Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The right place to be stranded

The right place to be stranded

Updated 00:43am (Mla time) Nov 10, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the November 10, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

EYEBROWS are raised whenever I choose Philippine Airlines (PAL) over Cebu Pacific. At Cebu Pacific the staff is young, cheerful and eager to please. Unlike PAL attendants who wear sleek designer uniforms, Cebu Pacific has a more relaxed approach: shorts and sneakers. Flights on time 95 percent of the time should make Cebu Pacific the logical choice. But then, common sense isn't common.

Frankly, all I want to do at 25,000 feet is sleep rather than play parlor games. You cannot ignore Cebu in-flight games, particularly a singing contest or bring-me game. With my luck, I will be seated between two passengers who desperately want to win the coffee mug. I'm not growing old gracefully, I'm turning into a grouch.

This negative attitude was rewarded two weeks ago when I became a statistic on Cebu Pacific, one of the lucky five percent whose flight was delayed. I wish I had the same luck on lotto. My early morning flight out of Dumaguete City to catch a connection to Palawan province, was first delayed and eventually canceled. Rather than curse my luck, I made the most of my time and discovered that Dumaguete is not such a bad place to be stranded in.

Oct. 28, 2004 marked the centennial of the arrival of a band of missionary sisters of St. Paul of Chartres in Dumaguete. Since then, the sisters have multiplied and now run schools, hospitals and other charitable organizations around the country.

One can presume that the sisters were encouraged to establish a school a century ago to provide a Catholic alternative to the public school system established by the American colonial government at the turn of the last century. St. Paul's was also an alternative to the school that would later become Silliman University. Now St. Paul's is also a university.

If history is indeed a challenge and a response, we can understand why University of the Philippines president Vicente Sinco worked for the establishment of the non-sectarian Foundation University. Today, Dumaguete can rightfully claim to be the university town in the Philippines with such a small area now home to three prominent universities and many other smaller educational institutions.

Previous trips to Dumaguete have been confined to Silliman, which recently celebrated its centennial. An area of the campus, between the University Church and the oldest structure on campus, was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute. This declaration thus saved the seafront building from demolition to give way to a fast-ferry port. Once sewage has been redirected away from the seafront and the area fronting the busy boulevard has been dredged and cleaned, it can be an ideal spot for swimming. If one wants cooler climate and freshwater swimming, one goes out of town to Valencia.

Silliman has a lot of historical and archeological artifacts in storage that await proper display in a university museum that will help the people of Dumaguete get in touch with their past. I have not found them yet, but I remember reading somewhere that one or two of the original posts from Jose Rizal's house in the southern city of Dapitan found its way to Silliman.

In Foundation University is a museum-in-progress that aims to remind the present students of the life and times of Vicente Sinco who turns out to have been one of the Filipino signatories to the UN Charter aside from Carlos P. Romulo. University president Mira D. Sinco and her son Dean have done an excellent job of creating an atmosphere where students and visitors can relax and reflect. A statue of Rizal with books by Guillermo Tolentino's assistant Anastacio Caedo can be found in the center of a pond teeming with carp. An original study by Tolentino has Rizal teaching children, but Caedo appropriated this and deleted the children so Rizal looks aimless, surrounded by books. In the present setting amid concrete columns and the pond, he can be like a pensive Greek god.

Christine Godinez and her St. Paul sister Beth arranged a visit with Edith Tiempo, National Artist for Literature, who lived on a mountain overlooking the sea aptly called Montemar. We interrupted her work on a college literature textbook and another book of literary criticism so she could endure my inane questions: Do you still write in long hand or do you use a computer? Do you write with music or in absolute silence? This short meeting was well worth missing my plane to Manila that morning.

Of course, a trip to Dumaguete is not complete without stopping by the Village Bookshop run by Dong and Danah Fortunato. They offered me coffee, but I asked to be brought to the market for a cup of hot native chocolate. This led to a row of stalls and carinderias each with the name of the owners. Every name was a history in itself: Martin Lenihan, Natividad Alviola, Guillerma Lauriaga, Potenciana Lantaca, Estrella Tamparong, Loreta Banaybanay, Perla Tumulak, Olivia Omole, Irene Dinampo and Jesusa Vivan. We went to stall No. 3, Jesusa Loyloy, for hot chocolate served in a small glass rather than a dainty demitasse cup. Sidings were red puto-maya (the all-time favorite because there was none left by 11 a.m.), “budbud kabug” and “pilit” [suman] that came plain or with chocolate.

Being stranded can be a disaster, but one can make the best of a bad situation. Dumaguete was the right place to be.


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