This blog entry about the events of Thursday, April 22, 2010 was originally posted on April 23, 2010.
DAY 2: It has been five years since I was in Manila, which I quoted back then on this blog as a cosmopolitan fusion of “Malay, Madrid, and Madison Avenue.” Five Filipino years later, the bustling southeast Asian metropolis is different in a lot of ways, but at the same time, the same. For example, the Filipino fast food chain Jollibee is ubiquitous as ever (serving food before it can be fancified by yours truly), and locals are still smiling with the carefree philosophy of bahala na. As soon as I exited the airport, there was one obvious thing that was the same:
Holy fuck, it’s hot outside, I thought to myself. (Actually I said that out loud, so no need for inner-monologue italics there.)
To cool things off, my Tito (Uncle) Pepito (my father’s brother) whisked me from the madness of the airport (after it took an hour to find each other), and soon we were sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant having halo-halo, the Filipino dessert of shaved ice, condensed milk, beans and fruit, topped with a scoop of purple ube ice cream.
“You didn’t order the mega [size], did you?” he asked me since I had ordered while he was in the C.R. ("comfort room,” i.e. restroom in these parts).
“No,” I answered. “Just two of the small ones.” It was a good thing because the mega basically came in a punch bowl and served up to 8 people. (That’s a lotta ube.)
Tito Pepito and I caught up on the changes that have happened in the past five years, since last you read about them on this blog. Now re-married to my Tita (Aunt) Vangie, he lived in the same home albeit remodeled with a house extension, and new garden. His kids (my cousins) are in different stages of their lives: Joey landed a job abroad and moved to the suburbs of London; Jessica was now in university studying statistics; Judiel, a recent college graduate, was about to take the board exam for nursing; and wise-cracking JayPee was now a manga illustrator for a Korean publishing company — although he never understood what his drawings were saying because it’s always written in Korean.
“Where’s your Spider-man mask?” I asked him when I saw him later that evening. (If you recall, he had worn a Spider-man mask all over town as a goof five years prior, and eventually ended up on live national television.)
“My friend borrowed it three years ago for Halloween,” he told me. “And he never gave it back!”
FILLED UP WITH HALO-HALO, Tito Pepito and I rode to the house, fighting what was increasingly becoming afternoon rush hour traffic. Jeepneys cruised down the streets amidst the motorized tricycles zipping around everywhere. “That’s Global City,” Tito Pepito said, pointing out the new cluster of hi-rise buildings on the horizon. “[All the new developments are built near all the former military bases.]”
Such is progress in the Philippines. But it wasn’t all glass and steel and air-conditioned bubbles; Manila now boasted a new network of walkway bridges to help ease congestion since one didn’t need to drive an hour through traffic, just to get to the other side of a busy road. (Pretty smart.) “Bayani Fernando built these,” he told me. “He’s a ‘man of action.’ He’s running for Vice President.”
Politics in the Philippines were heating up with the daytime temperatures as the election was merely weeks away. Leading the favored parties was Benigno Aquino III, son of famed post-Marcos-era president Corazon Aquino, but he would be against seven other formidable candidates. But the election wasn’t just for the high executive office; Manny Pacquiao, the most famous Filipino these days as a prized international boxing champ, was running for Congress. I figured he was going to pull a Schwarzenegger and use his muscle for political gain; I mean, he’s already used it to be the spokesman for just about every commercial product in the Philippines. His likeness and endorsement was on billboards for everything from watches, motorcycles, ice cream, to farm fresh milk. (I was so enthralled by the kitschy awesomeness of Pac-man holding up with his boxing glove, a carton labeled “FRESH MILK” that I failed to take a picture from the car before it was too late.)
WE SPENT THE AFTERNOON at the house to chill out and get over my jet-lag. “You remember Jean?” Tito Pepito reintroduced me to his faithful housekeeper of twenty years and counting.
“I remember you,” I greeted her with a smile.
While some things didn’t change in those respects, the house was (as the Thai people say) the same, same but different. For one, I was greeted by two new dogs, Chili and Meg. With the new house extension for a new master bedroom, it left the other rooms to be more spacious and less-cluttered. There was now a new den for the computer station, which now had a wi-fi router. The living room that once had a little CRT now had a Samsung flat-screen with a surround sound set-up. There was now an X-Box 360 in JayPee’s room. And of course, the backyard was all new, with the new woman’s touch in the home, with a lovely green garden and patio. “This is your Tita Vangie’s creation.” However, one guy touch still remained (in JayPee’s room): a shelf of Transformers.
