by Phantazein Studio

April 2014. Cebu, Philippines

This is Jason. I met him as I was walking along Transcentral Highway on my way back to town from Top’s Lookout in Cebu. At 2500 feet above sea level in the mountains, there’s not much along this isolated route other than vegetation and the occasional rest stop. Through a cluster of dense trees I noticed a bright blue house of sheet metal and wooden boards, set atop a steep hill with stilts. I waved to my partner to come over and have a look, and out popped Jason’s head from between the trees. He called out to me, startling the both of us, and enthusiastically gestured for us to come over. I made my way around the bushes to the narrow path leading to his house where he beckoned to me to come in.

His house was a single room, dark, with a shelf full of ladies shoes and clothes, a crockpot, and a couple religious figurines scattered about. The walls were covered in gauzy fabric, and the floor was made of narrow wooden planks through which I could see a couple pigs rolling around below in the soil. The only source of light in the room was the TV from which the intro screen of a Karaoke DVD was displayed. A rusty mike dangled from a nearby shelf. He offered me an herbal cigarette and a glass of beer.

I asked him his name in my shoddy Spanish, assuming he’d understand as it’s not too far from Tagalog. From what I gathered by his response, he spoke something other than Tagalog which was specific to this region in the Philippines. We struggled through our exchange- he in his dialect and I in Spanish, gleaning what we could from the words we understood. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing here. He explained that he worked in construction, and that it was tiring work. I understood that he lived with 2 or 3 other people in this house, one of whom was hiding out back as he was too shy to come in. A few puppies scampered in the doorway, their loud barking mingling with the grunting of the enormous pigs below us. Jason waved frantically as he spoke, and he seemed happy to have some interaction with such strange foreigners. He said that he had the day off and that he was taking it easy. He liked drinking and doing karaoke in his time off.

On my way out, he offered me the rest of his forty ouncer of beer and another cigarette. I waved goodbye to him, turning around a couple times to take a last look at this kind person who I’d never see again.