Friday, May 20, 2005


In one of the albums at home, there is a black and white photograph of me and my sister on our way to school. Both of us wearing the same dresses, carrying the same school bags, with our hair in pigtails. There was only a year between my sister and I, and when we were much younger, people sometimes thought that we were twins.

Growing up together wasn't always easy. I remember many tumultuous days. Fights and arguments, we could never agree on games. My sister's dolls were always well-cared for whereas mine ended up looking like snakes had gotten in their hair. My sister was light on her feet and I was slow. She climbed trees, while I watched from below. She would run ahead of me to school, while I sat on the top of the footpath wailing for her to come back and get me or else I would tell on her.

I must have been quite a trial to her. Even though she was only a year older, my parents made her responsible for me. When I look back, I realize how incredibly selfish little girls can be, and I think how irritating it must have been for her not to be able to go off and do her own thing without me hanging onto her leg and holding her back.

I have another memory of my sister, from when we are much older. When I am starting out as a writer and she comes with me to my first writer's workshop. Sitting there among all the published writers, holding my draft in my shaking hands, I take comfort from my sister's presence.

I also remember all the nights that we spent lying in bed together, inventing stories. I don't remember anymore what the stories were about, I only remember that the darkness was always filled with a certain mystery. It was enticing and captivating and when it got scary, my sister was always there in the bed next to mine.

We used to bicker a lot, about books, about politics, religion. Conversations that said: "Don't touch my side of the room." Arguments which we finally resolved by ignoring all words said in the heat of the moment.

Someone on a forum that I went to said, stone sharpens stone...or something to that effect. My sister sharpened me. When I look at the world around me, I realize how priceless a sister can be. We don't always agree about everything, but I would trust her with my life.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Old Houses...

Before going to Carascal, I wrote a short piece entitled Old Houses that I sent off to a zine that I can't seem to locate anymore. That was long ago, and since then, I have revisited Carascal.

Carascal with it's air of solitude, shines in my memory and I long to revisit it again. Before I can begin to write about my memories of Carascal from my last visit, I have to recall the things that my mother used to tell me about the old house...


“Ah, but you don’t remember your greatgrandfather’s house, do you?” My mother asks me.

I shake my head, and look at her inquiringly. I want to know. My mind is an endless well of yearning, of seeking for meanings.

“Tell me, please.” I lean forward, eager to hear, about the past that helped to shape me. Avid for the words that bring life to the pictures in my mind. Words that bring me back to another time. I empty myself and listen to my mother.

“Oh, how magical those days were,” my mother says. Her voice is overladen with the tones of tears withheld. “It seemed that all we lived for was the pleasure of the moment….”

I close my eyes and seem to see, my mother, her sisters, her brothers, laughing together, and running along the beach. The waves crash on to the shore, and the wind whips away the sound of their laughter. They run into the sea, into the tide, into the waves that roll them back again, to fall to their knees on the black sand. I see my mother, her arms stretched out to welcome the waves.

I see the old house. Built of solid Narra wood. Yellow and brown, sturdy poles.

The floor gleams under the loving care of constant polish. I see the sun slanting in through the windows, dancing on the gleaming floors.

I remember one summer, spent in carefree abandon, polishing the floors with native coconut husks, the old way. That was the summer that I learned how to make the floors gleam, even as the sweat burst out from every pore.

How different it is from the way we do things today. We purchase the convenience of electronic devices, and put on fat that we have to exercise away. I think how easy it was to maintain a waist of 24 inches. Polishing the floors with our feet, the rhythm of the coconut husk on the floor, hush-hush, hush-hush, and the broom held in one hand to sweep up the dust.

We are so careless of the things that we discard. We forget the love that goes into polishing the wood. We are filled with the vastness of overwhelming tenderness and impatience. With our wanting to be out in the sun, and all the while, we are lavishing our caresses on the smooth floor, until it gleams and echoes the dancing light of the sun.

When it is done, we rush out into the morning sun and only then, do we answer the call of the sea, the waves that still crash in wild abandon on the black beach. Music that booms in our ears.

My mother recalls how that music once made her shiver and shake in fear while she slept all alone in the seventh room. She huddled under the covers of her bed, trembling and hugging her arms around her body, and all the while, the tide crashed and reverberated on the shore.

I think of the sea and I am filled with the wildness of longing to go back, to remember, to hold the moment tight in my hands. I think of running down to the sea, in the earliness of day, of rushing in to the surging, rolling tide, of the warm, wet, sticky, salty taste of sea water, as it clings to my skin. I think of running along the black sands, shouting my cares to the wind, and watching the sun as it rises to its apex, and I lift my hands to the sky - welcoming what comes.

