I’ve Got a Golden Ticket

The local upscale Wholefoods-like grocery store, Rustens, was running a promotional. It was straight out of the ’70’s, but I like shopping games, so I got hooked. The offer was simple: every time you spent 500 pesos ($10 bucks) you got a sticker. Accumulate enough stickers, and get a serving dish of your choice.

Every time I’d go to Rustens I’d see all of the fancy bowls and platters arrayed on their display stand, and I’d drool a little. But I set my goals practically. My bowl required the least number of stickers: 55.

(For those doing the math, it required us to spend 27,500 pesos, or $550 USD to acquire this bowl “for free” ha ha ha.)

I quickly became a sticker addict. Week after week I needed my fix, and if I didn’t get it, I’d get itchy. Soon, I started hitting up my friend Carlos. “Hey man, are you going to Rustens to buy that Greek yogurt you like? It’s worth 2 stickers…can I have them?” Or to my other friend Suresh, who doesn’t always shop in Rustens, I’d slyly say, “Well, if you happen to buy something in Rustens, I’m collecting stickers for that bowl.”

Hey man, can you give me some stickers...?

Hey man, can you give me some stickers…?

But Rustens is clever. The promotional period ends July 5th. So if we were going to win the bowl, I needed to make sure we were pumping our grocery money into Rustens.

Towards the end I became desperate. “Carlos,” I’d plead, my eyes a little glassy, “I only need 10 more. We’re so close!” (I said “we” because I wanted the guys to think of the bowl as theirs too, but they saw right through my tactics!)

In the end, though, it was the guys who provided the last 10 stickers so I could reach the promised land.

Just ... one ... more ... !!!

Just … one … more … !!!

Tonight I went to the Customer Service desk and said to the clerk, with more than a little pride in my voice, “Today is a great day!” I was beaming from ear to ear like a maniac.

She smiled at me, in the way that knowing clerks, the world over, deal with crazy customers. She simply said, “Yes ma’am.”

I said, “I have something for you!” getting giddier by the moment. As I opened my purse and pulled out my sheet, the clerk couldn’t help herself, she giggled. Yes, I knew I had lost my mind, but I didn’t care. I was getting my beautiful, my precious……..

She went to the display and picked up a 1.7 liter gourmet mixing bowl and presented it to me. “Does this one look alright?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I said, “it looks perfect!”

The golden bowl

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Fish Flakes

Filipinos love fish. They put “patis” (fish sauce – pronounced Pah-Teese) on everything.

I’ve had to learn the Tagalog words for fish sauce (“patis”) and fermented fish sauce (“bagoong” – prounounced Bah-Go-Ong) because clever restaurants claim to serve vegetables but, as a vegan, I don’t believe it!

If you ask a server, does this have fish in it? They say NO. If you ask if it has “patis” or “bagoong” in it they say YES.

Recently, I picked up a package of Magic Flakes crackers at the grocery, briefly scanned the ingredients, and put it in my cart. When I got home and tasted them, they didn’t taste quite like crackers, so I looked again at the ingredient list while I munched.

In addition to normal crackery ingredients … flour, water, salt … the company that makes Magic Flakes uses fish oil in their crackers.

I have not seen this phenomenon in the United States. There is NO fish in our crackers! (Even “goldfish” crackers aren’t fish…!)

Funnier still, until I went back and looked at the photo I took of the Magic Flakes crackers, only then did I notice the package of Sky Flakes next to it proudly proclaiming it has Omega 3’s in it.

Fish food....

Fish food….

How is it that companies can use the cheapest ingredients to make their products (these packages of crackers are very cheap) and then put claims on them for health. I think that’s outrageous.

Grocery shopping is an interesting experience here in the Philippines. For many of the packages, the writing isn’t in English, or the product package refers to a type of food that is unfamiliar to me. (For example calling crackers “flakes.”)

Here’s the package for Ube cakes. It’s got that “luscious ube flavor” and is purple inside. Hmmm… what kind of food is purple and sweet? That was a mystery to me.

Now with that luscious ube flavor...

Now with that luscious ube flavor…

It turns out that a “ube” is a purple yam.

And on this blog, I found out that Ube flavored baked goods are extremely popular in the Philippines.

http://blog.junbelen.com/2010/05/25/purple-yam-why-filipinos-love-purple-sweet-treats/

So the next time I’m in the grocery store, I may just have to go native and try some Ube cakes… but there’s no way I’m going to eat fish flakes!

Home Away From Home

Two weeks ago, I left New York City behind and arrived in Manila. Has there been culture shock? YES. But I can honestly say I already feel “in the groove” of my new life in this home away from home.

However, in this post, I will focus on a few of the differences I’ve noticed.

Weather, whether you like it or not

It’s hard to describe how hot it is here, but let me try. It’s been about 93-95 degrees every day and it “gets down” to around 85 degrees at night.

If you are standing in the sun, your skin is burning. You instantly feel the intensity – it’s a direct burn. No amount of sun block could protect you. Now, imagine someone turned on a humidifier and left it on, day and night. The air is so thick it’s like walking through warm, sticky clouds.

On an overcast day (or during any part of the day when it’s overcast) there’s a tremendous relief from the sun.

It’s not surprising then, that Filipinos have devised make shift ways of protecting themselves from the brutality of the sun beating down on them. It’s common to see people carrying umbrellas to provide instant shade. Another favorite method is to drape your head with a tee shirt. Another popular thing to do, especially for children, is to tuck a towel or cotton scarf behind the person’s neck and down the inside of the back of their shirt, to absorb sweat.

