 333 years and Spain ruled here from Mexico; the islands were very remote, so the Spanish Royal Family commissioned the Philippine government administration to the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) and during most of the colonial period, the Philippine economy depended on the ship trade that began in 1565 between Manila and Acapulco. The Philippines adopted Catholicism and much of the language in Cebu (Bisaya) is derivative of Spanish with many Spanish words and phrases. Even the currency is pesos. The terms Bisaya and Cebuano, to describe language, are synonymous, and even though I don’t speak it, except for a few simple phrases, I can get the gist of many conversations because I speak Spanish.
I first noticed the similarities between Mexico and Cebu when I came here 10 years ago. I grew up in California and have traveled throughout the Mexican countryside. The hotel where I stayed in Cebu City was featuring performances of Filipino Folk Dancing, and when I saw the costumes and the dancing, I was stunned at how much they were alike; even the music was similar.
There are many other cultural and language similarities between the two countries, but one thing I don’t find similar to Mexico in Cebu is the Mexican food. I wish I could get a good Burrito; I mean that’s not asking too much, is it? I ordered nachos from a restaurant in Cebu with a Mexican name; I guess they didn’t have cheese for the nachos, so they used mayonnaise. Likewise, the “tortillas” which are the staple of Mexican food aren’t corn or flour but some form of Filipino lumpia wrap. All the other ingredients for good Mexican food seem pretty available so I don’t really understand the “Bad Mexican Food” issue; of course, there’s no problem finding chickens here. Just ask my cats.
Another “Cebu” thing that’s been stuck in my head after last week’s foray to the Mango Street Karaoke place with my wife is… Who picks the videos that go with the songs? I mean, can you say random? Rachel punched in the numbers for “Womanizer” by Britney Spears. The film in the background started with two Muslim women walking by a lake; then it switched to a polar bear licking his paw, some views of a European city, a woman with a pained expression hugging a tree and then what looked like a soccer match between Brazil and Mars. Britney…“Womanizer, woman-womanizer, you’re a womanizer baby…”
I’m seeing a guy and his brother, very drunk, in charge of matching video with the songs; they’re falling out of their chairs, laughing, “ Ha. It’s Whitney Houston. Let’s use the elephants, then the Chinese wedding and then those hamsters mating. Ha ha ha; I’m dying. Hand me another beer.”
This morning when I woke up with the Cebu sunrise, the Ave Maria guy had had a change of heart; he was singing, “I Gotta Be Me.” It sounded like a cross between Sammy Davis Jr. and Rodrigo Duterte; I couldn’t quite make out the accent. Besides, I was sleepy, and my stomach still felt weird from the nachos. The chickens were on cue though… right at 5:00.