Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another city

ON the day Cebu City was designated as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) City of Culture, my friend and I were walking back to her hotel along Osmeña Boulevard.

After an afternoon of coffee and stories near the Provincial Capitol, we prepared to part, she to wait for her husband and I to meet up with a son.

My friend declared she planned to walk the few blocks back to the hotel. She enjoyed the stroll along the tree-shaded stretch, liked its difference from the mall enclaves that made many parts of Cebu a featureless replica of other metros.

I took another look at my friend and decided to walk with her. Olive finished her undergraduate studies in the city. As an activist, she walked these same streets. For meetings and study sessions that lasted into the night or till dawn, she staked out with other students, first over doughnuts and batchoy, and later, rice toppings.

Yet family and work had taken Olive out of Cebu for decades. Compared to the jungle of Manila, Fuente Osmeña seems all southern charm and languid pace.

As we walked, I pointed out to her the streets to avoid as a shortcut after twilight. (A fellow teacher and her teenage daughter were walking home at dusk when a foreigner approached them. “I like her,” he said as if my colleague had actually been shouting at the top of her voice that her daughter was for sale. After office hours, many female students complain of strangers propositioning them along this stretch.)

Olive and I crossed one corner for the one where another friend once followed a seemingly amorous couple. My friend and her companion, both in their 60s, looked away as the woman wriggled against her male companion, whose arm clinched her to his side.

The ladies were actually relieved when the man casually walked away, leaving behind his companion. However, when they overtook the woman and took a look at her pale face, the ladies learned, too late, how they mistook them as a couple engaged in a public display of affection.

The man had actually been demanding for the valuables of the woman, who was trying to pull away from the ice pick he pressed against her side.

Hearing the story, Olive said she strolled along the boulevard only during the day. I said the holdup my friend witnessed took place before noon on a busy weekday.

The earrings we took off before leaving the coffeeshop was a precaution, I said, against the repeat of another incident involving the assistant of my sons’ orthodontist. While waiting for the traffic sign to flash green for crossing pedestrians, the assistant could only shout in pain as a boy took hold of her ears from behind and tore away her earrings. After nursing swollen ear lobes for a week and regretting the loss of heirloom jewelry, the receptionist and our orthodontist now wear small pearl studs of little value.

At this point in our walk, Olive and I had reached the third block at the inner periphery of the Fuente oval. As I turned to her, two grimy youngsters closed in from behind. Overtaking us, the nearest boy jolted Olive’s arm, the one that held down the purse slung in front of her.

The usual modus is for the youths to beg for a handout. They’re not as keen on the coin you’re getting from your purse as on your bag, jewelry or other property. In early afternoon, a tourist was mugged by a band of kids that first begged and then pushed him down to the curb as they swarmed, running away with his camera and shopping totes.

A security guard at one of the Fuente locators once stopped a thief from running away with a student’s silver bracelet. He told the police that trying to escape, the youth ran towards the guard.

However, since the thief was a minor, the police released him. The boy later visited the guard to threaten him, “Hilabtanon ka (you meddler).” Fearing retaliation, the guard asked for a transfer.

Unscathed, Olive and I parted outside her hotel. Proud to be part of a city of culture, I nevertheless wondered if the accolade covered all forms of the creative and the ingenious. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 17, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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