one more thing…

Oh, and Mindoro pictures are up on Shutterfly! Enjoy…

Advertisements

bon appetit

You know, there are so many delectable foods in Filipino cuisine. There’s adobo, served sizzling like fajitas and with just the right amount of spice. There’s pork barbecue that could trump anything served in Tennessee or North Carolina. There’s pancit canton, a pleasing mixture of noodles,vegetables, shrimp, or meat. There’s puto (Spanish speakers will giggle), some kind of sweet rice ball thing…I don’t really know what it is but I like it. And bico, the sticky sweet dessert bar with caramel that leaves your fingers lickably gooey.

There are sizzling meats, delicious noodle dishes, every imaginable combination of rice, an innumerable amount of fish, and then there’s the fresh fruit, the coconuts, the juice…

So why, why, I ask, with so many enjoyable dishes to choose from, do they have to go and invent some of the most disgusting foods imaginable?

Let’s start with:

1. Cheese ice cream. Yes, it’s real. No, I don’t mean a sweet cheese like neufchatel or marscapone, or even ricotta. Just plain cheese. Ice cream. I actually bought some because I was so horrified to see it in the case, I couldn’t resist. The actual flavor is something like a mild vanilla-almond, until you remember it’s cheese flavored and then you gag a little bit. I thought cheese ice cream was bad enough, until, next to the frozen carton in the ice cream section, I saw…

2. Corn ice cream. Enough said. No, I did not try it. No, I will not try it. For the more discerning palate, I have also seen served, as a dessert, fresh sweet corn over ice. Like a nice corny popsicle. That’s just wrong. Corn should not be part of dessert, and definitely not ice cream. It also should not be part of a hot dog, but…

3. Corn hot dog. No, I don’t mean a corn dog, that lovely (if inwardly disgusting) carnival favorite involving food that is 1) covered in breading, 2) deep fried, and 3) served on a stick. …Well, actually, if we want to talk about hot dogs, we should start with regular, “normal” hotdogs in the Philippines. One night, on a long bus ride up north, Santi and I got out at a rest stop, and, looking over the meager food selection, found our mouths agape at a display of hotdogs that were quite possibly the brightest red color I have ever seen. We’re talking fire-engine, lipstick, cherry – apple – strawberry red. And they’re ALL like that. It’s bad enough to imagine that your food might be radioactive, but then they go and add sweet corn to it! Like, they mix whole kernels into the hot dog meat! When I see the billboards for this monstrosity that passes as actual food, I can only think one thing: that it will look exactly the same going out as it did coming in. If you catch my drift.

4. Halo Halo. Back on the frozen side of things…most of the Philippines’ crimes against food seem to be of the iced variety. Halo halo always looks appetizing from afar. A giant dish full of ice cream and fruit, bursting with colors and flavors….like red bean. Okay, red bean desserts are really popular in China and other parts of Asia, but for me, beans belong next to the corn (on the cob!!!) and the (pink, corn-free) hot dog on my plate at a backyard barbecue. Or in a tasty autumn chili. NOWHERE ELSE, and especially not on top of my ice cream (usually grape flavored, by the way)!

5. And…balut. I already explained a few entries ago exactly what balut is, but let me refresh your memory: You know ducks. You know eggs. Well, this is something in between. Balut is usually described to me this way: “It’s delicious!……Just….close your eyes!” I don’t know…admittedly, oatmeal is not the most attractive food, and no one thinks beef stew should win a beauty contest, but the idea of having to close my eyes in order to stomach something…well, I think I’ll stick to the basics, the good ol’ undeveloped embryos and fully-formed adults we know and love.

Minor offenders – things that are gross but which Filipinos cannot claim exclusive credit for:

6. Chicharron – basically fried puffed pig fat. A tasty treat any time of day!

7. Salty fish snacks – tiny dried fish that have neither flavor, texture, nor nutritional value. And they still have eyes.

Luckily, I think there are more amazing than repulsive foods in the Filipino culinary repertoire, but let’s just say, the next time you order an ice cream, make sure you know what you’re getting!

World Music Showcase #6

Okay okay, I know that a while back I whined about the cheesiness of Filipino music, and I totally stick by my story. Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton are kings here, and Kenny G’s not far behind.

But I have been able to find a few bands that break out of the sentimental Filipino shell, and manage to combine upbeat rock with those two qualities so elusive and rare here: sarcasm and irony.