I think of the tide rolling in. And the ocean burning with fire, as the sun sinks below the waves. Sudden darkness. If I remain there on that beach, and watch the sky… will I lose myself in the vastness of the universe that whirls above me?

I grow impatient as the days pass, wanting that moment to come, when I am face to face with the dreams that I now meet in my sleep each night.

on writing...

Writing has become an all-consuming thing. I find myself waking up in the morning with words already ringing in my ears. I posted Rina's Ghost on OWW today, because that's one of the stories that I just can't seem to get right. Anyway, I'm at it again, chopping my sentences and working my prose trying to find out how to make it work the way I want it to work.

In the meantime, I think I've finally gotten to a version of Masinag's Magic that I really, really am satisfied with. 2,400 plus words. That was really good, I feel satisfied at how it's turned out. I hope that I can find a good place for her.

Mapping out my plans for The Inhabitants of the Earth. I've made segregations of gifts that are given to man. Tomorrow, I'll be working on the divisions of my novel's earth. I think that Masinag has really drained me. On Saturday, I'm going to a workshop: Raising children in a multicultural environment. That should be interesting.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Happy news...

The date on my submission list reads: May 4, 2005. Saturday, I wake up wondering how long it will take for zines to read my work and let me know what they think about it. Forcing myself not to think about it, because I'd been having nightmares about pink slips in my mail.

So, there I am at 8 in the morning climbing out of bed, when I see an email with the title of my short story, Dark Angel, Benigno. And I think, oh no.

Click, click, click on all the other mails first. I need the good news to prepare me for whatever comes.

And, and, and...It's good news :) Me with a big smile, jumping up and down and running upstairs to wake up Jan and Joel Jan. Jan wants to frame the acceptance letter that reads:

"Thank you for your submission of "Dark Angel, Benigno" to The Sword Review. It is my pleasure to tell you that we would like to use it."

Anyway, to make a long story short, my story is now published on The Sword Review and everyone can read it for free. You can go there by clicking on the link on the right hand side of this blog.

More news: This is a bit late, but I'm really glad that Uncle Gerry and Michelle have signed up to contribute their own memories to this blog. I look forward to reading their posts.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On writing...

These are the things that I have to say about writing. Writing is not easy. When I was younger, I imagined that writing was easy, but as I grow older, I realize that in order to produce something that even I would want to read, I must work hard, prune my prose, work my lines, worry my stories until they read the way I want them to read. There is relevance of course, I'm still wondering why I write what I write. On some days, I know why, on some days, I'm just driven. On some days, I just groan because I don't have enough time to write and be a mother and a wife all at the same time. Which reminds me...I still have clothes in the washing machine...aaaahhhh. Time to empty the machine and do my ironing.

When Joel Jan grows up, I'll tell him these things:

"Look," I'll say. "Mama had to do all these things."

As if I'd ever remember. In the end, it's all done out of love...

my map of memories...

Memory is an illusive thing. As time passes, memory changes and in order for us to see the clear picture, the memory of the collective becomes a necessity. How many memoirs circulate around the world? How many are being born by the second? What is it that compels us to put pen to paper, or type words onto a screen. My memory is not as compelling as it once was. It resembles the aching feeling that arrives when autumn comes and the days grow colder.

I think that in the end, we all search for someone with whom we can share, someone in whom we can confide the echoes of what we remember. Someone who will say, "it was this way and to whom we can in turn say, “oh yes, you are right and my memory is so defective, it must be the result of growing older.”

This tribe that consists of the union between Castros, Ramirezes, Ortegas, Ruizes and all the other branches whose courses are mapped into my DNA, form a community whose memories can be traced, through time and experience. Scattered all over the globe by the force of circumstance, something inside me makes me long to rediscover the bonds that unite us.

They say that the bonds that nothing on earth can sever are written in blood. They run through my veins, they transform me from a solitary individual into someone who belongs to an entire tribe whose descendants will continue to be linked to each other despite the differences in culture, upbringing, social background, language and education.

These bonds are the ones that root me and anchor me. They remind me that no matter where I am the map that I carry in my veins will always identify me as belonging to someone, somewhere in the world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sweetness of Summer Rain

I wrote this one a couple of years ago, but didn't know that my brother liked it as much as I did.

