Sleepless in Quezon City

Quezon City, one of many cities that make up Metro Manila, is the broadcasting enclave of the Philippines. It’s also where I live, two short blocks from the ABS-CBN compound.

I saw my apartment a few hours after landing in Manila. A studio with a small kitchen and air conditioning, the space struck me as clean, quiet and well lit. I was excited to move in, if only to get out of my hotel room. Hotels are generally fine, and they offer things like furniture and towels, items I had yet to purchase. But staying in a hotel in a strange city alone was a bit unnerving this time around. I was anxious. I wanted to see where I would be living for a year.

When I moved in the apartment only had a bed. It still only has a bed – except now the bed has pillows and sheets, and the shower now has a shower curtain.

My first night in my studio I was getting ready to go to sleep early, still working out my jet lag, when loud music started blaring. It must be my neighbors, I thought. They must be night owls. Good thing, because usually I am too. But then I realized the music was coming from outside.

And then the singing started.

Yup, I’m back in Asia. Karaoke. Except this time the karaoke is in a different format. No more drunken business men singing “I Will Always Love You” at the local bar. In my Quezon City neighborhood, the singing takes place out on the street block-party style with men taking turns belting out their favorite sappy love songs. (After being here a week, I realize the singing can start as early as 7 p.m. and last up until midnight. Apparently some karaoke nights are slower than others and the singers will head home at 10.)

I finally started to drift off to sleep when the volume was suddenly turned up on the karaoke/devil device.

I can’t liiiiiive, if livin’ is without yoooou; I can’t liiiiiiive…

Ahhhh! Why me?

I took another pillow and buried my head in it enough to muffle the noise. Sometime in the middle of the night I must have moved the pillow, because I jolted awake to the sound of a pack of barking dogs at 4 a.m.

This was not your average Fido howling at a siren, but what sounded like 20 canines barking in unison at an armed intruder. They barked for what felt like half an hour.

When they stopped I could feel sweet, sweet sleep creeping over my eyelids. Finally.

Cock-a-doodle-doooo! (Or, coco rico, as they say in France. Thank you, David Sedaris, for reporting on foreign barn animal noises. I’ll have to find out what Filipinos say when imitating their beloved birds.)

My groggy brain could barely process the sound. It was 5:30 a.m. Roosters? What the? I’m in the middle of a massive city!

One rooster crow was followed by another, which was followed by 400 more. The Filipino obsession with raising roosters for cockfighting no longer seemed like a cultural quirk, but like something destined to keep me from sleeping for a year.

Lucky for me, when I’m not jet lagged, I’m a heavy sleeper. Last night I went to bed after the karaoke party, and slept through the dogs and the roosters. For the first time in my life, I welcomed the sound of my alarm clock at 6:30 a.m.


  1. Renee says:

    Ha ha. Andy and I were laughing so hard about the karaoke. Andy has had to sing a love song or two in Taiwan. He loves it, but he won’t admit it.

  2. Patrick says:

    I still remember those tractors/trucks in Hangzhou that would rumble down the street in the middle of the night, making noise that would put a tank to shame. All I get in London now helicopters that, for some strange reason, really like to spend long periods of time hovering near my building.

  3. Christina says:

    Those trucks were crazy! Totally specific to China too. I just met a couple that lives in my building. They asked what apartment I was in. When I told then they both looked dismayed and said, “Oh, the karaoke.” It would have been nice to know early on to request a place on the other side of the building. 🙂

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