One Upon a Time in Dumaguete

One Upon a Time in Dumaguete

By Cesar Ruiz Aquino.


We were a very young college boy when we came to Dumaguete for the first time in the summer of 1962. We had absolutely no inkling, when we stepped down from the boat, that the town we were going to would eventually become our town. That in the years we would be leaving behind, more and more, the Mindanao of our birth and boyhood.

It was a letter from a man named Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo that brought it about. The letter was an invitation to join the 1962 Silliman National Writers Summer Workshop in April, the first ever workshop in the country…

We accepted, of course, full of madness and innocence. We were going to a magic country—Paris, Greenwich Village, Byzantium. A country we only glimpsed in the mythologies. Vaguely, yet keen as fruit smell, we looked to meeting Wilfrido Nolledo and Jolico Cuadra whose strangely written stories had us in thrall, stories that made us, a crazy boy to begin with, crazier.

Dr. Tiempo met us at the wharf, aboard a tartanilla. The first one to arrive, we were in a sense the first workshopper; and since we are still in Dumagueute as we write this—we were the workshopper who came to stay.

It was just after dawn. We can’t recall certain details. For instance, we can’t recall how we knew it was him or how he knew it was us. We rode the tartanilla to town, to the English Department at Hibbard, to the Alumni Hall where the workshoppers would be housed, then to the Cafeteria for breakfast.

Beleaguered greenhorn, we tried in the cab to carry a conversation by telling him we had read a story of his, “Creole Song.” But, we found out later, it was a young man’s story he was wont to beg off, embarrassed, and sure enough he stooped intensely, somewhat monosyllabic, as the horsecab lurched and squeaked. So reluctant was he to reply to whatever gawky thing it was we had said that we grew aware, during the pause, of the horse and the mysterious driver. Mysterious a la Malcolm Lowy, for now—in retrospect—that driver all of a sudden looms, his back to us. Who was he?

How quiet the town was, how still. Even then it felt like memory. Time, a full, primeval river, moved in eddies. Cockcrow, and the word was not absurd, for cocks did crow. It was the morning if creation and the dawn seemed to cling to everything. In the evening, across from our window, played Vic Damone on the jukebox singing, incredibly, “Tender is the Night.” And in the morning of the next day we met the next to come, Willy Sanchez who looked at us with contempt until, in no time, we began tramping through the campus, Katzenjammered the olds, crossed the hooligans, wrote lines under a cypress tree, befriended inanimate objects. Willy performed, we watched. Nick Joaquin exclaimed at the caf: “Franz, I think they’re writers!”

Pete Daroy, Ding Nolledo, Jun Lansang. And so on across the blowing, twisting years into the river. We discovered the moderns Dyan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett. The first times. Erwin at the U.P. Listening Center, Joecar at the Basement, Arago at the Library, Tera in Quiapo, Cacnio on Padre Faura, Jolico at Project 4, Recah at Pasong Tamo, Krip at Fort Santiago. The years like great black oxen tread the world and God the herdsman goads them on behind and I am broken by their passing feet. Nick boomed, Franz chuckled.