The Silliman Experience: A whole new world in Valencia, Dolphins in Bais, fishermen-stars in SiquijorPosted: June 16, 2012
On the second week, we were joined by guest panelist Nguyen Phan Que Mai, a Vietnamese poet based in Manila, and Dumaguete’s very own Cesar “Sawi” Ruiz Aquino. Mom Weena and sir Bobby Villasis also return to the panel for the week.
Sir Sawi’s poem “Go Flying” was painted beneath the stairs to the main house, and was thus visible at the session area. The lovely ars poetica piece made me curious about the poet (who was always described as Dumaguete’s pride). I was fortunate enough to not only meet him and hear him give comments to works, he was even kind enough to give me his own copy of Thornton Wilder’s collection of plays!
It was unfortunately the last week we got to see sir Bobby. He could barely make it during the 3rd week because of business with the Tourism Office. I had been personally fond of sir Bobby, ever since he told me that he liked my play, that he it was who insisted that my play ought be selected, and it was with the conversation with him that the possibility of my playing being staged was started.
Ma’am Que Mai was no doubt the friendliest panelist we had throughout the workshop. It was primarily because she was the only panelist who actually chose to stay with us at the Writers Village for the duration of her stay. With a bamboo staff in hand, she explored the village.
And she wasn’t the only one exploring. I did my own exploring, too. With the curious Mich Tan, I walked around Camp Lookout, spotting flowers and plants, venturing into the nearby house (a property of the ambassador to the US, I hear). I discovered an unfinished construction site nearby with a striking view of Mount Talinis. We even climbed up the Spirit Pine Tree and caught a toad (with Christian’s help).
And the place wasn’t the only thing I explored. The other fellows proved to be interesting people in themselves as their personalities unfolded.
I met Mich Tan a year ago during the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in Bacolod. Save for Cagayan de Oro Fictionist Jayson Parba (my room mate at that time), I was closest then with Mich. Our reunion during Silliman therefore proved to be a happy occasion, as I got to know her better. “A woman of her own,” is the best way to describe her, she found happiness in being alone, reading or listening to music beneath the Spirit Pine. She had strong opinions but she was quiet about them, though I am fortunate enough to be privy to some of them. But while she was quiet she was never pretentious, and it’s always a delight so her look at things with wonder. Having grown up in urbanized NCR, she had seen very little of the wilderness. So, with my kababayan Meghan, we taught her the names of plants and trees – we even climbed up a tree. She was also eager to grasp Cebuano, and though she said “lingaw kaayo ka kauban” (you’re fun to be with) time and again, it never grew old! I would be unjust, though, not to mention her talents: aside from being a brilliant fictionist, she handled money well and alcohol even better.
It seems Mich isn’t the first fellow I met, though. I met Meghan Hamile during the 2011 Taboan Writers Festival held in Davao, where SALEM served as ushers. UP Mindanao’s Literary Society also served as secretariat, and that was where I made acquaintance with Meg. The next time we would meet again would be in front of Katipunan Hall. But the affinity of Davaoeños proved to be stronger than time, and we became close too. Meg had a very gentle personality (it takes a great degree of kindness to please Mich!), and she was incredibly friendly. But that didn’t make her boring: beneath that quiet personality was a sense of humour not even the formidable TJ-Mike tandem can outdo.
TJ Dimacali was the first fellow I met during the workshop. I got the impression that this fictionist room mate of mine was intelligent, and sure enough I never lost that first impression. As the days passed, I also learned that he was proof of how adding intelligence to a playful personality will only produce toxic humour.Timmy Jimmy (a nickname coined by Debbie Nieto) proved to be incredibly witty, and he had a quip for every self deprecating situation. His running gags included the Indignant chicken pose, his vanity about being good looking, and deliberately racist jokes about Mich being Chinese (to which Mich responded with equal humour). For me, his best joke was “With all due respect Mich, f*ck you!” (said with the asterisked word pronounced with Maricel Soriano’s “pak”). I cannot fail to express my envy, of course, at the fact that he can play the violin.
TJ formed a comic duo of sorts with Mike Gomez. Mike was the first fellow from Silliman University in a long while, and he got significant attention for it. Which is strange because he never played with that fact in his gags: his most continuous gag is his own vanity, and he played it with TJ. Bosconians (they were both graduates of Don Bosco Schools) had a tendency to be good looking, they say. When he was ill for a few days, he quipped “I make sick look cool.” He aces TJ by the fact that he left an indelible mark of humour in the workshop, when, during one session, he described a “crippling pretentiousness” that brought us to laughter with its terminological precision. If Mike wasn’t with TJ, or with his two love team mates (Cebuano poet CD Borden and AdMU fictionist Vida Cruz), he was smoking alone, “making lung cancer look cool” perhaps. Mike, of course, cannot be described without mentioning how fond he is of Vida’s hat, which he wore for almost extraordinarily prolonged periods of time. He was almost as fond of it as he was of Haruki Murakami.
