Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Love You Dumaguete!

My love affair with Dumaguete started the moment I set foot on its shores. I love her, love her, love her!

But this love affair is nothing to the fire and passion between this City and Prof. David Padilla, a professor in the College of Law of Silliman University.

Let me share with you what he had written about our beloved ...

"I suppose it’s a bit odd to be sitting and proctoring a three-hour final examination on the law of corporations in a classroom in Kigali, Rwanda while musing about Dumagete on Negros Oriental in the Philippines. But my life has sort of gone that way since retiring as a lawyer and becoming an itinerant college professor.

But Dumaguete is special. Not to take anything away from Kigali or Pretoria or Miami, where I also teach each year. Dumaguete, a city of maybe 100,000 people, an hour’s flight south of Manila, is the home of Silliman University where I first taught two years ago on a Fulbright. Now I go back each year as long as they’ll have me.

The place is a noisy, joyful, unvarnished tropical paradise, a mix of Asia and pop western culture where Catholics and Buddhists meet and marry, do business and play.

These jottings are not only a reflection of the pleasant nostalgia I feel for Dumaguete and Silliman University, but also the fulfillment of an overdue promise to my friend Ipe Remollo, the ex-Mayor, who one evening at his home while listening to the visiting Manila Symphony Orchestra, said to me in so many words – “If you’re so crazy about our town why don’t you write about it?” I said “OK”. And here it is, more than a year later.

Dumaguete, home to four universities, sits on the Sea of Tanon on the Pacific Ocean. It’s located in Negros, one of more than hundreds of islands in a cluster called the Visayas. The town is a port and its Boulevard runs the curve of the sea.

The streets are a controlled chaos of motorbike-propelled tricycles and thousands of mostly university students mounted on motor scooters weaving in and out of traffic. Despite the law, virtually no one wears a helmet. A two-kilometer ride in a colorful tricycle carriage will set you back 12 cents. There are no traffic lights and only one stop sign, a home made job a resident placed in front of his home.

Yet everything moves, the streets are teeming and, amazingly, there are very few mishaps. Nothing is more delightful than to sit at an open air cafe on the Boulevard to watch single-man bancas and large white pump boats with graceful outriggers bob on the water. From there one's eyes drift to the vehicular madness of the roadway, endless, joyous, confused but functional.

Dumaguetenos are so polite. I’ve yet to see an accident, and have never witnessed an argument. And while I’ve never seen a youth carded at a bar, I’ve also never seen drunken students causing a ruckus.

I’ve never heard bad language, at least in English which is widely spoken and along with Tagalog is one of the country’s official languages. I should hasten to add that in these parts people speak a Visaya dialect they refer to as Cebuano – named for Negros’closest sister island – Cebu.

Of course there is the natural beauty of the place. The palms, the flowering trees, the lianas and bougainvillea which soften and give charm to the architectural hodgepodge of new and old, modern and Spanish colonial buildings and homes. And the mountains and nearby waterfalls and the thermal energy taken from the earth which powers the island’s electrical system.

And if you stand in the sun at midday you will perspire. But step into the shade and the sea breeze will put things right.

But let me return to the people and the food and the music, and inevitably, the cost of living.

Men are called “Sir,” and ladies, “Maam.” Students rise to recite in class, and smile naturally. Please and thank you, good morning and “bless you” are the universal civilities, not just on campus, but on the street and in the shops of Dumaguete. A child on meeting an adult takes the back of the elder's hand and presses it to his forehead and bows out of respect. Across

the parking lot at the municipal airport there is a sign on a somewhat dilapidated eatery

that says, “Welcome to Dumaguete – Home of the Gentle People.” And it is true.

There may be corruption in Manila, but I’ve never encountered it in Dumaguete. And

while friends, and I’ve made some good ones, descry crime in Dumaguete, for a boy who

spent the first half of his life in Detroit, and the second in Washington, D.C. with stints in

Philadelphia and Boston, crime there is laughable. Once a month you’ll read about a

purse snatching near the market.

Do you like seafood? Blue marlin, sea bass, and varieties too numerous and

unpronounceable to mention abound at local restaurants. Oysters and swordfish. And

rice, of course, at every meal. I draw the line at breakfast rice. But you rarely see an

obese filipino. A friend recently told me about a new Italian restaurant in town but he cautioned, "it's kind of pricey." The most expensive item on the menu is $7.00.

Street life in the barrios is lively. Kids play basketball especially at night on

jerry rigged courts. The churches are full on Sundays and feast days.Ex pats from Australia, Scandinavia and a few Americans have begun to discover Negros. A considerable number have married attractive Philippine women and settled down. And why not? Cyber cafes, bookstores, four-dollar Thai massages, beach front

property - a buildable lot twenty minutes out of town is available through a legal loophole for a dirt-cheap price

Did you know that the Philippines is the cell phone and text messaging capital of the world? Did you know that Filipinos are extremely musical? Videoke and karaoke were supposedly invented there and are featured in many bars and restaurants that line the Boulevard in Dumaguete. Those without the machines often feature live singers and musicians who may only have a rudimentary command of English but close your eyes and you will think you're listening to a live performance by top international stars. As a matter of fact, Filipino entertainers are in demand throughout the middle and far east.

And a sense of humor? A couple of years ago some fifteen thousand people in Manila set a new Guiness book record for the most people brushing their teeth at the same time.

And nicknames given with affection among my friends include Raffy, Boy a/k/a Dad, Bong and Bimbo.

How about this? The yo yo was invented in the Philippines more than five hundred years

ago. On flights to and from Manila on Cebu Pacific Airlinesmostly adult passengers play "Show Me," for small prizes.The flight attendant says "Show me a rosary" and the first passenger to hold one up wins a baseball cap or a key chain.

Sports nuts? Besides basketball, cockfights, pool and boxing are big. Manny the 'Pacman" Paquiao is the current lightweight champion of the world and his following is huge and fanatical.And I have friends, including some ladies, who can relate the last three minutes of the final game of the NCAA tournament in 1997.And I almost forgot to mention world class scuba diving on Apu Island as well as spectacular reefs just off shoreAnd while not a player, I should mention that Dumaguete has a number of golf courses. Finally, let me mention that the Philippine wushu team took the gold in this exhibition martial arts sport at the recent Beijing Olympics.

Problems? By all means. Mostly economic. But life in Dumaguete is pretty laid back. Cheering contests among

students, municipal festivals, parades, student carnivals, and at the school where I teach, the pageantry and anxiety of Silliman graduates sitting for the bar exam along with thousands of others gives the place a special tone and spirit.

I have also found a serious side in Dumaguete, a pride and competitiveness in its best students known as "top

knotchers."The campus fences are draped in long streamers proudly listing graduates who have passed licencing exams or achieved special honors in law, medicine, nursing, business and other fields. Young people who earn distinction or go abroad on post graduate fellowships, and there are a considerable number of them, are particularly lionized.

In the final analysis what makes for a coherent community that welcomes the outsider is kindness in the form of hospitality and pride in its achievements. These I found in Dumaguete.


It is now eight month later and I am back in Dumaguete once again teaching at Silliman University. Yesterday on my way to swim my small moptorbike came to a sudden and noisy halt. I thought I had blown the engine. A little old man happened by. He pointed out that my chain had come off and promptly put it back on. I gave him a little money and he was happy. A mile later the same thing happened. This time a tricycle driver stopped and got out his tools, shortened the chain, reinstalled it and oiled the whole thing as I stood by uselessly. I offered to compensate him. He smiled, refused politely and drove off."

His article came out in Metropost, July 19, 2009.

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