Introduction to Issue 4: A Dumaguete Litera-Tour


This April, we celebrate National Literature Month, and this May, we celebrate National Heritage Month. So what better way to celebrate these two national cultural fests than by mapping out a virtual “litera-tour” of Dumaguete, highlighting the works of key authors in Negros Oriental and at the same time celebrating their works as important intangible heritage of the community! It’s a unique DIY tour you can take to get to know Dumaguete in an approximation of its literary splendor.

We encourage you to take this issue of Buglas Writers Journal as a map to do your own walking tour of specific sites in Dumaguete that have valuable connections with various pieces of literary works, giving the reader/tourist a chance to appreciate the works and to see the significance of specific places in Dumaguete in the light of the literary. [This issue will be closely connected to our Facebook postings.]

In a way, we are aiming to underline the importance of Dumaguete as a “City of Literature” in the Philippines, where many Filipino writers—both local and national [and international]—have aspired to set many of their stories, poems, dramas, and creative non-fiction: Dumaguete as inspirational wonderland.

We have chosen twenty-one spots in Dumaguete that can be found in passages of relevant literary texts. Let’s begin…


Read: T. Valentino Sitoy Jr.‘s Dumaguete in Historical Perspective.

We will begin this literary tour at the Campanario de Dumaguete, or the Dumaguete Belltower, long the symbol of the city. The campanario was built during the time of Fray Juan Felix de la Encarnacion who took charge of the Dumaguete parish between 1867 and 1879. It is set on the remains of the original southeastern watchtower originally built by Fray Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien, parish priest of Dumaguete, between 1755 and 1760. Fr. Septien could very well be considered as the “Father of Dumaguete,” because it was through his efforts that the town grew in strength, even managing to deflect marauding pirates from the South. This literary tour begins with a comprehensive look at the history of Dumaguete, written by one of its eminent historians, Dr. T. Valentino Sitoy Jr.


Read: Jose Rizal, Sábado, 1 de Agosto de 1896, Dumaguete [Diary Entry]

From the campanario, proceed to the monument of Jose Rizal in M.L. Quezon Park. Cross Perdices Street, and enter the city plaza from the western side and proceed to the center, where the statue of the National Hero is located. Rizal came to Dumaguete twice: in 1892, right before he arrived in Dapitan for the start of his exile, where it was noted that he had breakfast at the house of one Jose Longa; and then in 1896, right after he departed Dapitan at the end of his exile, on the way to Manila to volunteer his services as doctor in the Spanish enclave of Cuba—an aborted plan since he was immediately arrested by Spanish authorities, and by the end of the year was executed at Bagumbayan.


Read: Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Bombay Bazaar

From the statue of Jose Rizal in M.L. Quezon Park, exit the plaza in the western side, facing the Catholic Church, and proceed on foot turning right on Perdices Street [formerly Calle Alfonso XIII]. Go northwards, crossing one block, until you get to the corner of Perdices Street and Locsin Street. On the northwest corner stands Po’s Marketing, which was constructed from the ruins of Hassaram’s Department Store, which burned down in 2007. Hassaram’s and Rajan’s Department Store were two of the earliest department stores in Dumaguete, owned by South Asian immigrants. Also in this area was located Bombay’s Bazar. Reading Torrevillas’ essay, how did Dumaguete locals treat langyaw [or strangers] in their midst?


Read: Edilberto K. Tiempo, Mr. McLure

Go back to M.L. Quezon Park, and contemplate it and its environs. Quezon Park in Dumaguete is not only the veritable center of the city, it is also the true mark of confluence in terms of Oriental Negrense history. The plaza occupies the space between the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria [the original foundation of which was built in 1754] and the Presidencia [built in 1937 by renowned Filipino architect Juan Arellano], and by its very location has been witness to the historical upheavals and progress of Dumaguete at the height of both Spanish and American colonial rules. It was in this space, for example, that Don Diego de la Viña and his men settled when they arrived in Dumaguete from Guihulngan on 24 November 1898, completing the liberation of Negros Oriental from Spanish rule. Formerly a field of weeds, and then a corn field, and finally a makeshift plaza between the casa tribunal and the Catholic Church, Quezon Park was formally dedicated in the afternoon of 17 September 1916 with the firing of cannons, speeches, music, and refreshments—marking a year of rapid progress in Dumaguete. Quezon Park was refurbished under the direction of Sr. Juan Posadas, transforming the area into recreation grounds with green lawns, gravel walks, flower beds, and concrete benches. It was named after the statesman Manuel L. Quezon, even before he became the President of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. This was in honor of his efforts in the passage of the Jones Law, or the Philippine Autonomy Act, in 29 August 1916. Quezon had been one of the Philippines’ two resident commissioners to the U.S. House of Representatives, and had drafted at least two versions of the Jones Bill. Quezon would make frequent visits to Dumaguete in the ensuing years, developing a close relationship with the place. After World War II broke out in the Pacific and the Japanese Occupation began, Quezon and members of his family, and their military escorts, slipped off to safety in Australia from the port in Dumaguete by submarine on 6 March 1942. In Tiempo’s story, we meet an American resident of Dumaguete, who lives in a house with a great view of the park and its environs, and whose life somehow mirrors much of the historical upheavals of the town.


Read: Gemino H. Abad, Casaroro Falls [from Issue No. 1]

Proceed to the Presidencia, which currently houses the National Museum of Dumaguete. In 2017, the City of Dumaguete turned over the restoration of the original architecture, built in 1937 and designed by the great Filipino architect Juan Arellano, to the National Museum of the Philippines, which now oversees a Dumaguete branch in the property. Opened in November 2022, the National Museum of Dumaguete currently showcases sections on local natural history, on local anthropology and archaelogy, and on heritage edifices found in Negros Oriental and Siquijor. Part of the natural history display are various flora and fauna found in the island of Negros, as well as minerals and rocks sampled from various sites, including Mt. Talinis and Casaroro Falls. Because we are confining ourselves in this literary tour within the borders of Dumaguete, we can try to explore within the National Museum other places outside of the city, such as Casaroro Falls in Valencia, that have inspired Filipino writers, like this poem by National Artist for Literature Gemino H. Abad.


Read: Cesar Aljama, Night of the Rabble-Rousers

From the National Museum, exit through the Calle Sta. Catalina gate and turn right towards Burgos Street, a pedestrian promenade that connects M.L. Quezon Park to the Rizal Boulevard. Once you reach Rizal Avenue, turn left and in the next corner, you will see the Arnaiz Ancestral House, one of Dumaguete’s “sugar houses,” the homes of Oriental Negros’ sugar hacenderos. It has a fascinating story. In the 1980s, it was the home of Father Eleuterio Tropa, the founder of the Lamplighter World Peace Mission [also called Spaceship 2000]. Then it was the site of the first Shakey’s in Dumaguete, and is now Allegre Bar and Arte Gallery Cafe. It overlooks an area of the Rizal Boulevard which became famous for being the battleground of various men of differing faiths debating over religion.


Read: Myrna Peña-Reyes, Harbor Home

Head towards the new Pantawan Dos [or People’s Park] area of the Rizal Boulevard, where the Panilongon monument is also located. Immediately to the right of the newly-reclaimed land is the Tinago community, which has thrived on subsistence fishing for many generations, as portrayed in the poem. The Pantawon Dos gives a good vantage point for observing what is happening to Dumaguete, and on good days, you can also see the majesty of Cuernos de Negros in the background. The picture you see is that of a city that is in constant change, perhaps an anti-thesis to the town of nostalgia by the persona of Peña-Reyes’ poem. What is the Dumaguete you remember, and love the best?


Read: Nerisa del Carmen Guevara, Boulevard Tree

Walk down the Rizal Boulevard towards its northern point, and across Why Not? is a curiously shaped acacia tree, which has inspired many writers who come to Dumaguete. The acacia trees of Dumaguete are an iconic natural heritage of the city, and most of them are more than a hundred years old, a significant number having been planted by American missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century. [The Silliman campus itself is dotted with over 300 acacia trees.] An old story goes that an acacia planted at the Rizal Boulevard indicates the Protestantism of the family whose house that particular tree fronts.