Vida Cruz was the flower of the workshop. The fictionist president of AdMU’s WriterSkill was refined and neat with her thorough notes. It’s hard not to like Vida, she was mature and caring – rather severe sounding characteristics that fortunately did not dull her own sense of humour. I found her incredibly agreeable, and in her I found the first person who shared my taste in music. Why was she the flower of the workshop? Let’s just say she had the most bees (or, in Mike’s case, flies) hovering around her. If you have Yuki Kajiura playing from your earphones, what’s not to like about you! Vida, it needs to be mentioned, can draw exquisitely, and her accurate rendition of my good looks on the workshop batch shirt is enough proof of that.
Frequently haunting Balay Magnolia was CD Borden. One of the few poets in this batch of the workshop, CD had that natural humour so inherent in the Sugbuanon race, and had he joked as much as TJ and Mike did he would have outdone either one. “What did Tarzan say when he saw an elephant skating down the mountain wearing shades?” he joked, “‘Wow pare, an elephant is skating down the mountain wearing shades.'” CD also hid an arsenal of extensive connections in the locality under his sleeves: he was able to procure for the more curious among us some sensitive bits of happiness. But CD was a Carolingian Philosophy major, and he thus hid a broad understanding of theories under his simple, binisaya get-up. I must say, that fact made his humour even more potent. Of course, CD was most memorable because he refused to have himself photographed unless he had his back turned from the camera. For a private reason, I call him my Godfather.
CD’s roommate was Christian Tablazon. This fictionist teacher at UP Los Baños is by far the most well versed in theory I’ve talked to in the workshop. Talking to him of Barthes will inevitably take you from Structuralist to Post-Structuralist thought (as opposed to normal conversation elsewhere, where you’d have to answer the question “who’s Barthes?”). As a film major he is also a huge film buff, and as Mich put it, “there is probably no movie I’ve seen that he hasn’t.” Christian, however, hides a rather interesting personality under the theories and films: he is adorably sadomasochistic, and it isn’t unusual to hear cute remarks from him like “I’d do Ash then have Pikachu electrocute us as we come.” On that note, Christian is incredibly good with animals, and Debbie gave him the nickname “goat whisperer” when he was able to pat a passing goat. He has an uncanny talent for attracting animals, and we could see that he makes good use of this talent with people as well!
Debbie Nieto was another member of the small poet’s caucus in this year’s workshop (she, CD, and Nathan were the only fellows for poetry). Debbie had an irresistibly fun way of talking: kuya Moses Atega said he thinks she had a lot of gay friends, and she got her way of talking from them. “Tsong” was her endearing address to people, and to use it as often as she does would be to talk like her. She was also incredibly good at giving nicknames – which was probably why she was made in charge of the fellow awards. In spite of this, though, Timmy Jimmy (whose nickname came from her) gave her a nickname of her own, Debbie Jebbie, for reasons that would scandalize the Victorian sensibilities of my intellectual readers.
Sooey Valencia had an undeniably sophisticated air about her. This baby of the batch (she was the youngest) spoke with a very upper class tone and emphasis, and her sweet voice can both make remarks sound intelligent and songs sound classy. She always smelled very lovely, and though she might find it debilitating, her deliberate way of walking gave a her certain dignity that was hard not to like.
The oldest fellow during the workshop was sir Thomas Chavez. The fictionist kept to himself most of the time, something we admired because we knew he was writing. The man wrote prolifically, and his years ahead of us was very evident: his comments during workshops were almost as thorough as the panelists, and they were peppered with indications of his being well read. The man had a powerful voice with a flawless neutralized accent that edged towards a received pronunciation. He can also play the piano and do palmistry.
I have, of course, written earlier about Nathan. Even up to his last week he never lost his curiosity. There was nothing like everything he saw during the workshop in Singapore. But I have to admit, when he left after the second week (his University only allowed him 2 weeks), I realized that there was no one like Nathan in the Philippines.
