I could be biased. I should be! I was born and raised in Dadiangas, General Santos City, so no one can really blame me. Besides, I have only beautiful memories of this city situated at the southernmost tip of Mindanao.
I grew up on a dusty, uncemented street called Camachile. Camachile is a sour tropical fruit. At the corner of Camachili and Kamias streets (Kamias is another sour tropical fruit), there indeed was a Camachile tree, which I remembered we looked up at with respect owing to stories that went around that you must not disrespect it or ‘spirits’ living in it might be angered. Our street was said to be the most populated in all of General Santos City. At four in the afternoon, Muslim and Catholic children would be all over the street, playing and running around, making it hard for vehicles to drive past. On school-day weekends and the summer, I remember walking from our house to the corner of Camachile and Kamias streets, where a store rented out comic books (komiks). My sister and I looked forward to this treat with much gusto, and we would curl up in bed absorbed in our favorite serial stories on the komiks. On summer days, we made kites out of old newspapers and plastics, and would run up and down the street with the kids from the neighborhood, alternating our kites with another favorite toy, which was a piece of wood connected to small wheels. If we couldn’t find wheels detached from old toys, we used small plastic bottles and carved them for makeshift wheels. I loved to climb up our roof to make it easier for me to reach the star apples, and sit in one corner eating my star apples. Star apple is a tropical fruit which is green when unripe, and turns purplish violet when ripe and ready for eating. I also loved climbing our guava trees (we had two in the front yard, and another one in the backyard, but the one by our gate was the most delicious), and eat my guavas while perched on my favorite spot on the tree. Our house had fruit trees all around: guavas, star apples, siniguelas, guyabano, duhat, chico. If we get tired of the fruit trees, my sister and I made ice candies. It’s basically just sugar, water, powdered coloring ingredient, plus milk that we put in small-sized elliptical plastics, and frozen until they become iced candies. We also made halo halo and sold them and the ice candies if we wanted to make money in the summer. Halo halo literally means mixed. It’s a favorite summer merienda (snacks) of Filipinos, which is a mixture of ube , strips of nangka (jackfruit), sliced bananas, kaong , leche flan, condensed milk, and crushed ice. On late afternoons or when there was a full moon, we played tubiganay on the street. Tubig means water. The game is called so because we made a big rectangle on the street using water, the rectangle having two horizontal lines inside and one vertical line in the middle, resulting to six blocks or cubes inside the rectangle. Two teams have 4 players each. Each horizontal line was manned by each of the four players. The goal of the offensive team was to get inside the rectangle using one entry point, and manage to transfer from one block or cube to another until the last block from which to exit the rectangle, re-enter the rectangle from that point and exit again using the initial entry point without being ‘touched’ by the defensive team. The person manning the first line is allowed to run into the vertical line, and he does this if he is quick to observe that most or all of the offensive players are inside one cube or block so they can be trapped. This childhood game played under the afternoon sun or the light of the moon, filled with shrieks and laughter, taught me early on about strategy, teamwork, sportsmanship, patience, and just sheer childhood fun where you sweat and scream your lungs out on the street with other sweaty children.
I remember many weekends at local attractions. The Dacera Farms, which still operates to this day under a different name (Amandari Cove), is a public swimming pool with barbecue areas. There were pools for children and for adults. There used to be an area near the children’s pool where a cage housed monkeys. I got too close one time while eating an ice cream when one of the monkeys reached out and grabbed my hair. I screamed and screamed but the monkey just wouldn’t let go of my hair. The Olaer Resort, still operational to this day, is another excellent picnic place, with clear, cold spring water amidst trees and plants. You can actually see schools of fish in the water and swim with them. The coolest thing of all is you can walk the rocky path towards the source of the spring water. These are public places with very cheap entrance fees so they are always crowded. We always came prepared with barbecues and grilled tuna since there were no restaurants in these places. And we always came early to get the cottages with the best spots. When my sister and I were old enough (I was in highschool), we biked around the city, or went to Dacera or Olaer via the tricycle with just banana cues or banana cakes as baon .
