For a first encounter of Zamboanga City, an outsider could have gone prying on whether they were mistakenly transported into Malaysia or perhaps in a little town of Zaragoza, Spain. Known as Asia’s Latin City, there’s a reason why Zamboanga is called as such. The same way there are reasons why I think that living in this culturally diverse city prepared me to travel the world.
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With 60% Catholics, 35% Muslims, and 5% Buddhists and of other religions, there’s no denying that Zamboanga is a melting pot of cultures. Ever since childhood, I’ve gotten accustomed to having Muslims classmates or Buddhist relatives. As a young Catholic, I was introduced to Taoism and visited Buddhist temples several times. Whenever my family pays a visit to the biggest Catholic shrine in the city, the Fort Pilar, I see just a block away from it standing is the largest Muslim mosque in town as well.
Buddhist figures are a common sight in Asia
This is Zamboanga, after all. We learn to coexist with people of other religious beliefs, customs, and ways of life. We are aware of how our outfit or word choices can affect or disturb others. When I toured Brunei and other Muslim- dominated countries, I tend to be sensitive to their rules and regulations, especially when it comes to dressing up. Particularly when going to see a temple or sacred shrine, it’s common sense to observe proper dress code.
Located in southwestern Mindanao, this diverse city has irregular topography ranging from rolling mountains to pebbly beaches surrounding the coastlines and nearby islets. Being raised 15 minutes away from the tawny beach aided me with my fearless devotion to water sports activities. Also, just few minutes away are the lush, steep mountains that provided me enough stamina to conquer heights no matter where I am.
Climbing Quitinday Hills, Albay
If on flat terrains, the weather is ordinarily sultry. But most elevated lands dodge the equatorial hot spell, with towns like Pasonanca and La Paz being considered to be the “Little Baguio of the South” due to their cold climate.
I had never experienced extreme weather before traveling to Europe. I arrived at the charming city of Amsterdam during its coldest month of the year. Nonetheless, I survived the winter season without getting sick or cold. Not my colleagues, though. I guess, being close to nature when I was still young really gave me good body resistance—feeling the warm sun and sand when I was frolicking on a beach, grasping the chilly air upon reaching the top of a mountain, running along the rice paddles are just some of my fond childhood memories.
Pink beach, Zamboanga City
Living in one of the most populous and smallest cities in the Philippines, Zamboanga City is not as hell of a mess as the capital, Metro Manila, but it isn’t a walk in the park either. The pure absence of taxis forces daily local commuters to ride a jeepney or tricycle. The latter can serve as a taxi anyway; it’s spacious enough to give you a comfortable journey around the city. Although, like taxi drivers, tricycle drivers downtown also have a widespread reputation as scam busters blitzing various type of scams to overcharge passengers.
Regular taxi in Tokyo, Japan
With no meter to measure your fare, it’s even easier for them to charge you higher than what you are supposed to pay. This fiddle usually enables Zamboanguenos to constantly fight with the driver, haggle if possible, and find a way to outsmart them. Same goes when you travel to a foreign city. Unless you are on an organized tour, traveling around can mean having to ride a taxi, tuk-tuk, or other modes of transportation to get to a place. The streets of Zamboanga city served as my training ground to confront such injustices on the road.
My first travel abroad is an overland travel from Thailand to Vietnam. I took advantage of the close distance among these beautiful Southeast Asian countries that I decided to tour them by land. While on the road, I understood the normality of haggling with tuk-tuk drivers every time I rode one.
Being born in a small city where a significant amount of distinctive dialects amalgamate is like listening to various types of music at the same time. The effect can be either a total bedlam to the eardrum or a badly mixed tune. But hearing it over time makes it possible for you to grasp its medley. Chavacano is spoken by the original settlers in the city, English and Tagalog are taught in schools, while Cebuano, Tausug, and Hiligaynon are usually heard at the city center and western part of the region. Some minority groups also speak Malaysian, Chinese, or Japanese. These are just few of the common languages a visitor may catch on a visit to Zamboanga city.
Guadalajara city tour, Mexico
By listening to multiple languages, Zamboanguenos usually develop ears for linguistics. An average Zamboangueno you’ll spot on the streets is normally multilingual. Being multilingual is a common Zamboangueno trait. The ability to adapt handily to foreign sounds and phonetics is our pleasure. Since Chavacano is rich in Spanish words, it facilitates us in learning Spanish in short amounts of time. When we ask “Cosa?” Did we just say an Italian word?
When I travelled to Mexico, it was easy on both the ear and the eye for me in making out conversations with Mexicans. There are even Mexican Spanish words that I failed to hit in study books but later learned them in Mexico, which are actually words we use in Chavacano. Palangga, chingga (pardon for the word), moler, tapadera, are just some of them.
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Vacation in Mexico
Traveling can be fun, but at the same time, challenging. But I am ready for it no matter what. I am glad to come from one of the most diverse cities in the Philippines which helped me to become an open-minded, sensitive, and strong individual.
How about you? How do you think your native city or province shaped you to be who you are today? Share your thoughts in the comments.