Thursday, June 1, 2023

Belgium in April: Get Me to the Nunnery by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard in Positively Filipino


I'm sharing the link to my recent article in Positively Filipino "Belgium in April: Get Me to the Nunnery." It is a travel article that involves my my search for the roots of my Belgian nuns at St. Theresa's College Cebu and Manila. Mother Marie Louise De Meester, the foundress of the ICM sisters, was born in Roesalare, Belgium and who became a nun at Ypres, Belgium, which I visited.

"In April, when the weather was cold, I found myself in Belgium. We were there on a Netherlands-Belgium river cruise because my husband wanted to catch the tulip bulbs in full bloom in Amsterdam. The bulbs are in bloom only for a few weeks from late March to early May. Our river cruise included stops in the Netherlands and Belgium, with a grand finale at the Keukenhof tulip garden in Lisse, southwest of Amsterdam..." Please read on in the PF site. 

#tags: travel, Europe, Belgium, low countries, ICM nuns. STC sister, religious nuns, Philippine education 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Thank you #ParisLitUp



Thanks to the folks at Paris Lit Up / Culture Rapide for featuring me at their Thursday night reading last April 26, 2023. Thanks to Leah Soeiro Nentis and Ursula Wynne who greeted and took care of me.

This literary group had also featured me last April 26, 2018. Thanks to Emily Ruck Keene, and Matthew. 

Read also

Pastel Art No. 1 at Musee d'Orsay

Pastel Art No. 2 at Musee d'Orsay

Art at Musee d'Orsay 

Tags: PLU, Open mic reading, poetry reading, Paris poetry reading, #parislitup #culturerapide

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Art at Musee d'Orsay - #3


Here are more art by Masters at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. These are works by Vincent Van Gogh and by Paul Gauguin. We visited the museum once, but I could have visited it a few more times to really appreciate and absorb the art there.  Wonderful museum!

Friday, May 19, 2023

Pastel Art at Musee d'Orsay - No. 2


This is the second batch of photos I took at the pastel exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. These are by Master Artists Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Mary Cassatt. 

I was thrilled to see these famous works with my own eyes. I had the opportunity to scrutinize the strokes these masters did using pastels and crayon. They knew how to draw. They did not smear their pastel to blend colors, but used strokes, so that in some cases, the look is quite graphic.

I have more photos of paintings and I'll get that up in my blog. The artists among you will enjoy them. I should clarify that I'm not posting all the pastels displayed there, but I am choosing the ones that spoke to me. 


Friday, May 5, 2023

Pastel Art at the Musee d'Orsay - No. 1


During a recent visit to Paris, we visited the Musee d'Orsay, which had a Spring 2023 Pastel Exhibition.  I love pastels and try to learn on my own.  I still have to find a pastel teacher. Most of my art teachers don't like this medium.  I'm posting some of the pastels that I really liked. This is set 1.

 I was fascinated by the Olympia done by Edouard Manet, and which was copied by Paul Gauguin.  Degas bought the Gauguin copy to hang in his place.  



Thursday, May 4, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Keukenhof Gardens



Tulips were introduced to Holland in 1593 from Turkey. These flowers became very popular, so much so that "tulipmania" occurred. In the mid-1600s, tulip bulbs were so coveted that the Dutch invested in them. There was a tulip market, and bulbs would be auctioned, and people paid for the bulbs. But then speculation of how much money one could make from the bulbs came in and the bidding soared. At the height of the bubble market, tulips sold for 10,000 guilders, which was equivalent to the value of a mansion in Amsterdam.  The bubble occurred around 1634 to 1637, but then the bubble burst. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Bruges


IN 2013, WE HAD PLANNED to visit Bruge as part of a driving tour through Normandy and Belgium. As things turned out, Lauren had an accident in Paris, broke his hip, ended up in the Clinique Blomet where he as he puts it "got screwed by the French."  His French doctor, Dr. Atassi, put two stainless steel pins to hold the bones together.  

When we explained to the doctor that this accident had messed up our plans to visit Bruge and other places, he scrunched his face, and poo-pooed and said, "Oh, it always rains in Bruge anyway." It was at that moment, raining in Paris.

