Revisiting Dumaguete only every now and then can't compare with the joys and frustrations of living here -- one is reduced to tourist and spectator, instead of resident and participant. On the one hand, you skip through the growing pains, but on the other, you miss out on actually being part of it (though the realization comes much, much later). As a consolation, the distance and detachment allows you to see Dumaguete as through a series of time-lapse snapshots. Such is how I feel in this recent long visit.
I last swung through the city six months ago, but that two-day visit proved much too brief to leave any lasting impressions. But as a point of comparison between that time and now I can feel the changes; and so much more so between now and four years ago, at the tail end of living here in Dumaguete.
Six months ago, I came to a Dumaguete in the midst of a construction frenzy. Familiar roads were closed off and became one-way choke points for traffic. Dust, dust, dust everywhere, not to mention the rumble of backhoes and the rattle of jackhammers: the horror, the horror.
Six months later, oh, joy: smooth wide roads, a pleasure to drive on, and not just on the main arteries but even on the minor streets. There are still a few more holdover construction work here and there, but at the stage they're at, they should be done soon. Dumaguete looks...clean.
Six months ago, I felt pleasantly surprised by the small and cozy coffee shops and bistros that had popped up all over the city. My cousin Youson and his wife Kathleen brought me to Edelweiss for dinner and onward to Gabby's Bistro for a visit. "Wow," I thought back then, "things really are changing."
Six months after, the momentum carries on: going around the city, I see many more new places to visit, many more things to do (and no, I'm not just talking about Robinson's, but more on that next time.) The city feels refreshed and reinvigorated: old buildings have been given facelifts to make for new homes for new businesses. There seems to be a conscious attempt at Mediterranean architecture and colors, one that suits the spirit of the city just fine.
To be sure, there are still all the hallmarks of the old Dumaguete: the rickety roar of tricycles, zip-zooming scooters, and streets bustling pedestrians; but to me they've become reminders of the small-town charm.
The city seems as young as ever, but added to that youth, there seems to be more optimism and confidence. In dress and in appearance, the baduy look is out, replaced by more cosmopolitan tastes. On a summer, the traditional downtime of the city, there are as about as many people as I remember during the school season.
I don't know if it's because I caught Dumaguete at the right time of the summer, but the green of the trees and the grass seems more vibrant. Even the overcast blue preluding the rain seems cooler. Dumaguete feels new, reborn.
I've been away too long, and don't I know it.