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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Thursday, July 27, 2006

entry arrow9:30 AM | The Martini*

[The last Tempest in a Coffee Mug article for MetroPost]

"Challenges, when met with superior response, advance and enlarge a people, so that what may have been a handicap or a doom becomes a heroic step forward."
-Nick Joaquin, "Footnotes to Yesterday"



In the end, because this may very well be the end, I shall give in to a minor rant because there is only a kind of sad wonder whether we deserve this name at all. University Town?

Consider the glaring lack. Without a functional city library? Or a bookstore that does not sell secondhand things? Or a grand and unceasing tempest of intellectual gusto untrammeled by censorship? Or now, with MetroPost folding, even a passable local newspaper that's not all about legal advertising, or political ragsheet equivalent to yellow journalism? My friend Dominique Cimafranca has already outlined at length his take on the moniker and the reality of things (here and here)-- to amusing, if hurting, results. I will not dare contribute to his exhaustive analysis, but I can only offer this thought: if the availability of books and a culture of reading are the hallmarks of a truly educated people, what can you say about Dumaguete City?

That we are not a University Town. A great, charming pretender, yes, but seemingly nothing more.

These are sad days for Dumaguete. We are increasingly becoming a town of small spirits, and bigger crimes. With a stodgy administration at City Hall (councilors included) who cannot tell from their mouth to their asses, and with a people becoming quite careless with its long academic heritage -- unhelped by a City who does not seem to know what to do with that heritage -- we may as well spell doom.

I am reminded of Nick Joaquin's famous essay "Footnotes to Yesterday." In that enlightening essay, he holds up a mirror to the Filipino's heritage of smallness which keeps it tied away from ambitions of greatness. In a thoughtful review of a sweeping exhibit of artifacts cradling our post-colonial and Spanish colonial past, he observes that "for Filipinos, the great peril is of challenges not met fully or not met at all... We always have reasons for rejecting them, for not responding. We are not prepared, or our betters don't set us a proper example, or it's not just the old con game anyway. We're interested only in what's popular and easy... Challenges are difficult; they don't elicit popular response... Our reluctance fills the air with the uneasiness of a destiny not being fulfilled adequately... Why are we as a people so disinclined to face up to challenges? ... From a swift look, three rather sweeping generalizations may be made.

"First: that the Filipino works best on a small scale -- tiny figurines, small pots, filigree work in gold and silver, decorative arabesque. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big.

"Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft, easy materials -- clay, molten metal, tree bark and vine pulp, and the softer woods and stones... The deduction here is that we feel equal to materials that yield, but evade the challenge of materials that resist.

"Third: that having mastered a material, style, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don't move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already possess when confronted by the challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition. Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers."

Reading that, we suddenly realize where we come from, why we tend to stay small, why Dumaguete is small.

Don't get me wrong about this tirade. Everybody who reads this column knows I rhapsodize about Dumaguete like there's no tomorrow. For me, no other city in the Philippines is still quite like it -- and for all its faults, it is a city easy to love. But given the state of things today, let's give ourselves a challenge and take the view from the other side of the looking glass. Let's examine the various ways we have not faced up to the challenges of the times.

The only way to understand what hell might mean to a Dumagueteno is to stumble, by any late afternoon, across the gridlock known as the intersection between San Jose and Perdices Streets. This is when hordes of metal on wheels, belching acrid smoke, congregate to create the singular experience known as local traffic. Imagine the not-so-merry chaos. There are no longer any pedestrian lanes, only streaks of people on foot going by instinct to get from point A to B. Flesh and metal here skirmish to produce a one-of-a-kind congestion. There are no more two-way lanes either, only a snarling randomness as cars and two-bit tricycles fight for space or at least a place to maneuver.

Not too long ago I once wrote that the city's "only measure of orderliness for traffic was anarchy." I meant that by this irony: that the only way Dumaguete has somehow facilitated its stream of transportation is by means of sheer chaos. And that when they actually put traffic men on the beat, that is when traffic also becomes particularly hellish and unbearable. "Our own sense of getting by," a friend of mine agreed.

Which is cute, of course. But deep inside, I worry about the implications: are we a city capable only of functioning through chaos? Because that's how it seems things run. The determined status quo -- already a measure of our own sense of unoriginality and lost verve -- is also being driven the way a blind man would a car, that is blindly. No sense of direction. No vision. And with all of us hoping somehow that having no vision would constitute a kind of "vision" itself, a mutant paradigm of (mis)development.

Why are we still arguing about tricycles in the 21st century?

Tuesday afternoon, tired from the day's work, I hopped on a tricycle for what should have been a brief 3-minute ride from Scooby's Silliman to Tubod. It took, instead, a full fifteen minutes (most of which were spent standing still as traffic crawled) and a lung-full of diesel smoke -- for the privilege of which I paid P6. I have rediscovered a new love for walking.

And rediscovered new ways of inventing hate.

But first off, it's always easy to despise something one truly loves. The famous saying goes that "familiarity breeds contempt." Timothy Montes wrote about this cliché more beautifully: "Nothing happens [in Dumaguete]," hewrites. "The [newspapers] can't find enough dogs bitten by men, everybody knows everybody, and one resorts to gossip in the face of the uneventfulness of leaves falling to the ground. Still, when one says goodbye, one never really leaves the place. The mild sadness grows within you and when you ask yourself what makes you hang around this place transfixed in time, you realize the irony of leaves falling to the ground. I love [Dumaguete]; that's why I hate it. Like leaves falling to the ground, we are suspended in mid-air and never quite reach the ground until we learn to despise it."

I love Dumaguete. That's why I hate what it has not become, despite so much potential.