Dole Philippines in Polomolok just outside General Santos City is the biggest pineapple plantation in the world. That’s right. In'”the'”world. The plantation is 12,000 hectares, after all. A tour of the Dole pineapple plantation is, therefore, a must. The terrain of the road once inside the plantation is interesting. As a child, I remember getting excited once inside the plantation because the car just goes up and down, up and down. The terrain of the road needs to be rolling, and it remains dusty to this day but well-paved. The road cannot be cemented and should be rolling, and it is said that it allows the efficient flow of water and nutrients for the pineapples. Kalsangi is the residential area of expats and officials of the Dole Philippines inside the plantation. Not anybody can come inside. You need to have a personal invitation from any of the Dole officials and expats. There is a pricey restaurant at the Kalsangi Clubhouse with not-so-great food, but we continue to come to Kalsangi just to enjoy the cold weather because it is nestled on the base of the imposing Mt. Matutum, a volcano that, to me, competes with the beauty of the famed Mayon Volcano. The Kalsangi restaurant has since been managed by the owner of Cookie Factory (a favorite place for burgers and, guess what, cookies), and the food has since improved significantly.
Of course, we have the plaza in the center of the city and near the city government building. As children, my parents would drive my sister and I there together with our childhood friends who lived on the same street as we did, and we would rent bicycles or kiddie cars and eat banana cues or halo halo at the park.
The Lion’s Beach is a portion off Pedro Acharon Boulevard with an oceanfront view of Sarangani Bay. I grew up admiring the sun rise and set at Lion’s Beach with a view of the mountains on the horizon said to shield the city from typhoons and cyclones. My parents used to bring me there when I was little, but markets and stalls had slowly invaded this perfect oceanfront view over the years, and it had been a political and societal battle on how to deal with and manage the Lion’s Beach, which, to me, should best define General Santos City. Sometime in 2003, efforts from non-governmental organizations and the local government led to the clean-up and conversion of the area into a park making it, once again, fit for swimming and picnics.
The local Pier or Wharf is the best in the country. It has always been clean and organized. There are many shipping lines that transport goods and passengers to and from many local destinations as well as some Asian destinations. We used to go to Zamboanga City and even Manila by boat. It took almost three days to travel from General Santos to Manila by boat and one day from General Santos City to Zamboanga City. The travel time did not change much over the years. My mom loved to travel to Zamboanga because of the famous barter trade center where you can buy imported goods at low cost. We also loved the Spanish-inspired local cuisine. Alavar’s restaurant remains to be my favorite probably because it holds so many lovely childhood memories.
Gensan’s Fish Port used to be near Lion’s Beach by the rotunda at the end of Santiago and Acharon Boulevards, going to Barangay Bula. The new GSC Fish Port Complex, funded by Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF), had since been relocated on a 32-hectare property at Barangay Tambler. It is the second largest fish port in the country, very clean, and organized. Here, one could see local fishermen arrive with freshly-caught yellow fin tuna the size of a human.
The General Santos airport used to be in Buayan, an uber dusty area straight out of a Mexican old movie. We used to ride in 30-seater planes that take almost two hours just to reach Cebu City. The new General Santos City International Airport has since been at Barangay Fatima off Barrio Uhaw (translation: thirsty), the largest in Mindanao. The location is approximately 14 km from the city center. Its construction was funded by the USAID fueling speculations that the US was aiming to re-establish its military bases in the country after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo forced them out of Subic. This has always been denied by both the US and Philippine governments. The airport is huge and well-built, and flights to and from General Santos have since increased over the years.
Barrio Uhaw got its name because there used to be no water supply in the area but settlers from Luzon still chose to resettle and live there. Dadiangas, General Santos City may have been dusty and steaming hot, but no one ever gets hungry. It is blessed with rich volcanic soil which is thus abundant in fruits and vegetables and export quality crops, not to mention the abundant production of sashimi-grade tuna.
All roads leading to and from General Santos City are wide and well-cemented. These roads were completed in the late 1990s. It takes a maximum of two hours to travel by non-stop air-conditioned bus to and from Davao City, and less that time by private vehicle.