Love Has Seven Names by Hadewijch of Brabant & Translations by Ralph Semino Galan

After visiting Belgium and seeing the beguine housing complex in Bruge, I became interested in the Beguines. They were women from the Middle Ages who lived as a community to pray and serve their communities. Unlike nuns, they did not make perpetual vows.  There is information about them in this link .

Hadewijch of Brabant was a 13th century beguine, poet, and mystic who came from the Duchy of Brabant, now Antwerp. 

I was delighted to learn that Professor Ralph Semino Galan, a friend and fellow-writer, translated one of Hadewijch's poems from English to Filipino and Cebuano. With his permission, I am sharing these with you. 

To have a better appreciation of the translations, I am sharing Professor Galan's bio here:

Ralph Semino Galán, poet, literary and cultural critic, translator and editor, is the Assistant Director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies. He is an Associate Professor of Literature, the Humanities and Creative Writing in the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters and the UST Graduate School. 

He is the author of the following books: The Southern Cross and Other Poems (UBOD New Authors Series, NCCA, 2005), Discernments: Literary Essays, Cultural Critiques and Book Reviews (USTP, 2013), From the Major Arcana [poems] (USTPH, 2014), and Sa mga Pagitan ng Buhay at Iba pang Pagtutulay [translations] (USTPH, 2018). 

He is currently working on a research project sponsored by the UST Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities titled Labaw sa Bulawan: Translating 300 Mindanao Poems from Cebuano into English (1930-2020), as well as a book of poetry in Cebuano titled Mga Kalag Nga Nahisalaag, Mga Dili Ingon Nato: Mga Balak ug Garay.

The Filipino translation of Hadewijch's poem is included in Sa Mga Pagitan ng Buhay…



by Hadewijch  

English version by Willis Barnstone and Elene Kolb
Original Language Dutch

Love has seven names.
Do you know what they are?
Rope, Light, Fire, Coal
make up its domain.

The others, also good,
more modest but alive:
Dew, Hell, the Living Water.
I name them here (for they
are in the Scriptures),
explaining every sign
for virtue and form.
I tell the truth in signs.
Love appears every day
for one who offers love.
That wisdom is enough.

Love is a ROPE, for it ties
and holds us in its yoke.
It can do all, nothing snaps it.
You who love must know.

The meaning of LIGHT
is known to those who
offer gifts of love,
approved or condemned.

The Scripture tell us
the symbol of COAL:
the one sublime gift
God gives the intimate soul.

Under the name of FIRE, luck,
bad luck, joy or no joy,
consumes. We are seized
by the same heat from both.

When everything is burnt
in its own violence, the DEW,
coming like a breeze, pauses
and brings the good.

LIVING WATER (its sixth name)
flows and ebbs
as my love grows
and disappears from sight.

HELL (I feel its torture)
damns, covering the world.
Nothing escapes. No one has grace
to see a way out.

Take care, you who wish
to deal with names
for love. Behind their sweetness
and wrath, nothing endures.
Nothing but wounds and kisses.

Though love appears far off,
you will move into its depth.


Saturday, April 29, 2023

Cecilia Brainard's Selected Short Stories Wins 40th National Book Awards in Short Fiction


Read CNN article "Full List: The Winners of the 40th National Book Awards"

I am grateful that my Selected Short Stories was honored with the 40th National Book Award in the category of  Best Book of Short Fiction in English.

The book was quietly released in 2021 when Covid was still causing havoc, and like most books released during the time of pandemic, it was ignored.  I am therefore happy that the Manila Circle's Critics and the National Book Board Development found merit in the book.

Thanks to my publisher, University of Santo Tomas Publishing house and the UST folks who have included me in their family: Ailil Alvarez, Ned Parfar, Jack Wigley, Jing Hidalgo, Ralph Galan, and many others.

There is more information about my Selected Short Stories in this link:

The book is available from Lazada and Shopee in the Philippines. Amazon and Barnes and Noble also carry the book.

Read also 

Rappler "Full List..." 