With us during the workshop were three auditors: Gio Chao, Arkay Timonera and Sheerah Tan Cole. Gio was with us the longest, was there from the first week, and the guy proved as interesting as the fellows. One thing I cannot fail to say about him is that he can play the guitar really well, and this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t like the guitar. Arkay, whom we met on the second week, was an accomplished young writer himself, having gone to the Iligan Writers Workshop already. On our first meeting at the Boulevard during the first weekend, we immediately talked about Leoncio Deriada, and like me he was familiar with the short story “For Death is Dead in December.” Like CD, I call him “ninong” (godfather) for private reasons. Sheerah, whom we also met on the first week, had been an auditor for the workshop for two years already, and she comes from the US every summer to observe.
Sessions for the first two days of the second week were spent in the Writers Village, where we delighted in each other’s companies. On the second day, we were hosted at the home of Dr. Doodie Garcia, which was a walking distance from the village. The home was lovely, with a garden full of interesting plants (I had an argument with kuya Mo about the Magnolia. It turns out what I’ve been calling the “magnolia” is actually the Gardenia.) The discussions during this day’s session also proved interesting: most memorably, mom Weena shared how the late lola Edith asked Robert Frost the reason behind the repetition of “And miles to go before I sleep,” his most famous poem’s last line. “Easy does it,” responded Robert Frost, and that was the answer to her question! I found it to be a magical moment, when we young writers received the advice from mom Weena, who received it from lola Edith, who received it from Robert Frost. That was the highlight of the day, though the praiseworthy spiced cheese, homemade by Dr. Garcia herself, comes at a close second place!
On the Wednesday of that week we were taken to Bais to go on Dolphin Watching. Bais was some hours drive by the Silliman Bus from Valencia, and the trip was peppered with sugarcane fields, trees that Mich named, and our speculations on how pretty the women of Tanjay were (we were only able to see old women and little girls).
We arrived at the dock after a few hours, and we got on boats. The dolphins were in the middle of Tañon Straight, about an hour on boat from the dock. On the way, we read the afternoon session’s works, and I and Mich had an almost heated argument about the proper orthography of “all right” and “every day” (word processors, including the spell check of this blog agree with me, but I cheerfully gave way because she was Magna cum laude from AdMU and she was right). When we arrived at the area, the dolphins were magical. it was like they were “people-watching,” as mom Weena put it, because they approached the boats we were on. It was incredibly dreamlike, as if the whole ocean’s surface was some flat screen TV, and the dolphins were just images on it. The feeling of course was broken with the stillness of the surface when the dolphins would surface to breath.
The sense of awe found camp to grasp on for humourous expression, and I ended up singing the Disney song “A Whole New World.” Later on in the workshop, fellows would sing it under the influence of ennui or of the sugarcane spirit, and it would end up being the closest thing to a batch song.
After dolphin-watching, we went to swim in a sand bar nearby. I had not swam in a long time, but thankfully my skills haven’t rusted yet. The sand bar didn’t have much animals in the sea bed, save for a few little starfish and some flat sea urchins (which I called sand silvanas). Snorkeling was thus uneventful until I found the biggest starfish I’d ever seen. After some photos with it, I released it: catch and release is fashionable, because environmental friendliness is the latest thing.
We had lunch on the boat: Lechon with sea-salty fingers proves to be a great experience. Afterwards, we went back to the dock, then drove to Bais City Hall for the day’s session.
That day’s session was very eventful. Not only did we have exquisite bodbod with tsokolate and mangoes for snack, the discussions themselves proved to be interesting. Commenting on a poem that turned out to be by CD, I quoted an interesting poem sent to me by my friend from Iyas Ioannes Arong. It was about a tree that bore heads for fruit, and the locals of the village would pick the fruits up when they fell and mounted these on their necks. the poem also turned out to be by CD!It was also the harshest moment of the workshop. In the discussion of a story, even the usually gentle Mom Weena ended up uttering a quotable rule in fiction writing: “As writers we are invited into the imagination of the reader. We must do well not to abuse that hospitality by overstaying.”
We had the University President’s Dinner on the evening the next day. It was held at the University House, which was steeped in Silliman history. During the dinner there were Psychology teachers from the Ateneo de Davao who apparently heard of me before having met me! After eating, ma’am Que Mai gave a lecture on Vietnamese Literature about the Vietnam War, and we ended the night with sir Thomas playing the piano. The President’s wife, who hosted in behalf of the President, gave us Silliman mugs as mementos, and we got free copies of ma’am Que Mai’s collection of poetry!
