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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

entry arrow9:00 AM | Coming to Silliman

It’s the trees first of all, three hundred sixteen of them, sprawled over 62-hectares of green campus—massive acacias of the kind of towering presence that catches the eye for the way they seem to add shape to the skyline, for the wizened look about them that gives you a distinct feeling they know history, for the abundance of foliage that abounds with birds. When you think of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, you begin always with the acacia trees.

Begin, for example, by walking down Hibbard Avenue from the university portals that face downtown Dumaguete. Just a few meters away, you stop and this is the sight that catches you: a field of green, rolling towards where the outlines of Mount Talinis are, terminates at the western end with the sight of the ornate Silliman Church, an American Gothic affair in white that stretches towards the sky. Embracing all of this are the acacia trees that line both sides of this quadrangle of green. And it all seems so postcard-perfect, this marriage of trees and field and architecture, framed by the cobalt blue of Visayan skies and the trace of Cuernos de Negros in the distance.

In the grassy expanse of the western quadrangle facing the church, when you are not dodging the young skateboarders trying to own the sidewalks that border it, you get how young Dumaguete really is by the sight of Frisbee players running around the green. Further on, before you get to the doors of the church itself, a recess in the grounds provides the perfect spot for the amphitheatre, which used to be the sight for the stagings of various Shakespearean plays in the first decades of Silliman’s history, but now mostly exists to provide seat and respite for the romantic trying to make sense of the world.

The world slows down in Dumaguete—none of Manila’s erratic and punishing rush here—and because of the sweltering humidity that comes by virtue of having a campus built right at the edge of the Visayan Sea, its denizens take deliberate slowness in pace, as well as in life; and most face life indeed with the uniform of tsinelas and the thinnest of shirts and the shortest of shorts, with time largely a suggestion demonstrated by a local expression regarding distance: “Everything in Dumaguete is ten minutes away.”

Informality with an island vibe is the way to be for most Sillimanians and Dumagueteños on general—but the lackadaiscal attitude can be deceptive, too: because beneath that impression is actually a fierceness that drives an overwhelmingly intellectual and cultural city. The campus demonstrates that. In the Robert and Metta Silliman Library, which can be found at the heart of the northern part of campus, we find a building and collection of books many people claim to be one of the biggest in Asia. In the glorious brutalist-style of the Claire Isabel Luce Auditorium beside the library—and also further on, the new Romeo Ariniego Art Gallery—we have what many culturati in the country have taken to calling the Cultural Center of the South, the throbbing center of the city’s vibrant art and culture scene.

Here and there, always ringed by acacia trees, are the dorms and the faculty houses and the college buildings both new and old, and the surprise of gardens in the nooks and the crannies. Some people call this campus one of the most beautiful in this part of the world. It has its moments, but of course I truly love it—if only because its beauty seems to come from no design at all, just everything falling into place in a strange confluence of history and circumstances, and then finding out that the merry mix have created a campus more than fit enough to Instagram.

Hibbard Avenue is the stretch of street—named after Silliman’s founders David and Laura Hibbard, Presbyterian missionaries who took the challenge of founding an industrial school for boys in 1901 in the new American colony in the Far East—that bisects the entire campus into its eastern and western parts, and it goes all the way north, about two kilometers away, to terminate at an extension of the campus in a barangay called Bantayan, where you get another sprawl that is rightly called a farm; this houses, of course, the College of Agriculture. Immediately besides this farm is the Silliman Beach, which is where we find one of the best marine biology institutions in the world, and the short stretch of sand and surf faces the east and the striking blue-green of Tañon Strait with its abundance of whales and dolphins and butandings.

There is deliberation in the detailing of this campus geography: because what other campus boasts of an eclectic mix of beach and farmland and cityscape and grand architecture and abundance of trees, all in one bundle of a place? That eclecticism alone is beauty.

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