May 15, 2007

Summer & Sardines

the Dumaguete Belfry,
St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral

To conclude this series on Dumaguete, I am posting this article written by my cousin, with her permission of course, which was published in the July 2006 issue of MetroPost, a local weekly paper in Dumaguete. Here she speaks fondly of one of my favorite childhood memories, playing Sardines with cousins and friends, as she laments how the city has changed over the years.

Summer & sardines
By: Jacqueline

Summer was always my favorite time of the year. It wasn't just the fact that school was out for two whole months, I also looked forward to all my cousins vacationing in Dumaguete. Every year, for as long as I could remember everyone came over.

Then, they just stopped coming over. Most of my cousins' parents realized that Dumaguete was no longer safer than wherever they came from. The kids now had to be kept inside… or nearby. This really defeated the whole purpose of coming to Dumaguete -- and that was to "relax". I thought then that they were all paranoid.

"Sardines" was the name of a game. Almost every night after dinner, all my cousins and friends would gather at our front gate. There would be about 20 of us (ages 13 to 26), and we'd each have to select a partner. We'd map our boundaries around our house covering three entire blocks -- that would be east until the Rizal Boulevard, south to Locsin St (Red Cross Bldg), north to San Jose St (Sans Rival Bakeshop) and west to Sta. Catalina St (UyMatiao Construction office). This was our playground.

All pairs, except for one, would run off and hide. We'd crouch behind the seawall, climb the Perdices' tambis trees, sneak into the parked UyMatiao trucks, or curl up inside one of the abandoned vendor's trolleys beside the Red Cross.

The last pair would have to find all of us…each "found" pair helps look for the others until all pairs are accounted for. The game would take more than an hour, and then we would start all over. This would go on until midnight. That was so much fun -- and safe.

Today, I am not even sure if I'd allow my nieces/nephews to play the same game. Would it still be safe? Every time Dumaguete's safety and security are discussed, those summer nights come to mind. I would tell that story to anyone who'd listen.

I realize now that I must sound the way my elders did when they'd recount the "good old days"; how they'd drive to Bais from Dumaguete (to attend a dance) on their cousin's jeep, with two of them seated upfront holding flashlights which functioned as headlights; or my aunt's story about playing "cowboys and indians" at the Boulevard when they were children: My aunt "captured" a six-year-old cousin, and tied him to a tree (just like what she saw on TV). About four hours later, a very frantic yaya came looking for the cousin. They'd forgotten all about him! Rushing to the boulevard, they found the boy still tied to the tree, taking his siesta.

Or the very amusing story about my grandmother Emilia receiving a letter from her former employee which the postman promptly delivered to her home. On the envelope was written "Inday Laling, Dumaguete City".

After college, I worked outside the Philippines for eight years. Coming back after my first year abroad, I was excited to get on my bicycle (which I rode to school sometimes). It didn't take long for me to drag my bike back inside our house.

Sadly, I realized it was no longer practical to go around the City on a bike with
motorists crowding the roads, overtaking from the right-hand side, buses
speeding, tricycles loading and unloading passengers left, right and center,

And the noise level was terrible! Would you believe only 10 years ago, we could actually hear the Silliman University bell every 7 am all the way from our house -- a good four blocks away from the University?! Each time I came back for a visit, a negative encounter/experience made me feel like Dumaguete was slowly being taken away from me.

During one of those breaks, I woke up early to watch the sunrise at the boulevard. Walking to our front porch, I was surprised to find our wrought iron furniture gathered on one side, and locked together with a large chain! My uncle later explained that the original set had been stolen (all four heavy pieces), and this was a replica I was looking at.

There was that other time I bought a newspaper from a sidewalk vendor downtown. As I took some coins out, someone bumped into me which made me drop my purse. A friendly-looking man squatted beside me to "help" pick up my belongings…then he casually walked away with my P500 bill!

Walking home after that incident, I passed by an old refrigerator repair shop, now closed. Stopping right in front, I recalled one of the scariest days of my life. A stranger was following me walk home from school. When I turned the corner to this ref repair shop, the old man (who owned the shop) and his three sons were seated outside. I rushed to their side, and explained what was happening. All four men sprang from their seats, and "took care" of the stalker as I turned to run home.

I wonder where those men are now. Kindness and helpfulness were so common then, I had forgotten to thank them. We see, read, and hear about them every day….the strangers and dangers (everything from fraternity fights to pedophilia) …lurking about our once-gentle surroundings. Now I wonder if coming back to Dumaguete -- to live here, and to raise my children here -- was the right move.

Are there enough Dumagueteños speaking out about our unsafe streets and demanding that something be done about it? Does our leaders' vision include
leaving behind a Dumaguete that their great grandchildren would still like to live in? Can their grand kids share their own "in the good old days" stories to the younger generation of the future?

There are still things, places, events, and characters in Dumaguete that reassure me... … The comforting acacia trees at the boulevard and Silliman campus; the Rizal Boulevard itself; panulo at Piapi Beach (spear fishing in ankle-deep water at night); caramel-covered banana cue sold behind the SU Ballfield; the annual writers' workshop which is the pride of many Dumagueteños; my ever-reliable neighborhood seamstress; tartanillas; the efficient Silliman Medical Center staff; Makiling's chicharon; the well-organized public market; hard-working Amor who comes to our office daily selling home-made merienda; Sumalinog ice cream; the Ms. Cambagroy Pageant (basta I enjoy it); the melts-in-your-mouth silvanas of Sans Rival; the offering of fruits and eggs to the Carmelite sisters and requesting them to help us pray for a specific intention; the knowledge that most of the ingredients we can't find anywhere else in Dumaguete is just stocked at Times Mercantile.


Susan said...

This is a provocative piece. Coincidentally, I read an article not too long ago, about how today's culture helps perpetuate the myth that we are more unsafe today than in years past, i.e. gated communities, alarm systems, kidnappings, etc. I'm sure there is some truth to both sides and also some romanticizing of the past. Either way, though,thanks for sharing this thoughtful article.

Ben said...

I'm sad to see this come to an end. Every post was so fascinating. But I know you will continue to enthrall us with your pieces.

katrina said...

nens, i got sad reading this article. i hope our experience in dumaguete this november will be all positive!

when i found out my friend was headed for hcmc last november, i told her to read your blog on vietnam. i told her its really detailed and that she'll get alot a tips from the post. ngek. pahiya ako! she corrected me and said that the posts were about hanoi!

i agree with you. the vietnamese are warm and gentle. i hope to visit hanoi too in the future.

christine said...

Susan, I couldn't agree with you more, there is definitely some romanticizing of the past. Though I believe there is more truth to it than we care to admit. Thank you too for dropping by and haring your thoughts. :)

Ben, thank you so much, I'm so happy you've enjoyed instad of getting bored with all my nostalgia-inflicted posts. :)

christine said...

Katrina, no it's not dangerous there. It's just less safe than it used to be. Like everywhere else really.

Your so funny, well, at least if she goes to Hanoi next time well-informed na siya hehe. Try to go to Hanoi, you would love it I'm sure! :)