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Travel

The Philippines

7,100 islands, 17,460 km of coastline... and karaoke

Cloud 9. Photo: Victor Gonzalez

by Sam Bleakley

In Dangerous Emotions rogue anthropologist Alphonso Lingis writes ‘One night you call up everybody you know and tell all the jokes you know, so that you will not be able to tell any of them again. When you wake the next morning your mind is buzzing with new, still more ingenious and extravagant scripts.’

Unlike the popular view of meditation, where the mind is cleared, therapy through laughter – the kind of belly laughter that doubles you over so that you cannot catch your breath and you are crying because it is so funny excruciatingly, achingly funny – is to fill the mind to brimming, to allow its scripts to overflow, to open the tap to full, to release the floodgates. Karaoke does this too, as a public catharsis.

In the Philippines, karaoke is a national treasure and a national sport.

Prepare your ears for pepper-hot pop music. It jumps out from weathered karaoke speakers even in the most remote bays, night and day, to rinse your senses. Some of the locals will recognise the surfboards (which they instantly associate with Siargao). ‘Hey Joe. You play surping (with a ‘p’)’ they say, beaming. I instantly recall the 1960s rock classic ‘Hey Joe’. You might even catch a rendition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1966 debut single ‘Hey Joe’ on the karaoke.

A man shoots his wife and is on the run to Mexico. Turns out that Mexico actually governed the Philippines for about 250 years (and there are plenty of guns around here). Later in the ‘60s Frank Zappa recorded a ‘Hey Joe’ parody called ‘Flower Punk’ to make fun of the fashionable hippie lifestyle. The lyrics go, ‘Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that flower in your hand? Well, I’m going up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band.’

The hippie surf travellers of the 1970s did not criss-cross the Philippines like they did Bali, Mexico or Morocco. It wasn’t until John Callahan’s iconic images of Cloud 9 – published in Surfer magazine in 1993 – that we collectively opened our eyes to the wave potential here. Some spots are well know and now pretty crowded, providing a mainstay for local businesses. But the Philippines has 7,100 islands and 17,460 km of coastline. An untold number of classy breaks are spinning and spitting right now, singing to empty stadiums, bereft of audiences. The best of these breaks are stand-up comedians having a joke at our expense, laughing at our absence as they reel off one-liners and howl at their own jokes doubling over in white water.

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