Read: Bobby Flores Villasis, Menandro’s Boulevard [from Issue No. 1]

Walk down the Rizal Boulevard towards its northern point, and across from Paseo Perdices [formerly the Mariano Perdices mansion] and Sans Rival Bistro [formerly the Manuel Teves mansion], on the [almost] grassy area of the seaside promenade is a bench. There are actually many Rizal Boulevard benches, but this one is our favorite, and feels like the very bench from Villasis’s story. Officially the Paseo de Rizal, it was built in 1916 and currently extends at a length of 967 meters, from the Press Club to the pier [including the extended promenade]. It is named after Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was said to have spent a few hours along the stretch to stroll before departing for Dapitan for his exile. Presently, it has become the most sought-after, most romantic promenade of the city, where local social life practically begins. In Villasis’ story, a member of Dumaguete’s old guard who lives in one of the sugar houses falls into a tentative friendship [even love] with a prostitute who uses the Boulevard as her walking ground. What does this say about Dumaguete’s generational and economic divide?


Read: Justine Megan Yu, Sweet Baby [from Issue No. 2]

Disembark from your tricycle at Hayahay along Flores Avenue [which, for some reason, most locals used to call Escaño], fronting Piapi Beach [which, for some reason, most locals also call Escaño Beach]. “Escaño,” for many generations of Dumaguete youth, was “party central,” where you could park your car along the seawall, turn the car radio up loud, and party with friends. Hayahay, which includes Lab-as Restaurant, founded by the Fuentes family in 1988, is famous for its Reggae Wednesday, and also for being the “headquarters” for Dumaguete youth for most of the 1990s until the 2010s. Yu’s story paints a picture of this youth culture. What wild things did you do in Hayahay?


Read: Marianne Villanueva, Dumaguete

From Hayahay along Flores Avenue, walk northwards down the adjoining Escaño Drive, which has only been recently constructed and completed, reclaimed from what used to be a beachfront leading towards Silliman Beach in Bantayan. This will lead you to The Henry Hotel, a posh resort that used to be South Seas Resort, one of Dumaguete’s pioneering beachfront hospitality property. [In Villanueva’s story, it is masked as Seven Seas Resort.] Absent in The Henry Hotel is the dark vibe that pervades the story of a wife running away with her son from domestic strife. [What darkness does Dumaguete hide?] But while at The Henry, enjoy the offerings of its many restaurants, including Sans Rival, Si Señor, and Coffee Collective.


Read: Edith Tiempo, Bonsai

Exit The Henry Hotel from its Escaño Drive side, and choose either to walk or grab a tricycle to the next stop. We suggest walking, for the exercise, and retrace your steps back towards the intersection of Flores Avenue, Escaño Drive, and EJ Blanco Drive, and walk westwards down the latter. Turn left at the first road you will encounter, and you will have entered Amigo Subdivision, Dumaguete’s pioneering subdivision, established in the pre-war years by Mary Davis Amigo and her husband Norberto Noblefranca Amigo. Soon enough, you will come to the subdivision’s main artery. Turn right, westwards. Somewhere on the left, there is a gated property that used to be the home of Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, where they entertained [and taught] for many years, which they had to sell. Miraculously, the house is still intact, albeit in a dilapidated state. “Bonsai” was written in this house, and touches on personal items from the Tiempos’ lives.


Read: Diana T. Gamalinda, Dumaguete

From the western entrance to Amigo Subdivision along Hibbard Avenue, hail down the ubiquitous Dumaguete tricycle [which is also locally known as a “pedicab,” albeit a misnomer since the cab does not run on pedals, but is attached to a regular motorcycle]. The cab goes about town with its distinctive three-wheels, and is the most popular form of public transportation in Dumaguete. Its size makes it arguably one of the biggest cabs of its kind in the country. There are currently about 2,500 tricycles plying the streets of Dumaguete. The regular fare, post-pandemic, is 15 pesos per kilometer. Read Gamalinda’s short poem while on transit. Do Dumaguete’s roads “crawl on [their] bellies to the sky” still?


Read: Merlie M. Alunan, The Bells Count in Our Blood

Disembark from your tricycle at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church, which is accesssible from Jose Pro Teves Street [formerly Cervantes Street] via San Lorenzo Ruiz Drive, which skirts the church’s compound. The church was inaugurated in 1970, but started its congregation at the then Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel at the nearby Manuel L. Teves Memorial Hospital compound in 1958. The Redemptorist Church famously put out a statement to toll its bells when Fr. Rudy Romano was abducted by military forces at the tail-end of the Marcos regime for his activism, never to be seen again. Those who grew up in Dumaguete in the 1980s would remember the ringing of these nighty bells.


Read: Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Stories

From the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church, grab a tricycle and go to the Silliman University Medical Center. For our purposes, let’s use as our stop the small park at the very center of the hospital compound. SUMC is an independent sector of the university, and grew out of the Mission Hospital first established along Hibbard Avenue [in the building now known as Katipunan Hall] in 1915, which served the community for more than one hundred years. The new one along Aldecoa Drive was built in 1974, and finished in 1976, and boasted of the first elevators in the province. In one part of Aquino’s story, a young man is confined in the hospital. How many stories are there in the actual story?


Read: Elsa Martinez Coscolluela, In My Father’s House [Excerpt]

From SUMC, go a bit eastward down Aldecoa Drive and proceed to the northern entrance to Sillliman campus in a place everyone colloquially calls Laguna. The Laguna road is a bit of a long walk until you reach a second gate that takes you into the main campus. Turn to the immediate left, towards the dorms, and follow the path that leads to the back of Chapel of the Evangel. Channon Hall is the old building beside Hibbard Avenue, one-time torture chamber of the Japanese during World War II. The large acacia trees nearby also served as hanging trees for condemned prisoners. Get a nightmare. In this excerpt from Coscolluela’s play, a middle-class Dumaguete family starts feeling the personal ravages of World War II in the city. How much do you know about the Japanese Occupation in Dumaguete?


Read: Lakambini Sitoy, Sweet Haven [Excerpt]

From Channon Hall in Sillliman campus, cross the wide expanse of the Ravello Soccer Field towards the Luce Auditorium, and walk the concrete path going southwards along the entire length of the Roman Yap Road, which terminates in one of the drivethroughs that service West Quadrangle, the Amphitheatre, and Silliman Church, which was completed in 1949 and is the built testimony of Silliman’s American Presbyterian origins. Sitoy’s novel, which could be about Dumaguete as Donostia, sets a tense confrontation scene in the university church. Has your faith ever been rocked by doubt?


Read: Ian Rosales Casocot, A Tragedy of Chickens

From Silliman campus, exit through the portals at the head of Hibbard Avenue and turn to the left, towards the sea, along Silliman Avenue. Right near the intersection, you will find Jo’s Chicken Inato, a heritage restaurant in Dumaguete City founded by Josephine and Jesse Ng in 1985 to introduce Dumaguete’s equivalent of Bacolod’s chicken inasal, which is the inato [or “ours”]. It started as a cake house, but later evolved into a roasted chicken empire that speaks much of the locals’ love for chicken. Casocot’s story is a reflection of this love, centered on the inato. While you’re here, eat a pecho.


Read: Allan Justo Pastrana, Geography

From Jo’s Chicken Inato, walk towards the east, towards the sea, along Silliman Avenue. Just a stone’s throw away from the corner of Rizal Avenue, you will come across a bar called El Amigo, which has a smaller coffeeshop/gallery inside it called Cafe Memento. This is owned by the visual artist Babbu Wenceslao, the son of the poet Merlie Alunan. Starting in the 2000s, this was the hangout of many of the city’s young artists, and particularly the poets that come to Dumaguete every summer. Pastrana’s poem is a story of a summer love. Have you ever fallen for the same kind of magic in Dumaguete?


