A first-time visitor to Cebu City might exclude some city spots. The city has several world-class resorts, hotels, beaches and diving sites. There are also some parts of the world that have the most devastating poverty. The city of Cebu is the capital of Cebu province and is the second largest city in the Philippines, after Manila. I always feel at home and lived in the city before I built my home in the rural province of Cebu in the Kamotes Islands. Cebu City is a mix of old and new, rich and poor, good and bad and beautiful and ugly. There is also a mix of clean and really dirty or dirty. The rule of thumb for anyone who goes to Cuba for the first time is not to make a quick judgment.
My first trip to Cebu City was in February 2004. I went to the Philippines to meet a girl (Judith) who is now my wife. I flew into Cebu-Mactan Airport and was greeted by Judith and one of the sisters here. My flight started in Florida and the last part of the flight was from Hong Kong. Cebu International Airport is just a bit outdated but very functional. Once outside the airport gate, I saw waves of people waiting to meet people departing from Hong Kong. The airport was not so busy when I arrived and I think my plane was the only flight that arrived at that time. As people from my flight were walking in front of the airport gate, they were bombarded with a shuttle, taxis and greetings for rent, all trying to get to the ticket. I met Judith just outside the airport door. She, her sister and I jumped into an old Kia Taxi and went to my hotel.
The taxi was old and not very well maintained. The air conditioner did not work and the window would not lower. Of course, it didn't matter because I couldn't close the door because the door handle was broken. So, I have a lot of air. The hotel was about 30 minutes drive from the airport. As we toured the city streets, I saw crowded sidewalks of even greater crowds by many sidewalk makers and street vendors. Some of the roads we traveled were moderately maintained, while others were in very poor condition. The roads were crowded with many cars, but mostly Kia and Hyundais. There was also a lot of Jeepney, the Philippine traditional method of travel. The Jeepney looks like a stretched-out military jeep with a hardtop and large cargo area used for two benches to seat passengers. Jeepney's are usually painted with many different colors and lots of chrome. Many jeeps are poorly maintained and most have bald tires and the braking system may be questionable. Also, there were lots of little motorcycles.
After only a few minutes of traveling, I decided that the most dangerous vehicles in Cebu were Jeepney, Taxi and finally a motorcycle. Jeepney drivers rule the road and stop on either side of the road to pick up or drop off passengers. I saw many jeeps intersect both lanes to drop off people, and then I saw others quickly swerve into the road and intersect traffic so that the driver could jump out of the jeep to urinate on the side of the road. Taxis are no better, but they are a bit less of a threat as vehicles are smaller than jeepney Motorcycles look dangerous only to motorcycle riders and passengers, and all those who walk on the side of the road or on the sidewalk. Motorcycles make their traffic lanes on a small shoulder of the road that could offer or sometimes ride along a colored timeline as a narrow pavement to make an extra lane for themselves. At other times, I saw motorcycles climb down sidewalks weaving pedestrians. Still, the pedestrians seemed a little worried about negligence and just continued on their way.
As we continued on our way to the hotel, we drove through different areas of the city. Some areas were very old and the buildings looked like they were ready for demolition many years ago. Many store buildings and facades are made of plywood or corrugated steel sheets added to broken windows, and steel bars cover the window or plywood. I can't imagine what the cost of steel bars would be because the buildings were so bad. I was sure the contents inside were no better. I noticed a few small store fronts with one large open widow covered with chicken wire. These small shops are the size of a small closet and there are a dozen or so small shops on each street. They are called sari-sari shops, and they only sell very few items such as canned fish, rice, snacks, cigarettes and so on. Most of these small shops are attached to the front of private homes and are roughly made of unpainted plywood and tin roofs. Most Sari-sari stores block the pavement, forcing people to walk on the road to bypass the protruding plywood frame. Other Sari-sari stores have a small table or tables along narrow sidewalks for rum shoppers who buy rum and a karaoke machine to help block the sidewalks.
In many old areas, sidewalks are crowded with shops, tents or some other type of rushing shelter to sell goods. The sidewalks belong to the suppliers, and the pedestrian is left to find his own way around the ugly obstacles. These little sidewalk shops are blocking the store buildings behind, and I still wonder why store owners allow vendors to block their stores. Old neighborhood streets and sidewalks are dirty in most parts. Trash is everywhere on the streets, chickens are tied to columns or streets as are dogs. Many old homes along the city's commercial streets may or may not have running water and a sewer system. Many people use the streets and sidewalks as their bathroom and even a sidewalk bath. Old neighborhood infrastructure is almost non-existent. Poor drainage, poor sewer systems and power lines hang low to the ground with hundreds of wires that are carelessly attached to one pillar of wimpy. I often wonder how trucks do it under those wires without hitting the wire. In many cases, larger trucks really hit the wires and power up much of the city.
