‘Cebu-ish’ Influence: Breakdancing, Hidden Rabbis and Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

     Ten Day Blog

     Day 1 — Touchdown in Cebu CityAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     My first trip to the Philippines is probably as good a time as ever to start a blog (it’s still cool to blog these days, right?). I will also be the first in my family to stand on Filipino soil.After one of the better 13 hour overnight flights from LAX to Cebu City — we touched down at 6:30 AM amidst the green, volcanic islands (think opening theme to M*A*S*H with the helicopter). Wow — they apparently allow Cebu’s airport neighbors to jog near the tarmac. At the gate, my colleague and I were welcomed by about 20 of the PAL airline personnel flanked to the left and right of the gangway with bright smiles and a simple message: “Welcome to Cebu” (or as they say in Tagalog…”Mabuhay”). As we walked by, I felt like one of the starting 5 being introduced before a home game in the NBA, so, I extended a “low 5” to everyone. Customs stamped the passport, got the bags nice and early and ducked into a cab bound for our hotel. The air temp was already reaching 80 degrees and muggy even at 6:45AM. The ride from the airport to the Crown Regency Towers in downtown Cebu was right in the middle of Thursday rush hour. I was provided a front row view of how close motorcycles ride next to cars, fearless pedestrians with children and the famed Jeepneys carrying commuters to various work destinations. Checked into the Crown Regency in time for buffet, gym and jumped in an awesome hotel pool. By the way at the gym I quickly found out the reason why everyone else but me opted to walk on the treadmills. Note to self — before next workout, unplug and drag treadmill over to A/C unit and ask someone else to jog for you. I also quickly discovered I’m the only one walking around with Boston sports apparel — I’m already white and stand out. On the upside — a lot of shopkeepers and hotel staff go out of their way to say “Good day, sir” if you appear American.On the cab ride over to the opulent Ayala Mall, we ran into some rush hour traffic. Tough sledding for some -but a nice opportunity for me to people watch. Entirely sad moment that has haunted me well after dinner: there was a small child drinking from a ladle on the side of the road while his shirtless father helped him negotiate the water. Having had enough water and enough of the 90+ degree heat — the father took the boy by the hand and began walking home down a small side road. Wherever home may have been. Didn’t expect to run the gamut of emotions on day 1.Odd experience of the day. Waiting outside of my hotel, I was approached by an ex-patriot with a thick Alabama accent. He explained to me he used to work at Circuit City in Anaheim, tried to start an electronics company out in Cebu and ran into a bad financial situation with a wife and two small boys. And then asked for $10. The first American I’ve met out here is the one asking me for a handout — wow. It made me wonder whether any of it was true — did he in fact have two small children? Was he there for business in electronics? Were things about to get weirder?
     Day 2 in CebuAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Day 2 in Cebu — still pretty wired and on 5 hrs of sleep. At some point, post-plane ride hibernation kicks in — but who has time for that with so much to get out and see?!OK — the gym now has air conditioning. Didn’t notice it yesterday. Less passing out on my part.Super-weird experience of the day: on the elevator ride back down from the gym, a striking lady in her 40s stepped in with a smile and coincidentally got out with me on the 9th floor. Walking ahead of me down the hallway, the woman seemed lost. Turning around abruptly and pacing back, she approached me and asked if I needed a massage?! Here?! In the hotel hallway? I told her no thank you. She then asked me for coins. I said — I don’t have any and this conversation has really gone South. I feel so used and I don’t even know her.Later that morning, my colleague and I walked around one of the more progressive areas of Cebu — I.T. Park — to look for new office space. I tried the local version of McDonald’s — I learned that asking for a little mayo means they place half a jar on your chicken. Frozen Royal Orange drink is totally refreshing. Ducked into a cab just before a big thunderstorm and while scurrying back to the hotel, I spotted a dad on a motorcycle riding with his child on the back part of the seat — wearing a leaf and lawn bag for rain gear. It was like witnessing a hefty bag embracing a motorcyclist with kiddie arms. Cebu Traffic safety tip: staying dry trumps seat belts and helmits.Temperature was a little cooler today at 90 degrees, but somehow the “real feel” was 111 (up 2 degrees from yesterday. Went back to the pool, threw back a mango smoothie (only $3 delivered pool-side) — dinner at an amazing Chinese restaurant later on the 37th floor of the hotel. Almost gave back the meal doing the Skywalk on the 38th floor — amazing 360 degree view of the city at night from the city’s tallest building! And I’ve got the pictures to prove my bravery and strolling around the platform in beach sandals is permitted!