What’s ironic, then, is that many people here are pale. I was talking to one such pale Brit who has lived in the Philippines for 11 years. He said that since people work during the day, they aren’t exposed to the sun much. In fact, many of these folks have even been known to run Vitamin D deficiencies!

Crossing the street is scary

As a regular pedestrian in Manhattan and Jersey City, I’m familiar with traffic but nothing could have prepared me for what it’s like here. It’s terrifying to cross the streets.

Every major intersection is like a four lane highway. Cars come from numerous directions and they are going to cross the walkway where you have to cross the street.

You have to also watch for bicycles and mopeds which don’t feel the need to stop for pedestrians. In fact, cars don’t seem to feel the need to stop for pedestrians either!

On several occasions I was convinced I was seconds away from being hit by a car attempting to jockey for position in a traffic line I had to cross.

Now, after a few weeks of life on the ground, I’ve figured out how to navigate the treacherous few moments I’m in a crosswalk. Just like everybody else here, you try to move with the herd. People congregate on the sidewalks until it’s time to go, then we all go together. Alternatively, hustle your butt off. If you see a car coming towards you, especially if it wants to make a quick right around the corner, assume it’s not going to slow down. Run if necessary!

Ladies and Gentlemen

Filipinos don’t distinguish between male and female gender. Those words don’t exist in their native language (Tagalog). So it’s not uncommon, for a shop girl or shop guy to address you as “Ma’am Sir” … as in “Have a good day Ma’am Sir.”

HOWEVER. There is the matter of being a white woman with curly hair (AKA me, myself and I.) I am, to put it mildly, an anomaly. No one has curly hair, and I do mean NO ONE. And while there are other “white people” here, and I know because I’ve seen them, we all stick out in the crowd. Most people are (duh!) Filipino.

Now, that’s not an issue for me except that many, many people stare at me. I have had men stop cold in front of me because they are shocked by my appearance. Others will stare at me directly as I walk by, some more polite types glance at me sideways as I pass them. None of these people ever says anything to me. In fact, anyone who talks to me says nice things like “Hi,” or “Good afternoon, Ma’am.” All of the people who work in shops are super nice, and extremely polite. Being friendly and polite seems to be a natural part of the culture.

Still, that doesn’t stop some on the street from looking at me like I have two heads and a tail. SIGH.

What’s frustrating about it is that I’m sure I’m not being treated normally here, because I’m some weird, rare thing to them. The exception to this is ex-pat places where it’s more likely for people from all over the world to congregate. In that crowd, I’m just one of a bunch.

Thank you, your eggs are perfect

Yesterday, I was at a small, well designed bistro in our neighborhood. I had to order food off the menu, which was challenging – nearly everything was meat, chicken and fish. But, they have a local dish called “Garlic Rice with Egg” and it said in the menu the eggs could be prepared any style. So I asked for eggs over medium.

The server said, “Sunny side up?” and I said, “No, over medium please.” And then I said, “Oh, do you know what over medium is?” And he said “Yes.”

Moments later, he pulled the chef out of the kitchen, and had me explain what an “over medium egg” was to the chef.

Since he said he knew what an over medium egg was, why, you may be asking yourself, did he bring the chef over for a chat?

Filipinos say “Yes” to mean “I heard what you said” and NOT “Yes, I agree.” So, you will hear yes when they could mean no. There’s no way to figure out which answer they gave you.

This makes communication here a lot of “fun.”

Back to the eggs…

The chef said, “Oh, I will try my best to make this for you” and I immediately said “Don’t worry, even if you cook the yolk all the way through, it’s no problem.” And yes, he gave me eggs over hard.

He came out of the kitchen while I was eating to ask me if I liked the food. I smiled and told him how perfectly he had cooked the eggs and how delicious the food was (it was delicious), and thanked him. He was beaming from ear to ear.

Garlic rice is seriously delicious.

More soon…

Early observations of Manila

I’ve been in Metro Manila over a week now, and I’m getting to know my new neighborhood. It’s very Western. Some aspects of my new environment have been so familiar as to be surprising: western style shopping malls with high end brands and super clean streets.

It seems safe to walk anywhere in my neighborhood, which is called “Fort Bonifacio” aka Bonifacio Global City, which the locals call BGC.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonifacio_Global_City)

This view shows the mix of buildings... low lying houses right beside large areas of skyscrapers. There's a ton of real estate development happening.

This view shows the mix of buildings… low lying houses right beside large areas of skyscrapers. There’s a ton of real estate development happening.

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In this neighborhood, the street art is quite beautiful. There are numerous public sculptures, wall murals and other kinds of art.

 

Wall mural at Bonifacio High Street. The figure to the right is having a beautiful dream, the wall beside him is his dreamscape.

Wall mural at Bonifacio High Street. The figure to the right is having a beautiful dream, the wall beside him is his dreamscape.

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A wall mural in a local bookstore made entirely of books, painted with this woman and her pink kitty.

A wall mural in a local bookstore made entirely of books, painted with this woman and her pink kitty.

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Sculpture of figures dancing around the sun... this is in a small park in front of the Singapore Embassy

Sculpture of figures dancing around the sun… this is in a small park in front of the Singapore Embassy

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But not everything is familiar…

 

Workers peeling jackfruit at the Salcedo Saturday market in Makati

Workers peeling jackfruit at the Salcedo Saturday market in Makati

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The Army band performs on the street during the Philippine Independence Day weekend.

The Army band performs on the street during the Philippine Independence Day weekend.

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Traffic here is terrible, so it's not surprising that motorbikes proliferate over cars. This commuter lot is full of them.

Traffic here is terrible, so it’s not surprising that motorbikes proliferate over cars. This commuter lot is full of them.