There are beaches a few distance from the airport, and more in nearby Kiamba and Maitum. I recently visited one in Tinoto and it was a rustic and pure beauty. There are white sand beaches in Gumasa, Glan, Sarangani. These are untamed and almost unexplored.
Culinary experience in the city is, like its beaches, rustic and down-to-earth. Prior to being a pescetarian in 2000, I used to really love the chicken barbecue with java rice and the palabok at Halina Restaurant near the oval plaza. There was another branch on Pioneer Avenue. My parents, sister, and I used to frequent this homey restaurant and we always ordered the same favorite dishes. We also frequented the Grand Inihaw, a restaurant made of bamboos along National Highway, for their fresh and delicious grilled tuna with toyo (local soy sauce) and calamansi (local lemon) sawsawan (sauce). Matutum Hotel and Restaurant used to be the priciest Chinese resto in the city. Their pancit and lemon chicken were always to look forward to. When I was in highschool, my friends and I would excitedly wait for dismissal so we can walk from school to Marietta’s on Pioneer Avenue for their pork and chicken barbecues that were to die for. P10.00 was enough for hunger fix. It has since transferred to a new location, and I have not tasted their barbecues in years, but I am contented that I had so many times before I became a pescetarian. The Isla Parilla in Alabel, Sarangani Province is a local resort beside a prawn farm, where you savor fresh and delicious seafood in cottages on stilts in the middle of a man-made lake. Once here, it is best to drive further and visit the Sarangani Municipal Hall just to admire its enormity in ivory. Recent lovely culinary finds in Gensan are the Grab-a-Crab on Laurel Street and at the new Robinson’s Mall, the rows of cafes and restos at the Sun City Suites, Kanto on Santiago Boulevard, the restaurant at the golf putting area on National Highway, and the East Asia Hotel’s restaurant, which all serve fresh, delicious food at very low cost.
My parents have since transferred to a house in a less-populated subdivision. While I loved the peace and quiet, I would always remember with fondness the noise and kids’ shrieks in our old street. I usually visit my hometown when there is a simultaneous work-related travel in the south. I have kept the friendships I had since childhood, as these friendships are like the South Sea peals ‘” rare and priceless, and the Lion’s Beach ‘” pure and down-to-earth.
I used to have a hard time explaining to friends I meet on vacations in Manila or Cebu or Baguio where General Santos City was. They didn’t know it from Adam, and whenever I say where I was from and I would explain where it exactly is on the Philippine map, they would look at me perhaps wondering why I even wore civilized clothing. There was even one time when a friend I met over the summer suggested I point where General Santos was on the map. When she got a map, I couldn’t find General Santos City. It wasn’t on the map! Thanks to the continued popularity of tuna and of Manny Pacquiao, it would be mortal sin now to eliminate General Santos City on Philippine maps, which is now known across the globe.
I was reviewing for the Philippine Bar in the mid 1990s when a few friends I just met started small talk with me. They were really classy Makati boys and girls. One asked if I was a balikbayan (a Filipino who lives abroad and comes back to the Philippines for a visit). I said ‘no.’ Another one asked where I was from. I said, “Mindanao.” Another persisted, “where in Mindanao?” I said, “really far in Mindanao.” One quipped, “where — Dadiangas?” Then all of them broke into laughter. Confused, I said, “Yes, I AM from Dadiangas. It’s in General Santos City.” The laughter quickly shifted into deafening silence. And then someone changed the subject abruptly. I didn’t get it. I later told of the incident to my cousin who lives in Manila. He roared in laughter. It was apparently a joke in Manila that if you lived REALLY FAR from the city, you’d say you live in DADIANGAS. Those Makati boys and girls for sure had never met someone who was actually from Dadiangas, General Santos City. Amusingly, I now live in Filinvest, Quezon City. Manilans usually joke that since Filinvest (near Fairview) is really far from the city center, it is already out-of-town. So whenever I leave a party or any gathering to go home, I’d say, “ok, I’m going out-of-town now.”