Read: Timothy R. Montes, How to Write About Dumaguete

From Cafe Memento/El Amigo, walk along Silliman Avenue and go towards the sea, and cross Rizal Avenue to enter Rizal Boulevard once again, this time with a view of Silliman Hall, the oldest building in Silliman campus. Go to the area which is known as Pantawan Uno. “Pantawan” is the Bisaya word for “window,” and this square is just that: the window into Dumaguete, complete with a signage for tourists to take photos in. Sit by the seawall. Contemplate the view. Think of Montes’ love/hate letter to the city. Do you feel the same way?


Read: Marjorie Evasco, Ritual for Leaving

From the Pantawan Uno of the Rizal Boulevard, where the Dumaguete signage is located, walk the brick pathway towards the northern end of the paseo, which terminates at the entrance of the Dumaguete Pier. Go to the Visitor’s Center, which contains information about Dumaguete for tourists. The Visitor’s Center also has a balcony which gives one a good view of the city, particularly the Rizal Boulevard area. It is a site for both welcome and goodbye. Read Evasco’s poem while looking at the city. Imagine that the farewell it talks about is yours.

Did you have a good trip?

Sábado, 1 de Agosto de 1896, Dumaguete


Al día síguiente, Sábado, al amanecer fondeamos en Dumaguete, cabecera de Negros Oriental.

El vapor atraca bastante cerca por la gran profundidad. Dumaguete se despliega en la playa donde se ven casas grandes, algunas con techo de zinc. Sobresalen la casa de una señora cuyo nombre he olvidado, la que ocupa el gobierno y otra empezada, con sendos harigues de ípil.

Yo bajé con mi familia y el G.P.M. Yo las dije que recorrieran la población para ver lo más importante, mientras que el G. P. M. y yo íbamos a saludar al Sr. Gobr. Regal, a quien yo había conocido en Dapitan de paso para su gobierno.

De allí fuimos a ver al Cpn. de la Ga. Civil, Sr. Herrero, que padecía de una oftalmía que resultó ser conjuntivitis granulosa. En su casa he conocido al médico titular, Sr. P., del que supe muchos casos y cosas relativas a etiquetas provinciales. Quedamos en que mientras yo iba a visitar a mi amigo y antiguo condiscípulo, Sr. Herrero Regidor, Juez de la provincia, se haría la operación para la tarde. Fuí en efecto a visitar a este Sr. quien me recibió cariñosísimamente, invitándome a pasar con él el día, con mi familia. Ví a Periquet, conocí a su familia y visité la casa de Da. Rufina, casa hermosa, donde ví por primera vez después de más de 4 años tocar el piano ‘y en verdad muy bien. Noto que los de Dumaguete tienen gusto. en adornar sus casas con plantas y flores. A la tarde operé al Cpn. de la G. C. y nos embarcamos. Vimos una multitud de quintos a que iban a !ligan. ¡Iban atados por los codos y detrás venía la música! Conocí al Inspector de montes que resultó ser un antiguo condiscípulo mío.

Salimos a la noche, a eso de las 10, y al día siguiente por la mañana entramos en Cebú.


The following day, Saturday, at dawn we anchored in Dumaguete, capital town of Negros Oriental.

The steamer was able to dock quite close due to the great depth. Dumaguete spreads out on the beach where you can see large houses, some with galvanized iron roofing. The house of a lady, whose name I have forgotten, stands outs; it is now occupied by the government. Another one just begun, with many ipil posts.

I went ashore with my family and the C.P.M. [Politico-Military Commander]. I told my family to see the town while the C.P.M. and I paid our respects to Governor Regal whom I met at Dapitan on the way to his destination.

From there we went to see the Captain of the Civil Guard, Mr. Herrero [Regidor], judge of the province, who was suffering from ophtalmia which turned out to be conjunctivitis granulosa.* I met Mr. P., the permanent physician at his house, from whom I learned about many cases and things concerning provincial etiquette. It turned out that while I was going to visit my friend and former classmate Mr. Herrero Regidor, the provincial judge, the operation was set for that afternoon. In fact, I went to visit this gentleman who received me very affectionately, inviting me and my family to spend the day with him. I saw Periquet and his family and I also spent the day with the family of [Don Mariano Pinili]. I also went to the house of Mrs. Rufina Ybanez. It was a beautiful house, where after four years, I heard the piano expertly played. I observed that the people of Dumaguete are fond of decorating their houses with plants and flowers. In the afternoon I operated on the Captain of the Civil Guard and then we embarked.

We saw a crowd of fifths who were going to Iligan. They were tied at the elbows and behind came the music! I met the Forest Inspector who turned out to be an old classmate of mine.

We left at night, around 10, and the next day, in the morning, we entered Cebu.

Jose Rizal is hailed as the National Hero of the Philippines. His novels include Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which were instrumental in setting the flame of revolution against the Spanish colonial government. He was killed by a firing squad on 30 December 1896.

Bombay Bazaar


Bombay Bazar, they spelled it. Without the second “a” that turned the word into a Thousand-and–One-Nights exotic. But an old store nevertheless. My brother called it Bombay Bizarre the sort of joint where you get the feeling you’ll never get out alive, snickered our friend Chee-bee. Where they played what Chee-bee’s brother Tito called “that curvaceous music”; blaring out into the hot noonday asphalt smell of Alfonso XIII Street, its plangent diatonic swoops sinuous as the S-curves of the carved deities on Khajuraho, the music sounded harsh.

It was rumored they sold “pawned goods’ at the Bombay Bazar. Chee-bee’s brother had once hocked their sister’s hair dryer there, to plug a craving for speed and marijuana, but we never found out if they got it back or not. The proprietor of the Bombay Bazar interjected a spurious “eh wot?’ into his conversations and sounded like a dubious proposition on all counts. It was the “Bombay,” meant to sound exotic, that placed a kind of generic stamp on the place and doomed it, I thought; no one would ever wander in there looking for bargains.

Filipinos pronounce it “boom-bye.” That’s how Filipinos designate all South Indians, whether they’re actually from Bombay or really from Delhi or Calcutta or Poona or Kashmir. A resonance redolent of the bulging sacks of traders’ goods, hefted by hairy forearms; mixed in with muddled racist images of “curly shoes” and ankle-length bloomers, and the turbans one later learned to associate more correctly with the Sikhs; boom-bye: red onions, dark streets, and drums.

The Bombay Bazaar was the newest in the trio of Indians stores that triangulated Locsin Street, a tacitly competitive corner of local merchandising, teeth gleaming hostilely at one another like concealed daggers from across the street. One assumed their respective owners to be scarcely cordial with one another—but who knows: that aspect of their relationship remains enigmatic. At least they were not in sinister consortium the way the Chinese monopoly worked, with their secretive Chinese Chamber of Commerce weekly meetings, carving up the local economy, from town to town, according to the expansionist fiefdoms of Hunan and Formosa imperialistically transplanted.

There was a sort of mercantile hierarchy among the three Bombay stores. The Bombay Bazar, although the most recent, already reeked of decrepitude. It was an old time bazaar in the most authentic sense, and probably might have been transported, whole, from one of souks along “the street called Straight, in Damascus,” judging from the haphazard variety of somewhat cheap merchandise piled into its one small showroom.

The owners apparently never figured out their demographic targets or their marketing focus—what it was that customers were supposed to go to their store to buy—since they sold a hodgepodge of goods: aluminum kettles dangled weirdly, strung on hemp ropes from the low ceiling; tinny gilt photograph frames shared counter space with plastic barrettes; and one might even spy the dirty-white fringe from a bit of rolled-up carpeting among the bales of thin garish clothing goods. It was all rather unattractively placed, but in actuality, the store arrangements were probably more authentically “Bombay” than the other two stores, when one came down to it, if it were atmosphere one was looking for. I’d would have only been in there once or twice and wandered out again, vaguely relieved, as Chee-bee would have said, to have merely come out again alive, to have escaped the silent speculative glance of the store owner and returned to the hot open-sewer stink of Santa Catalina Street, pursued only by the shrieking sitars.

