Tuesday, May 27, 2008

School Lunch

As a representative of the middle class, I bring my lunch to school when I was in grade school and high school. My folks could not afford to give me lunch money and I was given only enough money to buy a decent snack and to pay public transportation fare to go home.

I brought lunch to school in a plastic rectangular food container, neatly tucked inside a plastic bag. My eating utensils would be covered by a piece of paper napkin (sometimes none). The ketchup would be placed in a small sealed container.

The standard fare includes the following mouth watering dishes (??), fried pork chop, chicken adobo, fried fish, tocino, longanisa or my (least) favorite-- a hotdog. Imagine a bed of white rice with the hotdog ingeniously pressed on. When you take out the hotdog it leaves a reddish mark on the rice.

We used to raid our classmate’s lunch box for their viand. One minute you are engrossed in school work, the next minute someone has stolen your hotdog. The hotdog will now be mercilessly passed out to the guys seated at the back row. When it is time for lunch, all you will have is the impression of the hotdog.

Sometimes we would swap their food. If you brought fried chicken for lunch and the guy next to you brought tocino, we would open their lunch boxes, exchange their ulam. Our lame attempt at humoring our baon is nothing compared to our class bully.

Once he took the lunch box of the class nerd, opened it in front of the class and said…

“Wow longanisa, my favorite…mwaaaaah….tsuuup” (proceeds to kiss the hapless sausage).

Once in a while, we would dig in our savings and eat at the cafeteria. Some of the weirdest things on earth I’ve seen , I saw through the cafeteria display.

In my grade school, the cafeteria operator was so stingy that our free soup was a piece of ginger, some onion slices and used meat stock. They also serve a weird dish of hardboiled egg in tomato sauce. They only serve half an egg and if you are truly unlucky the egg would not have any yolk. Sorry no complaining here. Their barbecue consisted of two small piece of lean pork and a huge slice of pork fat. Fridays would be kare-kare day. Kare-kare being two slices of string beans, a slice of eggplant and a piece of beef fat covered by a very watery peanut sauce and a morsel of bagoong.

The food portion was so small that there was one fat kid who used to eat FIVE order of cafeteria lunch a day. His mother would settle the bill every Friday.

Our High School cafeteria was always crowded, the food forgettable and the only thing I could remember was that it sold a lot of kikiam.

So we found sustenance outside. We also discovered beer. But that will have to be another story.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Our Beloved Barber

One of my favorite episodes of “Married with Children” is that episode where Al Bundy’s barber died and he had to go for weeks without a haircut. He tried going to a Hair Stylist (Read: Beauty Parlor) and it was a hilarious adventure he had. First the stylist was gay, second he had to contend with all sorts of beauty treatment and beauty products.

Just like Al Bundy no Un-manly hands will touch my locks. Nor will I give them the pleasure of giving me a protein pack for my hair.

A manly man’s barber is one of his life’s best pleasures. He is not just a guy who cuts his hair; he is his confidant, his source of entertainment and his window to the minds of other manly men. A manly man should stick to only one barber. Having more than one barber is just like having more than one girlfriend ---or wife. I have stuck to the same barber for close to three years. Before him, I stuck with my barber for more than nine years. I would have stuck longer had it not for his decision to relocate to Mindanao.

My first barber was the barber shop called “Tres Amigos” Barber shop along Kamias Ave. It is near the present Seven-Eleven Store near the EDSA corner and just before Colonel Salgado St. I would be brought there by my father and my uncle. I remember the overpowering manly stench of shaving crème, hair tonic and even the manly equivalent of mudpack ---boncilla.

When we moved to the Fairview area in 1980, my Barber shop was Joan’s barber shop. It was just next door to a butcher shop—Joan’s Meat Shop. It was air-conditioned— but very rarely do I remember the air conditioner being used. One of the greatest thrills in going to Joan’s is a barber named Cesar. Nothing wrong with Cesar the barber, except that he would be drunk 80% of the time—make that 90% of the time. His breath would be reeking the scent of Ginebra San Miguel as he tries to stay awake and focused with the razor as he shaves you just behind your ears.

“Wag kang mag-alala, walang kaba ang pulso ko (hik..)”

I remember the terrified look in the face of the next customer when he realizes that the next barber up on bat would be Cesar. Surprisingly, Cesar never actually sliced anybody’s ears. But you will definitely hold your breath as he slides those razor blades near some vital artery on your neck or your throat.

After Joan’s I went to Dario’s barber shop. They use air-conditioning most of the time and so unlike Joan’s they actually use disposable blades (In this day and age of HIV, you can never be sure). I had my first personal barber named Joel. Joel was rather quiet for a barber. I like him a lot because we would give me a free massage and he would always find the time to cut my nose hair. The sensation of the cold scissor going up your nostril as you hold your breath and the funny sensation when your nose hair is snipped..ahhh, refreshing.

The real stereotypical barber was the head barber Dario. Dario would be full of stories, e.g. “Kwentong Barbero” and would never stop talking to his captive audience. Listening to him gave me the impression that he was some sort of Casanova when he was in Saudi Arabia. He had sex with this, with that, with a nurse, with his boss, with a white chick, with a black chick, with a camel, with a horse. Three years ago they decided to close Dario’s and Joel relocated back to Mindanao.

Then I went to RC’s Barber shop near Mother Ignacio. My barber for the last three years is a guy named Arce. Just like Joel, he is the quiet one in the shop. But he has an impressive list of clients which includes, Chief Justice Narvasa, Aga Mulach, the late Pete Roa and then there’s me. I think I’m going to stick around this barber for a little while.