The Sweetness of Summer Rain
by: Rochita C. Ruiz
( a.k.a. Raindancer )

Can you hear
the sound of my voice

the echo of my footsteps
walking up and down
through the corridors of your mind?

I want to know
that you keep locked up
behind those barred up doors
those temporary excuses for walls...

As if, I didn't already know
But I want you to tell me...

My fingers tap-tap
on the hardwood
of your soul

wanting to be let in
but the sound of my fingers
is like the faint echo
Of grasshoppers

So faint, you cannot hear me
above the tumult
of your cries

Come to me
when you are weary
when you are tired
of this aching journey of life

When you have done
with battering your head
against the stone wall
of what is meant to be

Open the doors
and let me in

My voice will fall
upon your soul

Like the sweetness of summer rain....

Saturday, May 07, 2005

poem in play by Joel Jan Loenen

Listening to Joel Jan playing. His words sound like poetry. Pure and without self-consciousness. I thought I'd write them here just as he said them.

*note: italicized words are said as a sort of echo

The ice train-train-train
Leaving for Iceland-land-land
Is leaving now-now-now

You must blow-blow-blow
On the whistle-whistle-whistle

Station chief-chief-chief


The ice train-train-train
Has returned-turned-turned
From Iceland-land-land

The queen is on board-board-board


Before my marriage, I went to Surigao, to revisit the place where I was born.

Until that time whenever I thought of Surigao it was always as it was during the time of my grandparents. In my memory, I still see the smooth expanse of the shining hardwood floor. I remember the solemn stillness that reigned in the living room where the carved narra seats and the huge china vases stood like sentinels.

Early in the morning, the living room was empty except for the dust motes dancing in the sunlight.

Down below in the kitchen, laughter and gaiety ruled, with the long table that groaned under an unceasing procession of food. My grandmother’s helpers made sure that there were always fresh fried eggs or fresh boiled eggs for anyone who came to sit at the table. The plates with dried fish, dried squid, chocolate rice, fried race, all sorts of fresh fruit and longganisa never seemed to empty.

Breakfast in Surigao is enshrined in my memory with a still life of my mother’s youngest sister, sitting at the table eating pan de sal and breaking a raw egg into her orange juice because it was what health fanatics did at that time. Auntie Grace was to me the epitome of sophistication and elegance and I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

Dressed in her sarong, she represented to me all the tumult and the joy of those sunlit mornings, the ecstasy of bathing in the sea, of sitting on the black rocks and waiting for the tide to come in, of the sunsets that seemed to go on forever into the next day, of the songs and the laughter that ruled in the old house.

With the arrogance of childhood, I imagined that all of Surigao belonged to us. That the late nights of songs and ghost stories were nights wherein all of Surigao joined in, that the streets and the houses were populated by friends and family, and our trips to my grandmother’s small restaurant were occasions that all of Surigao took notice of.

By the time I went on my pilgrimage, Surigao had changed. The quiet that lived in my memory was shattered by the noise and the busyness of a thriving city. Where once the ocean lapped up almost to the door of my grandparents’ house, a road had been built and the sea pushed far back behind a wall where the pumpboats berthed while they waited for their passengers. Here and there I still caught a glimpse of the black rocks, but they looked forlorn and landlocked.

My memory kept on reminding me of afternoons when we lounged under the sky, waiting for the sun to dry us out while the sea surged around us and licked at our toes.

Of course, I remember that it is all changed, that between the sea and the house there lies a stretch of road where tricycles and jeepneys throw up dust instead of surf.

Inspite of this, my mind insists on super-imposing the shadows of the sea where the street lies. I do not hear the rattle of the jeepneys or the static sound of the tricycles, instead, my inner ear insists on hearing over and over again, the sound of the tide coming in, the wash of the waves on the shore, and emblazoned in my memory - the sunsets that lighted up the horizon with fire.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

sharing memories...

As I progress in this project, I realize that my memories are not sufficient. Ultimately, I want this to be something that we can pass on to our children and our children's children. The memory of where we came from, who we are, our hopes and dreams, the things that tie us to the land of our birth and to each other, I think that the picture can only be made complete when shared...

So, with this, I'm welcoming the members of my family who want to share their memories onto this blog. Hopefully, together we'll be able to produce a record for our children that is more than numbers and words, but one that is also rife with our thoughts and emotions.

My Grandfather

My grandfather was born, Pio Castro. He grew up to become a doctor, during the Japanese-american war he hid among the mountains with the guerillas, after the war he went on to put up The Grace Christian Clinic in Surigao.

