Davao City: The Holidays 2011 – Part 1

Davao in the evening.

Davao City, my hometown. It’s been almost twelve years now since I moved out of Davao City to work elsewhere…which means I haven’t been a resident of this city for more than a third of my life already, but I still call it “hometown”, and I make it a point to be home during each year’s holiday season, and the past year (2011) was no different.

Since I moved to Manila, I’ve heard of funny, fascinating and irritating questions about my hometown. We Filipinos boast of our country as a large archipelago, but one of the unfortunate results of being a country of scattered islands is that a lot of Filipinos don’t know what the rest of their country looks like…”dayuhan sa sariling bayan”, is the term for it (english translation: a foreigner in one’s own country). I’ve heard of questions as interesting as “Where are the good diving spots in and around Davao?”, to as innocent (or silly) as “Are there stop lights in your city?”, and several others in between.

For those of you wondering what the city looks like, here are my photos from the most recent Holidays.

Mana Davao

The Ayala Triangle Park in far away Makati City can be considered the country’s most bombastic Christmas light display, but it’s not without competition. Every Christmas season, the people of Davao also look forward to their own light display with as much eagerness and anticipation.

For most of the year, Mana Davao – in an area of the city known as Bajada – is just a humble antique shop that wouldn’t really grab your attention. During the Holiday Season however, its entire facade and front yard explodes with enough light to illuminate a small village. Year in and year out, it has become a spectacle that people would travel miles for, as well as a source of traffic in the area, but locals don’t seem to mind. It’s as if Christmas in Davao only starts as soon as the switches to Mana’s multitude of lights are turned on.

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Gaisano Mall

Filipinos, from whatever nook and crany of the country, are certified mall addicts, and many would measure a city’s “modernity” by the number of malls within its boundaries. In this regard, Davao City can regard itself “above average”, by national standards. Local malls started to sprout in the city during the country’s “baby tiger” years in the mid-1990’s, before late 90’s financial crisis put a pause on grand ambitions, and before the national mall chains slowly entered the city a decade after, more or less.

One of the early entrants to the local mall scene was the Gaisano Mall, developed by one of the Gaisanos, a family of businessmen who have been major players in the retail industry in the Visayas and Mindanao, for several decades. I frequented this mall while I was in college, and for the longest time, I think it was the city’s largest mall, and biggest monument to the cityfolk’s growing purchasing power.

In the past few years though, haphazard expansion, sloppy maintenance and the pull out of several notable brand names (especially after the SM chain entered the market), almost brought the mall towards the direction of Manila’s Tutuban. In recent times however, especially after the brand new Abreeza Mall of the Ayala’s hit the ground a few kilometers away, the Gaisano Mall awakend, and gradually made a renaissance. The exterior still looks as shabby and cluttered as ever, the department store still looks like a glorified warehouse, and parking still looked dark as Batman’s cave, but the area where the boutiques are got a nice revamp, and it looks like improvements in other areas are ongoing. The walls and corridors were now brighter, and good brand names started to return. Gone was the “tiangge”-market feel that somewhat diminished the mall’s reputation.

If shopping’s not your thing, the mall has got some pretty good moviehouses too. Restaurant selection is still a bit “pedestrian” though, compared to the competition, but that might change soon.

Change? Yup! They very recently redeveloped the mall’s roofdeck, and built a completely new attraction called The Peak, an open air dining and hang-out area that no doubt got inspiration from the likes of Makati’s Greenbelt or Quezon City’s TriNoMa. As of this writing, it’s still very new and only a handful of restaurants and cafes have opened, but with its clean look, elegant “zen” styling, and a level of sophistication not yet known in the city, I think the place has good potential.

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A view of the city from The Peak, at Gaisano Mall

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The Peak, at Gaisano Mall

The Old Downtown

Davao City – despite boasting of being one of the largest cities in terms of land area – has a fairly compact “Downtown” area. A couple of decades ago (or less), almost all commercial activity in the city took place within “Downtown”, and it’s neighboring “Chinatown” (which locals refer to as Uyanguren). Nobody knew what a mall was at that time, and people mainly shopped in individual departments store or shops. When you looked for a shoe back then, you walked back and forth Ilustre street or C.M. Recto, looking for the shop with the perfect shoe; whereas nowadays, you would just hit your mall of choice, and scour all floors, left and right, up and down.

Downtown and Uyanguren were the two places that buzzed with life during the day, though the two areas looked very different. Uyanguren was the place where retailers owning small stores would buy their merchandise, wholesale. It was also the place to hit if you wanted to get things cheap. Businesses there had little regard for aesthetics, or none at all…it was a place for getting good prices, not for looking good. It was crowded, noisy, and in some corners downright dirty…but the money circulating there kept the city alive and growing.

Downtown on the otherhand was a bit more “civilized”. By the standards of those days, the streets in the area were pretty wide and the shops were pretty good. It was the place to go to for buying gifts, toys, or new clothes; or in my case – to get a new set of school uniforms done before the start of of classes. Bordered by C.M. Recto on the east, San Pedro in the southwest and J.P. Laurel in the northwest, the land area of what was then “Downtown” was fairly small, by big city standards. I remember in my high school days when me and some friends would just walk from one end to the other, to save on transporation cost (and have some spare money for computer games).

Today, a lot of the retail activity has moved to the malls in Matina (in the south) and Bajada (in the north)…areas that back then were almost purely “suburbs” of the city. Downtown still hosts many offices though, so it still teems with life during the day, and in many ways it’s still the heart of the city, but it’s no longer the weekend shopping destination that it used to be. Below are a few pictures of “Downtown” as it is at present.

Legazpi St., which intersects San Pedro.

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Rizal St., another downtown street, intersecting C.M. Recto.

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The Marco Polo Hotel, one of Davao's premier hotels, along C.M. Recto.

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The Apo View Hotel, another high-end hotel along Legazpi and Bonifacio St.

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My school, the Ateneo de Davao, along C.M. Recto and Roxas Ave.

People’s Park

Cities throughout the Philippines are notoriously devoid of proper urban planning, and even ones that originally had good layouts, like Baguio and Quezon City, threw whatever planning they had to the trash bin. The results are cities with roads that go from wide to narrow to wide again, or streets that intersect at weird angles. Most visibly, this has also led to cities notoriously lacking open, public spaces.

Davao City made an effort to rectify some of these deficiencies by overhauling an old, undermaintained and underutilized sports complex, and putting a public park as large as a city block in its place. The result was a green and quite pleasant park that the cityfolk largely appreciated.

Nowadays, it’s a place where people take their early morning jogs, or aerobic exercises…as well as a place where people do some rest and relaxation towards the end of the day. It’s become the city’s rough equivalent to New York’s Central Park, though it’s nothing compared to the NY park’s expanse (Davao is nothing compared to NY either anyway). What it does provide however, is space where people can do their thing, be it running to lose weight, reading a book in isolation, or simply doing nothing but leaving one’s mind blank for a few moments. The park was purposely not named after any important or historical figure…it was just simply called the People’s park…and it is, quite literally, their park.

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*All photos of Davao City were taken last December 2011 and January 2012. Photos of People’s Park were taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5. Photos of the rest of the city taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

2 responses to “Davao City: The Holidays 2011 – Part 1

  1. very nice places there Mr. Ken! I especially like The Peak. The design looks very nice and it helps that you probably had good weather when you took those shots. Oh and those lights are nice, really nice!

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