I am proud to present, for your listening and viewing pleasure, one of the funniest bands in the Philippines:

PAROKYA NI EDGAR

I love this band because they have my sense of humor. Most Filipinos don’t. Example:

A while back, we were at a restaurant, and when we sat down, the waitress handed us these enormous cardboard placards for menus. Julien, in his typical style, said, “Wow, do you have a bigger menu?” And waitress, truly apologetic, said, “No, I’m sorry sir, we don’t,” and then ran off to notify her supervisor that some customers were not pleased with the size of the menu.

Anyway…

I find most of their songs hilarious, even the ones I don’t understand. By far our favorite, regularly sung at top volume in our van during rush hour, is “Alone With You.” There’s no video, per se, but the lyrics will suffice, trust me. Whenever I hear that song, I think of Eric. And “Track No. 1” is also incredibly amusing and worth a listen. I like the rhythm of “Akala”, and even though I don’t understand the words, I think I get it anyways. I can totally relate. And their video for “Halaga” and its clever play on boy-band choreography absolutely cracks me up.

Good for a laugh, and a good time.

More to come in Filipino Music Showcase!

Mindoro

Alright alright, I slacked already. I knew it would be tough. But the problem was that I went away for the weekend! To a place without internet! And…and then it was a really busy week! And there was a typhoon! And…

Well, all of that is true, but still is no excuse for my not keeping up with NaBloPoMo. Anyway, the Story of Mindoro:

This weekend I went to Mindoro, an island in the province of Batangas, which is…well, actually, I probably couldn’t point it out on a map to you, but it’s somewhere south of here, about a 3-hour car ride and one-hour ferry ride away.

Of course, if you choose to leave on Friday night and miss the last ferry, you’ll be forced to stay the night in Batangas, where you’ll drive around looking for bars until you end up singing bad karaoke songs and downing San Miguel Pilsners until the wee hours of the morning with the escort waitresses that work at the bar…but anyway…

Once you get to Mindoro, you’ll have a great time. Mindoro, like every small Asian island town I’ve been to, doesn’t have a whole lot going on. Don’t come here looking for discos or high-end shopping or swanky beach resorts. Come to think of it, don’t come here looking for hot water even.

But if you want a sandy beach, salty waves, colorful boardwalk huts and the lazy tropical island feel that makes you imagine that this is the perfect place to escape a felony conviction, then Mindoro is the place for you.

We arrived in the early morning hours and found ourselves some bargain rooms to stay in…of course, by bargain, I mean the sheets had a Mickey Mouse print, the owner laughed when we asked about hot water, and in the middle of the night I woke up to find an Asian beetle hiding in my toilet…but the beers were 25 pesos (about 40 cents) and the view could not be beat.

Then we planted ourselves firmly on the beach and proceeded to rel- I mean, be endlessly bombarded by beach sellers with every imaginable product, undaunted by my feigned sleep or the headphones plugged firmly in my ears (“Mam, maybe you would like a massage.” “Pearls, Mam! Real! See???” “Mam, would you like a bracelet with your name? Yes you would!” “Mangoes mam!” “Mam, can I read your magazine?”) The magazine guy, a pearl seller, sat down and started flipping through my tabloid magazine, saying, “Is that Beyonce? She had a concert here, you know! But it was too far, so I had to just stand on the shore and shout, ‘I love you Beyonce!'”, and smiling wide enough to reveal three missing teeth.

There are really only two things I like to do at a beach: build sand castles, and collect rocks. Or shells. It’s the same thing I’ve done at the beach since I was about eight months old. I get bored with tanning. I don’t like beach volleyball. Swimming is only good until you get stung by jellyfish. But a good sand castle endeavor will entertain me for hours, as will an epic search for The Perfect Rock.

Anyways, luckily, this beach had quite a few offerings. Besides being able to buy everything short of new kitchen cabinetry from the comfort of your beach towel, there was also kayaking and snorkeling. I love kayaking. And rafting. And canoeing. It’s one of very few sports I seem to have some natural talent at. We kayaked through jagged rock formations, past jungle-clad islands rising steep out of the water, past hidden white beaches that no footprint had touched in a long time. I scrambled out of my boat to slip on the corals and stare at a huge blue starfish, and to gaze at the tiny fish in the clear waters at my feet.

