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NEGROS ORIENTAL A beautiful blending of the old and new
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: By Annalyn S. Jusay
Date: 2004-11-04
Having traveled all over the country, I know very well when I have reached a warm and welcoming place, so warm you can almost call it home. This was the pleasant feeling I got when I arrived in Dumaguete City, the so-called "City of Gentle People" and capital of Negros Oriental.

I fell in love with Dumaguete as soon as I checked in at the South Sea Resort Hotel which had spacious grounds lined with coconut trees and rooms overlooking the blue ocean. I could see two mountains dotting the horizon and the receptionist said those were Cebu and Siquijor islands which were a boat’s ride away.

After putting down my bag in the assigned accommodation, I settled for breakfast in the open-air café which was beside the swimming pool. I sampled the native delicacy budbud which was Negros Oriental’s answer to the churros con chocolate. Budbud, which originated in the city of Tanjay, is their word for suman which could either be dipped in a rich cup of native chocolate or matamis na bao (molasses). Capping this off was a slice of ripe mango which, when taken with the customary cup of coffee, made my morning complete.

Our group from Manila was invited by Negros Oriental Gov. George Arnaiz to witness the province-wide fiesta called the Buglasan Festival. Locals are especially proud of the fact that their mother of all festivals emerged the best during a nationwide competition sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DoT) last year, through the "WOW Philippines" campaign.

Watching the festivities at the city’s Lamberto Macias Sports and Cultural Center, our group was duly impressed by the talents of the participating teams. The costumes attracted the eye with their full use of colors and indigenous materials while the choreography won our hearts with their precise movements and the infectious enthusiasm of the participants. Filipino festivals pay tribute to native religiosity and our Catholic spirituality while heralding the pomp and pageantry of the islands. The Buglasan festival was no exception.

"This year’s Buglasan is the biggest and grandest we’ve had so far because for the first time, all of the local government units agreed to participate. The festival is a must-see because it showcases our province’s four T’s, namely: technology, talent, trained people and tourism," Gov. Arnaiz enthused.

Provincial board member Mariant Escano Villegas who heads the province’s committee on tourism, culture and arts said, "what’s admirable is that the presentations entail the efforts of everyone in the community. The costumes, designs and the choreography were done by the artistic members of the town or city itself."

And so after months of preparation, three major winners emerged from the Buglasan Festival of Festivals showdown and street dance competitions. These were the Kinaiyahan Festival of Dauin, first place; Dumaguete City’s Sandurot Festival, second; and the Yagyag Festival of Sibulan town, third.

In the main plaza of Dumaguete City, colorful and eye-catching booths were set up highlighting the products and tourist attractions of the five cities and 20 municipalities comprising Negros Oriental. For example, we marveled at some exotic shells and furniture from Manjuyod, hand-woven Negros silk from Kanlaon, papier mache items from Vallehermoso, and native bags from Ayungon.

I also got a preview of the beauty of Bais Bay. The place, now emerging as a top ecotourism destination, is where one can view dolphins and pygmy sperm whales surfacing from their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, the amazing mammals can even put up an acrobatic show for you.

In Dumaguete, I particularly liked Rizal Boulevard which is the counterpart of Manila’s Baywalk. The area — which doubles as a promenade and a pier – is very cosmopolitan with its row of cozy restaurants facing the sea. We had fun sampling the pasta specialties of Mamia’s Bar and Resto and then on to the famous Sans Rival Café for their heavenly sylvannas. Aside from this, we relished Dumaguete’s home-cooked food which is common throughout Negros – inihaw or grilled specialties served with achara and kinilaw which is fresh fish marinated in vinegar.

It is worth noting that Dumaguete has a thriving foreign community primarily composed of Chinese, Koreans and Arabs who are impressed with its educational system.

Easily the most famous is Silliman University which sits on a vast 35-hectare campus lined with centuries-old acacia trees. It is one of the oldest educational institutions in Asia. We checked out their marine laboratory and museum which has the second largest collection of marine mammal bone skeletons in the world, after Japan. The other top-caliber educational institutions are the Foundation University; St. Paul’s College which is the first St. Paul’s in the country and Negros State University.

From former top telecoms executive Fred Dael, we learned that Negros Oriental pioneered the fiber optic technology in the country. In fact, their system is more sophisticated than Manila in terms of wireless and wi-fi applications.

"In Negros Oriental, only one town does not have broadband service. Because of our advanced status and our large pool of highly skilled, English-speaking graduates, the province is gearing itself to be the next haven of call centers and business process outsourcers in the Philippines. So far, 10 call centers have signified their intention to be based in Dumaguete and we thus expect to generate 4,000 to 5,000 jobs by the end of the year," Dael noted.

My own impression is that Negros Oriental is a delicious blending of the old and the new, of natural beauty and manmade rituals. Experiencing Dumaguete alone gave me a high. Its leisurely lifestyle coupled by the profusion of seas and trees calmed my frazzled nerves harassed by the demands of the city. All at once, the province felt like a second home to me and there’s no doubt that I want to be back here in the future.

[ Siliman University Wiki ]

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