Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Davao in my mind

There are places that stand out from memory; places that you tuck away in a special place in the deep recesses of your mind and revisit every now and then with fondness and yearning. Davao City is one such place to me.

I spent a significant part of my growing years here. This is where the very first traumatic experience in my life happened – a fire that engulfed the whole neighborhood and forced thousands of families to flee like stampeding animals caught in a wildfire. That fire(which happened at midnight) decimated everything on its path – houses, playground, memories; and forcibly, prematurely, and tragically separated a barkada of young boys. To this day, there are times when I wonder what happened to the rest of my childhood friends. (So, in the off chance that they are reading this – Jun and Michael Barriga, Noli and Tonton, etc – I hope you guys are doing well. Email and call me sometime). After that fire, my family packed up and went back to our roots in Leyte.

I did visit Davao many times over the years, even spending a whole year here in the 1980s as part of my “political” work. At least that was the official story. Actually, the main motivation why I chose to come to Davao and spend one year here was to be with this girl who completely swept me off my feet (the feeling was very mutual, mind!) at that year’s National Congress of College Editors. That is another story that needs to be written for the sake of closure. She eventually became a best friend and years later met a merciless and brutal death at the hands of the military. Her name was Maria Teresa Prudencio. She was an idealist. An activist. And to this day, I still can not bear to read the full account of how she was tortured, killed, and left to rot in public as bait for her husband (who was an NPA commander) to come down from the hill. Mga hayup talaga ang mga lintik na militar na mga yun!

The Davao City that I saw this morning from the plane and from the window of the car that fetched me from the new airport to bring me to the Grand Men Seng Hotel is completely different from the city of my childhood affections. For sure, the rustic setting, the old world charm and the vastness of the city are still evident; this, after all, is a city that is so large even breath neck development has not been able to completely alter the landscape. But gone are the landmarks of my childhood. In their places are sterile artifacts that spell progress but lack soul.

Gone are the haunts of my childhood. Boulevard, (actually Magsaysay Blvd is the full name of the stretch) used to be a long walk with the sea on your right and the smell of nipa on mud. I used to spend a lot of time there – throwing stones at flying fishes. Today it is just a row of shanties and commercial stalls. The parks around the City Hall are gone too, they are now simply structures of concrete and rubble. And the quaint old specialty shops at San Pedro Street (one was oddly called USA Store) are gone too, swallowed and gobbled down by the giant Gaisanos and Shoemarts.

Tagumpay Theatre, which eventually became… The New Tagumpay Theatre (they renovated the theatre, see?) was the moviehouse of my childhood (it was the one moviehouse that showed double features of Karate movies – Bruce Lee and all those flying actors that twirled in mid air and spun fans and uttered atrocious lines like “you must be tired of living”) is gone too. I spent far too many Sunday afternoons there – it helped of course that it was owned by the uncle of a good friend of mine so we had unlimited access to the place via a side door. Of course, every time we made our sneaky entry, people would howl and curse at us because when we opened that side door, the whole theatre would be washed out in blinding sunlight coming from the open door and their enjoyment of the movie would be temporarily suspended.

Why I loved Chinese movies was another story. It was courtesy of that childhood friend of mine who was into karate and Bruce Lee. Eventually, I did get to like those movies because it helped me improve my English – I had to read the subtitles fast because the actions were too fast and I had to translate to my friends as well. To this day, I still have this habit of reading subtitles too fast – I can read subtitles at a glance. But the fascination with Chinese movies has stayed. It has become an acquired taste, one of my guilty pleasures in life.

I do miss this city.

A number of things have changed in this city, but there are some things that have not changed as well. Flowers are still a common sight – and they still come really cheap. Over at San Pedro Cathedral, the church with an imposing fa├žade that looks like a ship’s hull (or a bishops’ headgear) roses are still sold at a bargain – about three pesos each. So here, it is quite normal to see young ladies carrying bunches of roses as they walk. It is easy to be romantic in a place like Davao.

And the fruits!!! This is a fruit lovers’ haven. It is sad that when people think Davao fruits they only think of the durian or the pomelo. There are more fruits here and they are really cheap. Bananas of course. Pineapples. Rambutan, lanzones, mangosteen, marang, macopas, longans, etc.

I am told that Shoemart has set up a mall here, as if it is not enough that there are Gaisano malls everywhere and a Victoria’s Mall to boot. Well, this is one urban phenomenon that we will have to pay dearly for in the future – when old quaint specialty shops will be nothing more than fodder to memory, swallowed up by the monolithic SMs.

Too bad am only staying for two days this time. But I promise to come back soon. There is just too much to come back to. And hopefully, one day I will have the time to revisit the memories of my childhood.

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