IT TOOK OVER AN HOUR to ride through only ten kilometers of traffic to get to legendary SM MegaMall to meet the others for a mini reunion dinner. We left while the sun was still out, and arrived after nightfall. Along the way, it was more conversations with my uncle of catch up and progress, and Filipino politics and — wait a minute, was that just a billboard for fried cheese balls on the side of the highway?
Yes. Yes, it is. Cheese is delicious.
Cheese was not on the menu at dinner though, but we made up for it with everything else. And I mean everything. At my suggestion, we went out for shabu-shabu, which I did on my first day in Manila not five years but eleven years prior when TGBTGBTB Markyt was with me. For the uninformed, shabu-shabu is actually a Japanese style of serving food, where you are usually order plates of raw food to prepare yourself in a boiling pot of broth in the center of the dinner table. However in the Philippines, there is a Filipino take on this, where you not only order plates of pre-determined food combinations, but go to the raw buffet of anything and everything to get your own items to boil in a pot or grill on a sizzling plate: dozens of vegetables, meat/seafood balls, freshly-sliced raw meats from a butcher, and an assortment of seafood, including four types of clams, sea eel, shark, bangus, local salmon, and the oddity, fish lips — which weirded out Jessica until she tried it.
“It’s like onions,” she told me.
Not surprisingly, also available was the Filipino staple, Spam.
“She’s thrifty,” Tito Pepito told me. “She’s saving her words.”
I was happy to see that everyone was the same (albeit a few pounds heavier, including myself), and this was most evident when Judiel and JayPee made their appearances from a day of work.
“You can stay in my room, and then maybe we can go to lunch,” JayPee told me, not only inviting me to crash on the spare bed in his room, but quoting Will Ferrell’s Anchorman as we did incessantly five years prior. He high-fived Jessica, boasting, “Yeah! I got the first quote!”
The remainder of dinner time was just like old times, interspersed with preparing and eating food: we’d go up and get raw foods, like the plate pictured above or this one, and then eventually transform them into delectable dishes.
Full and a little bored, Jessica started to grill scraps on the hot plate, including shells and corn cobs. “Make it fancy,” I told her. She started plating the scraps on a fancy white plate. “Wait, I’ll go get some green leaves [for garnish],” I said. And voila! Fancy Scrap Food.
While fancy food plating was also a new thing for us in the past five years, old habits never die. We joked the night away, with Judiel and JayPee posing intentionally to look awkward, or whatever we could do to make a picture silly or interesting — even in a family group photo.
“Iron Man flying,” Judiel explained his pose. JayPee noted that out of all the superheroes out there, Iron Man’s flying stance is definitely the most effeminate.
Outside the mall, back in the evening heat, the Anchorman quotes continued.
“It’s so hot outside,” I said. “Milk was a bad choice.”
“Sex Panther, by Odeon,” Judiel said. “It’s made of real bits of panther, so you know it’s good.”
Five Filipino years later, and some things never change.
These days in the Philippines, electrical brownouts aren’t as common as internet brownouts are.
Next entry: Business Before Bourdain
Previous entry: Not Quite Up In The Air
You stay classy, Manila.
And thanks for stopping by.
But mostly, stay classy I’m Ron Burgundy.
Posted by on 04/23 at 09:41 AM
It’s mango season! Have many filipino mangoes for me. Someone told me they are the sweetest fruit in the world. Yum!!
Posted by on 04/23 at 11:00 AM
I don’t know what purple ube ice cream is but I loved shaved ice!
Posted by on 04/23 at 11:24 AM
I foresee this blog to be all about the cheese...better that TGT’s poo theme
Posted by on 04/23 at 11:31 AM
I love halo-halo!!! YUMMY!!!!!
I had no idea you went to the Philippines. But, that’s the beauty of you not telling everyone where you’re going!!
Posted by on 04/23 at 01:33 PM
Paul, don’t pool around the swimming pool. You might pall down and make a pool out of yourself...and check out pancypastpood.com
Posted by on 04/26 at 03:21 PM
Jeepneys, Trikes, and Bikes
Posted by on 04/26 at 03:40 PM
think I must visit Bohol pretty soon...hope I’ll get a chance.
Posted by cheap handbags on 07/29 at 05:15 AM
Business Before Bourdain
Not Quite Up In The Air
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.