19 October 2007

My Flights: Dumaguete

I was supposed to be in Dumaguete for a job, but once my work was completed, I decided to enjoy myself.

I stayed for three days, and work was yet on the second day. My first day was spent just whiling away the time at the beach resort where I was billeted in, Sta. Monica Beach Resort. It rained hard that day, and for that I was grateful. Frankly, I don't enjoy the beach as much as I do the mountains although I did swim in their beautiful pool later in the evening, which I suspect was heated. It was the first time I exposed my skimpily clad, 'healthier' body in public, in a long time. Thinking no one else swam at night made me decide to give it a go. After some stranger decided to also take a dip, I couldn't get up, unless I risk being accused of obscenity.

After my work was done the following day, we had dinner at this wonderful Persian-Indian restaurant, called Persian Palate. It is located at the Spanish Heritage, right next to a quaint shop that sells PX goods, all for P99. (The merchandise I found there was really interesting, not your usual imported goods. Even by Manila or duty-free standards, the items were tasteful.). Being vegetarian, I had a large serving of Dahl, some samosas, aloo palak and a pot of Persian tea.
At around 8:30PM, somehow late for Dumaguete standards, a companion of mine mentioned to me that he saw some motorbikes, "underbones" to be exact, for rent at a rate of P20 (US 0.50). I struggled to comprehend whether what he was telling me was accurate or if he had just made an honest mistake. We (ignorant Manileños!) decided to take a tricycle to that part of town and check it out. There were 5 of us at the time, and we all boarded this huge tricycle that could seat 6-8 people! It was a surprisingly comfortable ride, with room to spare. The night wind of Dumaguete being so cool and refreshing, I actually started to feel sleepy. When we got to the 'motorbike lender' a few minutes later, all he asked from me was "any ID" and for me to sign a waiver, which I gladly did, and handed over my expired village pass, which he accepted. I started dissecting his rate structure with him, until I came to a conclusion that it would be cheaper to rent the underbone for a whole 24 hours since it would come out cheaper, at P250 (US 6.00)….mind you, that translates to a little just over P10.00 per hour! (US 0.25), so why the hell not?!?! I picked the best looking underbone (a Honda Wave) from his collection of around 15 bikes, all neatly lined up, and rode it away feeling a little guilty for having just left a P100 deposit (which is all he asked for!)….well, and an expired ID. If he had done that in Manila, that could very well have been 'Goodbye, Bike!'. What happened next, I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.

What started out as a group of 5 quickly turned into a horde of 15, with friends, friends of friends and officemates joining the pack. It would be a night of joyriding around a town I had just first set foot on a day before. From 9PM to 2AM, we rode and rode, to places whose names I don't even remember now, while the population of this wonderful town slowly diminished as the hour went by. We rode along beachlines, within subdivisions, in between tall grassy knolls, in between new government buildings being built, by school campuses, against the flow of one-way streets, along the famous 'Boulevard' by the bay. We peeked inside houses of fantastic 50s architecture, preserved as if they were built last week (reminds me of my lola's Brady Bunch-like house in Pasig), inside bars and restaurants, we stopped at famous landmarks, and when the night was almost over, sat a recollected the events of the evening by the bay eating boiled egg, squid balls and 'tempura'.

From my conversations, I learned that Dumaguete had one of the lowest crime rates in the country, one of the largest student populations, and home of Silliman and St. Paul's University, the very first among many St. Paul schools across the country founded in 1904. Silliman University, a protestant University well-known for the quality of its graduates, was established 3 years earlier, in 1901.

With good schools like those, including the Negros Oriental State University (NORSU), it did not come to me as a surprise that the people I worked with that day and spoke to on the streets were very well educated and fluent with their English. So fluent in fact, that they actually spoke with an American 'twang', or at least very close to it.