     Day 3 — Hidden Rabbis and Cebu Mall CultureAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     In anticipation of going out hardcore Saturday night, I was trying to keep it simple today. Complexity showed up earlier than expected when I tried searching for this “Chabad House” or Jewish community Center that was supposedly in Cebu. Yes — a Chabad House exists in Cebu along with two others! If it weren’t for my colleague’s Filipino nieces in directing our cab driver — we would have never found this place. When we got there, the Rabbi was fasting and it was Jewish Sabbath — but he was very cordial. His four children and wife lived there with him. She was Filipino! Their meals consisted entirely of kosher food imported from Israel. So was the Rabbi — he moved to Cebu from Jerusalem two years ago. At the Chabad house, I briefly met a couple traveling from one of the settlements south of Jerusalem. They were American expats — originally from Brooklyn. Strange to see these Brooklyn-ites all way out here — but here they were.Later, we traveled to the newly opened Ayala Seaside mall — largest mall in Asia. An opus to the almighty American mall culture, except there’s a built in church! Went shopping with my colleague and his nieces — who bought more shoes than Imelda Marcos to bring back to their family in a small city 8 hours away. I was talked into buying T-shirts and a couple of local Filipino pearls. Apparently the rounder the pearl, the more expensive. So I bought one for Mrs. Roth (wife) and Mrs. Roth (mom). The staff goes out of their way to provide a perfect shopping experience — I had 8-10 people handle $50 worth of purchased goods — Macy’s has got nothing on the Seaside mall. One of the funniest things I experienced there was a live show on the ground floor with hundreds of teens cheering on a pop star with a dancing guy in a cartoon dog suit. It’s amusing to me on an entirely campy and ironic level — and I have regrets in missing a photo op with that blue-shirted cartoon canine diva. We then ate at a Korean pizzeria known as “Mr. Pizza” — also campy and ironic and not bad pizza either! Mr. Pizza also features screens with a myriad of K-pop stars in music videos (mostly homages and knock offs to Diddy, hip-hop, Spice Girls, 98 degrees, In Sync — etc.). Didn’t realize pizza with ham was so big out here. Please don’t tell the rabbi! Quick evening trip to the pool and one Swedish massage later — ready to head out for a night on the town. Maybe this is my “YOLO” moment. I was due for one eventually! Gotta get some sleep instead — so that YOLO moment will come tomorrow on an excursion to Kawasan falls.
     Day 4 — Day Trip to Kawasan FallsAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Departed the hotel and took a three hour van ride out of Cebu City to Kawasan Falls. More green than I’ve seen in 15 years of living in SoCal. Great gelato from a local dairy stand along the route — 30 pesos for a cup, and a variety of flavors! Two lane black top the whole way from Cebu City, winding our way through these tin roofed villages. At Kawasan, hiked one mile into the park flanked by chickens & coconut trees — the path was well trafficked so no snakes. The first fall has a beachfront, tables with food and a team that led me on a large 20 x 20 ft bamboo raft for $20 with life preservers. The water was warm, clean and fantastic. In my inspired state, I tried a little break-dancing under the water (guide said that was a first). On the way to the 2nd level of falls — huge thunderstorm moved in for 3o minutes — the clothes in my backpack were pretty soaked — luckily — the mobile devices survived.At the 2nd falls, it’s an even larger beach setting , smaller falls but you can swing down from a long rope and into the water — just like all those Mountain Dew commercials! The guide warned me to swing down towards the left — away from some rocks beneath the water surface. I went to the right. As 50 beach goers cheered me on — I let go from 8 feet up, hit the water and both shins hit a large rock three feet below the surface. That’s commonly known as a “Mountain Don’t”. For a second, I was thinking about the medi-vac ride to the hospital — but managed to crawl across the water back to shore. Got some ice and found out I could stand and walk a little bit. Fortunately, no breaks, just bruises and large scrapes. After 20 minutes of ice thanks to the food stand, I ambled back down the path to the van. Along the way — we spotted a wild monkey in the trees — and someone from my group remarked “The Monkey’s name is Adam”. Before we boarded the van back to town, we snapped a few pictures along this beautiful beach in a nearby village off the road. A group of local kids were setting up a home-made metal basketball hoop by nailing it to a coconut tree. I took a little time to show them how to spin a ball on their finger. One of the kids was really good — maybe he’ll start for a division 1 school in the states someday. Having taken a video of them playing, I can go home and nag my kids the next time they tell me they’re bored and ask me what they should do. 3 1/2 hour trip back through fairly heavy traffic — we tipped the guide extra well for taking 10 hours on a Sunday for providing us a truly amazing day.
