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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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Monday, January 15, 2007

entry arrow6:43 PM | Jimalalud, Small Town Pageants, Piggish Politicians, a Flat Tire, and a Fire in the City

There were dark things to herald the beginning of the week, and when we did return to Dumaguete City, we were met by fire, and a flat tire. Somehow, everything summed up to an adventure, and in the end, that's what all that matters. Positive thinking helps, my mother always intoned. She is a wise woman. If I never heeded that advise, I would have gone mad last weekend.

Sunday morning, Mark and I -- together with his mom Glenda -- started on our three-hour trip (two hours if one drove like mad) to faraway Jimalalud, Mark's father's hometown. Jimalalud, if you have to know, is a backwater town where nothing much ever happens and where there is largely nothing to see, except a coastline facing Cebu undistinguished by its rockiness. But it's a clean town, and something about it makes me tremble in memory of my childhood in Bayawan. I had longed for an out-of-town trip since the year started, and this one promised buckets of possibilities: besides the ease of having Mark's relations around to make the visit more comfortable, it was also the town fiesta. I was thinking of lechon, lots of it, all the way to northern Oriental Negros, daydreaming away the furious rush of mountains and sugar canes and coastal beaches from our car window.

Mark was to host the annual town fiesta beauty pageant, and his mom and I we were there to cheer him on. Or more precisely: to be the support we somehow knew he would never have from the small-town organizing committee where the insularity and boondock-ness of the place contrived to make any effort a Kafkian experience. And it was.

Shall I tell you about the lack of definite accommodations accorded a visitor? Or the convoluted flood of changes for the show's program that occurred every second of the last minute? But these were the good parts of the Jimalalud nightmare. The bad parts: One, starting a program (scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.) at around 11:30 p.m. instead. Imagine the wearying wait.

"Why can't we start now?" someone asked.

"We can't. [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is not yet here. We have to wait. She has a speech in the progam," was the reply.

(Yes, my dear people... in small-town Negrense pageants, it is typical for shameless politicians to hog the spotlight. Last night, I counted five self-serving political speeches scattered throughout the entire program -- there was one before the coronation, and another after the coronation. It was rumored that a high city official supposedly gave instructions to close the entrance, so that no one could leave before the top brass had their say.)

"Why can't we go ahead on time, and accommodate [Pompous Politician Running for Office] when she comes?" someone suggested.

"We can't. We have to wait," was the reply.

We waited. In between the waiting, we got conflicting news, each one coming in the heels of the other: [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is not coming anymore. No, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is coming. No, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] has sent a message she won't be here. Wait, [Pompous Politician Running for Office] is coming for sure. In the end, we started without [Pompous Politician Running for Office]. (She arrived very late.) That was near midnight, and I was about ready to commit hara-kiri. All around me, the contestants milled about with their bakla make-up artists and coaches. Their faces ranged from the grotesque in kabuki make-up, to the transcendent. (One girl was particularly beautiful ... until she opened her mouth, and had absolutely nothing to say.)

Two, in the middle of the show, somewhere near the 1 a.m. mark, it started drizzling. The comedy of the contestants' answers in heinous English could not even stop the dark skies from raining down on the circusy spectacle. Mark however soldiered on.

But in hindsight, I can even say I enjoyed the show despite its glaring flaws, and mind-numbing wait. At least it was a spectacle, no matter how minor it was. What was not enjoyable was seeing the parade of politicians -- the vice-mayor, the mayor, the governor, the congressman, the congressman's wife now running for his old post -- use the stage to jumpstart their election campaign for the year. It was an orgy of shamelessness that only convinced me how dirty local politics was.

What amused me, however, was seeing how the whole circus of a town beauty pageant become the local community's chance to out-do one another in a race for Warholian fame, each one determined to get their 15-minutes of "mention" despite the uselessness of the whole endeavor. People clamored to have their names read out loud as sponsors and "acknowledgeables." (Mark had to read a list that went on for more than two pages.) People clamored to be called upon as "presenters" of awards for winning candidates. One fat woman -- a major sponsor -- barged in, and demanded to be part of the Board of Judges, just like that. And of course, there were the shameless politicians in their smug Cebuano, patting each other's backs and announcing to the world how wonderful they all were.

The whole circus ended a few minutes before 4 a.m., and we went back to the organizing committee chairwoman's house with our spirits like paper fed through a shredder. Around 9 o'clock, with the sun having burst through the rain in a minor miracle, we settled in our car with dreams of reaching the civilizing air of Dumaguete in record time.

The towns rushed by in our effort to come home fast. Jimalalud, Tayasan, Ayungon, Bindoy, Manjuyod, Bais, Tanjay, San Jose, and Amlan flew by. In Sibulan, one town away from Dumaguete, we had a flat tire. Ma'am Glenda, feisty as always, took charge, immediately setting out for a mechanic to change our tires. (Mark and I just looked at each other, complicit in our common ignorance of car maintenance and repair. How un-butch we were, not that we cared.) That flat tire took a while to fix -- but it became an instant fascinating study of the craft of vulcanizing: in a mechanic's shop, I watched transfixed as the able-bodied but sweaty and dirty young man went about his process of fixing the holes in our car's inner tube. There were too many holes, he finally said, and Mark ended up buying a whole new tube.

That episode could have been the stuff of more headaches. But we were finally home in Dumaguete, and in that very moment, that was what mattered most. Soon, inside the car once again, we passed by the charred remains of Body and Sole Massage Parlor, Marjorie's Boutique, and Rosante Bar and Restaurant (all right at the intersection of Alfonso Trese Street* and Silliman Avenue) which went up in flames the previous night while we were gone.

I took note of my excited indifference: in Dumaguete, after all, no place ever progresses to something better until it has been burned to the ground. What will this new corner become when it springs from the ashes? A Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf branch? With parking? We can only hope.

On that note of strange hopes for better urban planning, I must confess there are a list of Dumaguete blocks and building I'd like to see go up in flames... But I don't want to be accused an arsonist, so my lips are sealed.

*I have promised to never ever call this street by its modern name

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