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The Nostalgic Scent of the Durian City

Davao City, Philippines – February 11 – 13, 2009

White Phantasms. Cruising at thirty seven thousand feet aboard PR 811 bound for Davao, an indescribable feeling of contentment embraced my heart, as I stare at the spotless cumulus congestus clouds, dancing like lazy phantasms, hugging each other amidst the infinite sky painted with a million hues of blue – the paragons of high cast beauty. Below are serene greenery and building roofs glinting like polished diamonds beside the muddy water of the vast Laguna Lake plotted with geometrical fish pens.

All is beautiful from a distance and this is all too perfect for me – sitting on a window side, with a cup of coffee and some salty peanuts, reading a Neal Stephenson book, while listening to Enya dreamily singing:

….Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco flow,

….From the deep sea of Clouds to the island of the moon,
Carry me on the waves to the lands I've never been,
Carry me on the waves to the lands I've never seen.

Sail Away… Sail A

Welcome to Davao. Day 1. The exotic and pungently sweet smell of durian greeted us at the airport – assuring us that we landed the right airport. I even hear Atty. Rhesa on the phone, “Ma! nasa Davao na kami, amoy durian na!”

I excitedly leave the airport after claiming my duffel bag – which I personally packed – pregnant with sartorial possibilities: a few shirts, jacket, toiletries, hygiene stuff, a pocket knife and condoms.

I went to Davao to conduct the Maritime Schools Assessment Program (MSAP), as proctor. It is an annual nationwide exam for Maritime Schools. Last year I was assigned in Laoag City and in the previous year in Bicol region. I love this project – because it allows me to have a chance to visit far places in the Philippines – lucky me. (clap clap)

Two MATS College of Technology staff picked me at the airport, had a quick lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant, dropped by at the campus to meet some school officials, their names I instantly forget as soon as they are introduced, and made a quick tour of the city. As I heard, Davao boast of its perfect weather, the city being situated in a typhoon-free zone (meaning sunshine by day and occasional rain showers by night). I also later learned that Davao is the most peaceful city in Southeast Asia – which I do personally agree, definitely true.

Our driver asked me, “Have you heard of the DDS?”

At first I thought it was a famous place in Davao but before I gave my guess he immediately explained “DDS stands for the Duterte Death Squad – they are the group responsible for the murders of all the anti-socials here and the political rivals of the Duterte’s.”

I immediately sensed that these two guys inside the car are anti-Duterte, so to be agreeable I just said, “Well, I guess that’s what political dynasties do.”

They just sigh and said in unison “Yeah, big evil dynasty.”

I therefore conclude that the city becomes the most peaceful city in South East Asia because of the DDS. I just hope we also have the MDS – Metro Manila Death Squad, huh!(that makes me partially pro-Duterte.)

Davao Nightlife. 1st Night. Me and my two co-proctors (assigned in Agro Industrial something) have two whole nights to kill – and where else to spend it? Davao Nightlife! We had a nice food tripping at Banoks – a famous local city food chain and then go bar-hunting afterwards. We end up in “The Venue,” which according to the taxi driver, is the famous gig bar in the city. It just slightly disappoint us because when we excitedly entered the bar, at around 8:00 p.m., it was still empty so we decided to have a couple of beer at a nearby resto and continue our food tripping. That makes us discover the “Tuna Chicharon” really good stuff, too bad they don’t have it packed for pasalubong. With a couple of iced cold San Mig to go with it, in the middle of the teasing rain, it’s perfect to start the night.

With the slight San Mig “buzz,” we checked again The Venue, still barely half full, but the band is already doing their full blast gig despite the few audience. So we thought it’s already perfect to get a full dose of the San Mig “buzz” and spend the night there. We end up crazily dancing, perfectly buzzed up, forgetting that we still have the MSAP business the next day.

The biggest question the next day was "Did we pay our bill before checking out?" None of us remembered that part.

MSAP, Day2. I end up conducting the exam, wolfishly grinning in front of the examinees, obviously wasted - my eyes automatically drooping. Exam ends at 12:00, had a two-piece chicken for lunch then go back to my hotel.

I just stayed at Sychar hotel the whole afternoon tired and sleepy – but it’s really odd ‘cause I can’t sleep, so I tried watching some nonsense in HBO, got bored then took a little city stroll and end up in Gaisano Mall. Maybe I’m a little bit excited for the part two of our evening bar-hopping.

Crazy Second Night. Nightlife in Davao is really cool. We checked out Matina Town Square, had a few bottle of beer and a plate of kinilaw, got bored with the band and its crowd and decided to hop-in to Bakbak.

quick note: On our way to Bakbak, we passed by “THE CENTRAL” (can’t elaborate further…!wink, wink!)

Bakbak is a drinking haven. The design is like that of a large, open hut, with bamboo posts and a nipa roofing for that native feel. Wooden tables and chairs are placed inside and outside the hut. Some band are playing acoustics, others are hard-rocky-noisy type.

We choose a hut with a hard-rock playing band, called Idol Grill. It’s so jam-packed with students, a few foreigners dating some minors and the band looks like fresh high school grads rocking the night like a pro – their vocalist, one demure looking gal and two boyish rocker, (Atty. Rhesa even wants to bring home one of the lead singer, we he he, ikukulong nya daw sa room tapos kakanta maghapon).

While almost all of the crowds are drinking Red Horse, we ordered San Mig Light… (nagkatinginan lang kaming tatlo, then said, “nakakahiya yata sa mga bata”). Our pulutan, of course, is worth mentioning – crispy shrimps, B-B-Q on sticks and hilaw na mangga with bagoong, just perfect for the night.

With below-zero beer and sumptuous pulutan in a cold night with some cute minors rocking your night away, who would not want to get drunk? And so we just drink the night away…

Next stop… “The Central,” the city's little blemish, cradle of lost Davaoeña souls….............................................................................................

…I’m glad I woke up in my own bed, the nostalgic scent of the Durian City still clinging on my skin.

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