Friday, January 05, 2007

Breaking Out

With one or two rare exceptions, every year-end holiday stretch has brought me to Davao. No surprise there. Davao is my original hometown, after all, and here I have roots. But looking back over the past two decades, I realize I haven't really spent a great deal of time in this Mindanaoan city. A visit of a week at most, usually whizzing by so quickly, and then back to wherever I'm supposed to go.

This time around, I've decided to stay a while longer. It just so happens that this trip coincided with the beginning of my biennial itch: I've learned that I need a change every two years, otherwise a little madness starts creeping in. It seems that Davao fits the bill.

Faced with the prospect of a long haul, one digs in, learns the ropes, soaks in the atmosphere, and tries one's best to find new friends and new opportunities. When one comes as a potential resident and not as a transient visitor, the perspectives are different.

And foremost on my mind is That's it. Davao has space.

Though that might sound like a pretty strange thing to say, it's been a repeating mantra since I arrived a month ago. It feels, finally, that I can breath again.

The sentiment, I suppose, is understandable when you hold Davao in comparison to Manila and Cebu. Davao was built over a larger area and has gradually developed outwards instead of upwards. The roads are wider, and new commercial districts outside of established centers are emerging. There' opportunity, and room to grow.

In contrast, Manila and Cebu are both thick, crowded places, choked by their highrises and their narrow veins of roads. That's the unfortunate price of development, when one builds on top of zones made in Spanish times. Hemmed in, that's how one feels.

Yet I must confess that I've started feeling hemmed in within Dumaguete, too, these last few months. Ironic, isn't it, because over the East is a wide expanse of sea and to the West are the freedom of mountain roads. But I'm not talking just about physical enclosures, but spiritual ones, too.

Part of Dumaguete's charm is its smallness, but taken in excess, that, too, can be a curse. One sees the same people, moves within the same circles, eats in the same places, travels in the same roads, thinks the same thoughts. A comfort, perhaps, to some, but understandably maddenning to most: spun too long in a groove, the needle eventually wears down.

The solution, then, is simple, logical, and inevitable: strike out, break out, set the sights to new horizons.

Sometimes, one must leave home in order to find it once more.