After the exahustion of the trip (though I left the boys in the wake of my waves with my mad kayaking skillz), we watched the sunset with banana splits and spent the evening telling stories by candlelight over pitchers of Mindoro Sling (rum, orange juice, and Sprite) on the beach, as music thumped from the shops on the shore.

The next day, we woke early to gray skies and rain. The perfect time for snorkeling. People have urged us to go diving here, but you need a certification, and the stories of people dying have turned me off somewhat (okay, the stories are really only two episodes of TV shows I’ve seen…one was House, where the guy didn’t actually die at all, and the other was Surface, where the guy was eaten by a Loch-Ness-type sea creature. Perhaps not the most reliable of information sources…). Truth be told, although I like the idea of sea life and corals and such, I was just never that interested in diving. So snorkeling seemed like a good compromise between diving and staying on the beach. We put on our masks, held on the rope of a motorboat, and plunged into the sea. I adjusted my goggles, and my air pipe (“Has this been sanitized?”), and looked into the water.

And a world I could never have imagined revealed itself to me. I saw jagged corals and soft flowing anemones. There were rigid purple corals with brain-like twists, and bright green corals with tiny spines and hidden centers. There were peaks and valleys, an entire geography under the sea. I saw yellow and black fish swimming peacefully by, and brightly colored rainbow fish that darted in and out of secret passageways. There were shells, and starfish, and sea cucumbers (!), and even a sea snake, laying long and mellow at the bottom of the ocean. I made friends with a crab, its big shell covered in pink and white algaes that blended perfectly with the rock it was perched on. I stayed still and peered at it until I saw two curious eyes poke out from under the shell. Then two feelers followed, and the edges of its legs, emerging slowly from under its safe hideaway. Then there were bigger fish, and huge schools of tiny flickering fish, and tiny jellyfish that stung at us as we swam through.

And that was nothing! I still haven’t seen a sting ray, or an octopus, or a turtle. The world of the sea is so incredible and remains so unexplored; it is truly the last frontier on Earth…we have only explored about 10% of the sea and even that contains mysteries we have yet to solve, hidden deep in the darkness where light, and noise, and human contact do not yet penetrate…

…well, our exploration was cut short by an impending typhoon, which threatened to maroon us on the island for an extra day. The winds kicked up and the sky turned gray, and drops began to fall again, but we were able to escape on an early boat and made it back to dreary Manila in time to sit in traffic for three hours, thinking of bright blue starfish and oyster shells, still hearing the sound of the waves and feeling the rocking of the water…

Check out this video for awesome footage of both the unexplored deep, courtesy of BBC’s Planet Earth series, and this guy’s own footage of Boracay. This is all I’ve got to go on, until my next trip down under…

Mango Madness

I have never liked mangoes.

I’ll give you a moment to gasp in disbelief, let your jaw gape open, and let the question form on your tongue as it does to everyone I meet: How can you not like mangoes?

I’m not that hot about pineapple either. Or watermelon. Or guava, papaya, banana, or, really, anything tropical. I am a mountain berry person. If it is purple, like figs, plums, blackberries, or grapes, I will probably love it. If it requires reaching into a thorny bush and often ascribes to the “one in the hand, two in mouth” method of harvesting, then I will surely enjoy it.

But I don’t enjoy mangoes, and I can never really place what it is about them I dislike. I guess there’s just something…pale…about the flavor. Something kind of mealy, or bland…and before you launch into the second comment I know is coming (“Oh, that’s because you haven’t had ripe/green/Thai/my grandmother’s mangoes” – the same statement I always get when I admit that I like neither mashed potatoes nor meatloaf), no, it’s not that. I’ve tried them several times, in different ways, even through introduction by mango experts. And I’ve had to come to the painful conclusion that I just don’t like them.

…until the Philippines.

Maybe it’s the sheer volume and proliferation of mango and mango-related paraphernalia. I found myself being served various mango dishes against my better judgment, and, while I could hardly say I found them disgusting, I wouldn’t particularly say I enjoyed them. One day, I was served an entire mango for breakfast, and, seeing the lack of other options on my table, reluctantly took a spoon and began to carve out tiny curls of soft orange flesh.

…and then the whole thing was gone.

And a few days later, I found myself thinking about the mango again.
I even thought about buying one. What’s going on here?

