Day Seven in Dumaguete (For those of you who didn’t know I moved here, well now you do. =p )
I’m listening to music in my room, otherwise known as the Giant Tomato because of its bright orange paint. Why the owner of the boarding house picked such a, well, stimulating color (to put it mildly) is beyond me. I tried to tone down the brightness by practically wallpapering everything with pictures and posters, effectively turning it into a three-dimensional version of Friendster. Despite all my efforts, it stayed as orange as ever, so now I’m living in a Giant Tomato-themed Friendster profile. But I digress. I meant to write about Dumaguete.
So, the Motorcycle Capital of the Philippines. There are, obviously, plenty of motorcycles of every shape, size and color. The parking lot outside my college have more scooters than the EMCOR showroom back home. But since I don’t drive one, I do a lot of walking. Everything seems to be only a couple or so blocks from each other, and I don’t get lost as often as when I commute. Walking’s a good way to get to know a place, and an incident I witnessed the other day helped me understand why Mabuhay magazine called Dumaguete the City of Gentle People.
It was late in the afternoon and I was on my way home when I saw an old lady stumble and fall on the other side of the street. I rushed to cross the road, but two guys got there before me and were already helping her up. They were dressed in shorts and dirty camisa-de-chinos, obviously laborers going home after a hard day’s work. They were very gentle and concerned with the elderly woman, but she was mercifully unharmed. After a round of smiles and thank-you’s to her rescuers, she continued on her way — and so did I, with my heart a little warmer and more at home in this new place.
But if those two guys, tired and grimy as they appeared, turned out to be gentlemen in disguise, a well-dressed man who seemed to be in his late forties whom I encountered two days later turned out to be just the opposite.
I was having breakfast by myself in a small cafeteria when I noticed him smiling directly at me. He obviously didn’t work there, so it couldn’t have been just good customer-relations strategy for the diner. I paid no attention to him so I didn’t notice where he sat or when he finished his meal, but when I left after a few minutes, I found him just outside the door. He started talking to me, asking for my name and number and ignoring my polite request for him to leave me alone. I quickened my pace, but I couldn’t get rid of him, so I entered the nearest store, thinking he wouldn’t follow me there. He did, and he kept doing so until I finally asked for help from a security guard. Only then did he leave me alone. It wasn’t the first time I’d been accosted by a stranger (for some exasperating reason I seem to be a magnet for odd characters), but he was the most persistent. And he was an adult, for goodness’ sake. I can understand obnoxious young men who think they’re God’s gift to womankind (actually, no, I don’t get them either, but I’m resigned to the fact that they exist)– but a full grown man acting like an annoying teenager? It was absurd, and more than a little scary.
So in the span of seven days I saw two different sides of Dumaguete: the friendly, gentle side and the other that was just a little too friendly, if you know what I mean. From other encounters, though, I’m inclined to believe that the side represented by the gallant workers is the more authentic one. I’ve received a lot of willingly-given assistance from different people — from Silliman University faculty making my enrollment easier to tricycle drivers guiding me to the best places to shop and new-found friends giving me an evening tour of the university. Even my unpleasant experience had a redeeming quality — the security guard was very helpful and made me feel quite safe. So when all is said and done, I would say that Mabuhay was right — this is a city of gentle people. As a university town, it is vibrant and youthful, but so far I couldn’t sense any undercurrents of the cynicism that is so common in big-city universities. And the trees, those huge acacias that loom over the entire campus and the seaside boulevard — any town that cares about trees like Dumaguete obviously does has to have something special in its character. I’m farther away from my beloved Palawan than I’ve ever been, but who knows? My Giant Tomato might just turn out to be a second home for me. I find that I’m looking forward to the possibility. =)