I WAS born in this city and I left it when I was 21. My memories of Dumaguete are those of a very young, unformed person. Which is not to say that the memories themselves are unformed – rather, gazing through a window of solid, two-layered glass at the snow-covered remains of my summer garden, through the lacework of naked tree branches to where an aircraft has left a white trail of vapor in the sky, I believe that the Dumaguete I knew was the one place I could call rock-solid, real.
Real, and safe, in the way a child in the bosom of her family believes herself to be safe. A large part of my Dumaguete is private, personal, having to do with the textures of nature, the patterns of light on a bedroom wall, the pleasure of watching a servant at her tasks, the mystery of what adults did each day after the screen door banged shut behind them.
Every morning, my mother and father left for work, which was something terribly serious, because they discussed it incessantly as they bathed and dressed, and then came home at the end of the day to argue some more about what had been said and decided in those eight unseen hours. But the maid was quiet, methodical, competent. Imitating her, I learned to slice beans and pluck the odd-smelling malunggay leaves off their stems. I foraged in the ditches on the other side of the road for kangkong, learned to tell the green shoots apart from those of the morning glory vines. I begged for the honor of cooking the day’s rice from scratch. It was a game – scrub the grains between one’s palms and fill up with water a little past the second knuckle on one’s middle finger. Twist the gas tank ring, wrench the burner knob, and then, quickly, quickly, strike a match into life, before the smell of escaping gas overpowered me. My fingers would fumble with the damp matches until one flared into life. The flames came roaring out of the burner, singeing my fingertips. Blue fire tore up the sides of the pot…
From "The artifice of recollection" an essay that appeared in The Dumaguete We Know, Merlie M. Alunan, ed. Anvil Publishing, Manila, 2012.