These words, the bare facts cannot even begin to encompass the man that was my grandfather. My memories of my grandfather are dim with age, like the sepia-colored photographs that my mother keeps in her albums. Because of the distance between Banaue and Surigao, we didn’t see my grandparents often enough. I do remember that they came to visit us when we were little, and that my grandmother planted orchids in the back of the house where we lived.

My mother says that when I was little, I was my grandfather’s favorite, because I was a roly-poly little girl with big eyes and a round face. In a photograph that my brother scanned for me, my grandfather is holding me in his arms and I am looking seriously into the camera. It saddens me that I cannot remember my grandfather as I wish to remember him. My brightest memories of him are his smile, the curl that fell over his forehead and his big, black eyeglasses.

My youngest brother, Joash, looks a bit like my grandfather and I imagine that my grandfather must have been like that when he was younger. There is a patience and a grace in his manner that cannot be learned. It’s something you’re born with.

When I was a little older, I came to know my grandfather after he already had his first stroke. I see him sitting on the balcony of their bedroom, his cane beside him, basking in the sun with that look of patience on his face and his voice that sounded so soft, it was like listening for the leaves falling onto the ground. When I think about it, there is so much about him that is reproduced in my family. In my uncles and aunts who inherited his eyes, in the slow and patient movements that must have their genetic source in him, in the goodness of heart and the kindness that they exude, and in their just being who they are.

Sometimes, we are so careless of what we have in the moment. Like the tide, we rush onwards impatiently, forgetting to savor the moments that count.

This are the things that I want to say to my son: I want to tell him to hold on fast to these precious moments, to keep his memories like treasures in a box so that he will not be like me, always yearning to go back so that I can hold on fast to the feel of my grandfather’s hand, to the scent of his cologne, and to the sound of his voice.

Stop, I want to say. Stop and treasure each memory because this time will not come again. Our words break and fall against the wall of time, and the young must learn this on their own.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Liberation Day

It's Liberation Day in the Netherlands when everyone remembers the liberation from German occupation. It makes me realize how important rituals are for us. They help us to remember things that we might otherwise forget. Just like watching the sunrise together on Easter Sunday, going to church, all the little things that we do and yet don't really notice because they're so ordinary...these rituals are what keep us grounded in this life. It's good to remember the things that count, to take note of what really matters...

Memory of Sunrise

Early one morning our father woke us up from our sleep. “Wake up, “ he said.

Outside it was dark and the stars shone like pale jewels in the sky.

“Come on,” he said. “We’re going to watch the sunrise.”

We stumbled from our beds, sleepy eyed, still in our pajamas. In our haste, we forgot to put on slippers, and I remember how my toes shrank from the dampness of the grass as we walked from the house to the edge of the mountain.

I have always been a sleepyhead. But that morning I felt as if it was the first morning of my life. How fresh was the scent of early morning air. A solemn hush lay over the sleeping world and even the trees seemed to have stopped growing. In that moment before the sun awoke, the world lay in halflit shadow while we waited with bated breath for the sun to show her face. It was like waiting for life to begin.

I remember the cold in the air, the wind brushing through the pine trees. My mind remembers inconsequential things, the way the dew clung to the grass and the vibrant violet hue of early crocuses.

Slowly, the sun arose in the east. A fiery glow filled the sky as she rose up from under the mountains. Radiant and warm, she brought with her, laughter and the joy of life. We lifted our faces to the sky and laughed as we welcomed the sun.

Suddenly, the world blazed with color and from the town below, we heard the sounds of a waking world. A cock crowing insistently, hens and chicks make chuckling sounds, a farmer calling to his wife and from the market place way down in the center of the town, the racketty chug-a-chug of the provincial bus starting up.

Above us, a chorus of melodic trills rose from a family of birds. A wind brushed through the trees and we found ourselves walking back to the house, our hands firmly grasped in the warmth of our father’s hands. The dew was gone and we hopped and skipped back to the house in our bare feet.

That first sunrise remains for us a constant token of our father’s love.

* I really miss you, Tay. I miss the long talks that we had. Somehow, the telephone can never replace just being there.


Looking back, I realize that life in those mountains was incredibly pagan. Superstitious beliefs surrounded us, the evidences of the spirits were everywhere. In the rice gods that the ifugao carved out of dark wood and offered up their sacrifices to, in the dances that they performed, in the portents that they sought in the innards of chickens and pigs, and in the presence of the ever powerful mumbaki.

