Friday, October 05, 2007

Market day & visiting grandfather

Grandma logic: "Can I do boxing?" "No, boxing is not for girls. It's too violent." "How about kung fu?" "Kung fu is okay." "So... learning how to pummel people unconscious with my hands is too violent, but learning how to kill people with sharp pointy weapons is okay?" "Yes."

Going in and out of air-conditioned rooms isn't the most pleasant thing for my nasal passages, which have continued to drip into my lungs at an amazingly prodigious rate. My usual activities include chugging water, sleeping, and talking to people in a congested-sounding voice. The first thing people say to me is now "do you have a cold?" (instead of the usual "you are so tall!" - I'm 5'8" but tower above nearly all the women in Manila... clothes shopping is entertaining because I've never been an XL before).

We went to the market this morning to get food for the week (I carried a box of tissues with me). Market day is not for the squeamish; fish guts and scales fly through the air, with skinny men in Mr. Bean t-shirts smacking cleavers into questionably sanitary wood blocks. Everything is packed in ancient styrofoam chests held together by faded stripes of packing tape; a pig's head gazes hungrily at its own roasted hindquarters by way of advertisement for purchasing the latter ("My butt is so tasty even I want to eat it!") and white squids lounge across the grills, dangling charring tentacles languidly above a sea of ash.

Some fruits and vegetables I almost recognize. The carrots are stubby and fat, the green beans are a half-yard or so long, the asparagus is downright midget-sized, but the mangoes are amazing. Others I pointedly avoid. Durian, which is a large spiky fruit on a stout stick that looks like a medieval torture implement, actually is - an olfactory one, at least. It smells like a cross between mildewing garbage and a backed-up toilet - tastes great, though. Then there's ampalaya, a knobbly green melon that works wonders as a cough remedy because its sheer bitterness makes the phlegm choke itself out in an attempt to get away. (Ampalaya tastes great, says my grandmother. Ah, so I need to wait for more of my taste buds to die, I tell her.)

Merienda (second breakfast; we're like hobbits) was purchased at the market as well. It consisted of two foods whose spelling I will proceed to mangle: bibingka and puto bunbun. The former is made by pouring a batter, sprinkled with salty eggs, into a leaf bowl stuffed over a charcoal fire, then covering it with a pan of more charcoal until it puffs up into a bright yellow cake. The latter involves neon purple rice steamed and packed in envelopes of banana leaf. I'll need to take pictures of this at the next Sunday market.

After arriving home, we greet my late Angkong('s picture, hanging next to photos of his parents) in the tiny ancestral shrine in the living room, bob long sticks of red incense in front of our faces in his general direction, then bow three times; nobody can tell me exactly why we do this. It's probably for the same reason we rubbed our clothes with packets of rice after the funeral (it "soaks up" bad luck, so of course you can't toss it in your garbage - so the funeral procession detoured past McDonalds to toss the now-accursed papers into wads of discarded Big Macs) and why I technically can't wear red (purple is okay but yellow is "too red," so I'm not sure what color theory the ancients used) and other things.

Anyway. Back to the incense. You're only supposed to burn it during the day because the ancestors, being rational people, sleep at night. This makes me unsure what my children will do if they decide to shrine-ify me after my death. ("Hey, it's 4am and I want to BURN THINGS! Think mom's still up?" "Yeah... where's that flamethrower she asked us to use?")

Then we drove to the crypt. Actually, I drove to the crypt. I think my family was more freaked out by my navigation of Manila traffic than I was. Downtown New York driving is an excellent way to ease into the more advanced Manila navigation dance - one foot for the gas, one hand for the wheel, one hand for the valium.

Angkong's urn resides in space 275F of Christ the King. Getting his ashes to the Philippines (he had a heart attack while he was visiting my parents in Chicago) was an adventure; when you bring a Chinese person's remains home, you have to call to their spirit every step of the way so they won't get left behind. My dad was the one who flew back to the Philippines with the ashes. "Pa, we're going into the car; come with us." "Pa, we're going into the airport; come with us." "Pa, we're going through security; come with us." ("Sir, you're going to have to put your carry-on baggage in the scanner.") "Uh... okay. Pa, you're going through the x-ray machine..."

He's up in a little shelf with a door of pink marble now. It's a pretty comfy spot after a long, full life. Some of the neighboring spaces contain much younger occupants, which sobered me; seeing photos of high schoolers and toddlers in bonnets taped to a spot always makes me remember how close I came to being a gap-toothed picture on a wall years ago. Then there was the single tomb that contained only a photograph of a baby and a single date for birth and death...

On the way back, I admired jeepney decorations. The local buses are usually airbrushed with neon renditions of Catholic saints, cartoon figures, or both. One jeepney proclaimed its decorations were THE JUSTICE LEAGUE! and featured Superman, a trio of colorful people that were either chubby cartoon Power Rangers or "Powerpuff Girls: Age 30", and (at the head of this motley crew), SUPERJESUS! whose main power appeared to be RADIATING BEAMS OF HAPPINESS AND PEACE FROM HIS FACE!!!!

Which is a pretty cool power, if you think about it. Imagine...

Generic Villain: "Blah blah blah monologue about world domination blah blah blah"
SUPERJESUS: ...turns the other cheek and suddenly a BLINDING BEAM of GOD'S INFINITE LOVE AND MERCY hits Generic Villain in the solar plexus
Generic Villain (after vomiting out a couple demons): "My Lord and my God!"
SUPERJESUS: "He's yo' daddy."

I'm trying to persuade my cousins to accompany me, my Guama (my mom's mom), and my mother and aunts to Shanghai next month. "Look, I'm going to be touring China with six women over the age of 45*. Now, if one menopausal mother has to pee at least once an hour... think about the amount of time I'll be spending waiting in public toilets if you don't come." ("We could," I pointed out, "tally how many bathroom breaks each mom takes, and start a betting pool for the grandkids.")

*Technically, the youngest aunt is not quite 45. But still. Even traveling just with my mom requires an order of magnitude more bathroom breaks than I'd usually take alone.

The crabs need cleaning. I must be off.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Boxing = offense, Kung Fu = defense, so that's understandable IMO (although, granted, I'm not sure if that was Ama's point).

By the way, you're making me hungry. Go Trim!

...

Christie said...

Hey :)

I love going to the market! Clothes, gadgets, electronics, food, whatever, it's my favorite thing to do. :)

And, ugh! durian is an acquired taste that I don't want to go through the trouble to get. Like beer. :)

Red is the color of happiness and good luck/you wear it in weddings and stuff...so it would be disrespectful to seem 'happy' when your grandfather has passed away. (you probably knew this, so does our culture's symbolism baffle you?) we bow three times to show respect/greet our ancestors (and also to say good bye). i don't know if there's a deeper meaning than that, though..

you don't want to go to public bathrooms in china. yech. wait 100ft. away because the smell wafts...:p and practice squatting... but you'll have fun anyways!! you'll get to eat lots of different kinds of food with more people :)

Mel said...

It's not so much the symbolism that baffles me... more the seeming inconsistency thereof; if happy-red is off limits, why is red-based purple ok but yellow - a different primary color altogether - no good? Yeah, I know yellow looks "happier" than purple, but my RGB sensibilities are just being nitpicky.