The owner of the “new” Ramanujam’s Shop-O-Rams, farther uptown, inherited the shop from his father. I have vague recollection of the “old” Ramanujam’s store, fronting the wet market, with old Ramaujam himself rotundly presiding over the cash register, and the startling glare of Coleman lamps sizzling alongside the 200-watt fluorescent bulbs: an efflorescence of illumination, as though to discourage would-be shoplifters, in the-not-unlikely event that the town’s unreliable electric power “browned out” unexpectedly. I think the old store burned down. Perhaps one of the redundant Colemans exploded one night.

 “New” Shop-O-Rama was always New, even twenty years later, when it had turned itself into “the shopping capital” of Negros Oriental. Thin salesgirls guarded the glass cabinets containing Charlie cologne and the shelves stacked high with Levi’s dungarees. Watched coldly by the owner’s rather dour wife, the clerks rustled adeptly around the store, gift-wrapping packages and creating pouf bows with skillful twist of the wrist.

The natty owner, “young” Satish, a judicious sprinkling of gray at his temples, rested his neat plump elbow on the glass counters, benignly offering discounts—as much as twenty percent off the net—for favored customers, his twinkling eyes, underneath their outrageously curly eyelashes, resting perhaps a shade too long on the shapely backsides of the coeds as they emerged from his store, their buttocks smartly outlined by the studs on the Levi’s bought from his store.

It seemed to me that Satish had been Ramanujam’s Shop-O-Rama all of its life, even as the store stayed forever “new.” There was a childishness about him that probably derived from the store’s avowal of its unchanging regeneration. But for the name of the store one would have forgotten there had once been an Old Ramanujam. But for that—and for the small alcove set into the wall beside the curtained changing-room on the ground floor—one’s eye might almost miss seeing the small brass jar of joss sticks, and sitting beside it on the alcove shelf, the black-and-white photograph of old Ramanujam himself, now thin-cheeked, his eyes already sinking back into the shadows that no cheerful glare of Coleman lamps could hold away.

Hand-lettered underneath the photograph, the reverential but matter-of-fact care with which the words were formed was almost like a cry of grief: “Father expired on 31 December 1967.” Expired, like a battery, or a license to sell merchandise, on the last day of the year.

Yet it’s not quiet right to say Satish never changed, though the turn-over on his merchandise was a veritable model of successful retailing-as-perpetual motion. He was inordinately proud of his store’s participation in the university social life, such as it was: he’d cultivated a town-and-gown relationship, literal and exemplary—as haberdasher to the studentry. More specifically, he gloried in his role as the beaming supplier of jeans that the flashier nursing students strutted and swiveled in during the Founder’s Day “Miss Silliman University” beauty contest and fashion show.

He recounted to me one day his excitement at the visit paid by a movie star who’d dropped into town for a couple of hours’ filming by the famous Dumaguete seaside. She was a pretty, pouty girl with dewy eyes, on the second or third tier in the current Philippine hierarchy, and Satish’s cheeks gleamed moistly as he told about how she’d dropped by and tried on a couple of pairs of jeans right there in the store. (Behind the picture of Expired Father, I thought somewhat cynically.)

He leaned forward over the glass counter, propelled by the naïve pleasure of the moment, and asked: “Your husband, he makes movies right? I have a good idea. I been thinking about it some time. Maybe he makes a movie, you know, just a simple movie. I get sponsors from, maybe, the Mount Kaladias Lions Club, you know? I provide the costumes, like, you know, a real movie. Simple story. About young life. About the campus.”

I was too startled—and unaccountably touched—to think of a reply, and took refuge in mere dissembling; hoping I did not sound increasingly bright or patronizing, I said a shade too fervently, “Oh, that would be nice. I’ll tell him about it right away.” At that point the some total of my husband’s movie making was a couple of documentaries for the University, and several short films he’d successfully placed in the national short-film festival. He was deep into his Herzog hero-worship phase—having just emerged blinking into Aguirre’s Amazon sunlight from the Nordic darkness of a short-lasting Bergman influence—so he gave a scoffing, brief chuckle when I repeated Satish’s moist suggestion, and the whole thing was forgotten.

Satish did not mentioned the movies again during the next couple of years, even on those occasions when I’d buy the Chaps cologne and the tall Levi’s that were obviously meant for my husband. Perhaps it was the long-term residence in the town of another movie outfit that resurrected Satish’s “simple idea.” This time my husband was a unit manager of the film, and we and some of our friends and neighbors actually appeared briefly in it. After our very short moment in the sun as Christopher de Leon’s family (trailing along after him down various forest path and dry riverbeds, dressed in authentic pre-Hispanic garb), we attained to an uncomfortable fifteen seconds of local celebrity. Satish approached me again, over the counter, while his wife rang up my purchases behind him, a serious little pucker furrowing the friendly brow.

 “I’m thinking about that movie,” he said, while my heart quailed cravenly at the prospect of fielding yet another movie proposition for my indifferent spouse. Now I’d have to accept Satish’s over-generous thirty percent net discount while pretending I’d forgotten all about that earlier business three years ago. “I think,” he said earnestly, his consciousness having apparently evolved, in the intervening years, into a weltanschauung far beyond the simple pleasures of garbing coeds in Levi’s for a movie about young life, “I think we make a movie about, you know, serious. World hunger. About Eenjah.”

Each year, three times a year, my Dad gives my mother a bottle of perfume: at Christmas, on her birthday in April, and the following month for their wedding anniversary.

He goes to the store of a particular Indian merchant for these gifts—usually on the day before the event, an hour before closing time.

Unlike the Bombay Bazaar with its mournful violence of plangent sitars, and the upbeat rock music that Shop-O-Rama’s favored to set the mood for the buying of jeans, Ranjit’s Department Store considered it déclassé to play music. Ranjit’s was the Macy’s of Dumaguete City. Stodgy and reliable, it was there that one went to buy wedding presents for people, a store one’s parents turned to for anniversary gift. In our town we had no department-store bridal registries (among my wedding gifts were three identical cake-server sets), but whenever a big wedding was coming up, someone at Ranjit’s could be counted on to whisper discreetly into one’s ears if a particular item had already been purchased, thus steering the giver away from redundancies.

The owner, a soft-voiced genial man who was in Rotary with Dad, had numerous daughters, and his fortunes—and the prices in his store—fluctuated according to the stages of negotiation leading to the ever-proliferating family nuptials. Dowries were the store’s raison d’etre. They had two sons, on whom his wife was pinning their fiscal deliverance, though Jayanta Misra was too seemly, or maybe already just too Filipinized, to make much of their marketable potential.

Their younger son, Harresh, had a thin face and wary measuring eyes—not tragic mellifluent liquidity floating over an excess of whiteness that were the eyes of his favored older brother, after whom the store was named.

Ranjit, more outgoing and seemingly less bright, was easy to be around with, but had a tendency to burble that made me vaguely uneasy. I had Harresh (he signed himself “Harry” then) in one of my Introduction to Literature classes when he was a sophomore or junior in college, and I was fresh out of school myself. His work had brilliant brevity, and his papers were submitted in tiny, scrupulous handwriting, with exclamation point judiciously placed.

I thought it was his being younger son that had probably given him the twist at the corner of his mouth, a mark of incipient bitterness that deepened upward into mirth when once or twice I’d tried a joke that sailed over the heads of the rest of the class. He had narrow fastidious nostrils that quivered in the sardonic stillness of his face, appreciating the knowledge that there were nuances he alone could catch, not bothering to nudge his seatmate on the elbow, or even to chuckle: just the twist of his mouth and the faint wing to the nostril.

There was something of the same reserve in his father’s eyes, a sharp absence that was like a judgment withheld, underneath the smooth mercantile jocundity. Sometimes I imagined it was almost the loneliness of an intellect gone undeveloped, that should have gone into theology and not retailing. Perhaps that was why he liked Dad so much—they could trade jokes, no matter how superficially, and that beyond the ritualized exchange of buying and selling, there was the novelist-professor on one side of the counter and, on the other, the heir to the Rig-Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It was always tacit, a coinage never exchanged—an appreciation for the other—held in mutual reserve, as it were: a fiduciary note of intellectual respect.