Recent blogs by Cecilia 

  River Cruise .... Keukenhof Gardens

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Bruge or Brugge

 River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Antwerp

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Hoorn and Arnhem

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Amsterdam Canals  

Tags: Philippine books, Filipino books, Filipino short stories, Filipino literature, Cebuano literature, Cebu literature, NBA Awards, Book Awards


Friday, April 28, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Ghent & Ypres



BY THE TIME we visited Ghent Belgium, I understood that Belgium is a wealthy country. I see it as more lowkey than countries like Spain, France or Switzerland or Germany. It is probably because of my own ignorance but I had a better sense of the history and personalities of other countries.


Thursday, April 27, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Antwerp



OUR FIRST STOP in Belgium was Antwerp, known as the capital of the world's diamond trade. No, I did not go shopping for diamonds there, and we didn't even visit the Diamond Museum. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Hoorn and Arnhem


This continues my blog about our recent River Cruise to the Netherlands and Belgium.  The first blog entry about Amsterdam can be read here:


FROM AMSTERDAM, our ship the Oscar Wilde had to be raised UP to sea-level via locks -- that was sort of mind-boggling to watch. Then overnight we sailed in the open sea, rough at times, then we were back in still canals and we sailed through locks once more.
Our first stop was the picturesque city called Hoorn, in the Netherlands. We walked off our boat and saw the harbor, darling shops, cafes, and bars. Narrow winding streets, pristine canals with ducks swimming about. And it was a lovely sunny day, not too cold because the temperature could drop to 10 degrees when we were there. That was frigid for me.


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium - Amsterdam Canals



We did a River Cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium and I'll be posting pictures and short videos of that trip, so stay tuned. 


In  Amsterdam, we did a canal cruise. One of my advocacies is cleaning up rivers in Cebu, Philippines. The canals and rivers are chock-full of garbage there. When I see clean and beautiful canals in other places, like Amsterdam for instance, I feel sad about the rivers and canals in the Philippines and hope that people will stop throwing garbage in the waterways, and and the government will do more to clean up the Philippine rivers.

I digress because this blog entry is about Amsterdam. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Crypto's Last Stand: Stablecoin by Manny Gonzalez


The following article was first published in the Philippine Star. It is reprinted here by permission of the author Manny Gonzalez.  

Crypto’s Last Stand: Stablecoin

 By Manuel González

Note to Editor

In respect of the current subject: Four years before Paul Krugman did in December 2022, Mr. Gonzalez debunked not only cryptos but the entire blockchain concept. He brings a unique multi-disciplinary perspective to this issue – public policy, financial analysis, and technology. He once blew the whistle on the hollow balance sheet of ADELA, a multibillion-dollar New York company owned by the world’s then leading industrial and financial corporations, and spent a year advising on its liquidation. (The Wall Street Journal reported this story back in the 1980s.) As an officer of the World Bank, Mr. Gonzalez dealt with governments and financial institutions. As an investment banker in Hong Kong he designed financial derivatives and assessed IPOs. On the tech side, he has been awarded 7 US Patents related to gathering information on the internet (, Inventor: Gonzalez, Emmanuel). He is now a successful hospitality and food-manufacturing entrepreneur.

 MBA Columbia University, Robert J. McKim, Jr., Fellow, and Roswell McCrea Award winner. For more details and list and texts of publications, please see His cryptocurrency articles: Bitcoins — the Emperor Has No Clothes (January 2018); Bitcoins AND Blockchains — Murphy’s Law Waiting to Happen (November 2018); and Crypto Resurrection (November 26, 2022). All were published in the Philippine Star, the leading daily newspaper in this country of 120 million people.


 In December 2022 New York Times columnist Paul Krugman finally came round to making the same assertion I made in print four years ago: Not just crypto, but blockchain itself, is BUNK, a complicated and demonstrably fragile way to perform a function — information storage — that is already reliably, easily, and cheaply performed with other devices (such as USBs, stand-alone hard drives, and paper). Read his column: New York Times December 2, 2022, Blockchains — What Are They Good For? Or mine, which takes the trouble to explain the argument: Philippine Star November 26, 2018, Bitcoins AND Blockchains — Murphy’s Law Waiting to Happen.