     Day 5 — Working in Cebu CityAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Day 5 — Monday — regular work day for yours truly — up before the roosters and at work around 5AM. At lunchtime, we headed to an authentic Filipino restaurant — the servers put out a banana plant leaf as a place mat. The prawn soup with baked scallops served with cheese in the shell were fantastic (and super cheap)!Still recovering from that “shin-cident” on Sunday at Kawasan falls — so I went to the hot tub and then back out to Ayala mall with my colleague for another meal. Cebu’s construction boom has attracted some rather large business groups, such as IBM. Weird moment of the day: In the electronics store later that evening, this crazy ex-Patriot (formerly from Dallas) was hassling the gals behind the counter and I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with him. He said he was starting up some type of online business out here and was having trouble locating good programmers. Mr. Startup was hitting my colleague and I up with questions about our company and where to find good programmers. We made a hasty retreat out of the mall and back to the hotel. My colleague later made a great point — it’s better to get to know how things work in Cebu and the people rather than learning about other folks from the outside and their business.
     Day 6 — Solo in CebuAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     After a productive early part of the day at the office, I made the executive decision to get around the city by myself that afternoon. No safety blankets from my colleagues this time. Just me. The Crown Regency Towers concierge got me started on the right foot. By taking a left past the taxi stand outside the hotel was a first. Until that point, all I did was go right in the direction of our office. Every block I traveled by foot had its challenges. Small sidewalks intermingled with cars (who also have the right of way over pedestrians). One hand on the wallet and the other on the phone. Whew ! Made it to the Island Souvenir store — bought a hat for the wife, bracelets and magnets for the kids and a magnetized bottle opener for the fridge — all for around $10. Next, I hopped on one of the Cebu jeepneys that circle around town, bound for city hall (eventually). Although not a straight shot to City Hall, the jeepney navigated me through some of the grittiest, authentic looking streets I’ve ever seen. Filled with commerce, these streets were teaming with storefront merchants and people just trying to make enough to survive. It was almost like witnessing a version of New York’s lower east side 100 years later (but fewer Jews on hand). The ride lasted 20 minutes total with dozens of stops in between, people with kids and school kids getting on and off again. Wonderful, live entertainment for 7 pesos (15 cents). Jumped out at City Hall and took a walk around a couple of the adjoining parks. Strolled across a beautiful Catholic university close by, also known as Magellan’s Cross. People were praying and lighting hundreds of candles out by the courtyard- to say that religion is the societal fabric of Cebu and Philippine culture is an understatement. Managed to flag down a taxi and grabbed another meal at the Ayala Mall. It’s been nearly a week and I’m starting to feel a little less like a stranger. Today’s excursion went a long way to helping that cause.
     Day 7 — Lechon — I tried it. I liked it!August 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Although a busy day in and out of the office, sampling authentic Filipino dishes were a terrific break from the action. The programmers from my office had me re-try the baked scallops on the half shell with garlic and cheese (quickly becoming one of my top dishes), served with an assortment of rices (plain, garlic and spiced), along with pancit bihon (glass noodles). They sure know noodles! Around dinner time at a new and emerging restaurant called the “House of Lechon Restaurant”, I found out just how fresh white fish and tuna belly can be served (all at fabulously low prices). The most exotic dish I tried that night was the lechon (roasted pig with crispy skin). Initially, it took some convincing by our Cebu CPA and my colleague. Once tried, I can honestly say that lechon was tasty! I’m on day 7 here and I’ve been on a quasi-Atkins diet. There’s never much bread at the table — just a portion of rice and the desserts are much smaller here in Cebu. Between that, the getting around town and the gym, I’ve lost five pounds. One other important aspect of my stay at the hotel. I’ve left 100 pesos ($2) and a kind note of thanks to the cleaning attendant, Louie, every morning. Upon my return to the room each afternoon, Louie leaves a note back, blessing me for each gesture. Although not a very religious sort, I’ve made a little habit of storing all the blessings notes in the bible next to my hotel bed. Those may be the same blessings that protected me from breaking my shins on Sunday at the falls. Kinda like shin guards.