It amazes me still, for example, that even as we begin the 21st century, there is still a faint feeling that I live in a cave. A medieval cave, to be exact -- with trappings of small-town comforts, yes, but still invariably a cave. My Manila-based friends -- considering a visit to Dumaguete -- inevitably worry about accessing the finer things in life, the way Paris Hilton must have fretted when she had to live 'the simple life' on TV. The queries, thrown at me with complete disregard that I am a Dumaguete native (but then again, most people think I come from some place else, not here), range from the exasperating to the funny, the way it had been when, outside the country, I was made to answer to questions about Imelda Marcos's shoes or Smokey Mountain.

"Is there any cellular phone signal there?" one of my friends would text me. Or: "Do you have Internet connection?" or "Is there a laundry shop over there?" or "What if I run out of underwear?" Which paints a quaint picture of a place so out of touch with the rest of the world, that Dumaguete might as well be the boondocks. To the last question, another friend decided to cluck his tongue and replied, "Eh, kung ganun, bumili ka na lang ng underwear sa Lee Plaza."

The literal and figurative smallness of the place is what I remember most from one of the posts in a particular blog-mistress's online journal, which went this way: "Okay. So how freaking crazy is it that Dumaguete has a society column? This is a place so tiny that everyone knows everyone else, all the rich people (and I do mean all the rich people) are related in one way or another, and it's impossible to hide from anyone looking for you for more than a few hours.

"Case in point: the last time I was in Dumaguete, my second day there a saleslady approached me in Lee Plaza to confirm if I was in fact staying at Dona Trining's house (I was) and was I a Teves relation (I'm not). I mean, what the hell? Anywhere else and I would've called the police on her creepy stalker ass, but that's how things are in small towns."

I, too, hate the small-townness of the place. I don't hate its charm, or the gentle sweep of its select environs, but the "small-townness," akin to willful closemindedness, that makes it bakya in everything else. I could not readily define what this hate means or even simply is, so I texted a few friends -- many of them people of rank and consequence in Dumaguete -- and asked them what they hated most about the city. And this is what those who truly love it said:

"Life is too easy. There is a fading sense of security," Christy Ann Cong, student.

"BPI people are snotty. PNB charges atrociously. Also drivers who can't tell their right from their left. Crude landfill masquerading as park, leaking toxins to the Banica River and the water table. Drivers asking for fare increase, but refusing to take in passengers. Traffic aides who just stand in the corner, and watch bad traffic pass by. Unsolved crimes. People's sense of apathy. Extreme school loyalty," Dana Fortunato, formerly a bookstore owner.

"Tricycles. Narrow streets," Patrick Chua, dentist.

"Media people who can be bought," Eric Joven, former assistant to City Mayor Felipe Remollo.

"Lack of convenience stores nga tinuod. They all close at 2 or 3!" Karl Aoanan, recent college graduate.

"Theaters don't show art films. El Camino is pretentious," Jean Claire Dy, writer.

"Buses emit pollution in the Boulevard," Manolet Teves, society columnist.

"The influx of foreigners owning establishments. Undisciplined pedicab drivers. Impractical traffic aides," Dave Saceda, youth leader.

"Traffic, lack of parking spaces," Eugene Kho, contractor.

"Government officials not implementing projects," Melissa Batiquin, physical therapist.

"Brownouts! Noisy, air-polluting pedicabs," Rose Baseleres, college professor.

"Traffic, crazy drivers," Michele Joan Valbuena, college instructor.

"Silence, when there are no students. No real shopping centers. Too many chicken restaurants! Drooping electric wires. Too many electric wires. Pedicab drivers," Jennifer Solitana, college instructor.

"No skyscrapers," Gideon Caballes, doctor.

"General bad service," Bombee Dionaldo, businesswoman.

"Dilapidated or narrow roads. Double-parking on narrow roads. Traditional politicians who love making promises they can't keep, and rely on their money to buy votes to win the elections. Drug dependents who mercilessly resort to crimes. Conservative attitude, fear of change," Myrish Cadapan, city councilor.

"Lack of places to go on a Sunday," Warlito Caturay, college instructor.

"The streets of Lo-oc," Jacqueline Pinero-Torres, accountant.

"We don't have good restaurants, and some even close on Sundays," Kim Ang-Gobonseng, businesswoman.

"Naive, dumb sales people," Jee-Yeon Park, Korean graduate student.

"Motorists who don't give way to pedestrians when we cross the streets," Cecille Genove, college professor.

"No real boutiques," James Dalman, lawyer.

"Rosante. Wala jud nausab since," Rosewell Cataylo, bank teller.

"Inept security guards. Negros Chronicle journalism," Laurie Raymundo, marine biologist.

"On Sundays, we need to relax, and the restaurants are closed," Irma Pal, newspaper editor.

"One-way traffic," Priscilla Sarabia, nursing student.

"Food on menu is not always available," Guia Dominado, housewife.

"Pedicab traffic jams. Typical government offices. Loud politicians. Dropping of garbage. Mediocre historical monuments in Quezon Park. Judgmental moralists. Baranganic newscasters. Dirty Banica River. Gaya-gaya landscape," Moses Atega, liaison officer.

"The rooms at OK Pension. Why Not. Maniacal foreigners. PNB ATMs. Rosante... Great food, bad service. Staff galit sa mundo," Kakay Pamaran, student.

"Traffic," Rina Fernadez, college instructor.

"Waiting in line in PNB. A lot of sexpats!" Clark Erwin, former Peace Corp volunteer.

Maybe you can make your own list. Perhaps from the chaos of our complaints, we can get a semblance of a common ideal -- the Dumaguete of our dreams.


* "The martini" is film industry lingo for the last shot for the day

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