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Plantation Bay's Reception Building: A Showcase


The following article first appeared in the Philippine Star, March 24, 2023. It is reprinted in my blog by permission of Manny Gonzalez.

Plantation Bay's Reception Building: A Showcase of Art, Architecture, and Engineering

The Reception Building of Plantation Bay is an original Filipino work of art and architecture. Its various elements recall significant parts of Philippine history & culture and convey a mixture of serious & playful messages that surprise and delight its visitors.

The main floor is elevated above an ancient sea bed, therefore resembling a house raft floating on a tranquil sea. The flooring material incorporates blocks of granite salvaged from ballasts used by ancient sailing ships from China.

The roof framing in verdigris steel was designed by Plantation Bay founder Manny Gonzalez, with load calculations performed by structural engineer Ramon Villarias. It recalls European train stations during the Golden Age when trains were the principal mode of tourist transportation.

GROWING UP FILIPINO 3 Book Launches and Talks 2023


Here is a summary of the GROWING UP FILIPINO 3 BOOK TALKS 2023 - 

To promote the young adult book GROWING UP FILIPINO 3: NEW STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS, the contributors and I did a series of book launches/talks in the Philippines and the United States.  Here are some pictures of those events. Many thanks to the University of Santo Tomas for publishing the Philippine edition of GUF3, and to the hosts of these programs. 

January 28, 2023 — Book Launch, Fully Booked BGC, 6 p.m. Readings by: Nikki Alfar, Cecilia Brainard, George Deoso, Yvette Fernandez, Patti Go, Sarge Lacuesta, Kannika Pena, Dom Sy, Jack Wigley, Danton Remoto. 

l-r: Sarge Lacuesta, Jack Wigley, Cecilia Brainard, Nikki Alfar, Danton Remoto, Ned Parfan, Dom Sy, George Deoso, Yvette Fernandez, Patty Go

Monday, March 27, 2023

40th National Book Awards - Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard - Finalist Short Fiction in English -

 40th  National Book Awards - Finalists

I learned late last night from Ned Parfan Assistant Director of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House that my SELECTED SHORT STORIES is a finalist in the Short Fiction in English Category of the 40th National Book Development Board of the Philippines. 

 Please read an article about the 40th National Book Awards:

I am very grateful to the National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle who made the announcement.

This book was released during Covid lockdowns, and it was not launched properly.  Like other pandemic-released books, this was sadly ignored.

I am therefore particularly grateful to the NBDB and Manila Critics Circle for including this book among the finalists of the 40th National Book Awards.

This book includes some of my best short stories including the popular: “Woman with Horns”, “Flip Gothic”, “Romeo”, and some recent stories: “The Syrian Doctor in Paris”, and “Melisande in Paris”, and more.

The book cover was created by noted Filipino artist, Felix Mago Miguel. In the Philippines, the book is available from Lazada and Shopee; in the US, check out Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I am posting the book blurbs by noted writers who have supported the book (and me): Thank you Brian, Bonnie, and Danton!

Powerful, poignant and engrossing, the Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is an important work by a major writer. Written in a poetic style rich in imagery, her observant eye’s subject is both transnational and local, societal and relational in the more personal scale of family, friendship, love. These stories have an oral quality in the best sense of the word, by a master of the form. ~ Brian Ascalon Roley, author of Ambuscade and American Son, and Professor of English, Miami University. 


Cecilia Manguerra Brainard’s short stories cover not just the history of the Philippines – Spanish and American colonial rule, the bloody Marcos era, the high price of fighting for political and economic freedom – but also the deeply moving hesitations and complexities of the human heart: the loves and longings and losses that shape and haunt a life, the sensuality and desires that rip apart the fabric of social life, the intricacies of girlhood and female friendship, the confrontation of cultures, the loneliness  and courage of Filipino-Americans and others who have left their homelands and the idea of home. Beautifully written, masterfully crafted, these stories are at once heart-breaking, entertaining, and profoundly humane — very difficult to put down, impossible to forget. ~ Reine Arcache Melvin, author of The Betrayed: A Novel

Cecilia Brainard's well-crafted stories deal with fictional Manila and Mexico, Intramuros and Acapulco, Ubec and Cebu. She has the uncanny ability to enter the skin of her characters and give them their singular voices. Her Selected Stories only affirm what we have long known: that she has already vaulted into the front rank of the Philippines' best writers fiction. Brava!" ~ Danton Remoto, author of Riverrun, A Novel

 My official website, has more information about me and my books.