I finally caved and bought two. Yellow ones, with voluptuous velvety insides and sweet juicy flavor. I couldn’t resist. Before I even realized what had happened, I had sliced them both open and devoured the insides.

Now I find myself constantly purchasing mangoes. I’m no fanatic, but I would say I eat them on a regular basis, and always seem to surprise myself – “Hey, I’m eating a mango!”. Sure, this wouldn’t be the first time my tastes have changed (ahem…olives, raisins, broccoli…), but it never ceases to amaze me how subtly the mango crept up on me and took me by surprise, spoon in my mouth.

Oh, the mighty mango, a joy to behold. Now if only I could get over balut*…

*A Filipino favorite, balut are mostly-formed duck eggs. In other words, while still an egg, there is also a beak, and wings, and…well, you get the picture. I’ll stick with mango.

What’s in a name?

To the American voting public, I have only two words for you tonight:

THANK YOU.

President Elect Barack Hussein Obama…. I like the sound of that.

To anyone that gets hung up on Obama’s name, please have some perspective:

There are people (not person, I’m talking PLURALS here) in the Philippines named Dingdong.
Like, that’s their real name. Full name. On their birth certificate. How can anyone with a name like Dingdong expect to be taken seriously?

There’s also a varied selection of Cha-Cha, Jo-jo, Joc-joc, Ma-Bel, Ma-An, and various other ridiculous shortenings and repetitions of otherwise lovely names.

There are also Bing, Beng, and Bong (again, more than one!). All they’re missing is Boom.

There are also entire families composed of: a) names beginning with the same letter, like Robert, Rita, and Ron; b) the same name in various form, like Jack, Jackie, and Jacklyn.

So before you whine about Obama’s middle name, imagining addressing His Excellency Sir Dingdong.

Another Public Service Announcement from the Rest of the World

The whole world is watching with bated breath. In a few hours, there will either be a collective sigh of relief, or a collective gasp of despair. Everyone is waiting.

I would like to give everyone a bit of perspective, because maybe those of you in the States imagine that all this election fury is really only limited to your own battleground cities and heated debates in high-school classrooms, that everyone else in the world is going about their daily business, barely aware of the political war being waged today.

Not so.

EVERYONE here in the Philippines asks me who I think will win, if I voted yet, who I voted for, why some people want to vote for (insert name of opponent here), how I think they will do, will they be better at foreign policy, will Barack Obama take away their jobs? And that’s all in one breath. People in Indonesia were very curious as well.

In Nigeria, I am told that people would stop everything and glue themselves to the TV when Obama came on. In Kenya…well, just watch this video for an idea.

In Obama, Japan, election fever has hit the small namesake town, even in the form of Obama-christened souvenir pastries.

My English, Argentinian, and French coworkers are well-versed in each candidate’s stance on certain issues and have watched not only the debates but the SNL spinoffs, too.

I even received an email from a long-lost Italian friend who was thinking of me often as the elections neared, remembering a few years ago when I first mentioned that funny-sounding name to her and expressed, even back then, my excitement about him.

Newspapers worldwide post poll results as top headlines and the campaign’s latest turn is the top story on their local nightly news channels.

Everyone, around the world, knows that whatever decision is made tonight will affect them in a way that we, in the US ourselves, can barely comprehend. Imagine Americans following foreign elections with more fervor than they follow their own. As the reigning superpower, we have the luxury of knowing that no other country’s history will be more monumental than ours.

I was telling a friend today that I can’t imagine what it would be like to be from a tiny country. No matter where I go, America (and Americans) follow. I never have to tell anyone who the current president is, or what colors our flag has, or where exactly it’s located on a map. If you are from Slovenia, for example, there may be a time when you travel to a country and you are the only Slovenian there. Maybe the people you meet will never have even heard of the place, let alone the language, the customs, or the politics. That will never happen to me. My country is present in every other country.

It’s hard for anyone, even someone who is looking at the U.S. from a much farther, wider lens, to truly comprehend the impact we have on the world. Perhaps nobody understood our influence quite so well as when we tripped over our finances and saw the rest of the world fall beneath us.

And now, again, the world is hanging on to every word, watching TV on the edge of their seats with the same anticipation (or, in some cases, even more) than Americans themselves. We all want to know where to go from here, because wherever the US goes, it appears that we’re all going to go there together.

Celebrate democracy – cast your vote!