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The urbane spirit of this scenic university town is reflected in its big new mall
DUMAGUETE IS A QUAINT, RUSTIC province in Negros Oriental where people lead a laid-back lifestyle.

But that?s not saying the place is boring. It is a smart city, a hub for artisans, writers, conservationists, educators, and is also known as a ?university town? because it houses the famous Silliman University and other academic institutions. Perhaps the view of the ocean by the Rizal Boulevard, the town?s plaza, serves as a fine inspiration for learning.

Now comes the latest thing in the area?malling.

While most people in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces have had giant malls and generations of mall rats, Dumaguete just recently had its first full-service mall?Robinsons Place Dumaguete, which opened in November last year.

?Malling is a relatively new thing here,? said Joseph Sian, group property manager for Robinsons Place Dumaguete and Bacolod. ?It was a challenge to give them good reasons to go here because there are smaller establishments in the area.?

The mall was introduced as an alternative place to Rizal Boulevard, a stretch of restaurants, bars, inns and street-food joints along the bay.

?We came up with events and activities as come-ons. The practice in the provinces is, people like to have siesta, so they go to the mall in the morning, go home for lunch and rest. It?s not like in Manila where people spend a day in the mall and do everything there,? he said.

Robinsons Place Dumaguete is a two-level, 34,000-sq m center divided into zones: the Al Fresco Dining Area, Activity Area, Restaurants Zone, Quick Serve Restaurants Zone, Health and Beauty Zone, Service & IT Zone, Amusement Center, Apparel/Fashion Zone and Cinema.

Among the anchor stores are Robinsons Department Store, Robinsons Supermarket, Handyman Do-It Best Home Center, Robinsons Appliances, Robinsons Movieworld and Toys R Us-ToyBox.

?It can be reached in 15 minutes from the airport, and is 5-10 minutes away from Rizal Boulevard and Silliman University,? says Roseann Coscollulea-Villegas, corporate public relations manager of Robinsons Land.

Dumagueteos welcomed the mall from the day it opened, especially during the Christmas holidays when people sourced their groceries from the supermarket and gift items from the department store. Dining has also picked up, with fast food becoming hot sellers.

?They are good spenders and they pay in cash. There are also a lot of foreigners here from the universities who look for imported items. Another emerging market are overseas Filipino workers,? Sian said. ?They used to go all the way to Cebu for appliances; now, they can buy the items at the appliance center.?

Local fares

The Hayahay Boutique carries island wear from flip-flops to bags and summer wear. It was put up by the same group behind Hayahay reggae bar along Rizal Boulevard, which is usually full during weekends.

Mixed Berries offers chic clothes and accessories for ladies. There?s also a Lonely Planet shop, a franchise from Boracay, that sells casual and beach clothes.

The popular Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries has its first stand-alone branch in Robinsons Place Dumaguete. The original branch at Rizal Boulevard is still there; now, it is also conveniently located inside the mall for pasalubong shopping. Must-buys are the Sans Rival loaf (included among Inquirer Lifestyle?s 24 Best Desserts) and Sylvanas, which come in 10 pieces per box. Other specialties include Date and Walnut Decquoise, Brazo de Mercedes, crinkles and cookies, pastas and coffee.

Scooby?s is another local food store. It offers burgers, fries, rice meals and other fast-food fare. From the neighboring regions come Bong-bong?s Piaya and Pasalubong, Ted?s La Paz Batchoy from Iloilo, and Moon Caf and Sunburst Fried Chicken and Leylam Shawarma from Cebu.

Al fresco area

Robinsons Place Dumaguete has an expansive outdoor area lined with restaurants and bars. There are giant slides and water bubble balls for kids. Bands play during weekends, and there?s an art area where you can have your portrait or T-shirt design done.

?The Artist?s alley features local artists,? said Sian. ?It?s a way of promoting Dumaguete art. We have arts and crafts lessons for kids inside the mall, as well. For sports, we have futsal [indoor football], table tennis, kickboxing competitions and demos in the activity area.?

Sightseeing

Dumaguete has also gained a following among tourists, both local and foreign. (Cebu Pacific flies to Dumaguete daily; visit www.cebupacific.com for schedules). A trip there isn?t complete without a pitstop at Silliman University, the first American-established university in the Philippines.

?Student population in Silliman is around 8,500. About 340 of them are foreigners. The top three nationalities are Koreans, Iranians and Americans,? said Mark Raygan E. Garcia, Silliman University director of information and public relations. ?They usually take up Information Technology, English or specialty courses.?

The sprawling 62-hectare campus has a scenic view of the ocean and lush greens. Make sure to drop by the Anthropology Museum and see artifacts from different parts of the Philippines, including boat coffins, voodoo dolls used for witchcraft, ethnic costumes and earthenware.

The Silliman University Marine Laboratory was established as a research facility of the University in 1974. Its basic focus is marine environment and preservation; researches in taxonomy, biology, conservation management, and feasible mariculture are also conducted here.

Professor Hilconida Calumpong gave us a tour of the University Marine Lab. We also met planktonologist Adonis Floren and professors Loella Dolar and Janet Estacion, who do research on marine conservation.

The Center for Tropical Studies, or the Silliman mini-zoo, has rare animals such as the Visayan spotted deer, dog-faced fruit bat or common fruit bat, Negros bleeding heart pigeon, Visayan tarictic hornbill.

A few minutes? walk from the university is the Dumaguete City Bell Tower, the oldest surviving structure in Dumaguete City, nearby St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral.

For novelty pasalubong, drop by Sidlakang Negros, a stand-alone shop that features artworks, furniture, delicacies and souvenirs. The town market offers budbud-kabog, a local sweet suman.