Apparently, the name Dumaguete was taken from the word "dumaguit", which meant to ensnare, such so I was told, because in Pre-hispanic times, Moro raiders would come in their Vintas to snare young ladies, presumably to use them as slaves. We went to visit the watchtower or Belfry used by the residents at the time to spot oncoming raiders. Another very interesting story I came across, and somehow tied up with the roots of Dumaguete, was the story of their Patron saint: St. Catherine of Alexandria. The legend tells of a lady who was seen walking along the bay (or shore as it was probably then) just before a fleet of Moro raiders was expected to strike. At the time, all the ladies and children had already been sent to the uplands to hide and the men had stayed to protect their land. It was these men who saw the lady on the shore. The raiders never arrived, and according to the accounts of some of the moros on the ships (presumably the same ones who gave advanced warning to the residents that they would strike on that day), they simply could not find their way. All they could see where Dumaguete was supposed to be, was nothing but clouds. When the Spaniards first arrived in Dumaguete to evangelize, the residents recognized the lady on the shore that day as one of the Saints' pictures the Spaniards had with them. The residents attributed their safety to St. Catherine and since then, made her their Patron Saint. Most people think of the story as a victory, I would like to think of it as one of compassion. It is a story of a Moro who forewarned the residents of Dumaguete of an impending strike and subsequently narrated to them the story of how they could not find Dumaguete. How could it have been otherwise? Back then, what would a Moro be talking to them for? I really, really liked that story.

The day I was to leave back for Manila, I decided to spend with 'Family'. The Perdices clan of Dumaguete has a long loving history with my family, which is why my mother always reminds me that we are not family friends, but relatives. I personally believe that we may not be blood relatives, but we are karmically connected, by an even greater bond. I actually took my rented bike back home with me to the resort the night before and rode it back to the City that morning to first take a sunlit spin around Dumaguete, such that I would see it in a different perspective than that of the previous night. I then realized that I had only used up P50 (US$1.00) of gasoline for all the places I went to! Amazing. I had a lunch date with my Tita Maryann 'Inday' Perdices-Templo, so I had to be contented with having just the morning for sightseeing. I practically spent all morning walking around the Silliman campus and checking out the local lifestyle nuances. It was finals week, so I was pleasantly delighted to see a group of students all packed neatly in the back of a pickup truck, frolicking after probably surviving finals week. Now, this is something I have not seen in a long time. I reckon that with all out fancy regulations in Manila, this practice is now probably unallowed.

I met up with my tita at their nice, quaint and cozy resto called Mamia's, named after the term of endearment for their Lola. There is an old picture of Mamia at the entrance of the restaurant, and quite amazingly taken, at my Lolo and Lola's old home in Retiro, QC. My Tita Maryann asked me to take a photo of Mamia's picture and ask my mom if she knows where the photo was taken. Naturally, when I next saw my mom, that was the first thing I showed her. After barely a second of looking at the picture, she immediately recognized the place as the home of her youth. I spent hours chatting away with my tita, as I enjoy conversations so much, especially when they involve stories of times gone by, of events even before I was born. I am neither a historian nor a student of history, but something about stories of the past just excites me, specially when the stories are about relationships. Maybe that is why I dislike history as we know it, peppered with dates, names and places: I just can't relate without the human side of it. Now, that's just my take. I'm sure I would enjoy history if I only spent more time with it. Funny enough, my mind is a repository of life events of family, friends and people who matter to me.

Mamia's is owned by Tita's nephew and niece, Tincho and Lizza, who I had the pleasure of meeting. I enjoyed the food and ambiance of the place. It was comfort food! Sophisticated, exactly the way I liked it! And the ambiance, Über comfy. It was like dining in Greenbelt at Dumaguete prices. Two things I would insist any Dumaguete visitor to try: the Frozen Cappuccino and Churros con Chocolate. Believe me, these are not your usual dessert and merienda items. I heard my cousin, Olsen Racela, and his team went to Mamia's just for the frozen capp. The churros is really different, at least from the churros I am used to, and very filling.
Mamia's is set along the boulevard. You can find it almost in front of the monument dedicated to the seven nuns who established St. Paul's in the Philippines. Sitting inside, you get to enjoy the fantastic view of the bay, watch ships as they sail by and the people as they walk by to enjoy a leisurely walk. I wouldn't have it anywhere else in Dumaguete.

I couldn't return to Manila without any pasalubong, so I scampered next door to Sans Rival to get some Silvanas and Bico for my family. Boy, were they wonderful as well. I usually don't enjoy Bico, but since it was the most recommended item, I bought some. I didn't regret hand-carrying it back to Manila at all. I did regret not buying enough.

Of all the places I have been to in the Philippines, Dumaguete sure left a lasting impression on me. Despite being a mountain person, I wouldn't mind spending time in this place, or even living here. It could be because of the pace, the lifestyle or even the way the place is oriented or set up, but I honestly think it is because of the people. They don't call it the "City of Gentle People" for nothing, I guess.

