Monday, January 20, 2014

Nick Joaquin, Penner of Words, Drinker of Beers

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Some time ago, a friend asked me for my opinion of old Pinoy writers. Suffice it to say that my opinion isn’t worth much; I have this dislike for most of the old guard. My reasons for disliking them aren’t really that deep, but I can’t help but think that they’re the reason why we’re caught in a vicious cycle of sub par local entertainment.

nick joaquin

Nick Joaquin. National artist. Beer Drinker. Taken from Bulatlat.

Which isn’t to say that I dislike all of them. I have great respect for Jose Rizal, especially after I read his works in English (my mind processes the English language better than Tagalog). And by far, my favorite Pinoy writer of all time is Nick Joaquin.

My very first encounter with Joaquin’s work was, as you would expect, required reading when I was a freshman in college. This was May Day Eve, a story about passionate love turned bitter. You know how each writer has a flagship work; Hemingway has either For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. Vonnegut has Slaughterhouse 5. Shakespeare has Romeo and Juliet. Well, this short story was one of Joaquin’s flagships, and by reading the first paragraph alone—a whole block of text without a single full stop all the way to the end—I knew I was reading something special.

My curiosity was piqued even further by the story that the old man was an avid beer drinker. A writer friend once told me that Joaquin could tell what brand a cup of beer was just by tasting it (That’s not San Miguel Beer. That’s Beer na Beer!). Now, you have to realize that I was young at the time, and quite the drinker (I was a legend, it turns out), so this shared habit with a writer whose work didn’t seem to be stuck in just one generation was tantalizing.

I picked up one of the cheap collections of his short stories from National Bookstore not long after reading May Day Eve, and I was pleasantly surprised that the man wasn’t just a one-trick pony. Here were plenty of short stories that transcended boundaries of time and culture. I knew by then that he wasn’t just writing fiction, he was also one hell of a journalist as both himself and Quijano de Manila, and the knowledge that he grew up in Paco—along Herran, if I’m not mistaken—made me love the man even more.

To this day, one of my biggest regrets in life is not publishing one of my stories while he was still editing for the Philippine Graphic. Ol’ Nick passed away in 2004; my stories Twilight in the Center of the World and Black Hole—my flagship—were both published after his passing. I imagine that he would have enjoyed editing my works (modesty aside), and I would have loved to hear what he had to say about my stories.

In fact, that would have been quite an experience. I would have loved to hang out with him in Obeertime, his haunt along Pasong Tamo, waiting patiently with a beer—what else?—while he went through the pages of my work. Whether his thoughts were good or bad didn’t matter. For me, it would have been the biggest honor to have what I’d written to be read by the biggest man in Pinoy literature.


  1. ...meanwhile, here I am and I don't want to pass on the chance of reading your flagships, so how can I get my hands on them? ;)

  2. Hi Wella! I think you can get in touch with The Philippine Graphic and ask them for issues with stories written either by Martin Antonio G. Cruz or Kilawinguwak. I'm sure they'll be happy to help. These were published between 2004 - 2005, I believe.