Or perhaps I was just imaging it all. He was certainly the quintessence of the smarmy trader (his manner had an excessiveness that seemed almost ironic) whenever he’d spot Dad and me standing at the entrance to his shop three-quarters of an hour before closing time on Christmas Eve. In our town, the storefront entrances run the whole length of the shop, stopping at the pair of plate-glass displays that flank each establishment. These entrances open directly onto the street or sidewalk, and are laboriously closed each night with stout wooden panels and a metal grille that is pulled across the paneling and latched. Except in shopping malls, stores in the America do not exude this kind of daytime, wide-open informality, and recalling them now—and their dichotomous shuttling between trust and mistrust—is like stepping back into the third world again, with all its knife-edged vividness.

Jayanta strides amiably towards us from the back of the store, beaming with warmth that is meant to convey more than a merely professional pleasure. He has an unfortunate tendency to rub his hands together as he approaches favored customers, and observing this mannerism, time and again, gives my mother and me a kind of cynical enjoyment.

Hair crisply anointed with Brylcreme and his Countess Mara polo shirt reeking of Aramis, he stops smartly before us, rocking a little on the balls of his feet, his hand clasped together and the smile fixed relentlessly in place. “Ed, Ed, good to see you. And something for Edith today?” he says. His ebullience never varies, despite the prices of merchandise that go up wildly after each calamitous dowry-giving.

After all these years he knows that it’s perfume that we’re after, but is too mannerly to make that assumption in front of us. Or maybe it’s simply that he and Dad relish every station in his ritual, so he waits until Dad has explained our errand before turning to the business of selecting the merchandise.

 “Maria,” he says, turning to one of the dozen or so slowly aging counter clerks, all but snapping his finger at her to have her unlock the glass case where the perfume is kept.

For some reason all the clerks seem to be named Maria. Or maybe he just calls them all Maria. They all speak excellent English, and in their dealing customers or the owners, they emanate the soft-spoken familiarity of household help who have been with the family for many years.

Examining the selection in the glass cases is usually just a formality, because the choice selections are all kept in the back room. When he’s had time to size up the occasion and the seriousness of Dad’s spending, Jayanta gives order to the Maria currently in attendance to bring out some of the stock from the back room.

There are no sample bottles of scent in third-world merchandising. The gilt or pastel boxes containing Anaïs Anaïs and Nina Ricci, of Ysatis and Madame Rochas and Givenchy III, are painstakingly opened, and a cautious nostril is reverently applied to the atomizer head. “It is the spray you want, not the plain?” Jayanta ask. “Of course, it’s to be the spray; these women, Ed, these women.”

When we have made the selection between us—Dad opting for the deeper woodsier scent, and I holding out for the flowery-citrus—we enter the delicate phase of transacting the price. Polite skirmishing ensues between Dad and Jayanta (the attendant privileges and obligations of their Rotarianship hovering in the background of their negotiation like the gaudy muses of merchandise retailing).

Sometimes the transaction is interrupted by another of the Marias, who approaches Jayanta tentatively, bearing a message from his wife who is working the cash register. Mrs. M., too, waves a heavily ringed hand in greeting whenever we enter the store, but prefers to keep her position of power behind the register. I have sometimes uncharitably suspected the message to contain a certain cautionary element that goes into effect when she senses, from afar, that Jayanta is about to cave in and give up a soft sale to us. At any rate, the Maria might say, “Mister, Mrs. says that the key to the stockroom, we cannot find.”

And Jayanta, interrupted at this delicate stage of the negotiations, throws up his hand in exasperation and says, “Oh, heavenly day!” and moves fussily toward his wife where they hold a brief consultation in Hindi.

Dad politely averts his eyes and pretend to examine the merchandise in the glass counter in front of us, but I’m less inhibited by the imperative for good manners and pass this brief interregnum wondering how Mrs. M keeps the sari from unwrapping and speculating on whether she ever gets gas pains from not covering up her tummy, and watching the pocket of exposed, hanging-over midriff heaving emphatically once or twice as she expostulates with her husband.

He returns grinning grimly and he and Dad move into Phase Two of the haggling. Both of them are trying not to think of those daughters. Or rather, Jayanta is thinking, Now Ed’s thinking about how many daughters I still have to marry off, and he is determined that Dad should not feel sorry for him.

 “Now, Ed, Ed, this is for a special occasion, right? This is for Edith, right? And for the wife, why, one must give only the best.” And Dad makes some joshing remark about Jayanta’s obvious prosperity, and the town’s reliance on his store, stocked as it is with his discriminating good taste, and they move with mutual accord into the third phase, settling the price.

For his part, Dad, having transacted a price satisfactory to them both (and in order, too, to give some grace to the awkwardness implicit in all this), finally brings out the same jolly assurance he always gives Jayanta at the end of the haggling session: “I have a marriageable son, a good-looking boy; he can pass for an Indian, you know.”

Jayanta bares his teeth in a pained smile and sedately completes the charade: ”Well, well. Let’s talk about it sometime, shall we, Ed.”

I was witness to many of these transactions and at first they mortified me, until (out of a sense self-preservation, perhaps) I began to recognize a certain underlying esthetic.

I’d only seen Jayanta slip out from his well-Brylcremed punctilio once, and that was when Dad had made some casual remark referring to his being Indian, not Filipino. A glaze of hurt came over the bright, measuring eyes; and he said plaintively, “I am a Filipino, Ed. My father died, like yours, fighting the Japanese during the war, here.”

Years later, after our family had moved to the States, we learned that his son Ranjit—the young eminently marriageable doctor who never wed, and for whom the store was named—had died and died a hero. He went with a critically ill patient who was being airlifted to the next island, flying the child over to the Cebu General Hospital in a light aircraft owned by the son of one of the sugar plantation owners. They ran into a storm on the way back, crossing the Tañon Strait that separates Negros from Cebu. It is said that on a clear day, standing at dawn on the beaches of Dumaguete, facing Cebu, one can hear the cocks crowing across the strip of sea, in Santander. The wreckage of the plane was found but the bodies were never recovered. Jayanta, who used to sit in a back pew at the Silliman Church on Sunday mornings, the light from the windows picking up the silver streaks in his shiny hair, was a broken man, and within a year store was closed. At some time over the years, unobtrusively and not wanting to make a big deal out of it—still ruled by habitual courtesy, as it were—he’d turned Christian, it seemed, as his son Ranjit had, earlier; and perhaps, who knows, that finicking silence behind the merchant’s spiel did not, in the end, play him false—and he found the store was no longer enough to fulfill that unspoken esthetic, recovered from the wreckage.

Maybe it was that same ancient ontology (made durable and comfortable by the ritual of buy-and-sell), a sense of otherness persisting beyond the souks and the Khajuraho music transplanted to the far shore, that caused Satish to lean over the counter, to make his shy and clumsy offer of subsidizing a movie, as he thought, that might appeal to this customer’s discriminating taste—and to fill some hunger of his own: “About Eenjah,” he said, “something about Eenjah.”

Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas was born in Dumaguete City in 1951, the daughter of writers Edilberto Tiempo and Edith Tiempo. She received a BA in 1971, and an MA 1978, both in creative writing, from Silliman University, and went on to earn her Ph.D. in English Literature, also from Silliman. She worked for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa as associate program coordinator, and for the university's English department as adjunct faculty. member. She has won several Palanca Awards for her fiction and poetry, and was the recipient of the Distinguished Author Award from the Writers Union of the Philippines, as well as the National Book Award. Her books include Upon the Willows and Other Stories [1980], The World Comes to Iowa: Iowa International Anthology [1987, co-edited with Paul Engle and Hualing Nieh Engle], Mountain Sacraments [1991], Flying Over Kansas: Personal Views [1999], and The Sea Gypsies Stay [1999]. She was former director-in-residence of the Silliman University National Writer's Workshop.

