31 July 2008

Nueva Vizcaya Sunrise

A miscommunication on a meeting had me at the Farmer's Training Center at 5 AM. It was padlocked and lifeless.

It was all fortunate. I turned around to see beautiful blues and pinks battle it out. An orange seeped in and when daylight prevailed, I trudged down the stairs to take a tricycle back into the center.

28 July 2008

Missing India

If Mama Filipinas calls me up from bed everyday, Sister India whispers to me in my dreams.

Nitraj, a special Mewar horse with ears that turn outward like petals.

Carrying petrol to their home across a lakeside.

School boys, attentive.

Peaceful denizens of the streets.

A Cat Named Beauty

In Luneta.

25 July 2008

Puerto Princesa's Little Declarations

How do peoples' decals and stickers represent their general approach to other human beings?

This guy selling Yakult was really friendly, open, and had a crinkle-eyed smile:

"I really Like You!" sticker on a Yakult vendor's cooler (may rosas pa).

This trike driver was a shady guy trying to rip us off in an unprecedented manner:

"Sorry!! Di kita type" button in a trike.

24 July 2008

The One And Only National Library Guide Ever

Library card, front. My photo is too big!

Along with the Naughty Nurse, the Sexy Librarian has been one of the most predominant, ah, ideas that have brought color and motivation to some pretty loathsome institutions. Their origins are similar to those of the Tooth Fairy-- entities so fantastic and superlatively magical as to compensate for the unfortunate inevitability of gaping holes in your gums, death, injections, and the Dewey Decimal System.

Like getting a heavy-syrup shot for hepatitis vaccination, going to the library is largely seen as a chore, something you have to get done to fatten up that mandatory bibliography you append to that delightful research paper for your minor-yet-cumbersome class. Most people are too lazy to utilize these heavenly brothels of knowledge.

Pambansang Aklatan on Kalaw St.

I've proven since childhood to be a sucker for a gripping Bobbsey Twins mystery (about goldfish and cookies), any travel adventure (my homiez Tintin and Snowy), or how-to books (making lamps out of bottles and rubbish).

Later on, realizing what a detrimental Westernized mindframe I'd developed from a literary diet of suburbian utopian misleading stuff and Archie comics, I became more inclined to pick up journal articles of some ridiculously specialized field (Tarrifs and Woven Household Materials in Medieval Mesopotamia and Modern-Day Bulgaria: A Comparative Analysis). The latter appeals to me because there is so much impassioned nerd mania involved in creating works with this kind of absurd specificity.

So I graduated from mandatory schooling, and suddenly a little part of me was missing, the part that yearned for information overloads and etc. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to fill this void and take a trek to the National Library.

Let me begin by saying that these days, I usually say "fuggit" and hit the internet. Otherwise, I trawl stores and freeload new books while taking notes on my phone.

This time, I was looking for information more likely to be in obscure books by local researchers. The Pambansang Aklatan is the best place for this. It is just the type of place that needs an encouraging female sex bomb archetype to motivate you to go there-- stuffy, slow, quite subpar on the whole. But clean! It also has little displays of heroes' actual clothing and shoes.

If you hadn't gone to college around the University Belt nor heard of the National Library until now, trust me when I say you need to go through the process below (or some version of it). Otherwise suffer making several trips up and down the stairs, or to the library itself. Consider it a public service segment:

1. Take the LRT or FX to UN Avenue, and walk towards the library. You want to get off the station at around 8:20 AM, as the library opens at 8:30. Don't come during lunchtime, the ID applications are closed.

2. Apply for a library card. The window is to your left when you enter. Be armed with 50 pesos, a 1x1 photo, and a valid ID. (I forgot my ID at home and improvised a ghetto-looking one out of my business card, pasting a photo and putting a bogus "employee number" and all that stuff. I felt triumphant about this dishonesty. I should have felt bad, but it saved me a trip home.) You cannot even browse through books if you don't have a library card. I will explain more later.

Library card, back. See the mandatory ID card threats of loss and non-transferability, and your reader number, with an actual bar code.

3. Pay for the card, glue your pic on, sign it, and proceed to the electronic registration part. You will be asked to enter more detailed information, like your address, etc. They have some fantasy of actually being able to use this information.

4. Check your bag in at the right side of the first floor. They'll give you a claim tag. Be sure to bring your valuables, your library card, and some note-taking materials with you. And a pen. There are no pens available anywhere.

5. Go to your floor of choice. Mine was the Filipiniana section, as I wanted to find out about the history of my city. You log in at the area entrance.

