Observations On Life In Dumaguete

This Article from Michael O’Riordan’s column Outside Looking In at the Dumaguete Metropost was first published on the 15th of April.

Readers sometimes ask where I get ideas for my columns. That’s actually the easy part of the writing process. Columns like this are mostly taken from experiences in my earlier life or observations of everyday life here in Negros Oriental.

For example, right now it’s nighttime up here at the foot of Mount Talinis. The evening is alive with the usual collection of exotic sounds. The jungle orchestra has already begun its nightly performance. Crickets began their routine at 5:15 pm, precisely the same time as always. Species of birds I don’t recognize chirp out messages to each other across the valley. Dogs bark, some enthusiastically, while others cry in discomfort. Geckos gurgle their comforting sounds. Meanwhile, Blackie, the previously unwanted stray dog I’ve talked to you about before, lays at my feet oblivious to everything, contentedly snoring, and occasionally letting rip a deadly fart.

It’s dark now. A small green head peeps out from behind the kitchen counter. Another Gecko has survived and grown to maturity. Always cautious, it will remain motionless for perhaps 15 minutes before moving again. There are now three adult Geckos who appear nightly. Smaller ones are also evident but few, if any, will survive until maturity. They will then be devoured by the ant armies who will suddenly appear, then just as quickly disappear. Unlike homo sapiens, Mother Nature abhors waste.

It’s time for bed. I lay there and marvel as always at the beauty unfolding before my eyes. A full moon with a cloudless sky allows me to observe the stars sparkling across what Shakespeare once called ‘heaven’s floor’. I have a perfect view of the layers of the valley that rumble one upon the other until it ends in Sibulan. Then the lights from ships at anchor flicker on the ocean. After that, lights from Cebu island wave to me.

Now in my second year here in Negros Oriental, I still delight in these views, never taking them for granted. I will eventually take these images with me as valued memories. I’ll keep them carefully stored in the recesses of my mind to draw upon for warmth when storm clouds inevitably appear.

Another year has passed, and the Dragon Boat races recently took place. I was sitting on the seawall along Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete, watching the crews training. Eight men dipped their oars at various paces based on instructions from their coxswain. It’s a tough sport but more significantly, it reflects indirectly on the wonderful seafaring traditions of the Philippines.

As a former deep-sea trawlerman with a Dutch fleet in the North Sea, and fishing off the west coast of Ireland, I have the greatest of admiration and respect for the fishermen I see alone, off the coastline, on flimsy little fishing boats. Their skill handed down from generations of seafarers gives them the necessary knowledge to hopefully survive.

What saddens me is the pitiful income they earn for their dangerously hard work. As always, it’s the middlemen who reap the harvest of work done by honorable working men.

Vhie and her daughter Jermaigne Leonisse are currently visiting. This is a new experience for me. I’ve been living alone for over 20 years now so I’m not used to other people being around. Even when the cleaning lady arrives each week, I have to leave the house.

The week-long visit went exceptionally well. JL is a lovely, unspoiled child. Vhie and I got on very comfortably. I’m deeply grateful for that.

When I first considered living in Negros Oriental, I came up to Valencia to get a feel of the place as a possible location. I sat in a store in the village center, drinking below-average coffee, and looking out on a boring landscape. Apart from the vibrant plants, the place seemed to have nothing appealing to offer. A Catholic church, as usual, dominated the landscape looking down paternally on the village. Not much other activity was evident. As often is the case, I was wrong.

Now living here for 15 months, and with no intention of leaving, Valencia is, for me, an ideal place to live. I’m up at Camp Lookout, which is 15 minutes by scooter up the mountain from Valencia Proper. The altitude creates beautiful fresh mountain air. My home, artfully-designed by the well-known architect Dean Sinco, is an ideal environment for creativity.

If you are feeling energetic, beautiful Casarora Falls is a 10-minute drive from Valencia Proper. Depending on one’s fitness level, it takes approximately 40 minutes to cross over the many boulders and fast-flowing water to arrive in one of the most beautiful sights in all of Negros Oriental. And it’s worth every step! The waterfalls 90 feet into a large pool where swimmers delight in its freshness.

Down in Valencia Proper, there is a wide-open square where people play tennis and basketball while parents watch over their children who gleefully chase each other across the open greenery.

Valencia is well known for the excellent variety and quality of its flowers and plants, clean mountain air helps this process. A wide variety of fresh vegetables can be purchased every day in the market place, from early morning until late evening. To a foreigner, the prices always seem ridiculously-low.

This sleepy village comes alive in the early evening when stalls at the edge of the Square start cooking and grilling. They offer typical Pinoy food focusing on pork, fish, chicken, and, of course, the inevitable white rice. In front of the village hall, dance exercise classes begin around 6 p.m. There are many enthusiastic participants consisting primarily, but not exclusively, of women of all shapes and sizes. They burn enormous levels of energy while arms, legs are flung in many directions before everybody morphs into one blurred, frenzied image. There are three restaurants or bistros here for foreigners to enjoy, depending on one’s taste. My favorite is Naspri Brasserie which is owned and operated by a good Dutchman and his lovely Filipina wife. Their cappuccino is excellent while their fish is always fresh and delicately-cooked. They also provide tasteful Pinoy dishes. It’s the main place in Valencia for foreigners to eat and hang out.

There’s also a bistro called Oxmox, with Korean-style offerings. A newly-opened restaurant called Spice offers solid food, while also catering primarily to foreigners.

Contrary to my earlier impressions, Valencia is actually a vibrant area that caters to a large local and mountain community. And it’s only 15 minutes to downtown Dumaguete, with the lovely coastal town of Dauin just down the road, through the town of Bacong.

It amuses me to observe that the older I get, the less important it is for me to be right, and how amusing it is to be wrong!

Author’s email: irishauthormichaelcassidy@gmail.com

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