Monday, October 01, 2007

In Manila

In the Philippines, currently being deafened by a VERY LOUD AIR CONDITIONING UNIT and attacked by skeeters. I'm surrounded by old photo albums displaying weirdly young and skinny versions of my father. And whoever decided that 1am international flights were a good idea never flew coach.

I packed last night while my parents were at a wedding; one backpack and a laptop bag for my clothes and stuff, and a rolling red luggage for all the gifts they wanted me to bring (Mel Chua, human balikbayan box). Airplane food was surprisingly good. Asiana serves asian food on its flights, and bibimbap (rice and pickled vegetables smeared with a spicy-sweet red pepper sauce) beats the usual sad-looking omelet and dessicated beef hands-down.

My Amah (my dad's mom) and Auntie Lily (my dad's cousin? I think...) picked me up from the airport. First question: Had I eaten? I had. Was it lunch? It was. Was I hungry? Not particularly. "Ok, then we go to dim-sum." (Chinese families: if you're hungry, serve food. If you're not hungry, serve food. The best strategy is to fast before arrival.) Several minutes later I was having dumplings and turnip cake piled on my plate by two elderly ladies who were also spooning noodles from their bowls into mine. I protested the oncoming food in English, then in Fookien, then (in an act of desperation) badly accented Mandarin.

Eventually I ran out of languages to say "wait, no more food!" in, and four dumplings, two turnip cakes, a beef ball, wonton, fish ball, and a bowl of noodle soup later, they relented and I waddled into the van. The traffic was pretty good; we only had 2 or 3 near-collisions on the way. I commented happily on the number of motorcycles in the streets and Amah gave me a "don't even think about it" look. I got the usual litany of don't go outside the subdivision, do you want more food, don't go outside the gate, what would you like to eat, it's dangerous, we're going to have dinner. Food and paranoia: it's how Asian families show they care.

We drove past the armed guard at the subdivision's gate and down streets named, for whatever reason, after American politicians. The driver honked our house's signal (each house honks their horns in a different rhythm to tell the maid to open the door - the Filipino garage opener) to signal Manang Lorna to unlock the GIANT SPIKED METAL GATE OF PARANOIA! Manila is a long, long way from Boston, where I could slip out the kitchen door to buy ice cream at a downtown convenience store at 2am without passing 5 layers of security on the way.

After sleeping through dinner, I woke before sunrise and took a shower - actually, not a shower, but tabo - the much more water-frugal Filipino variant. Basically, it's a Navy shower with a bucket instead of the shower; you fill a large-ish bucket (~5-7 gallons) with clean water and use a large scoop to pour the water over you in the shower. I actually prefer tabo to showering - faster, saves water - but it requires a bathtub-length shower to be really comfortable, unlike the enough-room-for-one-person-to-stand stalls common in American dormitories. (The Olin suite showers could do it, but I'm not sure how my roommates would have felt about that.)

By the time I left "my" room, Manang Lorna was up and making oatmeal in the kitchen. I had leftover noodles from the dinner I'd slept through the previous night, some mangosteen, and atis, a knobbly green fruit with sweet, fleshy white pockets surrounding large black seeds. When I'd finished the sugary fruit, Lorna told me to leave my plate on the table (I've never gotten used to having maids in the house, although it's de-facto for the upper middle class and above here) and showed me the atis tree growing at the corner of the building, and how to tell whether the fruit was ripe. "Have to eat, or else the birds will eat it," she instructed. I told her I'd do my best.

I'm typing this while chewing a mouthful of sticky, bright purple sweet rice. ("Brunch," said Manang Lorna, despite having fed me a full meal less than 3 hours ago.) I think portion control may be a slight problem here.

7 comments:

Erin said...

Sounds awesome! 祝你好运! Mabuting kapalaran!:D (hopefully I got the Tagalog right...:))

I don't suppose there's any chance that they have a *reason* to be paranoid?

Anyway, good luck!

Christie said...

Yummy yummy! I eat so much in the last month...and had mangosteens for the first time. I saw the knobby green fruit but didn't try it :( We tried this smooth white one instead...which was more like a melon than a fruit. Good luck on eating your way through the country and staying safe, if not from the people your grandma is afraid of, then from the crazy traffic.

Do your relatives all speak English???

Christie said...

ALSO! I think if you have your own website with MoveType you're not blocked, because I could get to PlanetOlin, so it's just major blogging websites (like blogger) that do get blocked (I think).

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

You can try the shower in my room if you want. Several holes in the showerhead are clogged though, so you're left with a couple really precisely-painful jets of water.

Or you can just use it, since I believe the space is just bigger in general.

Bangtabuck said...

Manila sounds like the kinda place for me! I think that eating every 3 hours is more than reasonable. Of course, pika's fridge is still overflowing, so I suppose that there's work yet to be done in the US as well.

-matt

achie nono said...

i'm jealous about how much food you get to eat. i miss manila food! :)