Thanks again to the NBDB, Manila Critics Circle, and the University of Santa Tomas Publishing House.  

Tags:  #Filipinobooks #Filipinoawards #filipinowriters #nationalbookdevelopmentboard #manilacriticscircle


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Veltisezar Bautista's THE FILIPINO AMERICANS (1763-Present): Their History, Culture and Traditions


Thanks to Rachielle Sheffler (shown in picture above) who sent me pages from the book by Veltisezar Bautista, THE FILIPINO AMERICANS (1763-PRESENT): Their History, Culture and Traditions (Bookhaus Publishers 1998, 2002).  She said she found the book at the public library in Mira Mesa, San Diego.

The book includes a writeup about me.  I remember Mr. Bautista contacting me about this book, but I don't have a copy of this book. I am delighted that Rachielle scanned and sent the pages to me; the pages include me through Carlos Bulosan.  


tags: Filipino American history, Filipino American culture, Filipino American literature, Filipino American resource, Filipino American encyclopedia

Friday, March 24, 2023

Confessions of an "Interna" by Imelda M. Nicolas


The following article is by Imelda N. Nicolas. This is part of the book BEHIND THE WALLS: LIFE OF CONVENT GIRLS, a collection of personal essays by graduates of Philippine Convent Schools.  The collection includes writings by Gemma Cruz, Neni Sta Romana Cruz, Herminia Menez Coben, and others. 

For more information about the book, visit . The online store of the publisher Anvil Philippines may have a few copies. 

BIO: Imelda M. Nicolas was former Cabinet-rank Secretary at Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Commission on Filipinos Overseas. She was chair of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) from 1993 to 1998, where she institutionalized the Gender and Development (GAD) budget in the government’s Appropriations Act. She also served as Secretary-General of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) from 2004 to 2005. She is presently the cabinet-rank Secretary of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) under the office of the President of the Philippines. The CFO uses migration and development as its framework with the end of view of responding to its challenges. It envisions to establish itself as the premier institution in the Philippines vis-à-vis migration and development and overseas Filipinos’ diaspora engagement.



by Imelda M. Nicolas

 Copyright 2005 & 2023 by Imelda M. Nicolas

It was June of 1955. I was entering the fourth grade and without knowing why I found myself, together with my older sister Loida (who was a sixth grader), being enrolled by my mother in St. Agnes’ Academy, a convent school run by German Benedictine sisters in Legaspi, some 50 kilometers away from Sorsogon, the town where I grew up in.

Because of the school’s distance from my hometown, it was taken as a matter of course that both Loida and I would be internas in St Agnes. We would live with the nuns, sharing a dormitory with 80-odd other girls who hailed from places in the Bicol region, many of which I heard for the first time: Masbate, Guinobatan, Pilar, Daet, Iriga — the list seemed endless.

Looking back, I am not surprised that my first days at St. Agnes’ were a haze. I am sure I suffered from sensory overload — there was just too much to take. There was the majestic, ever-changing but ever-present Mayon Volcano looming over the school. There was the school building itself, elegant in a timeless way, seemingly embracing all who strayed into its portals. There were the nuns, in their traditional black-and-white habits, clucking over the children, like mother hens with their chicks.

Legaspi, which the more metropolitan Manileños may consider the backwater, the boonies, was to me THE Big, Bad City, compared to my bucolic, idyllic, more-countryside-than-cosmopolitan hometown of Sorsogon.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the dormitory as one large hall full of uniform beds and drawers, overflowing with my soon-to-be fellow boarders, who came in all sizes and shapes -- from the youngest, teeny-weeny grade-oner, to the most senior graduating high school students, who, to my ten-year-old eyes and perspective then, towered over me like giants. As I got to know the girls I would be living with for the next 300 schooldays, I found out soon enough that their characters, quirks and upbringing were even more varied than their sizes and shapes.