(All pictures taken using my Sony Ericsson P990i Mobile Phone)

09 October 2007

My Flight to: Dumaguete

It really is wonderful seeing new places. Today, I travelled to the City of Dumaguete, in the province of Negros Oriental.
Even while in the sky, I knew that it would be a beatiful day in Dumaguete, for the clouds were as thick as heaps of cotton. The only thing left to brighten my mood was for the rain to come and welcome me to this new place I have never been to before.
Already I felt comfortable and content, thinking of those mountains of fluff as my heavenly bed set in some city in the sky. An eternal garden of thick white blankets, ready to make the most weary soul rest from deep within. To replenish for the day's battles ahead.
Would it be possible to walk along its immaculate streets? To soothe those tired feet and give them strength for tomorrow's seemingly endless journeys? And when at last I landed in this City of gentle people, I was delighted that the Gods decided to quench my thirst and bring me rain. This privilege, though short, but sweet, was enough to give me what I needed for the trials that lay ahead.
(blogged while in Dumaguete using my laptop and Sony Ericsson P990i as wireless modem)

08 October 2007

For Love of Manny (pun intended!)

I stepped out into a busy part of town yesterday, the day of the Pacquiao-Barrera fight, and let me tell you: It was barren! Save for Christmas eve, or the wee hours of the morning, it was the most desolate I have ever seen the city. (yes, I have pics...I will post them as soon as I get them out of my brother's camera).

It is uncanny how we Filipinos, so polarized as a nation mostly by the provinces we hail from, can stand united for...a boxing event. Well, okay, it was not a mere boxing bout, it was the embodiment of the Filipino spirit, the fact that one of us is a global sensation. Ah yes, it was all about the respect, the honor and of course, we wanted to see if a Filipino could stand up to yet another Mexican, another "Kastila". Ouch, huh?

Personally, I don't get it.

We wage wars on each other down South, we cheat each other out of a few pesos, we sell dishonest products to our countrymen, and yet we suddenly band together for nothing more than a boxing match? To date, it is probably the single most adhering factor for us as Filipinos, on a massive nationwide scale. Mind you, I live in the burbs of Luzon, and it was a spectacle. Sunday is usually Family "pasyal" day, and it did not feel or look the least like it.

A friend of mine recently told me of how his sister was duped out of $25 in Canada by a fellow pinoy who was into money lending. The amount was supposed to be some sort of "processing fee". She was never granted the loan, for no apparent reason, and the $25 was never returned. Imagine already being in dire straits and having your last penny taken from you. My friend's sister is a doctor.

When I was in Singapore recently, I took fancy in a small device that could play music, videos and take pictures. It was called a portable media player. I liked it because its LCD size was larger than that of most other devices available out there, being a wonderful 4 inches. I employed my usual untrusting method of shopping by looking for a warranty, seeing the device and co-relating every claim and promise the vendor verbally described against that outlined on
the user's manual. I suddenly caught myself when I noticed that my demeanor was visibly insulting the lady behind the counter. It was then that I remembered that I was not in the Philippines (or Hong Kong, for that matter!) and that I needed to lay off on this poor lady. I was operating on shopping auto-pilot mode, but different rules applied here, for my settings were configured for a different environment.

I couldn't be blamed if I were elsewhere, though. I mean, how many times have we been duped in our own backyards? Honestly, I bet you have your own story to tell.

Why can't we be more like the Japanese, who reserve the very best items for their own country's internal consumption? They keep the best and import the best. Sure, they are a rich country, but why do we have to short-change ourselves when we already have the very best to begin with. We give them our very best okra, nata de coco, onions, chicken, coffee, footwear, marble, garments, jewelry, precious stones, furniture, wood, fruits, patis, cocoa, chocolate, pineapples or honey. We don't even keep the best for ourselves. (You know who you are!)

Believe me, I have seen and tasted some of our products for export and they are miles ahead of what we see in our local groceries and shops.

Where then, is our national pride? Where is our love of country? What about our love of self? At least that. Where is it? Without love of country, how can we claim to love ourselves?

Mga kababayan (OMG, even that term smacks of regionalism), My fellow Filipinos! Let's start that change we have all been yearning for! Let's start with a change in ourselves, let's start by loving our country!
Now, don't get me wrong. I love Manny! I just wish it would take not just Manny to let us, at least sometimes, stand up and cheer another Filipino on.