Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Local Palenke, Siniloan


After an exhausting day, I wandered around the palenke looking to drown my thoughts in the stimulus overload. Rows and rows of merchants selling t-shirts, fine leather shoes, boot-legged DVDs and CDs, cell phones and accessories, wide endless rows of meat and fish vendors leaning over their fresh cuts glossy and gleaming red and purple. Women are slowly sweeping fans or rags to and fro to chase the flies away, looking with interest at passers-by and watching the traffic at their competitors’ stands.

A few feet from the jeepney depot and the busy street of R. Gregos are rows and rows of wooden tables displaying papayas, mangos, melons, string beans (average length is as long as my arm), squashes in green, purple and orange as well as various other vegetables. Their sweet, sour, salty and warm soil scents welcome bumili (customers) to pick them up in their palm, turn them around inside their hand, let the fuzz tickle/smooth skin sooth/small prickles catch on their skin, sniff it, squeeze it, look it over for black worm holes and bruises.

In all the chaos of the 6 pm rush to sell off wares before the market closes in an hour, a two year old with curly black hair lies, open-mouthed on the empty vegetable stand. his face half-buried in the curly calabasa (a kind of squash) rinds, his slimey fingers gripping the slick edges of one marble orange and gray-green shell. His dreams must have been of something sweet but musty like a vegetable patch or a horse farm, no doubt.

lDiatribe on words

How weird and round English words look to me now. They are no longer these tangible things I can feel and touch on the page. I could through away my dictionary because they are three-dimensional to me now. I see the words as no longer literal and absolute in meaning because that is how Tagalog works and ultimately how all languages work. There are exceptions to every rule and humanity not editors and dignitaries, make the words mean something and change the meaning or ways the words are used. How amazing and empowering it is to realize that!

I don’t assume that the dictionary is absolutely correct, wonder if there is a margin of error. This is a miraculous gift. I’ve always wanted the absolute to know literally what everything means and feeling that I can’t accept certain things unless I understand the whole picture.

Now, I am understanding life from a different perspective where very often you can’t have even half the answers to your questions, you just go on instinct derived from intelligence and life experience. Life requires more risks in that kind of a world. It’s impossible to know if even though you are trying to make the best decision possible if you are because you never have all the information. This is the reality of living in a developing nation. Though democratic, corruption often keeps essential information from reaching the public and the media for the betterment of society.

lParasites, Bacteria and other conundrums

Parasites and other evil organisms would be somewhat bearable if toilets actually had seats and toilet paper, but squatting when you are already feeling weak and uncomfortable just makes the experience far worse. I guess that’s why dysentery was such a big problem for soldiers during the wars. There is nowhere to sit comfortably and deal with your illness in peace. I just can’t imagine if this was my everyday reality. At least, I know that I can go back to the conveniences of the states after two years.

What it must feel like to know that people live much more comfortable and convenient lifestyles in the Europe, the United States and other developed nations would infuriate me. I’d be seriously angry and belligerent. But maybe that’s because I am an American and I expect these conveniences and luxuries. If I never had them I probably wouldn’t miss them. This brings up a question that someone brought up to me…actually more than one person did: If you could leave all your earthy goods behind, what would you miss and could you live without them?

I realized that the only thing I would miss was my glasses because I wouldn’t be able to see as clearly. I guess that I could get used to living without them but I know that is one thing I would never give up. Would I be able to just walk away, sell everything like the author of Into Thin Air did? I don’t know, but for the first time in my life I’m actually considering the notion. I know well that I’ve wanted to relieve myself of the ways material things can serve as a artificial substitute for needs we can only find within us. Maybe I need to stop ignoring the fact that I have all I need within me; start paring down my life; and acting more resourceful and creative.

I think that I finally understand why my old roommate, Tony spent six months living in an igloo in Alaska. He was looking for spiritual enlightenment and to completely separate himself from all things finite. Malls, commercials, television, magazines and even some books try to sell a way of life that involves things and a dependency on things. Things only beget the need for more things. Why? Because things cannot fill the whole that spiritual enlightenment and peace within your self brings. You need nothing other than what you have inside of you, what God has given each of us. Also, what comes with that is accepting the package that God put us in. You can’t harbor resentment or anger about your inadequacies. This will only hold you back. You have to believe that you are who you are for a reason and that the best thing you can do is capitalize (excuse the expression) on your talents and skills for the betterment of human kind.

lKilometer 5
Go to “Kilometer 5”, where my host mother’s joint property with her sisters sits. 5 Hectares of land up down and across the woods full of buko, mango, langones, avacado trees, a chicken and rooster house, a 4 story very modern side slanted house with a roof deck. Photos of male servant climbing a buko tree to get our marienda

Quelle Bizarre?