Good daylighting in the search area.

6. Take some query cards from any of the wholesome librarians at your service. (Flip them over and you'll realize they're actually recycled cards from old card catalogues.) Go back out or into the halls to search for books on the available computers. Their selection is not too bad, especially when it comes to dissertations and local research. If you find something you definitely like, put it straight out on the query card. The rest you can write on a sheet of paper.

A faded green query card from Filipiniana.

7. Enter the "inner room" (I'm speaking from my experience in the Filipiniana section) which is actually where all the books are. You will be allowed to retrieve your own books. They are quite well-organized.

Inside the vault of books.

8. Take your books out of the morgue-like room. The lady by the door "checks out" your books. You will need to write the details of the books on the abovementioned query cards (if you haven't already), and give these to her with your library card. You can't actually take these books home. You need to give your card just to sit around and read them. Needless to say, this measure has surely ensured the continued presence of actual books in the building.

9. Research away. Around you will be similarly engrossed students from nearby universities. At the end of the day (4:30 PM), return your books to the lady, take your card, and scoot. You cannot take books home without resorting to theft.

Lots that you won't find on the web.

You have now extracted, with much effort, some benefit from your tax payments to our national government. You will no doubt be back, to maximize the effort you expended in actually obtaining both a card and information about the library's existence.

Pambansang Aklatan (National Museum)
T.M. Kalawa Street
Ermita, Manila
(+632) 525 1748 / (+632) 5253196
Hours: Monday- Saturday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM. During summertime they shorten hours and skip Saturdays. Call to make sure.
LRT Station: UN Avenue (I got lost because I missed my stop, but I ended up there eventually. Just ask around. FXs also go down in front of the building itself)

22 July 2008

Pakaskas, Palm Sugar Snacks

Palm leaves make for labor-intensive but free, beautiful, and 100% biodegradable packaging.

The woman said it was pakaskas, a snack made in nearby Isla Verde, the center of the center of global ocean biodiversity, the marine equivalent of the Amazon basin (she didn't tell me that, but wow!) with buri palm sugar .

I was fiending for some rice cakes to eat on the bus home and drawn to the pretty packaging, so I snapped a bunch up. I later discovered that every level held a layer of raw sugar and nothing more. Luckily, it was good enough to eat on its own.

She sells sweetness by the seashore.

If you're from the Philippines, you probably own a buri hat, mat, box or whatnot, as the palm tree (Corypha elata) produces an ultra-versatile weaving fiber. We really should use it more often for less tourist-type applications, but that's another story.

You've probably eaten buri sugar a few times also. However, I'm betting you've done so unknowingly. A lot of it is sold as panocha (or panutsa), which is the general word for the solidified half-orbs of raw sugar. The sweet juice from this large tree must be boiled for about a quarter of a day, set aside, and then poured into molds (usually hard coconut shells). In this case, they were small casitas of palm leaves.

I even took some to Germany for others to try!

Until quite recently, I thought that palm sugar (aside from coco sugar, which has the advantage of scale and extreme export attractiveness) had gone extinct in the Philippines. I was wrong, but it's no doubt highly endangered due to the garangutan sugarcane industry, which I assumed produced all the panocha in the country.

We need to re-diversify our local sources of sweetness, which have dwindled continuously since the Spanish sugarcane assault of the 1800s. Let's resurrect the various palm sugars, honey, root syrups, etc. Life would be so much more interesting (and biodiversity would be in a bit better position) if we utilized them and enjoyed their nuances.

Graceful Tool

A gracefully shaped saw at the Bilibid Prison grounds, Muntinlupa. Handmade out of a single heavy scrap iron rod, with a new set of "teeth" (from a broken saw) attached.

21 July 2008

17 July 2008


A bad one.

The carioca: a fried piece of rice flour that is sweet.

If you're lucky, it's made with glutinous rice flour with just the right sweetness. If you're unlucky, it's got slightly tough whole undercooked grains of rice, and has faint hints of other deep-fried street food (care of recycled oil). It would also have some kind of sugar armor enveloping it.

I have no recollection of seeing carioca (or karyoka or karioka) until around five years ago, leading me to believe that it was a modern invention to maximize cheap ingredients and an asset (deep-fryer) probably already used to make other snacks (turon, etc.). In Ilocos, they've improved on it by making a variation with purple glutinous rice (ballatinaw) flour.

But come to think of it, it's pretty similar to present-day Ilonggo bitso-bitso (which was originally a Chinese fried thing eaten with honey). It's almost exactly like what others call cascarone or kaskarol (from cascaron, the Spanish word for eggshell), except that was usually fried in sugar syrup.