One thing that stood out to me as we passed all those spaces in the taxi was the people everyone seemed happy with. Despite what I saw as great poverty and terrible living conditions, these people, or at least many people, were happy. Although most of the people I have seen running down the sidewalks down their daily routine. I thought these people did the same thing as other people in any major city around the world. However, my first visit to the city of Cebu opened my eyes to the fact that at least the city was hit by poverty or had a large population living in poverty.
After about 30 minutes by taxi, we entered a much nicer part of town and there, like an oasis amidst all the poverty, was this beautiful hotel and the large modern shopping mall next to it, as well as several large modern well-maintained high rise buildings. The scene was a big difference from the old areas of the city. This area can be found in any modern American city and looked very similar to the commercial part of the city in the US. The area is called Ayala Business Park and Ayala Shopping Center. This is modern Cebu City and it is everything you would find in any modern city.
Once at the hotel, Marriott, I walked into a very nice room and we all went to the dining room for a nice lunch. Shortly after, only Judith and I, as her sister, went home. Then Judith took me across the park to Ayala Mall, just a five minute walk away and once in a while at the mall I was thrilled. The stores were the same as in the US, Ace Hardware, Levi, MacDonald's and so on. In addition, several Filipino department stores and many different types of restaurants and cafes. All the store clerks and salespeople spoke English, and most Filipinos who passed the shops spoke English. The others used a mixture of English and their native Cebuano. All store signs are written in English and restaurant menus are written in English. In many ways, I felt like I had just traveled 20 plus hours from Florida to be in an American city.
Although there were many other foreigners at the mall, many Filipinos walked by asking me where I was from and generally, they were all very kind to me. While at the mall I bought some souvenir items to take home, and Judith and I just did a lot of shopping for showcases. I was happy to see that the prices of most things in stores were very cheap compared to American ones. At that time, one US dollar bought 56.00 pesos. Today, it's one dollar for about 44.00 pesos. Still a good job, but I'm careful about my spending today. By mid-afternoon I was ready for some sleep after a long flight to Cebu. Judith went home, and I retired to my hotel room.
The next morning Judith was in the hotel bright and early, we had breakfast at the hotel and then went to see the city and some beach resorts. Cebu has beautiful and wonderful resorts and all very affordable. The resorts are well maintained and modern. The largest population of resort customers are Filipino foreigners and staff. I'm quickly changing my mind about a city from third world poverty to a modern commercial and tourist city with a few old areas that needed a lot of help.
During my trip to Cebu, we entered the old Colon area. Colon is the oldest street in the country and has several attractions. However, the colon is a dirty area of very old and poorly maintained buildings. Prostitution is a major problem in the colon area, as is street crime. Beautiful markets and great facilities can be found in Colon, but this is not an area for a new tourist. Hotels can be found at a great price in Colon. Some only cost $ 20.00 per night, but these hotels cater to those who pick up streets and girls and rooms are very dirty. Last year, Judith and I stayed at two different Colon hotels. We entered the city for our monthly shopping from Camotes Island. We decided to try the hotels because they are cheap and close to many foreign markets. I would never stay at any of these hotels again. The best words to describe them are old, dirty, cracked rats and full of prostitutes. Both hotels seem to offer single men and girls that men can find at Colon bars or on the streets. The area has several small bikini bars with Bar girls (prostitutes) also called GRO. If you are not looking for a prostitute, there is little reason to go to Colon in the dark, and even then you have to be very careful. It is not intended to say that the whole Colon is bad. There are some nice shops and restaurants in Colon. I enjoy shopping in the Colon area, but one has to be careful in Colon.
During my first visit, I saw most of all areas of Cebu City and felt safe at all times. Of course we didn't go dark into the old parts of town. Instead, we were at resorts or around Ayala Park, all of which are very safe and comfortable areas. I would recommend Cebu City to anyone who wants to go to a great resort and spend time on the beautiful beach, diving, taking a boat trip. the outer islands and they don't spend a lot of money. There is so much to see and much to see in Cebu City. Staying at any resort is very affordable for only about $ 60.00 per night and some for $ 250.00 each. Dinner at restaurants is also very cheap. Meals at nice restaurants can only cost $ 10.00 to $ 20.00 for two people, I had a wonderful time during my first visit. However, Judith was also my guide as my girlfriend. I'm not sure I would have loved Cebu City as much as I did if Judith hadn't been with me during her first trip.