Mr. McLure


Five days of the week Mr. Mc Lure was a familiar figure trudging along the Rizal Boulevard that fronted the shoreline for more than a kilometer to the post office. There were no boats from Manila or Cebu Sunday and Wednesday; the only first-class mail he expected was the one containing his monthly pension as a Spanish-American War veteran. What he got regularly from his P.O. box was his subscription copy of the Manila Daily Bulletin and the Philippines Free Press, periodicals edited by Americans. The hook-handled camagon cane in his right hand was a third leg, its nickel-covered point tapping the asphalt like a heartbeat. Most striking about Mr. McLure was the oleander flower in his left hand.

The oleander came from one of three clumps he had planted more than a third of a century ago around his house. Only one trunk remained and this could be seen from his bed, tall and sturdy, so close to his window he could reach out for a cluster from one of the branches. On warm afternoons taking his siesta or on bright moon-lit nights lying wide awake or waking up from a dream he would see the poplar-like trunk, almost the size of his leg, silhouetted against the sky…

Half a world away in a trim little garden in front of a modest brick house was an oleander clump his mother had planted. She had a knack for growing things, creepers and unpotted African violets burgeoning profusely among daisies and under the lilac bush. The oleander she called the giraffe because she could pluck its flowers from her window. She died two years before the end of the first world war.

After so many steps, two hundred or so, the old man would lift his hand; it trembled a little and he would stare at the oleander with idiotic concentration, as though he were recounting the stamens or tracing the purple curve, and then he would bring the oleander under his nose—a thin, pointed nose it was—inhale deeply and drop the hand back to his side.

The last hundred fifty meters to the post office along the Rizal Boulevard bordered part of the eastern section of the university campus. Within this distance McLure had to cross two streets to the P.O., the first one, really an extension of the boulevard, swerving off right to the wharf, and the other bisecting it on the P.O.’s north side. This portion of the boulevard where the crossing streets converged behind the triangular island about thirty meters from the P.O. was visible from the office of the American president of the university, an institution founded by the U.S. Presbyterian Church in 1901, three years after the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War. McLure was crossing the first junction when President Larsen saw him staring at the oleander. The man was oblivious to the traffic moving to and from the wharf.

A couple of minutes later there was a screeching of brakes. President Larsen stood up and walked to the window. A cargo truck coming from the wharf had jerked to a stop half a meter from McLure, who was in the middle of the street. The driver stuck out his head from the cab and shouted, “Do you want to get killed?”

The old man dropped his hand with the oleander to his side, turned to the driver, not seeming to understand him, and proceeded to the post office.

Before going home that noon President Larsen stopped at the office of Dr. Holtz, the minister of the university church. He told Holtz about McLure and the near-accident close to the post office. “I had the odd feeling the man wanted an accident to happen.”

Dr. Holtz was quiet. He was one of the old-timers among the fifteen American families in the university. He had written the lyrics of the school song whose music he had adapted from the “Old Nassau” of Princeton, where he had his theological training. When the college population was less than a thousand he knew every student by his first name. Outside of the American families on the campus he cultivated the friendship of three other Americans in town—one of them John McLure—who had arrived in Dumaguete within seven years of each other. The second was Theodore Fletcher, who owned two houses, one in Dumaguete and the other in Pamplona, forty kilometers to the north, where he owned the largest coconut plantation in the province. The third American was Charles Boynton, an engineer who had come as a tourist and a guest of a college classmate teaching in the university; he met and the daughter of a sugar cane farmer, established a construction firm, and co-founded the first Rotary Club in the province.

John McLure had brought some embarrassment to the small American community.

“I’ve known John McLure for twenty-six years. That’s how long I’ve been here. After his wife died about fifteen years ago, he started drinking heavily. About that time, too, he closed his bicycle store. He had good American bicycles, but he lost out to a competitor, a half-Chinese, who imported much cheaper bicycles from Japan. By the way, it was his wife’s inheritance that started the bicycle store. His wife was the only daughter of a prosperous farmer from Ayungon, some seventy kilometers north of here.”

“Does McLure have children?”

“A daughter who eloped with a drug salesman when she was seventeen. I understand she died giving birth to a baby who lived only a few hours.”

“How does he keep himself?”

“He gets a pension, he’s a Spanish-American War veteran. When he closed his bicycle store, he rented the space to a rice and corn dealer. Half of the second floor which he remodeled into an office he leased to a couple of lawyers. He’s all right financially. His pension converted to pesos takes care of his needs. The rent money he spends on alcohol.”

“What’s wrong with him, aside from his drinking?”

“You’re referring to the flower in his hand?”

President Larsen nodded. “But especially about his sight and hearing. He didn’t mind the traffic.”

“Reading is the only thing he does—when he is sober. He goes to the post office mainly for his papers. I had a talk with him a few weeks ago and he had no hearing problem.” He paused. “I’ll see him today.”

McClure’S house was across the southwest corner of the town plaza. Burgos Street on its north side hit the Rizal Boulevard three blocks to the east; on the west side Alfonso XIII, the town’s main street, cut through the university campus a kilometer to the north. Commercial stores lined both sides of Alfonso XIII for three blocks to the south. From the northwest window one had a good view of the park; concrete walks had been laid out under the acacia and trees; a line of tennis courts and a children’s playground just across Burgos Street; the statue of the national hero facing the east, and some twenty meters from it a kiosk which served as a stage for speakers at political and civic gatherings; facing the kiosk across Alfonso XIII was the Catholic church. Through the foliage of the trees beyond the eastern edge of the park, the City Hall and one wing of the East Central School were visible.

From his rattan-ribbed lounging chair in the narrow verandah overlooking the park, McLure could see, without being seen from the intersecting streets, several blocks of the town’s busiest section. Forty-one years ago, when he arrived, the park and the areas contiguous to it were just a carabao pasture. With the growth of the university the town expanded in all directions. To his idly observing eyes the ancient watch tower across the street looming beyond the verandah sill just a meter from his feet never ceased to be an anachronism. Of cut coral rocks it was built near the close of the seventeenth century like a section of a medieval fortress; it had originally been intended as a lookout for Moro pirates. The coastline from Dumaguete to the southern tip of Negros opens itself to the Sulu Sea, which for centuries had been dominated by roving marauders; neither the Spaniards nor the Americans after them were able to subdue the fanatical Moslems. The tower top served as a belfry of the Catholic church; at the bottom was a grotto with the image of Santa Catalina—the church itself was named Cathedral of St. Catherine—the town’s patron saint, who, it was believed, used to release a large swarm of bees to attack the Moro pirates as their vintas approached the Dumaguete shoreline. McLure had indeed seen a beehive hanging from a top branch of the acacia tree a few meters from the tower. As the only white infidel (he was not unhappy about this designation), he believed the beehive had been hung there and replenished from time to time by the Spanish friars in their desire to keep the superstition of Santa Catalina’s special power intact.

Someone was knocking on the door. He waited. The knocking persisted, so he stood up and crossed the living room and opened the door. Standing there was Dr. Holtz.

“Oh, Paul. Come in. It’s been months—three months—since your last visit.”

After he had closed the bicycle store nobody had dropped by to see him, except for the times Dr. Holtz came in for a chat. He felt all the other Americans in town treated him with condescension, were embarrassed by the notoriety of his drinking. As far as he was concerned, they were busybodies. All of them, except Paul Holtz. A year after his assignment as pastor, Dr. Holtz had invited McClure to attend the church services at the university. “What for? I don’t go to church. Any church. I have nothing to do with hypocrites. With sanctimonious people moving around with superior airs. Are you offended with what I’ve said?”

“You must have reasons for feeling that way.”

“Of course I have. Most of your people think I’m the plague. I drink, yes. On my money, nobody else’s. My drinking is nobody else’s business.”

“This is all probably in your head.”

“It’s not probably—it’s all there, all right. Because your people put it there.”

That first meeting Dr. Holtz was remembering as he sat in a large low rattan chair that had long needed a new coat of varnish.

“I hear you had a near-accident this morning.”

“Who told you that?”

“Dr. Larsen, our new president. A vehicle screeching loudly got him out of his chair. His office is just across the street where it happened.”

“So the man Larsen already knows the walking habits of John McLure.”

“It’s not like that, John. Anybody would be concerned.”