Even the chapel that was built at the top of the mountain held an air of mystic. Climbing up the steep cement stairs that led up to the chapel, was like climbing up the stairs of heaven. Those stairs were so steep they were an invitation to vertigo. How many times did I climb those stairs imagining that if I stopped somewhere, I would topple over the edge and fall forever until I hit the ground in the valley below?

At Easter, we all hiked up to the top, bearing with us Tupperware boxes filled with warm and steaming puto, sandwiches, eggs and liters of juice. Like worshippers of the sun, we waited in the darkness before dawn. We waited, as prisoners in bondage waited, for the light to break upon us and for the sky to shatter into a myriad of colors, releasing us from the tension of cold and grayness, and heralding the birth of a new day.
On Eileen Tabios's blog,
  • Chateleine shops
  • , you'll find a post of a short short that I wrote inspired by her shopping questions to the Flips mailing list. I'm quite impressed by this lady's accomplishments. I've put a link to her blog on the link list, so click and visit.
  • Ate Melba Maggay
  • also has a blog that is interesting especially since she tackles things that I would have no idea about, seeing she's a ph.d. and I don't have any letters after my name :)

    Another site that is really worth visiting is
  • Our Own Voice
  • . I really don't know if I have much to contribute in the terms of literary-literaire works, but we'll see. It's always interesting to meet other writers and to get to know more about them.

    I'm thinking of taking up a creative writing course, but still have to check on how much it's going to cost and if it would be doable considering my already hectic schedule. What does a creative writing course involve? I haven't got the slightest idea.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005


    Still on the submissions chain and going cross-eyed from editing and rewriting. In line with my new year's resolution: "Je moet durven om te leven als je wilt" (dare to live as you want to live), I've made a note of the upcoming
  • Amsterdam Literary Festival.
  • Monday, May 02, 2005


    I've finished writing the first part of my novel - 25,200 words and fifty pages long. Still have to do some major editing on the first part though. I've started working on the second part which is going really slow. I only have nine pages done so far and my mind is just plodding along in slow motion. I keep getting distracted.

    Waiting for responses to submissions that I've sent in. Ho-hum... Me, nervously pacing and starting to nibble at my fingers.

    I hope that my aunt will get better soon. She had a stroke and she's in Cambodia. The number that I called keeps telling me that I have to update my account. Why do I have to live so far away from everybody else???

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    letter to Nanay...

    Dear Nanay,

    People celebrate mother's day on such different days. On this side of the world, mother's day doesn't happen until next week. Sometimes, it seems as if crossing from one side of the ocean to the other has turned my head topsy-turvy so that I forget things. When do we celebrate mother's day in the Philippines?

    My memories are flawed, but I try to write what I remember. My gift to you are these words that cannot be sold or purchased.

    I'm too far away right now to give you a hug. There are too many miles between us and this is the closest that I can come to handing you a present. When you read these words, I hope you know that when I wrote them, I was thinking about you.



    missing home...

    We grew so accustomed to our lives among the ifugao that we sometimes forgot that for all our longing to be one of them, we remained outsiders.

    Perhaps, my mother felt this stronger than anyone else. She had grown up as the daughter of a wealthy family and was used to a myriad of helpers, and the endless stream of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

    We could not know the intensity of her longing or the greatness of her hunger for the sight of the sea, for the embrace of her mother, for the warm fellowship of brothers and sisters. Wrapped up in our childish world, insulated from the cold of the world, we could not begin to understand the ache that ate away at her heart each time she looked up at the mountains, every time she looked at us.

    It is only now when I am separated from my family that I begin to understand that longing that eats away at your bones, the ache that the days cannot diminish, the hunger that knows no satiation. It is only now that I begin to comprehend the punishment that distance inflicts upon the spirit.

    Was it these that brought about those aches and pains that she still feels in the marrow of her bones? Perhaps, it is our way of dealing with longing. Perhaps we hide our ache, our pain, our tears behind chronic ailments, nagging headaches, twinges in our hands, a weakness in the stomach, anything to mask the reality of the sorrow that is our constant companion because no matter whom we are with, no matter how many friends we may make, how many ties we may forge, there is still nothing that can compare to the bonds that tie us to our mothers, to our fathers, to the family of the heart and to the land of our birth.

    In the stories that I write, I try to imagine my mother’s longing for home, with my words I paint a reflection of my own longing, of the unending desire to return and to find everything unchanged. Of course, these are things that cannot be and it is only in the mind that the world remains as it was. It is only my spirit that can remember as I pick up the flotsam and jetsam of my splintered memory.