The scariest thing about searching for the past is that you may not find what you’re looking for. Fact is it may not exist anymore.
Eight days ago I began a journey of rediscovery — searching for the Dumaguete of my youth. My wife Meg came along for the ride because I wanted to share with her the place where I grew up.
All I had were faded memories locked in a handful of old pictures my mother gave me. Friends I grew up with would tell me stories of how much my hometown had changed when they visited me in America. Any news out of Dumaguete was welcome news to me. Even news of devastating typhoons because it gave me a peep into life here.
Thirty years is a long time. To me, it feels like a lifetime.
I left Dumaguete for the same reasons many leave this city. I wanted to see the world beyond the stately palm trees and blue waters of Negros Oriental. I wanted to make something of myself.
I always thought that in my triumphant return I would be going back to the charming little town I called home for 14 years. Where the dust would gather around your ankles after walking around unpaved pathways. Where acacia and coconut trees dominated the skyline. Where the smell of fresh steamed rice, pan de sal and chicken inasal (grilled chicken) teased your appetite.
I longed for that simpler time. My heart ached for the innocence that was once my Dumaguete.
That dream is gone.
This is no longer my Dumaguete. Perhaps it never really was.
Today this city of 120,000 people stands as a model of economic development in the Philippines. Foreign investments dot the beaches of Dauin in the form of dive resorts. Downtown Dumaguete is a vibrant commercial center with shopping centers, restaurants and office buildings. Even the town’s preeminent academic institution, Silliman University, has gotten into the fray with a commercial development called Portal West — a building that is mostly leased out for commercial use.
According to provincial board member Jessica Villanueva the population of this town can grow to 500,000 during week days when visitors from the other islands converge on Dumaguete to do business.
And judging from the number of sunburnt foreign visitors sipping mango shakes in cafes along the boulevard, tourism is booming.
Dumaguete is now a destination for both business and pleasure.
What has not changed is the spirit and heart of the people who live here. As a foreign guest I have been treated to Dumaguete’s famous hospitality.
The singsong cadence with which locals greet you is endearing. “Gud morneeng sar.”
This hospitality is mainly what has convinced many foreigners — Germans, Australians, Canadians and Americans — to call Dumaguete home.
“Everywhere else people make you feel like a foreigner,” said Gavin Hughes, formerly of Blaine, Wash. “Here we have nice people. You can be here for five minutes and you’re already an insider.”
Hughes, who moved here six years ago, is married to a woman from Bacong, a tiny municipality four miles south of the city. They have two children.
Terrence Green, formerly of Darwin, Australia, was hooked after accompanying a friend to Dumaguete. It was during that trip that he met a beautiful woman named Vina from Sibulan, a town three miles to the north. He married her and has been living in the foothills above Dumaguete for the past seven years.
They are staking their claim to this lovely place. To them this is home. Their children will grow up here and build memories of their own.
This is their home now.
Dumaguete, thank you for the memories. I am proud that I once called you home. You will always live in my heart. I will always be thankful for your warmth and care.
With all my love and enduring gratitude, goodbye Dumaguete until we meet again.