I’ve been meaning to write about my trip to the Philippines for weeks now, but life keeps intervening! In short, it was extraordinary.
The inspiration behind the journey was the 50th anniversary of the National Writers Workshop at Silliman University in Dumaguete, aka the oldest creative writing program in Asia. Founded by two graduates of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (the venerable Edith and Edilberto Tiempo), the NWW gathers more than a dozen Filipino essayists, novelists, poets, and playwrights around a table for an Iowa-style workshop for three weeks each year. We — the thirty members of Iowa’s Overseas Writing Workshop — arrived just in time to help them celebrate at a gala complete with singing, dancing, “magisterial photos,” and a blow-out feast of lechon (a young roasted pig that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and delicious through and through).
From there, we spent about 20 days island-hopping around the country. Highlights included hiking through the jungle surrounding Lake Balinsasayao in a rainstorm; watching an 86-year-old bolo-bolo (or shaman) blow out whatever ailed my colleagues into a glass of water via a reed straw; snorkeling and kayaking off the coast of Siquijor; $6, hour-long massages; spotting a tarsier in a tree; beholding the Chocolate Hills of Bohol; being moved to tears in the martyred poet Jose Rizal’s museum in Manila; singing karaoke in Cebu City; and reading in the bombed-out remains of a cinema on the war-torn island of Corregidor.
What will bring me back: the mangoes; the flores de luna (deeply perfumed “moon flowers”); the crazy colorful jeepneys; the Filipino tendency to double their words (e.g. “balik-balik” for “come again”); the tradition of greeting guests with leis made of seashells; the fabulous nicknames (e.g. “Bing-Bing,” “Buzz,” and “Peachy”); the coconut shakes; the green mango shakes; the strangler fig trees; the calamansi juice (from the sweetest, tangiest, tiniest limes ever); the pet-sized geckos scrambling across the ceilings; the mango birds (which literally look like mangoes with wings); the jubilant names of things (e.g. the fast food restaurant Jollibee’s “Chicken Joy”); and above all — the warmth and beauty of the people. I’m so grateful to have returned again to Asia, a place I called home more than a decade ago. I need to figure out how to make it part of my life again….
Anyway! I hope y’all enjoy the photos. Salamat….