It is quite presumptuous on my part really to think that I can encapsulate in so mundane and niggardly words the beauty that is the South. I moved to the city in my early twenties and I am not going to lie about not being able to adjust to the speeding urban life quite well. It took me at least three years to find my zen in the midst of the bustling metropolis.
And, who can blame me? The city is very much different from the laid-back countryside I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to put both in hot water while we speculate which is better between the two. No. I simply want to talk about the things that I miss and keep dear deep in the countryside where I once skinned my knees and bruised my heart.
I grew up in the South (Salot) and you probably have heard many things about it. You may have heard of the whalesharks, the falls, the beaches, among others. Perhaps, you may have heard of things that are a tad dubitable — if not outright ridiculous, but, believe me, things are quite more colorful really than what our imagination may have afforded us to fabricate. I mean, just talk to somebody from the South and you should be able to tell how incredibly interesting the South is by the way he talks (obviously), his peculiarities and the way he generally carries himself. The South essentially adds more flavor to the already flavorful island of Cebu.
1. The Famous (Infamous) Southern Accent
Come on. You’ve got to admit it. Every southerner has been told that he talks funny at least once or twice in his life and I am one of those unlucky yokels who can’t simply shake our southern accent off no matter how hard we try. But, that is fine. It seems like there is nothing much we can do about it. Well, there is really nothing wrong with how we speak. It is just different.
What is funny, however, is the common mistake of blocking all southern accents in one “sociolinguistic” category: Sinalot or Taga-Salot (pronounced with some weird voice lilting and stifled chuckles). Man, we are obviously more interesting than that. Being taga-Salot isn’t bad, but the term cannot but leave us all, the good people of the South, feeling shortchanged. I personally don’t speak “south”. I speak Kinaceres (Nueva Caceres)— which is different from Inoslob (Oslob), which is, in turn, different from Binoljoon (Boljoon), Dinalaguete (Dalaguete) and from the rest of the sub-accents of the South.
I used to find it rather offensive and embarrassing when somebody would point out the uniqueness of the way I speak fearing that people might not take me seriously because of my accent. However, I later found out that it’s not always the case. I mean, if we are to believe what they say about not judging people unreasonably, then my accent should not be an issue, right? After all, stereotypes are the trade of the ignorant.
I personally think, however, that sensitivity is still key when commenting on a southerner’s — and anybody’s, for that matter — way of speaking most especially when you don’t know the man on a first-name basis. I, for one, may easily get butthurt if I feel discriminated against just because I speak with extra lilt and swing.
2. The Azure Seas and Verdant Hills
While I find the rather bold urban landscape with its blasphemous skyscrapers and derelict rows of rusty GI roofs comforting in an odd way, this is more like an acquired affinity on my part after years of practically breathing it in and out. The quaint panorama of the countryside, however, has always been an easy favorite for me and probably for many tourists and residents too. Blue-green seas. Green hills and mountains. What’s there not to like?
I love the crimson morning and the salty air. I love the vast expanse of sandy shore and the rows of docked boats scarred with the telltale marks of survival and hope. I love the dew-kissed trees slowly waking to the gentle sunshine coyly rising behind the horizon.
I love the scarlet afternoon and the hopeful resignation for a kinder tomorrow. I love the muddy hills and the scent of hardwork and persistence. I love the setting of the sun after a grueling day. I also love the warm promise of its return.
I love the tranquil nights, the snoozing twinkle of the stars above, the naughty crackles of crickets hiding behind the blanket of jetblack night. I love the silence. I love the naive display of the universal zest for life disguised as irregular cadence of snores and teeth grinding.
3. Home-cooked Meals and Fresh Harvest
The fast-paced life in the city has introduced a new type of food appreciation. I mean, we want things here and now — even for our food. We want them immediate and current. Fast food. Express delivery. To-go. Drive-through. It is not necessarily bad though. I mean, I too enjoy that crispy fried piece of chicken dipped in thick gravy from our favorite apian. But, sometimes, we easily get swept by the need for speed and we take things for granted as they speed by in a blur. That aspect of eating as a social activity has long taken the back burner. After all, 24 hours a day can only squeeze so much.
But, a day in the countryside is a welcome excuse to dilly-dally and take things slow. Slow-cooked cuisines. Crock-pot delicacies. Time has the tendency to linger in the country along with the saline breeze and the humid afternoons. What makes eating a special activity in the country, however, is the warm and accepting company in the midst of friends, family and, essentially, of everyone we hold dear.
Come to think of it. That small bowl of salted anchovies (ginamos) tastes better when shared. I mean, it could be Tatay’s special vinegar or Nanay’s garden-picked red chilis but that broiled dried fish (bulad) definitely has that distinct flavor which makes the mouth water. Eating is not merely an act as trivial as blinking. It is a social activity where members of the family pour out their hopes, aspirations, frustrations, among other things. It is where we are said to eat filling the stomach and the heart.
4. The Endearing Charm of the Southern Hoi Polloi
In an attempt at describing the country folks in one ambitious word, colorful comes to mind rather presumptuously — and I still find it wanting. Ironic may be a good word too. Absurd may be too harsh to the ears. I don’t know. What I know is these country folks are anything but ordinary. I am not saying they are of a superior breed than their urban counterparts. Hell, no. What I am saying is that they definitely are different.
While people in the city just couldn’t care less about that next-door neighbor with a lazy eye and a limp and who had a tiger for a pet, village people, on the other hand, knows about when this guy cut his hair last, or whom this girl slept with, or who would get pregnant next because she wore the shortest and skimpiest of skirts ever made. Remember that time when one opened a new sari-sari store in town, two more stores opened the next day and, guess what, they were even mere steps away from one another. When one sold pansit, two sold pansit, too, the next day, and two more the day after next until everybody sold pansit.
When one girl returns home pregnant after trying her luck in the city — oh, well, the fruit doesn’t fall very far from the tree, does it? When one boy comes home with all the trappings of success — oh, the car might probably be rented or he could not become anybody more than a drug pimp counting his days before he gets caught… or killed, could he? God forbid (and, have mercy on his soul — just in case).
Still, I love the country folks so much — the nice and graceful bearings of honest and good men… and the nasty bouts of schadenfreude and sourgrape of backward gossips included. I mean, I don’t even want us to change. We are who we are and I simply couldn’t care less. What and who we are simply make up the charm that is the South. We may at times take a step forward and then two steps back. That is okay. Fruits may fall not very far from the tree. That is fine. All that I am seeing is a hopeful collection of dreams trying very hard to write the story of how they come to be. And, maybe, when in the process of penning these stories down he finds himself lost in the big city, hopefully he takes comfort in the knowledge that a row of sari-sari stores and a ton load of pansit are gladly waiting for his return. Maybe — just maybe — this time his car won’t be rented anymore.