Cebu City, the Philippines

March 5, 2011

Other than my bedroom, I didn’t have a literal comfort zone – a feel-good place that I’d repeatedly go back to. My fellow transcendental traveler, Ki, knew such a place where he felt “in the zone.” He took to his solitary journeys there like a fish to water.

Richmond Butalid (Ki) and his favorite McDonald’s in Fuente Osmeña Circle

For Ki, that place was Fuente Osmeña Circle, an old fountain rotunda in uptown Cebu. Coming from an early flight, he’d plop down on a comfy seat at McDonald’s fronting the circle. After devouring his Filipino breakfast, he’d do…nothing. He may read the papers or snap some photos, but generally, he’d just chill – be perfectly comfortable being alone with his thoughts. No real time tweet or Facebook status could hijack his solitude. Instead, he’d while the time away people-watching. At this hour, the rotunda was abuzz with joggers, old men doing tai chi, and commuters, while McDonald’s was doing brisk business with breakfast diners, the unwitting subjects of his scrutiny.

Ki and his favorite McDonald’s
“Morning Verse” – A Cebuana reads her Bible after having McDo breakfast (photography and text by Ki)

I tagged along on this trip, curious about this part of Cebu. There was neither a Parisian al fresco cafe nor an Italian piazza. Just a fastfood joint, for crying out loud! The rotunda had an old charm to it, but the fountain itself did not spout water that morning. I wondered aloud what allure this roundabout had.

Ki drew a blank.

Perhaps the idea of a rejuvenating fountain and the circle’s old world vibe were his take on la dolce vita. It was not so much squandering time as savoring life with the leisure and spontaneity that harked back to an older era. This particular morning, I was like Marcello joining him in his fountain to enjoy the moment. Fuente Osmeña was certainly no Trevi, but it was considered the heart of Cebu.

The fountain was built to mark the establishment of the city’s waterworks and the advent of modernization in 1912. It was named after the Grand Old Man of Cebu who was the country’s fourth president. Despite its place in the city’s history, Fuente Osmeña was a forgotten icon of Cebu.

Fuente Osmeña
Cebu Provincial Capitol

The tree-lined Osmeña Boulevard, a heart-to-heart artery, connected the heart of the city to the heart of the province – the immaculately white Cebu Provincial Capitol ensconced regally at the end of the boulevard. Its white dome brought to mind a miniature U.S. Capitol. How magnificent the view of the capitol could have been from the fountain if there were no buildings flanking the boulevard.

It was still early; street vendors were sweeping and setting up shop on the boulevard’s sidewalk. Curiously, only one was stacking used books and magazines on the pavement. Her spot was just outside the newly-spruced up Rizal Memorial Library and Museum (mental note: must visit next time). No wonder, she matched her merchandise with the location.

Book Vendor outside Rizal Memorial Library and Museum
Rizal Memorial Library and Museum in Cebu City
At the Legendary Larsian

For a taste of Cebu, the legendary Larsian, a tented bunch of barbecue stalls in the middle of the street, was within the vicinity. It was strictly no-frills dining here: Slabs of meat hung on hooks for our picking, after which they were cooked while smoke smothered our entire being. Then we ate the barbecue with our hands wrapped in plastic, like a culinary condom! The meat was juicy, but the place was smoky as hell. It got me smelling as if a fire-breathing dragon had belched on me, the stink stubbornly sticking to my clothes and backpack for days.

For sweets, Shamrock, a famous delicacy shop, was just around the corner. I bought a delicacy my mom had asked me to bring home. I had never heard of it before, but it was love at first bite – masareal, a bar of finely ground peanuts and sugar syrup that was quite addictive. It was choc-nut without the choc. A box of Mana Acion’s masareal put the dolce to my vita! I may not have gotten a comfort zone in Fuente Osmeña, but I had found my comfort food there.

Mouthwatering Masareal from Mandaue