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The Real Queen City of the Real South

The real south of the Philippines is Mindanao and its queen city is Davao. Kiki Tan checks what the place has to offer.

Discovering Davao City

“He likes you,” Arvin Y. whispered, pointing with his lips to a guy not far from us.

“No, he doesn’t,” I whisper back, eyeing the guy who was, indeed, looking. “He’s just curious or something.”

And then the guy smiled, seeing me looking at him.

“He does like you; he does!” Arvin Y. said again, this time no longer whispering, as he added: “Go talk to him or something!”

I did – and without beating around the bush, the day (and the night, actually) ended with the guy (“Clint’s the name,” he said, “and anything’s the game”) hanging with us. A definite plus for Arvin who, because I wouldn’t, ended up sleeping with him, “enjoying for real the Davaoeño’s brand of hospitality,” Arvin Y. said.

This, normally, wouldn’t merit special attention, but we were at this small Internet café right beside Dunkin Donuts, not too far from the entrance of Gaisano Center along Jacinto Street in Davao City – a relatively busy heterosexual place; and Clint wasn’t a boy for-hire, too, but a “straight-acting, straight-looking gay guy just looking for (others with the same persuasion) to hang out with,” he said.

And while Arvin Y., in his 30s, said Clint is a rarity, Clint, in his early 20s, said he isn’t. “There’s many of us, actually. ‘Out’ out there, looking for fun,” he said.

“Then I may have been hiding all these times,” Arvin Y. said, “and I missed out the changing of Davao City.”

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“Perhaps you were,” Clint said. “Perhaps you were…”

And indeed, perhaps we – not just Arvin Y. – missed out on the changing of Davao City, which has developed to be the rightful Queen City of the Real South of the Philippines (not Cebu City, which is in Central Philippines, even if it is south of Metro Manila, thus the moniker that is in every way representative of how imperialist Metro Manila is).

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DAKBAYAN SA DABAW

Occupying 2,444 square kilometers of land, the city of Davao on the Mindanao group of islands in southern Philippines is the largest city in the country (and once, of the whole world). Ranked by Asiaweek Magazine among the 20 Most Livable Cities in Asia, it is one of only three recognized Metro areas in the Philippines, the others being Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, which Metro Davao outranked as the number one most livable city in the country. Also ranked as the 10th Asian City of the Future by the Foreign Direct Investment Magazine, Metro Davao is composed of the cities Davao, Tagum, Panabo, Island Garden City of Samal, and Digos, and the municipalities of Carmen and Sta. Cruz.

The bigger question is why go to Davao City, if at all.

Well, for one, there are its attractions. Davao is home to “kings and queens of nature,” e.g. Waling-Waling, the Queen of Philippine Orchids; Philippine Eagle, King of Philippine Skies; Durian, King of Exotic Fruits; and Mt. Apo, King of Philippine Mountains. “Try being here in February, when we annually celebrate our foundation day; or in August, when we celebrate the annual Kadayawan Festival, the big fiesta to celebrate while giving thanks to God for the bounties that the province continues to get,” Arvin Y. said.

Among the major attractions include (to cover the kings and queens), Mt. Apo, which, at 10,311 feet is the tallest mountain in the Philippines, ideal for mountaineers or simply naturalist adventurers; the Philippine Eagle Natural Center, home to almost 20 Philippine Eagles, and where they are bred in captivity to grow their number (there are buses from Aldevinco Mall to take visitors to the center); and various orchid and fruit plantations, e.g. Waling-Waling Orchid (Vanda Sanderiana), Yuhico Orchid Gardens in Greenhils, Derling Worldwide Orchid Corporations in Dumoy, Malagos Gardens Resort in Calinan, and the Puentespina Orchid Gardens along Cabaguio Avenue.

Then there are the San Pedro Cathedral, whose structure was laid in 1847, making it one of the oldest churches in Mindanao, honoring St. Peter, the city’s patron saint; and Dabaw Museum, located inside the Davao Insular Village, showcasing the province’s heritage.