We knew from the start of the workshop that we had to go to Siquijor on one of the weekends. But since we wanted to explore Dumaguete on the first weekend, that plan was moved to the second weekend. So that Saturday the Silliman Bus took us down to Dumaguete, where we had lunch at Kabayuan (the humba was divine!). Then we proceeded to the Wharf, where kuya Mo bought our tickets for us in advance. Kuya Mo was our tour guide for the whole event.
We got on the ferry and went on a roughly 2 hour ride to Siquijor. It was my second time to ride a ferry, and I must say that taking the Hong Kong – Macau ferry as your first time raises your expectations to unreasonably high levels. The ferry was okay, but it wasn’t Hong Kong.
We arrived at the Siquijor port and the beach was lovely. It was then that I realized I forgot to bring my goggles! I had to forget about snorkeling in Siquijor.While waiting for the tickets back to Dumaguete (we bought them in advance) at the wharf, we sat on one of the kiosks near the shore, and I saw what I thought was a black goat walking around. But upon closer examination of the creature, I realized that it was actually a Doberman with an uncut tail! This must be the magic of Siquijor!
Walking distance from the wharf was the church of St. Francis of Assisi, with its bell tower nearby. The church was lovely, with a rope curtain near the entrance and a wide cypress-lined courtyard between it and the bell tower. Bell tower and church alike (in fact almost all churches we would see) were made of coral stones.
From the church square we rode a multicab to Salagdoong, the resort where we would stay at. Most of us decided to be adventurous and sat on the vehicle’s roof, so we were able to see everything we passed by.
It was a decision that we were glad we made! On the way we saw commanding views of the sea, old capiz-windowed houses that had “historical” painted all over them, even older churches that showed the power the Catholic church once had on the area(we passed by Maria church but weren’t able to explore it), quiet villages idyllic in their remoteness, and an overwhelming sense of wilderness that made you forget industrialization was actually a trend elsewhere.
On our way we stopped by a large Balete tree growing on a spring. It must have inspired occult imaginations, and sure enough it had: kuya Mo said witches come to the spring every holy week to take the magical water from the spring and brew potions. Whether or not it really had supernatural effects, the sight of it alone was arresting enough to render me stunned for a while.
We also stopped by Coco Grove, the most expensive resort in the island. It was lovely, with a pool and a beautiful shoreline. we had some snacks in the bar and walked on the white sand.
The immediate way to Salagdoong was lined with Fire trees, and though it was already dark when we arrived, we could still see the red flowers as we sat on the roof. We arrived at the Function Hall (we didn’t book rooms, we chose to book the function hall and asked for mattresses) and had dinner at the restaurant. The power went out for a while, and we looked forward to seeing the famous supernatural of Siquijor. Unfortunately or fortunately, we waited in vain.
After eating, we looked at the beautiful evening view of the sea and enjoyed one another’s companies. I wondered why some of the stars seemed too low down the sky, but when they moved I realized that those where fishermen from afar! Yet again, Transfiguration in Siquijor! Later that night some of us decided to go swim.The beach was great, but the showering area seriously needed improvement. After swimming (I wasn’t able to shower), I went to bed. Apparently they had a drink while I was asleep, but my dreams were sweet too, so I didn’t envy them much.
The next day we got to see the beach in daylight, and it was beautiful. There was a large monolith just a stone’s throw away from the shore, and it proved to be a great diving spot. It was a good thing we decided not to go for a swim: I was yearning to go snorkeling, but I forgot to bring my goggles!
Later that day we checked out from the hotel and toured Siquijor. We first stopped by Lazi, where we went into the convent and the church. The San Isidro Labrador Convent was imposing, and that was when I realized just how powerful the Catholic church was in this place. The great acacia Trees that lined the lane between the Convent and the church added to the majesty of it all. The church was made of reddish coral stone, and it also had a courtyard with cypresses, only the courtyard here was wider.We tried the Coco balls, and we bought some for mom Weena, manong Alfredo the bus driver, manang Jo and manang Bibi.
From there we went to Cambugahay Falls, a set of low waterfalls which had pretty nice swimming areas. There was also a diving option: holding on to a dangling rattan vine and swinging before letting go. I wasn’t able to try that, the children kept using it one after another.
After that, we went back to the wharf – we were planning to go to a cafe, but time was unfortunately running short. Once again on the ferry, we went back to Dumaguete. We had an early dinner of pizza and mash potatoes at Jutz Cafe (which was delicious albeit slow on the serving) before we went back up to the Writers Village.
Thus ended the second week of my Silliman Experience.