To a newcomer there seemed no rhyme nor reason in the arrangement of our beds — you took that small piece of real estate in the dorm that was assigned to you, period. The little privacy that you could enjoy was provided by a thin piece of white curtain that you drew. The written instructions on what bedding you needed were simple and stark — white linens, a blanket, pillowcases for your two pillows, a mosquito net. Uniforms and underwear went into the small drawers between the beds.

Before I knew it, it was time for my mother to leave my sister and me in this strange and unfamiliar place. That was the first time I was going to live away from my parents and I knew inadvertently that I was going to be miserable.

Sorsogon may be not be the most exciting place in the world but my father, a self-made businessman, a quintessential entrepreneur forever churning out new businesses, had seen to it that our home was at the same time a place of commerce. We owned one of the three movie houses in town, we had the town’s only bowling alley and billiard hall, complete with a bar serving beers and soft drinks . My mother had her own share of entrepreneurial blood flowing in her veins and being a licensed pharmacist, she had a drugstore on the ground floor of our building as well. We lived on the second floor of this “entertainment center” cum pharmacy.

Although my two older brothers, Kuya Danny and Kuya Jay had already been dispatched by my parents to out-of-town schools (Ateneo de Naga and Ateneo de Manila, respectively), our youngest brother, Francis, was still running around with the town’s street urchins and having a great time. I had a similar set of free-wheeling barkadas in the neighborhood and among my schoolmates from the nearby public school where I studied from grade one to grade three. I couldn’t understand how all of a sudden I was replacing all my friends with a bunch of people I was meeting for the first time, in a place, that from all appearances, was joyless, regimented, and terribly far from home.

But the deed was done — I had been registered both as a grade four student and a boarder in St. Agnes. Loida and I had to stay. Again, I can’t remember if I cried in front of my mother and made a scene — but I must have, for even now, there is still a lingering memory of how heavy my heart felt then and my great sense of foreboding.

My first nights as an interna were precursors of things to come. In Sorsogon, after doing our homework, we would run to our movie house (which incidentally was named after my sister, “Loida Theater”) for a quick preview of what movies were scheduled to be shown in the next few weeks and had a repeat viewing of our favorite scenes of what was currently showing. That was our pre-TV nightly entertainment break. Then off to bed in a room I shared with my sister.

And now, as in interna in St. Agnes, I was introduced to the very spartan, silence-laden, disciplined nighttime of the nuns. By 5:30 in the afternoon when all the students who were not boarders had gone home, seemingly bringing with them the sound of laughter, small talks and girlish what-have-you’s , all the boarders were herded to the “study room” where complete silence was to be observed while we were doing our assignments. No one was allowed to leave the room and if one had a reasonable excuse to go to the dorm which was several classrooms away, she still was subjected to the withering and suspicious look of the nun-in-charge.

At 6:45 pm, a bell would be rung (and very soon, I found out that my entire life as a boarder would be run by bells). In double file, we were herded to the “refectory” where dinner was served. Needless to say, our meals would never make it to Zagat’s book of recommended cuisine and eating places. The nuns’ food was our standard fare and unfortunately for us, they have taken the vow of poverty, together with chastity and obedience. The only concession the sisters gave us for dinner was that we could talk among ourselves, perhaps to distract us from the measly plate before us.

At 8:00 pm, with dinner over, the bells rang again and off we went to the campus ground for a 30-minute walk or games, for those who were more athletically inclined. By 8:30 pm, we were done with our evening “entertainment” and we started with our bedtime ablutions, again, in deep silence. At 9:30 pm it was lights out, signaled with the now part-of-our-lives ringing of bells.

