Things I will not miss in Dumaguete

(Published in two parts, with some necessary toning down, on the Dumaguete MetroPost starting on 14th December 2014. I reproduce it here uncensored, bring in the complaints! )

Things I will not miss in Dumaguete

Next week I will be leaving Dumaguete, probably for good, and it’s starting to sink in. I’ve just finished my MA thesis (explaining the irregularity of my contribution to this column), and I’m set to go back to Davao.

I’ve been in Dumaguete for over two years: enough time, really, to live a life. And the leave taking has gotten me into thinking about that life here. I have really come full circle with this place, exactly as Tim Montes described in that delightfully insightful essay of his, How to Write About Dumaguete. I began by adoring it as a workshop fellow, got involved with the thrilling escapades of someone in the fortunate crowd when I moved here as a graduate student in Silliman, came to see the place’s annoying realities, learned to abhor even the tiniest detail of it, learned to forgive it its shortcomings, and finally learned to love it again so much that I’m becoming emotional at the thought of never being able to go back.

Dumaguete never was the Neverland for my Peter Pan. On the contrary this was the place where I grew old, and fundamental to that maturity is learning to forgive the world for all its flaws – to let go of what the Buddhists call ‘craving’ and accept things for what they are.

And yet no amount of bodhi seems to liberate me from getting frustrated with some things about this place. These are annoying little things that could easily be made better but that people just leave be, not out of some esoteric urge to remind themselves of the world’s imperfection, but because they’re too lazy to make changes.

When I leave Dumaguete, then, here are the things I will be glad to leave behind:

1. The pedicab drivers. Their default attitude to life seems to be one of irritation, as if your telling them your destination is not where they want to go was an insult to their dignities. The sheer smallness of their worldviews (Lee Plaza to Amigo subdivision is too far for them!) would just be sad if public transportation didn’t rely on them. Pedicabs should be zoned.

2. The cliquishness and elitism of people. This small pond is infested with fish pretending to be big, and how territorial they can be! So called artists, student leaders, whatever title they appropriate for themselves: they unjustifiably hold ascendancy over a field, monopolize opportunities there by limiting it to their close circle of friends, and stifle the emergence of new talent. I once knew this student who was EIC of the student paper, president of at least two clubs, officer in an enumerable others, and was working on getting five awards on his graduation, and yet I cannot for the life of me find a reason why he is given so many responsibilities, he was mediocre at best. Then there’s this student who’s been in college for almost ten years just because he doesn’t want to stop being an active student – oh, I could go on forever.

3. The bad service everywhere. I don’t know what the HRM schools here are doing, employees in the services sector in Dumaguete seem to be poorly trained. Waitresses in Neva’s and 2Story just throwing the utensils on your table. The annoying photocopier along Silliman avenue who treats every costumer as a disturbance. The forever it takes to be served at C&L. That terribly unapproachable old waitress at Chantilly. Even the employees at fastfood chains like Jollibee and McDo seem to be below the standard.

4. The incongruously horrible bathrooms: that cupboard part timing as a toilet at Chowking, that hole they dug at Neva’s first floor, and that horrendous slaughterhouse-style bathroom at Connie’s that would be an ideal place to murder someone. Heck, Poppy didn’t even bother making its own bathroom. These are places in the middle of the city, but they may well be in Outhouse land.

5. The nightmare that is dorming in Silliman. My first ever stay in Dumaguete was in Carson Hall (I was billeted there when I was fellow to Silliman’s workshop). I was horrified to see that the toilet cubicles in the common bathrooms had doors made of cheap steel and were too low for privacy, and the toilets were non-flush. When I first moved here I dormed at Kross Kat, where again the cubicles provided no privacy, the toilets had no toilet seats, and somebody would wash dishes in the shower area so you risked stepping on grains of rice and chicken bones while you bathed and the cleaners don’t clean regularly enough to make that a frequent problem. If you don’t make it before the (pointless) curfew you have to sleep in the street (I ended up doing so twice), and if you don’t have plans during breaks you either find a hotel or again sleep in the street. Worse, they stuff their unremarkable brand of Christianity down your throat. And you pay for all that mind you.

6. The restaurants that charge for water. Nope, forget ‘service’ water, they just want money, even if they have to charge one peso per glass. Hoy Lugaw, that carinderia along Piapi, and many others. Why don’t they just include the expenses for water in their menu pricing.

7. This whole ‘literary capital’ pitch. There are hardly any more writers in Dumaguete, and there certainly is very little chance you can be a writer just here, the publication venues are almost inexistent (thank God for MetroPost!). Needless to say there are hardly any readers – sure, a few Nabokov or Wallace fans here and there, but it’s nowhere near Reykjavik, and you’re never going to be read unless you’re a foreign bestseller. When I was billeted in Carson hall the dorm manager small-talked me and revealed she had no idea what the Silliman Writers Workshop was. Forget sir Sawi Aquino’s ‘Dumas Goethe’ (hardly any Monte Cristo or Werther readers here), a writer friend in Cebu inadvertently gave the better literary nickname for this place: Duma-ghetto.

8. The open sewerage at Amigo subdivision. If in the British countryside you find water voles frolicking in pristine mountain streams, in Amigo mangy rats subsist on the gray, malodorous stuff that flows by the roadside. If you’re unlucky you get to see them as road-kill. Rat paste anyone?

9. The fact that driving a motorcycle while drunk is normal. Yes it’s cute and funny – look at that wobbly motorcycle! – until your mother or your babycakes gets run over by an idiot on a Norkis inebriated by Kulafu along Escaño.

10. The laziness they call ‘being laid back’. No it’s not cute, particularly when it’s getting in the way of being professional. Procrastination isn’t an art here, it’s a tradition. I’ve had students submit requirements weeks after the deadline (and they were shocked to fail, bless them). And it’s made worse by that culture of mediocrity that produces bad service – not only are people slow here, they often end up producing substandard output. This invariably causes that culture of elitist cliquishness: the few people who work normally think they’re geniuses.

In Buddhism one reflects on repulsive things to let go of craving for desirable ones: think of a disembowelled corpse, for instance, to stop your lust. Thinking of all those bad things makes it somehow easier to say goodbye to Dumaguete. But my attachments next week!

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