Dr. Holtz himself had known McLure’s peculiar habit with the oleander. President Larsen’s comment on what appeared to be the man’s suicidal behavior did not surprise him. And he was concerned. The man’s preoccupation with the flower, repeated after so many hundred steps, was a quirk that could cost him his life.

“That oleander outside, John, is like a tree. I thought the oleander is a shrub.”

The man’s chuckle, a rare sound from him, was a deep rumble that made his prominent Adam’s apple bounce under the loose skin of his scrawny throat.

“Yes, the oleander is a shrub, but I made that one into a tree. A simple matter of letting only one stem grow out of a cluster of three or four. The oleander is an Old World evergreen shrub of the North American dogbane family. A medicinal shrub. My grandmother, an unusual woman, took with her three oleander cuttings from Exeter in Southwest England all the way to Kansas. The root end of each cutting she wrapped in Devonshire soil. Three cuttings just to be sure. You of course know—or maybe you don’t—that the California vineyards were started by Basques who got the grape cuttings from Spain. And perhaps you don’t know—” there was the chuckle-rumble again the sharp valve bouncing in his turkey throat, “—that the Christian Brothers are famous producers of some of the best wines in the world.”

McLure fell quiet, as though to let that point sink in, about the winery of the Christian Brothers. “You, Paul, would consider my grandmother the more desirable immigrant. Oleander in Kansas sprouting from Devonshire soil. No greater Old World loyalty than that. Anyway, when I came here, I saw the oleander’s indigenous.”

The man’s reference to his grandmother recalled to Dr. Holtz a conversation he had with McLure a few years after he had known him, about the time the bicycle store was running down. The small American community had delegated him to speak to McLure; they we’re contributing money for his return home.

“Even if I had a place to go home to, how far will my pension go there? At least here it doubles. This is our home, my wife and me. We can manage. Our needs aren’t much.”

And he had gone on, suddenly conciliatory. “My father died in Kansas three years after I came here, the year Taft was inaugurated Philippine civil governor. My younger brother took over the farm—I sold my share of the farm to him. My only other kin now is a widowed sister in O’Keene, Oklahoma. The only time I had thought of going home was to visit my ailing mother. I was preparing to leave when the cable came. She’d died the week before. So you see, Paul, there’s nothing for me there.”

“What made you join the American troops for the Philippines?”

“I can ask you the same question: what made you come when you could have worked among our own people back home?”

He waited for a reply but none came. “Have you ever been through Kansas?”

Holtz shook his head.

“It’s mostly flat, unlike other prairie states like Iowa or Nebraska or Illinois. Finch is the village where my family lived, some thirty miles northwest of Topeka. In Finch all you see from anywhere you stand from one season to another is a flat horizon. No bumps of any kind for the eyes’ relief. And during the wheat season—as you know, Kansas produces the most wheat in America—you’re engulfed by wheat. And for me, anyway, breathing in the summer seemed difficult. The hottest day in Dumaguete is nothing like Kansas summer. My brother was never bothered by the Kansas landscape. I suppose I was an oddball. I had to get out, it seemed to be a constricting prison.

“Another thing. I don’t know how much of a reason it was for my leaving Kansas. My father fought in the Civil War. Bull Run Antietam, Shiloh—those places. You of course know the Kansas- Nebraska Act.”

Dr. Holtz looked at him with a new eye. “I forget the details.”

“That Act was passed by Congress in 1854, and it upset the balance of power between the slave and free states and helped to bring on the Civil War. Anti-slavery forces finally gained control. My father was among the first to volunteer. Not an educated man, but his sentiments were right. When he returned from the war, he farmed our land. Proved to be a good provider. He had stories for us about the war. And he was grateful for coming home alive. Hundreds of Kansas farmers never made it back. I suppose because he himself didn’t finish grade school he sent my brother Bill and me to a school in Topeka. I finished high school and Bill came home with me; he didn’t want to go back to Topeka by himself. When the Spanish-American War broke out I enlisted. My father didn’t say anything for or against my joining. But I knew how he felt; he didn’t want me to go through the same thing he had. I never told him about the Kansas horizon that could close you in—he thought I was enlisting for the same reason he had joined the Union troops. I knew how he felt when I didn’t go home after the end of the Spanish-American War.

“One other thing, Paul, and I’m done. I was very fortunate to be assigned to a peaceful province like Negros Oriental. Our U.S. military record in many other places in this country is something no American can be proud of. In places like Samar there was a lot of butchery. Not only of noncombatants, but also of animals. Horses and cows and carabaos and pigs—whatever moving thing the soldiers saw. The Spaniards had a term for it. Juez de cochillo. But we did that sort of thing to the Indians, too, didn’t we?”

Both were quiet. “I feel very much at home here, the way your people in the university feel at home. But I wish your people would leave me alone. My drinking is my business.”

He stood up. “I’ll make us some coffee.”

Dr. Holtz also stood up. “No, thanks, John. Two years ago my doctor said no more coffee for me. I must get going.”

“Thank you for coming. It’s good talking to you.”

“I wish you’d come to see me, too.”

“I know you mean that. Thank you. And you know you’re welcome here any time.” At the landing he said,  “There was something I was going to tell you. I’ve left a letter for you with my lawyer.”

“What are you talking about?”

“There are two lawyers renting half of the second floor of this house. The older one, Atty. Orteza, is my lawyer. The rentals I get from the lawyers’ office and the store below aren’t much, but the money can probably take care of one or even two students.”

“This is no time yet to talk this way, John.”

“Anything can happen to John Mc Lure in his condition. When the time comes, you’ll know how to use this house. The fee, my friend, for a decent burial.”

In Dr. Holtz’s office, five months later, the telephone rang.

“Dr. Holtz? … This is Atty. Orteza. Twenty-five minutes ago Mr. Mc Lure was hit by a car. He was crossing the street to the house…”

Edilberto Kaindong Tiempo was born in Maasin, Southern Leyte in 1913. He obtained his BA in English at Silliman Institute [now Silliman University] in 1937. He enrolled for graduate studies in 1939 at University of the Philippines but did not finish. In 1940, after marrying Edith Lopez, he returned to Dumaguete to teach at Silliman. He would later be accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he would obtain his MA in 1951. In 1957, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Upon returning to the Philippines in 1962, the couple established what is now the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. At Silliman, he served various positions, including chair of the English Department, graduate school dean, vice-president for academic affairs, and writer-in-residence. His novel, Cry Slaughter, published in 1957, was a revised version of his Watch in the Night, which he culled from his wartime experience in Negros Oriental. Cry Slaughter had four printings by Avon in New York, a hardbound edition in London, and six European translations. His other books include the novels To Be Free [1972], More Than Conquerors [1982], Cracked Mirror [1984], The Standard Bearer [1985], and Farah [2001], the short story collections A Stream at Dalton Pass and Other Stories [1970], Finality: A Novelette and Five Short Stories [1982], Rainbow for Rima [1988], Snake Twin and Other Stories [1992], and The Paraplegics and Five Short Stories [1995]. He also authored Literary Criticism in the Philippines and Other Essays [1995]. He won the Cultural Center of the Philippines Prize, the Palanca, the U.P. Golden Anniversary Literary Contest, and the National Book Award. He died in 1996.

Night of the Rabble-Rousers


Under a mercury lamp
In front of Father Tropa’s white house,
By the sea off Dumaguete,
Gather a crowd of bystanders
Around bible-clutching ministers,
Local sages, native philosophers,
And self-styled prophets of doom
Engaged in a free-for-all match
Of rhetorics, semantics,
Home-brewed knowledge, and folk beliefs
About the myths and mysteries
Ever shrouding the life of Christ.

From a distance,
On top of the concrete seawall,
Over heads and shoulders of the crowd,
I watch with amused delight
The endless bursts of wisdom,
Strange revelations,
Esoteric facts and fiction
That send strong surge of friction
Electrifying the soggy summer night.