Does your barber give you a pedicure?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Swimming the Tullahan

It’s gone. We used to swim in the Tullahan River—now the world's dirtiest river. But once upon a time it was just another river teeming with life.

The Tullahan begins in the banks of the La Mesa reservoir where clean excess water makes it way down via gravity. La Mesa is where Metro Manila gets its potable water, so any excess or spillage is very clean. From East Fairview the Tullahan snakes its way to South Fairview and to West Fairview. Beyond West Fairview, it work its way to Novaliches, to Malabon and Caloocan before draining in Manila Bay.

My elementary school sits on one of its banks. After a heavy downpour we would all go to the river to watch fresh water turtles, snakes and snails being washed with leaves and branches. The banks near my school was dotted with numerous banana trees—a virtual banana tree forest. Stories of witches and tikbalang lurking in the shadows of the banana forest filled our lazy afternoons.

I was also fortunate because one of its banks is about three hundred meters from my house. My father even bought a fishing line hoping to reel in a few “dalag” (Mudfish) and “hito” (Catfish). He never actually caught anything, but the river still teemed with life. Everyone was free to partake of the free kangkong growing there.

You can also collect snails and the occasional small crabs that populate the banks.

The river is not wide, about three meters in some places, but during a heavy rainstorm some of its banks would swell to five or even eight meters. We would sneak out of the house during a rainstorm and swim there. Our game was to swim and fight the current. The rule is quite simple: swim against the current, before it carries you away and kills you. We would throw rocks on its surface just to see the wake it makes. We would collect frogs to pester our sisters or to blow up with our firecrackers.

During the hot months we would venture into the tall grasses that line its banks for spiders for spider fighting. The best place to get spiders would be near Jaguar Street and Dahlia in West Fairview, about 100 meters from the present FEU Hospital. The present location of Starbuck’s Coffee-Fairview is also a good place to get spiders for fighting, but that is another story.

When hormones finally inundated our brains, one of our older friend even used the river banks for sex with his girlfriend. He was also generous enough to invite us to the show. He would tell us that in so-and-so time, he would bring his girl to the kangkong area. We would be hiding in another area to see the show. He did it a couple of times too. The sight of human flesh pounding and moaning in the “kangkungan” is something you will never forget. I guess “kangkong” and “kangkungan” is the root word for the present street slang for sex, e.g. “kang-kang”.

Banana trees, snakes, spiders, turtles, snails, kangkong, crabs, dalag, hito, stories of witches and tikbalangs, a guy having sex, his horny voyeur friends, an unsuspecting girl. These are the best affirmation to the statement of archeologist that where there is a river, life flourishes.

This was in 1983.

Sadly, the Tullahan is dead and is now a wasteland, its water colored gunk gray. I pity today’s kids.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Back to Public Transport

No thanks to the oil cartel, I’ve gone back to riding public transportation. I am not ashamed of it; I could not afford not to cut back my consumption of gasoline since gasoline appears to be headed to the P50/liter level. I’ve decided to take public transportation at least twice a week.

In the short span of time that I’ve used public transportation, I’ve developed a healthy respect for the common commuter (reverberation intended). Metro Manila’s public transportation system is not only antiquated, it is also close to legalized masochism.

Take the common air-conditioned bus; I could never understand how they could fit three persons in a bench built for two. And then there is the FX van, taxi, AUV, whatever name you’d call it. Why would they fit four in the middle bench when clearly it was built for three? And then there are the jump seats in the back of the FX. It is shear torture to ride there with three more persons, locking your elbows and knees in one position for the forty five minute ride. When you fit people in the cargo hold, funny things are bound to happen. Take this hapless guy I rode with, he conked his head no fewer than three times against the steel frame of the FX. Stupid driver did not know how to use the brakes when he encounters a hump. It reminds me of this army sergeant who drove our 6 x 6 trucks during my ROTC days. From Villamor Air base to Ateneo, he didn’t stop at nothing. So here we were getting tossed around with the cargo of rifles and bullets. Later we discovered that the poor guy just got back from Mindanao---and survived an ambush. Just our luck that he was suffering from post traumatic stress.


Going back to public transportation, then there are taxicabs. You can always spot the wimps, they are the ones who flag down a taxi and negotiates with the driver even before he boards the taxi. Take my advice, get a taxi, open the door without saying a word, sit down, close the door after which politely tell the guy to bring you to your destination. By law, he cannot refuse to convey you. But have some pity too. The poor guy gets P5-P10 out of every trip, no thanks to our oil company friends. If the service is good, be generous with your tips.

Jeepneys. Yep, no matter how the ultra-nationalist says so, the jeep is obsolete, dangerous and dirty. Their place is in a museum. I am amazed that many jeepneys today uses real glass windows in their passenger compartments. Not only will they hide a hold-up taking place, they will also shatter into thousands of lethal projectiles when the jeep meets an accident. I also pity the poor driver, his lungs is probably as dirty as the underpass in Manila.

Tricycles. I have relearned that tricycles are fun to ride. For a week now, I ride the tricycle going out of the house to the FX station. My daughter rides with me, since she has swimming practice at the village pool. She likes it a lot. The wind in your hair, aaaah, refreshing (unless the driver has body odor).

The MRT should be the future of Metro Manila's mass transport system, but what we get is too little.

If you are a member of the riding public (meaning you do not have a car and use public transportation 100% of the time), give yourself a pat in the back. For if you could ride out Manila’s public transportation, you are smarter and tougher than you give yourself credit for.