It all started when Vladimir, our tour guide in Davao City, sang a Kim Chiu song over the bus PA system.

We were headed to our hotel from another full day of school visits and government courtesy calls. Traffic was terrible. To while away the gridlock, Vladimir asked everyone in the bus – students, teachers, and journalists from both the Philippines and China who are part of the Fujian Youth Exchange Program – to introduce themselves and answer a cliche beauty pageant question: if you were a fruit, what would you be and why?

Vladimir opened up with another cliche, this time on the durian: how it smells like hell and tastes like heaven. There were several who picked apples – to keep the doctor away and be one in people’s eyes. Manila Times reporter Divine Dela Cruz topped up the session with cherry – it’s always on top.

KARAOKE IN THE BUS. Engineering student Kevin, my frequent seatmate, sings a classic Chinese song called Goodbye inside Bus 2 during the Davao leg of the Filipino-Chinese Youth Exchange Program.

The game was long done when we were headed back to the hotel. Albeit tired, most were busy talking to new acquaintances while tapping at their phones to chat with their respective messaging groups, Facebook Messenger for the Filipinos and WeChat for the Chinese.

That’s when Vladimir decided to sing a version of Peng You, which I was told later was a recording by Cebuana actress Kim Chiu of a traditional Chinese song on friendship.

“Oh please!” I mumbled to myself, “not another karaoke wannabe.” I retrieved my earbuds intending to play a podcast or some music to tune out what, with the standstill traffic, was sure to be a long karaoke session.

But a wonderful thing happened.

The Chinese students were singing along with the traditional lyrics as the Filipino students sang with Kim Chiu’s version.

Filipino and Chinese students who are part of the Fujian Youth Exchange Program sing a traditional Chinese song on friendship at the end of the banquet in Davao City.

My seatmate, Kevin, a telecommunications engineering student in Fujian – got his phone out and raised his hand to tell the guide he would sing next. He used a karaoke app to sing another traditional Chinese song called Goodbye.

By then, the students were raising their hands asking to sing next and pretty soon we had a playlist as diverse as the personalities in the bus: from Hey Jude to the Meteor Garden theme song. By the time Eva, a law student also from Fujian, was singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, everyone was singing along.

“Ta-dat, ta-dat, tadat, da dat dat. I love you baby and if it’s quite alright I need you baby,” the whole bus was singing. When we finally reached the hotel, many of those who volunteered were still awaiting their turn at the squeaky mic.

DAVAO CELEBRATION. Consul General Li Lin (left) of the Chinese Consulate in Davao offers a toast to Filipino and Chinese students heading to China for the 2nd leg of the Filipino-Chinese Youth Exchange Program.

Our closing banquet later that day ended with uproarious celebration and laughter as the students got in front to sing Peng You again. Everyone cheered when it ended.

Ingon mo Kim Chiu,” I approached one student from Cebu after the signing, “Nag ininsik lagi mo?”

That was indeed the song Kim Chiu recorded, they told me, but it was the original Chinese classic. “We just sang along.”

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