Bizarre pre-birthday events include being asked about whether my friends were comign here for my birthday. (Because Americans are so rich they can afford to fly in for people’s birthdays from thousands of miles away, right?! Not anyone I know.)

Something else that seems bizarre to me: You are considered an old maid if you are single and over 30. (Dalaga pa at na 31) Still single and already 31. What do I think? I think that just like The Beatles song had subliminal messages saying Paul is dead, Filipinos send a subliminal message to their young with all the sappy love songs they are so find of that you're life isn't worth living unless you are in love.

Yet, most people aren’t allowed to date until they are 18 and some not until their 21! So you have to learn the rules of male female relationships in 6 years! I have been n trying to understand it for going on 15 years and I still don’t get it. Crazy!)

I celebrated my birthday with fellow Laguna volunteers: Suzie, Alfred and Keith. First, we stopped at this Neba hut videoke bar called “Isuperstar” and I sang “The Spaghetti Song” and “Ocho-ocho”, the only two Tagalog song I know well. Tthere's a lot of repetition.

Afterwards, we went to a beautiful old home with a heat-shaped staircase trailing from the second floor almost half way across the yard that stretched into the river of Santa Cruz. The expansive backyard is freckled with round wrought iron chairs and tables with glass tops.

It started raining so we had to trade the nice romantic river side view for a tiny living room with a half-linolium, half-wood paneled floor with a group of rowdy drunk men at the other table blasting the stereo sitting by the fireplace. Why you’d need a fire place in the Philippines is beyond me. For show like everything else, I guess. They offered a lobster tail to our table and Keith and Alfred shared it.

I was slightly tempted because I do like shell fish, but seeing the animal still in the shell turned me off. (By the way, the lobster was the size of a woodchuck! A lobster on steroids or reformed due to all the pollutants in Manila Bay, no doubt.)
It just wasn’t worth it for all the guilt I’d feel…taking part in an animals destruction for our pleasure. I couldn’t stomach it. The crunching of the shell and the way Keith ripped into the flesh made me think only of a wild animal. I am realizing more and more that choosing vegetarianism or any choices of conscience and the ability to reason are the only things that separate us from animals. And the way war is tantamount all over the world makes me wonder, if we all ate vegetarian, would we all think there is an excuse for war as a means to an end as many people do now or would they realize that it too is a choice of conscience_ war over diplomacy and patience.

Some may believe there is no connection between vegetarianism and war but I am telling you my feelings towards life and my attitude towards life is one of more sensitivity rather than one of purposeful and selfish ignorance..which is how I felt when I’d sit down to eat a shrimp salad sandwich during the past few years…I’d tell myself, it wasn’t a big deal to eat fish and I needed it for the protein. (I reverted to eating fish again when I started to have stomach problems a few years ago.) Yet, when I went to the fish market in May after eating fish not once in a blue moon but every day for lunch and dinner and I saw a pink and blue carp lying in a big metal bowl of probably luke warm water, sweating, and pulling himself up to breath by treading more quickly with one fin under the water, gills rising, exposing the very red flesh below pulsating. I swallowed hard and knew my days of eating fish were over…

It was too late to explain this to my host family in Limay and they had so little, I didn’t want to insult them by not eating their fish…I just took smaller and smaller pieces each time until I was just taking shreds of fish. I decided when I moved to Siniloan to not eat any fish from the start and hopefully, they would understand somehow. I have been eating mungo beans, soy beans, lentils and feeling fine if not better. I pile a lot more vegetables on my plate and eat a lot more fruit to stay full longer. I eat nuts for snacks and eat eggs for breakfast, my one exception….

Hopefully, I can find another alternative to this soon. Maybe, I’ll buy large quantities of tofu and make shakes for breakfast with it as a supplement. I know this sounds crazy but I’m thinking of investing in a blender. That way I can make fresh juice drinks and smoothies for breakfast or dinner when I don’t feel like cooking. I was also thinking about getting a small grill so I can avoid using a gas stove. I just hate the idea of buying oil. It just seems wrong. That’s going to be a conundrum for me.

It’s all about choices, isn’t it? And the question is, when do allow ourselves to compromise or should we compromise our beliefs at all? Many people do for convenience sake. Yet, I'm meeting more and more people who refuse to compromise their beliefs for convenience sake. The question is, will I?


Blogger deamonaire said...

may I know where you from?

3:12 PM  

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