05 July 2014


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Five!

It seems that Locus Focus is now a fortnightly festival. That works for me, even if it's one more thing messing up the June/July Giveaway. I had to adjust the end date on the Rafflecopter again, but this time is really the last time.

Two fortnights ago, we read about an ancient village; last fortnight, it was a modern city slum. Today's setting is kind of in between, with more creature comforts . . . 

by Nick Joaquin

On the porch Helen again crouched down to trace on the wall where the stone ended and the wood began.

"This isn't really a new house," she said . . . "Oh, it was built recently, but much that went into it is old. For example, those adobe blocks of the lower part of the walls. They're ancient. Don't look shocked. It's quite the fashion now, especially in Suburbia: to use brick and adobe salvaged from very old buildings. For the patina, they say . . ."

"What are you driving at, Helen?"

"In this house is another house."

The word "balikbayan" may not be readily translated into English, but the two words it is made up of are: "balik," which means to return, and "bayan," which means country. A "balikbayan" is a Filipino who left the country and then came back--a common enough type today, but still quite the novelty in the 1970s, which was around the time Nick Joaquin wrote this children's story about a balikbayan woman and her American-born son. And this explains why the tale is full of extra-terrestrial imagery, though SF is hardly Joquin's thing: the only other Filipinos I know who identified with space travelers that strongly had been born and brought up in the US, transplanted to the Philippines when their parents decided to return, and spent their years here desperately trying "to phone home."

Unlike them, young Billy Daryo doesn't seem to mind living in Manila. But also unlike them, he's not in danger of putting down roots in this alien land. Every home his extended family has had since his great-great grandfather moved from a village outside Manila to the southern city of Davao has been temporary: his own parents fell in love in Canada, moved to the United States as a married couple, and then decided Billy should get "a taste of the Philippines" with Mrs. Daryo while Mr. Daryo had to work in Iran. What better home for itinerant natives than equally unsettled suburbia?

But even the suburbs are not as new to the world as they seem to be--not when they were built from the stones and bricks of the old houses torn down to make room for the new. And there's always the issue of what the land was before developers, those anti-historians, came in to change it up. My original home was the very first house to be built in one of the new Metro Manila suburbs . . . and it still managed to be haunted. My family's theory was that the land used to be where political dissidents "disappeared" during the Martial Law era, but we likely weren't looking past our own collective guilt over how well an officer's family could get on under military rule. In Balikbayan, the real story behind the new house is also an old story--one which no one remembers without having to look it up, and which the discoverer decides the rootless Daryos would be happier not knowing.

Balikbayan is one of five children's stories in the new Nick Joaquin collection "Gotita de Dragon" and Other Stories--and the only one which counts as the "child-friendly Horror" you know I love. I highly recommend the whole book and encourage you to enter the giveaway for it through the Rafflecopter at the end of this post. =)

Question of the Week: If there were a dark story in the history of your house or the land it was built on, would you want to know about it?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Source: "Gotita de Dragon" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin


Paul Stilwell said...

"If there were a dark story in the history of your house or the land it was built on, would you want to know about it?"

Heck yes! Then I could get a priest to exorcise the place!

Enbrethiliel said...



Sheila said...

Absolutely. Though it seems to me I might have some sense of it already. Our first apartment where we lived when we were married (a studio apartment which luckily we only lived in together for month) was *creepy.* John was convinced it was haunted, but thought that was cool. I just lay awake every night staring into the dark. Hard to say if that was my own suggestibility and the state of mind I was in, or if there really was something wrong with the place .... hard facts one way or another would have been a help.

Though if there *were* a dark story, I might well move. I do not like creepy places. I have to admit that every time we've chosen a place to live since that place, I've taken some time to close my eyes in the house and ask myself if it feels creepy for any reason. If so, I don't want to live there!

Enbrethiliel said...


Were you the one who told me that you took a holiday in Florence and felt that it was creepy?

I have friends who say that they can sense immediately when a place is creepy. (One of them got us to leave a restaurant although the waiter had brought our menus and poured our water because she couldn't take the atmosphere any longer!) This skill seems to have eluded me =P . . . but I've felt really spooked during certain times when I was home alone, or in certain parts of my house late at night. Like you, though, I don't know if I was just being impressionable and suggesting things to myself or if I was actually picking up on something.

Sheila said...

I don't remember telling you this, but it did happen to me. For once EVERYone in our program felt the same! That was a creepy city. But perhaps it was the lowering skies and rain, or the bad accommodations that left us all sleepless? At the time we figured there was something in the water. It was that bad; we were all on edge and quarrelling.

I had a similar experience on the same trip, in a room I stayed in just for one night. That was the most intense I ever felt it; it was truly terrifying and one of my two roommates felt it too. But maybe it was because the room was crooked and cramped? Or (a theory I think pretty credible) there were bare wires around? Apparently electromagnetic radiation can give sensitive people spooky feelings. (And you can observe this on the show Ghost Hunters, when the "sensitive person" says "Yes, the ghost is very close!" and then they uncover some bare wires.)

Who knows. It is not a useful "talent," anyway, and mostly just causes me misery.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've never experienced anything that creepy. Normally, it's a case of everyone else being really spooked and me feeling absolutely nothing. =P

But there was one night when I'd swear I saw, from across the living room, an old man's reflection in the sliding door to the terrace. (Since it was bright inside the house and dark outside, everything in the room was reflected on the clear glass of the door.) I kept waiting for my mind to click and to register the old man as something else in the room, so I could see that my eyes were just playing tricks with me, but nothing happened. Someone else had to walk to that end of the room to turn the lights off! =P

The next night, I stood in the same spot and checked the sliding door. Everything else was the same as it had been--no furniture had been moved or anything--but the old man (or whatever I saw) was no longer there. Later, when I told my sister about it, she said that when she has friends over at night on the terrace, the friends sometimes see an old man looking out at them through the sliding door.