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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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Sunday, March 24, 2013

entry arrow1:47 PM | Café Midnight

It would not be too hard to believe, sometimes, that if you bleed a Dumagueteño, you would get caffeine.

I am talking of the young sort of Dumagueteño—these creatures who inhabit the new cafes mushrooming everywhere. This increasingly discriminating crowd know their Colombian from their Java quite well, and some of them have elevated the coffee snobbery with breathy mentions of French presses and self-roasted beans, and who can then quietly condescend with a measure of grace this way: “No latte for me, milk ruins coffee”—I’m talking about you, Greg Morales.

Most of them, of course, are college students—the denizens who best define Dumaguete—who need that extra rush to the brain to get them through the midnight hours grappling with the insane volumes and reams of data needing absorption before the next day’s exams or paper deadlines. They buzz with such academic fervor, these islands of students spread everywhere in the city at night: medical students, and business students, and medical technology students, and education students—all kinds of students—bent over their laptops, dancing the fine line between spreadsheets and papers and temptations of Facebook and Twitter. Their horde wouldn’t be quite noticeable in the sum of things if Dumaguete were a bigger city: but small as the city is, the crowds that buzz in such places as Qyosko’s Café Espresso, The Bean Connection, Café Antonio, Café Mamia, Bo’s Boulevard, Poppy’s, and the absolutely last resort we call Kofficcino are more than noticeable. They create a kind of spectacle. In a city that goes to sleep, they are the only signs of waking life.

I should know this. They are my people.

This crowd, of course, requires only four things: [1] that the wifi is fast, [2] that the coffee is robust and affordable, [3] that the outlets to plug in laptops and pads are scattered aplenty, and [4] that the freedom to stay for as long as they pore over their books are unfettered. The generosity with which most of these local cafés attend to these requirements is astonishing—and I get the feeling they don’t really lose out in the bargain. (I’ve noticed that places that do skimp on wifi because they fear the slow turn-over of customers, for example, are—to use a local term—almost always gilangaw. Most likely this is because the tech savvy who do eat out feel the Scrooge-like pinch of not being able to Instagram their meal. And to quote Willie Revillame: “You don’t do that to me!”)

You sense among these people an arcane knowledge of some sort of time table: afternoons are best in Poppy’s where the hazelnut mocha is addictive and the natural light is comforting, but the café—so near Silliman—closes way too early. Around 10 p.m. or so, most of them will find their way to Qyosko or The Bean; in these popular places, the thing to do is to brave the crunch and the tight spaces for a share of the wifi and the affordable food—arroz balao and buttered garlic chicken and an assortment of all-day breakfasts, with a cup of latte to wash it all down.

Bo’s along the Boulevard, when you can afford it, seems perfect for the coffee nomad. I tend to spend hours and hours there, my productivity stoked by its easy ambience, for some reason. It helps that its barista staff are the friendliest in town—and you know their names, too: Allan, Mac, Christian… And sometimes, it is that barista factor that makes a café home. It is the same with The Bean. But what I love the most in The Bean is its devilish concoction in their moist chocolate cupcake. Every night when I am there—and it is often—that round piece of heaven calls to me like a long-lost lover, rebuffed only by the thoughts of having to endure extra minutes at the treadmill. (And yet, often, the cupcake wins.)

The Bean, alas, closes too soon after midnight. And so, for many, the only place to really grind away the night till it turns to morning is the 24-hour haven of Qyosko—where they play the best dance/house music around 2 a.m., for some reason. Around that hour, the midnight crowd surges alongside the ones poring over their books, and the place becomes full of people demanding for their burger steak or their lomi or their pochero. Where do these people come from, and why are they not asleep? is a question I have learned never to answer. But Qyosko has become home to many of us, and so have many of these cafés.

Except for the sad ones.

It’s past midnight now in the McDonald’s along Perdices Street, and I cannot think. They have turned the music up much too loud for some reason I suspect borders on the diabolical. How else can it be? The sound pounding my ears seems designed for repulsion, perfectly tuned to keep my residency in this establishment to the barest minimum, its welcome extending only as far as lining up at the cashier. We want your money, the blasting music says, but please go away soon. I understand the capitalist notion of keeping occupancy flowing, but there are subtle ways of doing it: paint your walls orange, for example. But what you have is indeed sound conspicuously designed not to make you feel welcome—and I resent that. Because I have just ordered my tumbler of perfectly banal iced coffee, and have just settled on one small table planning to read a few essays for Monday’s nonfiction class. But I cannot read. And I cannot think.

I call over one of the busgirls. She ambles towards me like a robot. “Can you please turn down the volume of your music?” I ask.

“Yes, sir,” she says in that tired way that betrays she has heard this request before, and has no intention of ever complying.

True enough, I wait five more minutes—and nothing happens. The infernal racket McDonald’s calls music continues. So I make it win the battle. I give up. I get up, and I go home. I reason away that you do not stay in a place that does not make you feel welcome. The only way anyone can repay such discourtesy is not to give it your business.

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