Shortly after my first visit to Cebu City, I moved from Florida to Cebu City in 2004. By this time Judith and I were getting married and I wanted to live in the Camotes Islands. However, we decided to live in the city while looking for land to build a home in Camotes. The Camotes Islands is a rural province of Cebu and only two hours away by boat. We rented a brand new two bedroom house in the Lahuga area of Cebu City. Monthly rent was only $ 125.00 plus our TV cable for about $ 15.00 a month. The house was on a hill overlooking the city and close to everything we needed. Lahug is a very nice area and many new subdivisions are now being built in the area. Our monthly budget while we lived in Lahug was around $ 700.00 and that included rent, utilities, food, taxis and even lots of dinners at restaurants and parties. I suppose if we were still living in Lahug, the budget would only be a few dollars a month.
In just a few weeks after moving to Lahug House, I felt like Cebu was my city and I really enjoyed the city life. The city has a lot to offer the foreigner and the city is always trying to attract more foreign retirees. It really is a foreign (expat) friendly city. The largest group of foreigners in Cebu are Koreans, followed by Americans, Australians, British and Japanese. There are no racial tensions or problems in the city that I am aware of and the city is very safe. However, like any major world city, there is crime, but if common safeguards and precautions are used, a happy life can be had in Cebu City. Driving in the city is something I've never tried, and I don't think I'll ever drive in the city again. Taxis can get you almost anywhere in the city for $ 1.00 to $ 2.00 and that's fine for me.
Shopping in the city is great and there are products from all over the world in Philippine stores. Many grocery stores have Western brands, so you will never get in trouble for your favorite food from home. Outside markets located throughout the city offer great benefits and it's always fun to negotiate prices with suppliers. Cable TV is available in the city and offers numerous US broadcasts and news programs. You can head to the movies and watch a new movie for about $ 1.00, and popcorn is just a few pennies. The city has grown since I moved to the Philippines. There are many new closed-door subdivisions providing services to overseas buyers, new high-rise apartment buildings and resorts continue to attract foreigners. Two major shopping centers in the city, Ayala and SM, are expanding. Many roads have been upgraded, as has infrastructure in many areas. The city is a big attraction for tourism and is always trying to bring in more tourists and more foreign retirees.
Any expatriate with a monthly pension of about $ 1,000.00 can live like a king in the city of Cebu. You can live on less than $ 1,000.00, but I think $ 1,000.00 is a real value if you include saving every month for emergencies, travel, and medical supplies. The city has really good hospitals and the cost of treatment in the Philippines is much less. Good dental care at very reasonable prices is also available in the Philippines. Many people go to Cebu for medical or dental holidays. Just remember if you think you want to move to Cebu City do your homework. Do you want to live in a new country? do you want to be separated from your family and grandchildren? If you are married, how does your wife feel about living in Cebu? If you have young children, do you want to live in a new country and what about their education? Do you have the patience and understanding to learn and live in a new culture? Do you have the money to live a good life in Cebu without having to find a job? Do you have enough money to cover any type of emergency that can require between five and ten thousand dollars? Finally, what is your reason for wanting to live in a new country? If you can be honest with yourself and have a positive answer to the above questions, then maybe Cebu City is for you?
Remember too, the Philippine economy is struggling. Filipinos with four and six years of college graduation are driving taxis or working as clerks in commerce. Country unemployment is through the roof. Poverty is a major issue in the country. With all the beauty of the Philippines, poverty continues to plague many Filipinos and their future, creating an ugly face for an otherwise beautiful country. Just this week, on November 8, 2007, an 11-year-old girl in Manila who lives with her mother, father and little brother in a visited town. The reason the girl left in the note was because of the poverty that her and her family lived. The father has been unable to find work for months, and the mother only works for $ 1.00 a day. The girl had just asked her father P200.00 the night before for a school project. My father had no money, just under $ 4.00. All the girl wanted was to finish school and buy a new bike. A simple dream compounded by severe poverty in a country struggling to overcome political corruption and theft. Remember, what you can spend for the Philippines in just one day is that Filipinos can live for a month. Poverty really takes lives.
I truly love my lifestyle in the Philippines, but it took some time, patience, understanding and a few sacrifices to live in the Philippines. I made a few mistakes before coming here and a few since I lived here. I didn't have enough money when I came here in 2004. I made a few trips to Florida to do some contract work and then returned to my beloved Camotes Islands. I am currently out of home because of a teaching contract. However, for me it is worth the price to have only a few months a year in my paradise called Camotes Islands, Cebu, Philippines. I think anyone looking for a great vacation will enjoy Cebu City. Those looking to retire on a modest pension can make a good living here, but just be sure that living in a new country is right for you. Before you decide to move here, it is wise to first come on vacation and see the city for yourself. Then you can decide if this is the life you want. Once again, for me this is paradise.