The Silliman Experience: The First Days

I had just returned from a family vacation to Macau and Hong Kong when I got an e-mail from the Silliman Writers Workshop. Apparently, I’ve been accepted as a fellow.

For the benefit of those outside the literary community, the Silliman National Writers Workshop is the most prestigious writers workshop in the Philippines. It is the oldest of its kind in Asia, and every other workshop in the country is patterned after it. The workshop’s alumni includes, among many others, a National Artist and two Palanca Hall of Famers.

I was fortunate enough to be one of only eleven fellows selected from what could be hundreds of applicants from all over the country. And to make it even better, I was both the first fellow for drama and the first fellow from the Ateneo de Davao in a very, very long while. I was having serious relationship problems – serious enough to cause a momentary writer’s block – but the news was great enough to still make me a bit excited.

The workshop was to run from April 30 to May 18, but I arranged to be in Dumaguete by the 28th to be able to explore the city more. Almost every writer I know proclaims the magic of this city – the literary capital of the country – and I knew I just had to see it for myself.

The flight I got was a connecting flight that would stop by Cebu (there was no direct flight from Davao to Dumaguete). I left on the night of the 27th, spending the night in Mactan International Airport.

My flight from Cebu to Dumaguete was the shortest, but it was also probably the best flight I’ve ever been on. Having checked in first, I got to choose my seat, and I chose a seat by the window. The plane was a light craft, and by the time it flew there were a lot of empty seats. The view of Tañon Straight from my window was lovely. To complete the magic of the moment, I listened to a song I just discovered, “Pantalea” by the experimental composer Akiko Shikata. It would go on to be the soundtrack of my Silliman experience.

Sibulan Airport is the most charming airport I’ve ever seen. It looks more like a cross between a well maintained public school and a van terminal. The runway ends with a breakwater made of neatly arranged stones covered in grass. There’s a beautiful row of Acacia trees filed beside. And there’s a spectacular view of Mount Talinis – el cuernos de Negros, its peak living up to its name.

I was met by professor Phillip Van Peel, who I was surprised can speak Cebuano fluently. He brought me to Silliman University’s Edith Carson Hall, where I was billeted for the night of the 28th.

Edith Carson Hall

I was billeted at Edith Carson Hall. Before I arrived, I did my research, and I found that this hall was an all girl’s dorm. “It’s summer, though” said professor Van Peel when we arrived at the hall, “and the students are out, so sorry if you were having ideas.” The man saw through me.

I spent my first day in Dumaguete walking around Silliman. The first thing I noticed was how old the buildings were. But they didn’t feel historical, they just looked run down. I realized that the “historical” luster of buildings comes when you preserve them for spectacle. If they continue to be used they remain domestic. They nevertheless have an old world charm to them, as if time has stopped in the campus.

Silliman Hall, the iconic symbol of Silliman University, is the oldest American-built building in the country. It currently houses the Anthropology Museum. I love its capiz shell windows and the ornamental beams that hang like stalactites.

Guy Hall, home of the College of Performing Arts, is just across Silliman Hall. It was used as the headquarters of occupying Japanese forces during the Second World War, I speculate because of its commanding view of the nearby harbour.

Channon Hall, a girls’ dormitory. It used to house the Divinity School. The Hall has a dark past: as the headquarters of the kempeitai during the Japanese Occupation of Negros, many suspected Filipino guerrillas were tortured and killed here.

Silliman Church, where the first State Funeral outside Manila (that of late National Artist Edith Tiempo’s) was held.

The amphitheater in front of Silliman Church

Silliman Library, with what Gio Chao calls “the biggest Toblerone bar in Asia.”

Later that day I’d meet a co-fellow for the first time, TJ Dimacali of UP Diliman. He was a  fellow for fiction, and talk with him proved to be very intellectual. He wrote SpecFic, but it turns out we shared a mutual fascination for History. We walked around the Silliman Campus, and over lunch with bodbod at tsokolate for dessert we talked of twitter as historiography and differance in Social Networking sites. We also began exploring Dumaguete itself.

One of the lovely lampposts along the seaside Rizal Boulevard. Rizal Boulevard is named after the National Hero for a reason: on his way to Dapitan, the ship he was on had to stop by Dumaguete, and he found himself walking on the very seaside to see the sunrise. Behind the lamppost is one of the iconic Acacia Trees that stand imposing along this cultural gateway into Dumaguete.

Curiously, the rocks on the shores along Rizal Boulevard are mossy with a velvety kind of moss.

The Bell Tower, the icon of Dumaguete, was built to ward off the pillaging pirates that often visited the city in bygone days – pirates whose customary snatching of women gave the place its name (“Dumaguete” is derived from “dagit,” “to snatch”)

The Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Alexandria – or the Dumaguete Cathedral – is the oldest church in Negros. The entrance is flanked by statues of the 4 evangelists on pedestals.

The next day, we met the other fellows. The first one was Sooey Valencia of UST. Sooey was billeted in Edith Carson Hall, too, but we weren’t able to meet her on the first day.

Later that day, the other fellows arrived at Katipunan Hall (a walk away from Edith Carson). The first I recognized was Mich Tan of AdMU, somehow much friendlier, and definitely a lot prettier from the last time I saw her in Bacolod during the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop the previous summer. Other fellows there (who would shine later on) were Debbie Nieto of UST, Christian Tablazon of UP LB, Vida Cruz of AdMU and Nathan Aw of Singapore. My kababayan Meghan Hamile of UP Mindanao arrived just in the nick of time before we decided to have lunch at Sans Rival.

After walking around Dumaguete (I sidelining as a tour guide of sorts after having toured the place on my own the day previous) we once again gathered at Silliman’s Katipunan Hall that afternoon, where we met other fellows: CD Borden of Cebu (who went off before we decided to have lunch together), Mike Gomez of Silliman (the first fellow from the school in a long time) and Thomas Chavez, who just arrived from a long trip.  We first met Miss Parts (our trusted secretariat) Dr. Eve Mascuñana (chairperson of the English Department) and kuya Moses Atega (whom we would later on discover to be the most well-versed man in Dumaguete know-how).

The Silliman Bus dates back to before the World War, though its engine is much more recent. With it, Manong Alfredo ferried us back and forth Dumaguete and the Writers Village.

We were taken by the historical Silliman Bus from Katipunan Hall to the Writers Village. The few hours drive began with a tour around the city again, then uphill to the municipality of Valencia. We were greeted by the caress of what I suspect was a strategically planted Cacao tree when we arrived at the Writers Village.

Balay Magnolia, my home for 3 weeks at the Writers Village

Magnolias were in bloom all throughout the workshop. They smell creamy and sweet!

I chose to stay at the cottage known as Balay Magnolia for the flowers growing there: Magnolias are my favorite flower, and they smell really creamy.

The next day, the workshop began.

(To be continued)


3 Comments on “The Silliman Experience: The First Days”

  1. Vida says:

    Karlo, actually, I was the last to arrive. You met me in the building mismo. =))

  2. sheerah says:

    this was a fun read. keep going!

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