General Santos City, the Philippines
March 29, 2014
There could never be a more intimate place for family bonding than in the cramped cab of a tricycle. We were shoehorned with our knees knocking together inside the four-seater, and we were not even tall people. The motorized tricycle was considered a poor man’s taxi. Poverty aside, we did not have much choice. In General Santos City, taxis were hard to come by, and the taxi driver we eventually got kept asking us for directions. So off we went on our day-long DIY GenSan tour on a trike.
If the jeepney was the king of the road, the tricycle was the wannabe nipping at the jeepney’s tambutso (tailpipe). The driver revved up his trike like a sports car and raced with four-wheelers on GenSan’s wide roads. Getting off was just as gravity-defying. Trikes were not elderly-friendly; Mom had to do a balancing act with her achy shaky knees every time.
The first order of the day was an order of steak and cheeseburger at Roland’s Steak House & Burger Station, the best steak in town. It wasn’t all tuna in GenSan; this roadhouse was known to use only local beef. I was not much of carnivore, but their T-bone fit me to a T, i.e. T for tender and tasty. WW2 photos adorned the walls in honor of the owner’s grandfather who was a war vet and whose steak recipe they had faithfully followed to this day.
We attempted a shopping spree at the city’s seafront pamilihang bayan, the center of town, but the sprawling size of the GenSan Central Public Market was overwhelming. We only went as far as sniffing the wonderful aroma of durian stacked on the sidewalk.
The city’s fish landing, previously located between the market and the sea, had been moved to Tambler. The area was then developed into Queen Tuna Park, named after the fish that sustained the city’s economy. It was more a wasteland than a development, though. We found a carnival in it, but even that was left open and abandoned.
With nothing to see or do, Mom offered a mock apology for it all: a sing-songy “Sorry po….” with a curtsy. At least Queen Tuna brought out her inner Teen Queen (read: Kathryn Bernardo).
The beach beyond the park was a wasted potential as well. It may have been the site of the first settlement led by the general the city was named after. Sadly, we found the long stretch of sand littered with trash, the waters of Sarangani Bay uninvitingly murky. Cargo ships anchored offshore indicated this was a working shoreline. Nothing was going for the place other than the fact that this was the southernmost point we had ever been in the country.
As in any city in this country, a default place to be was the mall. GenSan’s swanky Veranza could rival any Manila mall: brands and chains, wide common spaces, even a waterfall. Still, I would not have been impressed if it were not a homegrown chain based in Koronadal.
Tourist shopping should be at a pasalubong store. With no time for a road trip outside the city, the next best place to buy souvenirs was at The Fairtrade Shop, a one-stop shop for tribal items: t’nalak (T’boli hand-woven clothing), traditional bling-blings, and organic produce. The store went by the motto “Don’t just buy, buy just” in support of local cottage industries.
At the end of the day, we didn’t do badly. Although there was not much by way of any spectacle, our day-long tricycle tour had us experience a day in the life in GenSan. And we were never as close as we were as a family on that trike ride.