I still don't have answers about this one. So if anyone knows where the name carioca came from, email me please!

Ah, the evolution and idea osmosis of rice snacks.

15 July 2008

Jeepney Ceilings

Painted wood with some steel parts.

The only safety feature in a jeepney: padding above your head.

11 July 2008

Toilethics, A Buzzword That Will Never Be

Thank you for keeping us out of the usual toilethical dilemmas.

If you're a corporation and sponsoring a "public service advisory" poster, try not to insert yourself shamelessly and ungracefully into the text. In parentheses, no less! There are so many other good ways to get your brand across.

I quote the above poster: "Itapon sa basurahan ang gamit na (Joy Bathroom) tissue o (Kotex Newtex) sanitary pad."

09 July 2008

Equatorial Groove

Binasuan, a Pangasinense dance involving precarious glasses of water.

People always tell me that Filipinos "don't dance like Asians". Mostly they hold a stereotype of an oriental who is hopeless with the rhythms and moves of percussive music. While I usually do a counter-retort poking fun at the "White Man's Shuffle", I do know that Filipinos are a bit different. I saw a few folk dances at the Philamlife theater last week which led to some thinking and file-digging.

Certain places in Mindanao have kept alive the pangalay we have in common with Southeast Asia (since pre-Islamic times). The upland regions and other pockets have preserved their various tribal dances. But much of hispanized Philippines was subject to a different beat. Our music and outfits influenced by colonization, our movements somehow more earthy and fiery than our Asian neighbors, but more graceful than our Latin American brothers and sisters.

Pandango, with oil lamps on the girls' head and in a piece of cloth they are swinging around.

We have a lot of "show-off" dances. Donning percussive bras, banging on them, then doing cartwheels! Balancing fire and glasses of water on our heads and hands! Dancing among bamboo poles used to make loud banging sounds at the expense of maybe getting your feet caught between them! And so on and so forth.

This hotdogging nature probably originates from the fact that many dances were performed during fiestas. Like today, barangays or barrios often try to outdo each other with their dexterity, new "gimmicks", and moves. At any fiesta parade, people will lose interest if you don't do something different.

A particular favorite of mine is the manglalatik dance (also called maglalatik or manlalatik), where men strap coconut shells to various parts of their bodies (often there is one set that resembles a bikini top). Here's a Bayanihan video:

Forget wars over oil and water. Originally performed in Binan, Laguna, the dance was supposed to depict a dispute between Moros and Christians "over coconut residue" or latik! Look closely and you'll see that there are four parts in the dance, demonstrating intense combat and the succeeding escaramusa or reconciliation. I wonder who took the latik home in the end!

I tap your bao, you tap mine.

I then dug up a video I took in San Francisco of Peru Negro, "the cultural ambassadors of black Peru". While there are a lot of obviously African movements, they seem to have more in common with many of our folk performances than do Asian ones (at least in "feel"-- I'm such an amateur dance analyzer).

What intrigues me most is that we take such dances of ours to have pre-hispanic roots because they are often so different from those of our conquistadores. But factor in the often-overlooked fact that we were governed from Mexico for a couple of hundred years, and you get a very interesting mix of equatorial-abouts indigenous cultures.

Simple Pleasures


Food experimentation is doubly nice when you use stuff from your own backyard. We are surrounded by edibles, mostly dismissed as weeds or "just" trees. If I weren't vegetarian, I'd probably be hanging around parks and going for the pigeons.

The above dish was made by sauteeing various leafies: talinum, kulitis, young green mango leaves, kamoteng kahoy tops, malunggay, eggplant, and alugbati in a lot of garlic and ginger.

A paste of onions, sampaloc leaves (the light green small ones), wood sorrel, and another red kind of sorrel that tastes like kamias (all sour leaves with varying character) was mixed with mascobado sugar.

I combined the greens and the paste in the pan, and let them sit for awhile so they could "get to know each other". The whole thing was then topped with slices of burong mangga, which I made a few weeks ago. Around the whole "glob" I put fresh leaves of pansit-pansitan and Thai basil.

With betel leaves (soaked first in water and a bit of mascobado sugar for ten minutes) and crushed Indian papadum to sprinkle on rice.

This was laid out with some betel leaves (the same one they use for Indian paan) to make small wraps with. Locally, this vine is known as ikmo, and older people use it to when they chew nganga, along with the betel nut (bunga). It has a slightly sour flavor, and can be found in many Southeast Asian dishes.

