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!

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.

A few scenes from Manila

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.

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A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it's too sweet for me!

A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it’s too sweet for me!

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I love this sculpture. It's called "Thanksgiving" and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.

I love this sculpture. It’s called “Thanksgiving” and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.

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Just sharing a few images to give a glimpse into what life is like in my neighborhood.

It’s been quite an adventure so far! More to come soon…