Cebu’s Only Hearse

From the archives of The New York Times comes this curious piece, published on May 1, 1904, titled “Cebu’s Only Hearse”.

If we can believe the account, there was, in 1904, exactly one hearse in the entire island of Cebu to transport the dead to their graves, and the service was such a privilege that everyone was dying (literally) to get it.  Those lucky enough, the article claims, are “enrolled at once among the aristocracy” (posthumously, naturally, but we’re guessing it was never too late to join the upper crust even when you were about to enter lower ground).

The story is obviously apocryphal because it also says that the hearse’s “native driver” cherished his position so much that he “would not exchange his job for that of Civil Governor, or any other, except that of a drum major.”  That’s when you know the article probably was written in jest.  Because everyone wants to be Governor, right? No?

Travel writing


(In March of 2005, I wrote this column about travel writing for SunStar Cebu.  I wonder how much has changed since.)

You could be scampering on the beach, being chased by a mad dog whose urine-marked territory you had the bad fortune of crossing, but in the eyes of a travel writer you are one happy tourist. You are “sashaying in the powdery-white sand, communing with the forces of nature.”

That’s travel writing. It is among the most optimistic professions on earth.

Food is not simply delicious, it is “delectable,” and when it is not, it is “exotic.” Mountains (“verdant”) and waters (“azure”) are not simply there; they “beckon.” Which is somewhat of a sore point because all my life I’ve been watching them but they have never beckoned. Perhaps they are partial to travel writers because of the PR possibilities.

And every other God-forsaken place that everyone else is avoiding is never deserted; it is simply “unexplored.” Virgin. In this country alone, I must have read of a hundred or so different “paradises on earth,” and I am distressed at the thought of so many original sins.

The scenes are always “breathtaking.” I’ve seen “breathtaking” on every other piece of travel writing that I’m beginning to wonder if people should be traveling at all when they’re suffering from perpetual shortness of breath. Maybe you should rest awhile.

Imagine if we all thought like travel writers. I tried. I “sojourned” to our old house (excuse me, “hideaway”) in the south for a Holy Week “getaway” and I looked at everything from the eyes of a travel writer.

“Are we there yet?” my wife, who had never been there, asked.

“No. The place is nestled…well, tucked away in a charming, powdery-white sand beach with a captivating view of Tañon Strait.”

“Is there a place where we can stop to find a clean restroom?”

“You’ll have to be patient.”

“There are no clean restrooms?”

“Let’s just say,” I said, remembering to look at everything from the eyes of a travel writer, “a clean restroom is the south national road’s best-kept secret.”

It was not easy being a travel writer, even for a trip. I had to strain it a bit when I explained that the trisikad drivers causing the slow traffic were actually “hospitable locals with a ready smile” inviting us to “take in the lush greenery” you get a sideways glance of when you shake your head to complain. Or that those aging smoke-belching buses really evoked a sort of “old-world charm” that’s impossible to shake off, even if one desperately wanted to.

We finally found a restroom. I checked it out first, and found that the lavatory had a busted pipe, and the bathroom floor was flooded. As my wife entered, I told her: “By the way, as you go in, you will catch a fantastic view of cascading waters, and the rising waters will cool your weary feet.”  (Pablo John Garcia, “Breakfast at Noon”, SunStar Cebu March 2005)





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