I'll Be Back

I’ll Be Back

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By the time you read this article column, I’ll be back in America for a brief visit. I’m interested to see what my reactions will be about life there. I anticipate it will be challenging but am, as always, open to being pleasantly surprised. I’ve already had both an uncomfortable and comfortable glimpse at what waits in America for me.

Al, a friend of 25 years, had insisted I stay at his lovely home in Roseville, California during my visit. Yesterday, I received a clearly-uncomfortable email from him saying he had to reluctantly withdraw his offer. After some probing, I discovered that his wife Judy, who had provided lovely meals for me over many years, simply did not want me staying at their home while they were away. I jokingly explained I was almost fully house-trained and that my peeing direction was flawless, but all to no avail. Fortunately, my Filipina friend Binky, who lives in the Sacramento area, immediately offered accommodation in her home.

I’ve been reflecting on my life since I moved to Dumaguete on January 1st of this year. The following are observations based on no particular preference:

I’ve been fortunate to meet special people and formed relationships, friendships from throughout the island’s social, academic, and business structure. I’m not going to mention names. I’m deeply grateful for the important part they now play in my life.

I’ve lived in countries on several continents, but this island of Negros Oriental, one among thousands in the Philippines, is the first in which I feel truly “at home”.

Perhaps some of it has to do with my age. I’m on the final lap of what has certainly been an interesting journey. Is my overall perspective significantly changing because of the aging process? I honestly don’t know, but I’ve always had an intuitive instinct about any place, and after accepting the crazy way services are provided here, or perhaps more accurately, not provided here, living here in Dumaguete/Negros Oriental everything feels very comfortable.

So what am I conscious of that makes life here so enjoyable?

I think a significant factor is the relaxed attitude of the islanders and the overall island way of life.

I groaned when I read of the patriot Rizal’s reference to Dumaguete being “the city of gentle people.” It seemed more like something the tourist board dreamed- up.

But it’s definitely true.

In seven months, the only rude behavior I’ve observed has come from me, and a few other foreigners. Everybody has been unfailingly polite, generous, and accepting of me.

And never once have I felt nervous anywhere I’ve walked at any time of day or night.

I often wonder where does their spontaneous laughter and vibrant joy of life comes from. I experience it early in the morning when the scooters come down from higher up the mountain. Chatter and laughter abound. I finally am no longer horrified at the sight of four, and sometimes five bodies cramped onto speeding scooters with beautiful, wide-eyed children, often babies, giggling as they charge down the road-less mountainside, blissfully unaware of the imminent death that hundred-foot drops can cause.

This exuberance for life is evident everywhere else throughout my day. I see it in the marketplace where everybody seems to find a reason for laughter in every experience. What’s so darned funny? And what are they constantly talking about?

This joy of life is evident in the shopping malls, on the streets, the beaches. It’s everywhere. It’s evident at all of life’s stages, mothers kissing and cuddling their gorgeous children, schoolgirls, and often school boys smiling while walking arm-in-arm in the mall or on the streets. Parents with grown-up children warm and at ease with each other. What’s going on? What’s the secret to their treasured contentment that Westerners can’t find?

I’ve been given several answers to this question, but none provide a clear rational explanation. I’m repeatedly told people here are accepting of their life, and very resilient. But that’s, for me, an inadequate response. The answer needs a deeper explanation.

And how do so many people, these large families, live in always cramped spaces, often in impoverished conditions, without killing each other? If this were Ireland where I come from, there would be reports every day of horrendous calamities.

There must be other, to me, unknown factors involved. What impact does the warm, tropical climate have on the people’s temperament? In Ireland, where the weather is often harshly wet, cold, and grim, we tend to be a moody, depressed people who drink heavily. Perhaps the warm climate plays a significant part in people’s positive life outlook?

And the women! I suffer whiplash on a regular basis from quickly turning to catch a glimpse of one beautiful woman after another. It’s ridiculous and defies statistical reasoning. How can such beauty be so prevalent? And it’s not simply physical beauty. Looks from deeply-expressive eyes speak unspoken volumes with one flirtatious glance. Eyes that could provide sufficient energy to light up large cities, the intoxicating allure of Dumaguete island women, it’s almost too much. But what a delightful burden to endure!

Could anyone, perhaps an anthropologist, please provide me with some insight into this perplexing question? If bottled, many parts of our troubled world could wonderfully benefit from drinking a cup of this treasured island brew.

I’m flying from Dumaguete to Manila in a few hours, then on to San Francisco on Philippine Airlines. Only Filipina stewardesses can make the usually-boring safety drills effortlessly look like a sensual dance. And even if the plane was about to crash into the cold, Pacific shark-infested waters, I doubt if they would lose their composure, and, while apologizing for the inconvenience, would smile delightfully while saying how much they looked forward to seeing us on our next flight.

I’ll only be gone for 10 days and already feel sad. But when my plane lands on Sept. 5th in Dumaguete, and when I’m sitting on the rear of a scooter speeding through the crazy Dumaguete traffic before reaching the Valencia road, I know the majesty of Mt. Talinis will soon loom ahead with floating, white and dark clouds opening their arms to embrace me once again. Soon, I’ll be listening to nature rejoicing all around me. And when I go to bed, I’ll have a grateful smile because I will have come back home to Dumaguete.

The author’s latest book “More Almost True Irish Stories” may be purchased from the Amazon

michael's life in dumaguete

Shortly after arriving into Dumaguete, Michael  intuitively knew it was the right place for him. Everything seemed to be right. It was and is. In addition to enjoying the way of life, he also met a special Pinay, and is living contentedly with her near the city.

He now operates Veritas Consulting Group, a company dedicated to helping other expats and Returning Filipinos with their transition to life in Dumaguete City and surrounding areas

Contact – info@vcg.ph


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