I never thought I'd ever fall in love with a place like Butuan.
In my good old student days, it looked to me like a person with a shabby character that I had to avoid at all cost as I used to disembark from a boat from Cebu, jostling my way to the crazy Nasipit pier.
But what I used to see of the place then, was just the fleeting view of the pier and the bus terminal on my way home to Davao during the chaos of numerous coming home seasons.
In the previous years, I noticed young girls chatting away their time with bald, potbellied foreign men on their computer screens, in the cubicle next to mine in an internet cafe while I was doing one of those story assignments for Newsbreak.
But these days, Butuan is turning a friendly face to me. It has suddenly, become familiar, like the face of a younger sister.
One Monday, when I walked inside Urios University's highschool department, I felt my heart skipped a bit at the sight of 14 and 15 year olds, cramming for their third grading exams. I crossed the street to the St. Joseph Cathedral to discover the pleasant patterns of light above the altar. I stared at the letters of Fr. Saturnino Urios and Ferdinand Magellan posted on the wall. I sauntered into the dusty basement of Gaisano Butuan, and found old copies of the NewYorker magazines and Antique Journals, haphazardly strewn inside an abandoned box. Before I knew it, I was already coughing my way into the pages on Ramses II's life as Pharaoh of Egypt 3,000 years ago. I completely lost track of time.
Suddenly, Butuan ceased to be a stranger to me. It has become a family member, whose character is a delight to discover.
But I have yet to dig up its most exciting story as an ancient trading port in this part of Asia over a thousand years ago.
I could not make out anything yet of the writings on the wall.
That's why, JA was bewildered when I got back to Davao. "Are you crazy?" he asked. "Everybody hates Spanish so much they were so happy to get rid of it!
But now, you tell me, you want to learn Spanish? What do you want to learn it for?!" He was hysterical. "What has gone into your head? Everyone who speaks Spanish is already dead!"
"I saw letters of dead men on the wall of a cathedral in Butuan," I told him. "They were all written in Spanish. I want to read them."
Thus, I started another form of madness.