Every night became a nightmare for me, literally and figuratively. Having been exposed to all kinds of horror movies in our Sorsogon movie house, my imagination worked overtime the moment darkness enveloped our dorm. I heard all kinds of noises, from the rattling of chains to the haunting hooting of an owl, from the annoying, incessant chirping of the cicadas who lived in the open field beside the school’s campus, to scratches of mice and other unknown creatures in the attic.

My fear would reach a boiling point so that I had to creep to the bed of my sister Loida to still the tremors and the rapid palpitation of my heart, and to fall asleep in her arms. This was a no-no to Sister Jovita, the bosomy and huge Teutonic nun who was in charge of the boarders and who struck fear with her booming voice and her crisp German accent. If caught, a boarder’s punishment from Sister. Jovita ranged from being thrown into the broom closet to ponder on your “sin,” to not being allowed to go home for the week-end. But my nightmare was stronger than any penalty I could face so there were more nights that I spent in my sister’s bed than in mine.

Early morning brought relief with the coming of the light and the singing of the sisters in the chapel. Sometimes, in between sleep and waking up, I easily imagined that I had died and gone to heaven, mistaking the angelic voices of the nuns as God’s welcome to one of His straying flocks. But the inevitable bells would rudely bring me back to reality as the boarders were obliged to attend the early morning mass with the nuns. After mass, another unexciting breakfast awaited us, and off we were to our respective classrooms.

And so went my days and nights. Once in a while, my nights would be interrupted by my attempts to read books under the blanket with a flashlight after lights out, or by one of the boarders asking me to join her in the dorm’s shower room with “smuggled” food from the nearby panciteria, known far and wide for its pancit canton.

In my fourth grade class, I was the new girl in town, the oddity of the year. Thank God that while in the campus all of us had to speak English and not Bicol, since it seems there are as many variations of the dialect as there are provinces in the region. Those from Naga claimed that theirs was the purest while those from Sorsogon spoke more Waray or Samareno than Bicol. To complicate my language problem further, since my mother was a Tagala (from Atimonan, Quezon) and my father was a Pampango (from Moncada, Tarlac), we all spoke Tagalog at home. So it came to pass that every time I attempted to say a few Bicol words, my classmates would be rolling in the aisle laughing their hearts out with my awkward Bicol and my strange mélange of Waray and Bicol words.

When it came to academics, while in the past I had not put extra effort to earn honors in school, this time I felt I had to prove myself to my new classmates. It came as an epiphany during one of those spelling contests where I got a perfect score and led the winning team. It was one of those “Aha!!” moments, when I realized that I had what it took to be first in my class if I put my mind to it.

One other incident during that memorable year of my fourth grade in St. Agnes was the very strong earthquake that sent all of us scampering out of the classrooms in the middle of the morning, terrified that Judgment Day had come, true to the ominous warnings of the sister who taught us Religion. But our Science teacher straightened us out with the explanation that Mayon Volcano was showing signs of eruption, and earthquakes were part of the phenomenon. The continuing after-shocks and the possible paroxysm of the volcano put everyone in the school on the state of constant and nervous alert, prepared to dig and dive into our figurative foxholes at a moment’s notice. But Mt. Mayon changed its mind, decided not to go through with its threat and eventually settled down to its past serene grandeur. Things returned to normal but I never forgot that behind all that beauty lurks danger and even death. I never again looked at the Volcano with the same eyes.

I don’t know how, but I did survive my grade 4 in St. Agnes. But my sister Loida must have told our mom how miserable I was and that I was too young to be weaned away from her and home.

So, again, without my knowing exactly why, I was back in Sorsogon on my fifth grade — back to my barefooted and bakya-clad barkadas and classmates, to my nightly joyous respite from assignments via our movie house, the hurly-burly of our home serving as the town’s entertainment center, the warm presence of my mom and the antics of my youngest brother, Francis.

I stayed in Sorsogon to finish my elementary grades. As I entered my first year in high school, I was back in St. Agnes . . . but then that would be another story.


Neni Sta Romana Cruz's Growing up St. Scholastican 

Herminia Menez Coben's Behind the Walls of St Scholastica College 

Gemma Cruz-Araneta's Benevolent Assimilation 


Tags: #Philippineeducation #Filipinoschools #Catholicschools