Secondly, as an emerging business hub, Davao should be in every businessman’s must-visit lists in the Philippines – it sure has been for the likes of the Ayalas and Gokongweis (among Metro Manila’s biggest business families), not to mention that the Sys (of SM) already made a home there. In fact, particularly for ICT businesses, a recently concluded XMG Global Offshoring Leadership Study reveals that Davao will be a viable alternative ICT site three years from now, considering that competition in Cebu City is nearing saturation as the talent ramp-up continues. Among others, the study highlights the population of Davao City as considerably higher than other Tier-2 offshoring cities globally. In the Philippine context, Davao City’s population is 71% higher than Cebu City, 499% larger than Olongapo-Subic City, 333% higher than Angeles-Clark City, and 340% larger than Baguio City. The city’s estimated workforce is twice of Cebu, nine times of Subic, seven times of Clark, and six times of Baguio. This has not even taken to account the manpower pool at the nearby cities and provinces of Davao. Also according to the study, Davao has various educational institutions annually yielding a higher number of IT and BPO qualified graduates than Subic, Clark and Baguio by 689%, 278% and 40%, respectively.

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Thirdly, there are the traditional attractions, e.g Samal Island in Davao del Norte, which has white sanded beaches as beauteous (well, so-so) as Bohol’s, or at least of Puerto Galera in Mindoro Oriental, less the number of people flocking there; and Talomo Beach, which has sunken World war II warships, just 200 meters from the shore.

And then, of course, there are the boys.

BOYS, BOYS, BOYS…

There was a time when cruising in Davao was largely AYOR (at your own risk), with open secret cruising areas including Victoria Plaza Mall (J.P. Laurel, Bajada), Gaisano Mall of Davao (J.P. Laurel Avenue), Gaisano South City Mall (Illustre St.), the Boulevard Strip, Ilustre Avenue, and the Lawaan Theater. Cruising-wise, though, the other malls may actually be included – e.g. Aldevinco Shopping Center, Chimes Mall, City Triangle, DAMOSA Market Basket, Davao Central Warehouse Club, Felcris Department Stores, NCCC Mall of Davao (McArthur Highway corner MA-A), NCCC Mall (Main), and SM City Davao (Quimpo Boulevard). “As is typical in the Philippines, you can basically pick up any man anywhere,” Arvin Y. said, commented by Clint with: “The difference is, here, you pick up men who wouldn’t expect to be paid – they’re the same as you, looking to have fun.”

Of course both admit that “care should be taken.” “This isn’t a city that’s one big buffet of men, after all,” Arvin Y. said. “Just that progress as far as gay (or bisexual, as straight-acting, straight-looking gay Davaoeño’s self-identify) expression is concerned.” Generally speaking, similar to other places all over the Philippines, male Davaoeños can be “persuaded” to have same-sex sexual relations, though this often involves payment of some kind (by the out homosexual to the self-identified heterosexual), so care really is needed, especially for those not into this scene.

Fortunately, there already are gay-specific venues, e.g. Tahun Bar and Jefz Café, though, generally, “most every place is just gay friendly,” e.g. Philosophy Spa (near Apo View Hotel), Bahia Spa, Holiday Gym and Spa (both in Torres), and Firm Spa, where the expression of gay identity is more akin to Western expressions, i.e. gay to gay (or, locally, bi to bi, even if the use of term is questionable), so that no monetary exchanges are needed.

Arvin Y. promised to catch up with Clint a few days later – I’d already be back in Makati City in Metro Manila then, so I would be out of the picture. But “do come back,” he said, “having seen how Davao has blossomed into the city it is now.”

And perhaps I will – in this city that’s the real queen of the south.

HOW TO GET THERE
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Philippines flights are available daily from Metro Manila, with the approximate flying time of one hour and 35 minutes; though there are also flights from Cebu City, Cagayan de oro City, and Zamboanga City, taking approximately 55 minutes.

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There are also international flights from Hong Kong and Palau, among others.
Davao City is, however, accessible through the Pan Philippine Highway from Metro Manila; as well as by ship/ferry, with major passenger ships docking in the city to and from other ports around the country.

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