     Day 8 Day 8 — Lapu LapuAugust 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     This afternoon and evening were spent touring through a couple of parts of Cebu City I had yet to reach. A close family friend of my neighbor named Rosa picked me up after work and drove us all the way out past the airport to Lapu Lapu — one of the most well maintained parks in the city located on the most hallowed ground on the island. The place where Magellan reached the bitter end of his “world exploration” tour at the hands of the Philippine’s first hero: Lapu Lapu. Lookout towers made of bamboo and straw huts elevated over the tide fortify one of the more scenic bays you’ll find in the city. Unfortunately, it was low tide by the time I reached the walkway for photo ops. Luckily, it was also low tide for tourists by the souvenir stands. An array of monkey coconut trinkets all to myself! Purchased two of them for the boys (at verrrrrrrrrry low prices) and apparently some of the shopkeepers don’t mind haggling customers. Amazing sundown dining at Lantaw Native restaurant overlooking Cebu City from the other side of the water. The design resembled the set of Gilligan’s island with dockside seating, bamboo railings and thatched roof. The bar was built out of an old jeepney! Lantaw also includes a bit of dinner-theater entertainment with a guy juggling and combining large metal rings to the delight of the surrounding patrons. Toss in a couple of pina coladas in jelly jars and it was about as wonderful a dining experience you could have for under $25!
     Day 9 — Liv it up!August 4, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Friday marked the final work day with my team in Cebu — and as a fitting reward to our programmers for a job well done, that evening, my colleague arranged a fantastic dinner at the Grand Majestic Rancon followed by…VIP seating at “Liv” nightclub in Mandaue. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been clubbing, so my dance moves are in mothballs. First stop, a grand buffet at the Grand Majestic. Grand Majestic offers a mix of Asian cuisine and about as much as you can take in by the plate (dumplings, rice, scallops and broccoli were a good start).Threw down our napkins and we flagged down a couple of cabs bound for our V.I.P. event at “Liv”. Liv is one of the high end venues for those who crave the Cebu nightlife, and after two rounds of security — we were escorted behind the velvet rope to our own private booth. Now, most of what I experienced should probably be left off this blog entry, but I will say the people of Cebu and the Asian clubgoers bring positive techno vibes to a whole new level. I’ve been to enough stateside clubs in NY and LA where people are less hospitable, and given the recent events in Orlando and other global events, “Liv” gave me a little hope for the planet. Went crazy for 3+ hours on an elevated dance floor, some of which included an array of break dancing moves, “poppin'” sprinkled in with “lockin'”. Hi-fived about half the club while the techno expertise of DJ Serafin helped re-boot my cerebral iTunes. Balloons and confetti poured on the dance floor intermittently from the ceiling and foam light sticks were dished out at midnight. Although I’m on the wagon, various tables offered up shots of Hennessey and Vodka to which I graciously grinned and then dumped on my head (it’s rude not to accept an offer of gratitude). It’s also kinda tricky dancing with one eye burning from Hennessey ! Weird coincidence of the night: the clubgoers to the right of us in the other VIP booth were from LA! They were about as happy as we were to see someone from their backyard. So, my colleague bought them a round of drinks too. Bottom line — the people of Cebu are no strangers to happiness and this was on full display at “Liv”. After 2:30AM, I hung up the dance moves and retreated out to the parking lot with our exhausted programming team. Saying our thanks and subsequent goodbyes to the team before taking separate cabs suddenly made it a sad event. These guys work so hard and contributed to some lasting memories of my first trip out here. Til next year!
     Day 10 — Before I go…MangoAugust 3, 2016adamjroth Leave a comment
     Day 10 — final full day in Cebu. I’m typing this with a slight fever and a penchant for return trips to the “comfort room” at this point. Something between the club and breakfast didn’t agree with me — maybe a 24 hour dealie — and of course it happened just before a trip to the airport.Last night, I willed myself into one final outing see one of the more famous Cebu nightspots, Mango Square. Much more relaxed atmosphere accompanied by light fare and spirited live entertainment, Mango Square was a nice way to cap off a life-changing trip. From what I understand, Mango square has cleaned up its act and is now a premiere venue for 30 somethings to mingle, dine and enjoy live local Cebu music. One thing I noticed about the bands out here — they love covering ’80’s pop tunes. Mixing in native Tagalog within the lyrics, they add a layer of entertainment to see if Western listeners can name that tune. One final round of drinks delivered to our outdoor table and it was off to an early bedtime.The term “Thank you Cebu” barely begins to express my gratitude and appreciation for the local hospitality and new adventures I’ve been blessed with over the past 10 days. Along the way, the city gave me a new perspective on people, what life is like in this far away island and what dreams may come for it’s future. Til Next year (for now, its off to the comfort room!).

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