08 July 2008

Hopia Again

I am ever grateful to you, young man.

Here's one guy you keep wishing you'll bump into.

Take your pick: ube, mungo, baboy? 5 pesos lang.

When he hands you the hopia wrapped in a small strip of brown paper, it's still smoking, and it smells irresistible. The crust is flakey and hot, while the inside is velvety sweet mung bean paste. Melts in your mouth. Not too heavy. Don't walk away too fast. You'll regret not having a second piece.

Hot hopia in molds, don't they look like samurai balls?

07 July 2008

Views From The Throne

Cubicle door at Philamlife Theater.

Cubicle door at Little Tokyo.

Bathroom wall at Kusina Salud.

Bathroom wall in Southwestern France.

06 July 2008

The Rising Cost of Samosa-Eating

Samosa with chole at the food counter of Assad Mini Mart.

The cheapest samosa in Manila is now 3 pesos more expensive. It now takes a shiny ten peso coin to buy one piece of these deep-fried potato dumplings, along with some sauce, at Assad. With some chole (garbanzos simmered in spices), they go for 15 pesos a pair.

This is still much better than the two for 55 pesos at New Bombay, and I'm not even gonna wonder about Bollywood. Assad also has an extensive array of Indian sweets, and a grocery full of ingredients for your next culinary foray into the spicy subcontinent.

If you're sick of the skyscrapers and relative orderliness of Makati, come down to UN Avenue. Hop on an MRT to Taft station. From here, transfer to the older LRT line (there's a passageway through the mall) and stop at UN Avenue. When you get down the stairs, you'll see pedicabs. They will take you to Assad for 20-30 pesos.

If you want to walk the samosas off, the UN Avenue station is just ten minutes away from places like the National Library, National Museum, Rizal Park, and more.

Assad Mini Mart
1268 IJK Midtown Executive Homes
UN Avenue, Paco, Manila
(+632) 526 1349/ (+632) 526 5034
LRT Station: UN Avenue
Pedicab towards Assad

Bless Our Sales

Little religious statues man many small stores across the country.

A sari-sari store in San Antonio, Makati.

No, it's not a Sto. Nino selling flower garlands. He is helping ensure brisk turon sales along TM Kalaw, Manila.

04 July 2008

MRT Station Kids

I wonder if they've ever even been on the trains.

Even More Fluff

Stuffed toys in public vehicles: do they demonstrate a force opposing driver machismo, or a strange harmony of attitudes and elements within a seemingly tough subculture?

Barney and friends in an El Nido trike.

Steaming Hot Street Food

Boiled quail eggs and peanuts on Quezon Avenue.

Nothing warms the heart on a cold rainy day like some boiled peanuts and old Filipino ballads.

Towel on head club leader.

Love songs from towel on head club member.

02 July 2008

Balance in Food

India cured me of my deep-fried food aversion. Shaking off horrible imagery of American fried everything (and accompanying obesity), I soon got into the rhythm of seeing the logic behind meals and condiments. A valuable lesson: Internalizing a cuisine's nuances and philosophies teaches you that if it has evolved over time, it usually has balancing mechanisms that are built in. Respect these measures and enjoy life.

The aforementioned subcontinent has a myriad of spices to help you digest oily samosa, thick stews, and all sorts of fritters. Filipino killer Ilocos empanada has a corresponding impressively sour vinegar to cut the fat. Heavy German sausages have great German beer to help them along. Japanese tempura often has sauce that you must dunk radish in (and we all know that the root helps your body process fats).

Kakiage or vegetable tempura at Hana Restaurant at Little Tokyo.

So, in moderate amounts, eat what is seemingly bad (or maligned by a scientific study that studies it in isolation and doesn't throw in the accompaniments). If you throw in the wisdom of a culture, it should turn out fine. Don't forget that in the old days, oil and sugar and whatnot were not so plentiful, thus not everyday fare but somewhat special.

Here are some more photos from a recent trek to Makati's Little Tokyo:

Waking from siesta by the entrance.

Waking from siesta too.

Stoking for yakiniku.

Sky versus them.

Little Tokyo
2277 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati
MRT Station: Magallanes
Walk down Chino Roces Avenue to Arnaiz Avenue, turn left and watch out for Makati Cinema Square. Little Tokyo is between Chino Roces Avenue and Amorsolo.
MRT Station: Ayala
Walk to Arnaiz Avenue, keep walking away from EDSA. Watch out for Makati Cinema Square. Little Tokyo is between Chino Roces Avenue and Amorsolo.

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