Suddenly the lamp expires.
The rabble-rousers do not mind.
The demagoguery goes on unperturbed.
Behind me I hear the sea waves laugh
As they lap the craggy rocks.
Swish. Swoosh. Swash.
Even the quarter moon strikes a sheepish smile
As a balut vendor cries his eggs out
And a tricycle sputters fast –
Its passengers shouting
Obscenities at the crowd.

Cesar Aljama is an architect. He has won the Palanca Award for his poetry. He lives in Bae, Laguna, which is beside Los Baños. He was a fellow at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop.

Harbor Home



Halfway on that long sea journey
you remember the mountain swinging into view,
blue slope shaping the island;
the palm-lined shoreline drawing you closer
into the harbor of that quiet sea town
sheltered in the mountain’s shadow.


On the promenade by the w1ater
they stroll late afternoons and early evenings,
those students, teachers off from school,
clerks from City Hall; an old man
walking his idiot grandson;
the wealthy Chinese dowager
hobbling on stunted, bound feet
stockinged in any weather,
her retinue of servant girls toting
fair-skinned fat-faced babies;
earnest children, sad old ladies
hawking sweepstake tickets, salted peanuts,
bibingka, warm Coca-Cola.
In groups or alone,
they come for the breeze from the water,
to watch shadows settle on nearby islands,
Cebu, Panglao, Siquijor and, some days,
the coast of Mindanao hovering
on the horizon’s haze.
At dusk they slowly head for home,
the Angelus ringing
Hail Mary, full of grace.


Night, and the fishermen go to sea
regretting the moon that pales the glimmer
of their lanterns on the water luring fish
into nets, onto baited hooks dangled
in dark depths.

Spread out, the bancas rock and sway
on the tide, stringing their lights
across the bay; the melancholy flames
flash like sea snakes on the swish and rush
of the moon-drawn flood racing,
plunging. Magic and terror
battering the constant shore.


In town at no fixed hour the people
mark the coming and going of boats
in the harbor by their whistles and horns:
three blares for arrival, two for departure–
Manila, Mindanao, Cebu;
and sometimes at night a massive freighter
from Liverpool or Amsterdam dropping
or raising anchor blasts its horn;
deep booms bounce off the mountain,
echo and float in the shattered dark
where the startled sleeper, waking,
turns over, and resumes dreaming
in that slumbering town by the sea.


Wishing to see more
than vapor trails across the sky
on that extended journey,
you welcome birds broadcasting land.
Seduced by other harbors,
you think all ports the same,
forgetting that which you loved well.
Still, served by memory,
time’s inconstant servant,
summoned up by one thing or another,
you dream someday arriving
at the hometown you remember,
and finding it there.

Myrna Peña-Reyes was born in Cagayan de Oro City, but her family moved to Dumaguete where she was educated at Silliman University from elementary through college, graduating with a BA in English. She went on to earn her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. While a resident of Eugene, Oregon where she lived with her late husband, the poet William T. Sweet, she was a winner of the Oregon Literary Fellowship grant for poetry in 2002. Presently retired in her hometown of Dumaguete, she continues her volunteer affiliation with Silliman University’s literature and creative writing program. Her poetry collections include The River Singing Stone (1994), Almost Home: Poems (2004), and Memory’s Mercy: New and Selected Poems (2014).

Boulevard Tree


Under the shadow of this tree
We are speckled by pieces of sun
Sliding between the leaves.
The wind falls
In slivers
Through the silences
Of roughened bark.

We are above it all
Perched like birds
Sitting on the branch
Like the foamed thoughts
Of the poets meditating
On the sea wall below.

Siquijor seems nearer to us
Than in our dreams.
And when the wind
Into our shirts,
We puff up like chicks
Wanting to fly.

Nerisa del Carmen Guevara is an Associate Professor teaching at the University of Santo Tomas. She has exhibited her installations and performance pieces at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and other spaces. She has received a Palanca Award for her poetry, a Silver Cup for Dance Solo in the April Spring Festival in Pyongyang, and a Catholic Mass Media Award. She has an M.A. in English Studies from University of the Philippines, Diliman, and she is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing in the same university. A featured Southeast Asian performance artist, her documentaries Elegies and Infinite Gestures are currently in the archives of The Live Art Digital Agency (LADA), London. Guevara has done performance art pieces for the Philippine International Performance Art Festival, SIPA International Performance Art Festival, PERFORMATURA, and Grace Exhibition Space, New York. Her poetry is collected in Reaching Destination: Poems and the Search for Home [UST, 2004].



All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe.

All that I love?
Why, yes, but for the moment—
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a beauty queen,
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size,

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
And life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest child.

Edith Lopez Tiempo was born in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya in 1919. After her marriage to Edilberto Tiempo in 1940, the couple moved to Dumaguete City, where she earned her BA in English in 1947. She later pursued her MA at the University of Iowa as part of the famed Iowa Writers Workshop, graduating in 1950. In 1958, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Denver in Colorado in 1958. In 1962, together with her husband, she co-founded the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Her books include the short story collection Abide, Joshua and Other Stories [1964], the poetry collections The Tracks of Babylon and Other Poems [1966], The Charmer's Box and Other Poems [1993], Beyond, Extensions [1993], and Marginal Annotations and Other Poems [2010], and the novels A Blade of Fern [1978], His Native Coast [1979], The Alien Corn [1992], One, Tilting Leaves [1995], and The Builder [2004]. She has also published books on literary criticism, including Six Uses of Fictional Symbols [2004] and Six Poetry Formats and the Transforming Image [2008]. She has received awards from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from UMPIL, as well as from the Palanca and the Philippines Free Press. She was proclaimed National Artist for Literature in 1999. She died in 2011.



there is a town where the roads crawl
on their bellies to the sky.
under storm,
the roads murmur why
the warrior, the lover,
must learn
while fallen and fettered
to the dimness
and futility
of returning
to a town where the roads mourn
a short fire
besieged by stormy sky.

Diana T. Gamalinda was a poet, and a fellow at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Her work is collected in Circle With Open Ends. She died in 1978. She was only 19 years old.

The Bells Count in Our Blood


“Every night at 8:00 we shall ring the bells for Father Romano, and we shall continue to do so until he is found.”
—The Redemptorist Community, Dumaguete City, September 1985

Every night just as we settle
To coffee or a mug of cold beer,
They ring the bells—
A crisp quick flurry first, then
Decorous as in a knell, ten counts.
Into the darkness newly fallen
The cadence calls for a brother lost.

At home as we try to wash off
With music and a little loving
The grime of markets from our souls—
The day’s trading of truth for bread,
Masks of honor, guises of peace—
The clear sounds infusing the air
Deny us the salve of forgetting.

We know for what they lost him,
Why expedient tyrants required
His name effaced, his bones hidden.
As we bend over the heads of children
Fighting sleep, not quite done with play,
The bells vibrating remind us how
Our fears conspires to seal his doom.

We could say to the ringers:
Your bells won’t bring him back,
But just supposing that it could,
What would you have?
A body maimed, perhaps, beyond belief—
Toes and fingers gone, teeth missing,
Tongue cut off, memory hacked witless.

The nights in our town
Are flavored with the dread
The bells salt down measured
From their tall dark tower.
It falls upon our raw minds wanting sleep.
Shall we stop them? Though we smart
We know they keep us from decay.

Shared in this keening,
A rhythm beating all night long
In our veins, truth is truth still
Though unworded. The bells
Count in our blood the heart of all
We must restore. Tomorrow, we vow,
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Merlie M. Alunan spent time in different places in the Visayas and Mindanao at different times in her life and thus acquired a level of fluency in the major Visayan languages. She finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Education at the University of the Visayas, major in English; and her Master’s Degree in Literature at Silliman University. She taught in several schools all over the Visayas: Silliman University, Divine Word College in Tagbilaran City [now Holy Name University], and the University of the Philippines Visayas [Tacloban College] where she initiated creative writing workshops and intensified her advocacy to encourage the young to write in the native language. While doing her workshops with its specific advocacy, she became sharply aware of the lack of models for the aspiring Waray writer and the literal absence of any reading materials in the language. She has since published a collection of oral narratives entitled Susumaton published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.