Sunday, November 11, 2007

Backwards balikbayan box

I'll probably be switching out of Blogger soon. Christie's warnings of "no blogger in China!" have finally spurred me to set up some wordpress-fu after about 9 months of being in the "eh, I'll get around to it" stage. The new blog is still in the "Mel hasn't finished playing with php yet" stage so I'm still using this one, but you might see me popping off Planet Olin and onto my own site in about 5 days. We shall see.

Today I went to the supermarket with my aunt and cousin and (thanks to my aunt) got enough stuff to fill my backwards-balikbayan box (balikbayan boxes, or return-to-home-country boxes, are usually headed to the Philippines) with good Filipino food to cook back in New England.

Any Bostonians feel like coming over for some kaldereta, sinigang, kare-kare (with bagoong), champorado, adobo, lechon, lugaw, or a halo-halo party sometime when I get back? (Yeah, I'm going to make you look up what all those foods are.) I'm also learning how to make lumpia (monster-big fresh spring rolls) and huana miki (Filipino noodles, the "chicken noodle soup" of my childhood) and bringing home banana ketchup, which is good on everything. And spaghetti sauce - the sweet Filipino kind.

And mango. Dried, sorry - but perhaps that's for the best; I haven't been able to enjoy mangoes in America ever since I ate my first mango in the Philippines; Filipino mangoes just spoil all others for you. Another "darn, I can't take it with me" item is buko, fresh young coconuts (of the "lop off the top for an instant juice cup... and meat!" variety, not the shrivelly brown hairy dessicated overpriced specimens found in some U.S. groceries.) I also haven't figured out how to make taho, which is super-soft tofu that you eat with a sweet syrup and sago (tapioca pearls) and one of my dad's favorite foods.

Other than those three, laing (a creamed spinach-like dish with local ingredients) and bicol express (main ingredients: coconut milk, hot peppers, and several gallons of water to drink between bites), I think I can make all my favorite foods from this country back in the states until my sauce mixes run out.

I have probably misspelled an atrocious number of words here, since I'm phonetically transcribing Tagalog that I'm only vaguely familiar with. Oh well.

Hypothetically, I'm also bringing back some candy (including polveron, which is sugared powdered milk compressed into tablet form, and much tastier than it sounds). We will see how much is left by the time I actually fly back to the US in January. Once I begin to eat Ovalteenies (malt chocolate tablets) it is very hard to get me to stop.

I also wrote my first essay in Mandarin on my failed attempts to find vegetables at the supermarket. Other things covered via creative combinations of my limited vocabulary:

  • My memory, or lack thereof, for remembering the names of fruits.
  • Filipino supermarkets sell soap, medicine, and other things to whiten the skin. In contrast, American supermarkets sell tanning lotion.
  • The word for "brown" is literally translated as "the color of coffee." There's an old word that just means "brown," but I'm told that using it sounds really old-fashioned. (I wonder when the linguistic shift took place.)
  • MANGOES.
  • Artificial food coloring. I didn't know the word for "artificial," so I said "not-real," where "real" is the character used in the previous post's song fragment about true/real/genuine love. The effect is more melodramatic than intended, something like... "foods that have - o, vile tricksters! - reneged on the true nature of their hues, breaking their promises and - and - *sob* ...my hea-art!"
I also have two new favorite Mandarin phrases. One is "meige haizi, yige diannao," or "each child, one computer." (Hey, you know you want one.) Tagalog version is "isang laptop kada bata." I've been collecting translations of the phrase in as many different languages as possible because I think it'll make a kickass t-shirt.

The other (which has no connection to the first) is "bai wu liao lai," which is the rough equivalent of the English "bored to death," and, if I'm reading the dictionary correctly, literally means either something like "one-hundred nonsense disclaimers," or something like "one-hundred occasions of yakking away to kill time and dammit it's someone else's fault."

It's interesting to see how we create meaning (linguistically and otherwise). Last year's simultaneous foray into a little book by Applebee, and some stuff on Chomsky's work has really sent me down the "learning as language" path, and I've been there so long I'm trying to kick myself out of it, if only to see the thought-path I'm headed down a little better. But how do you kick yourself out of thinking in terms of words? (Extensive meditation?)

4 comments:

Christie said...

pick me! pick me! i don't know anything about filipino food...

we have a soft tofu of the sort that you talk about, it's a cantonese dessert. there's plenty of it in new york ;)

good luck with your mandarin! maybe we can talk when you get back...

Kathryn said...

> But how do you kick yourself out of thinking in terms of words?

With programming (for me anyhow), this happened after I learned several languages. I stopped thinking of the code in terms of syntax, and started thinking of it in terms of information flow, root concepts and relationships... you might be able to do this with regular old spoken/written/human/[adjective] languages as well, where at some point you could have a thought, and then think of the best language in which to express it.

Sumana said...

I hope to visit you sometime soon, if you are going to be in Boston for the next few months.

Mel said...

Christie: Of course you're welcome! I can even try to explain Filipino food to you in Mandarin, if you'd like to have some butchered language with your noodles. ;-)

Katie: Ah, to be multilingual! It's awesome to finally learn enough different viewpoints on a subject that you can "go meta" on it like that. From talking to my dad (who switches between Chinese, English, and Filipino), it sort of works that way with "human" languages too... but phrases and words and conjugations get mashed up mid-sentence, rendering it intellectually awesome for you and mostly incoherent to any listeners with a slightly different linguistic background.

Sumana: Depends on your definition of "next few" - I'll be back in the US on Jan. 7 and back in Boston about a week after that. It's actually possible that I might be spending most of the spring in NYC, so a trip eastwards might not even be needed. Will keep you posted.