– How I fell in love with the Philippines –
I will skip the part of how I met my asawa, our courtship and my first exposure to the Filipino culture. Needless to say I should have been tipped off by these earlier experiences, but I have always been a slow learner. I just gathered up my bride and continued marching merrily along with my military career.
I think when my wife first made tinola (soup) with lots of ginger, followed a few days later by nilaga (soup) and naturally pan de sal (small rolls) with pate for breakfast, the first thoughts of the Philippines as a place to spend my golden years began to form.
It wasn’t until several years later when we first visited her home in Paranaque, Metro Manila that I actually fell in love with the Philippine country, culture and people. I was surrounded by friendly happy people who for the most part wanted to please and be pleased.
After a few days there, when it was obvious I was not going to turn into a raving lunatic, I was sent out to get the morning breakfast. So clad in shorts, T-shirt, sunglasses and flip flops and armed with 100 Pesos, off I went. Negotiating the jeepneys, motor scooters and tricycles I made my way to the cathedral where I had seen a news stand (a guy sitting on a milk crate under a cardboard shade) where I bought a copy of the Manila Star (in English) for P15. I then went to the palengke (wet market), where I was treated to the sights, sounds and smells of an open air market that most Americans only see on the Travel Channel. I saw what I was sent to get, ripe mangoes piled in a basket among other baskets and crates filled with as yet unidentified fruits and vegetables. Behind which sat an older lady with arms folded scowling at me. I gave her my best “Don’t hate me, I am really a nice guy smile” held up four fingers and said: “Apat please” (feeling like a complete idiot, pointing at the mangoes). She said “four Kilos?” “No apat ummmmmm each please” was my reply. “Ah, four pieces” (hey they speak English I thought, COOL)
She then picked out four really nice fruit put them in a flimsy red plastic bag and said something so fast I couldn’t make it out but I assumed it was the price. So I just held out my money cupped in both hands and grinned. She laughed looked at the pile of coins and crumpled bills, fished out a P10 note handed me the bag, said something to her neighbor and off I went. I had found my first suke (like a favorite vendor) and didn’t even know it. I then headed towards were I knew the bakery was, dodging kids, stray dogs and umbrellas sticking in my eye (being 6 foot 1 inch is dangerous in crowds here) stepping around puddles and responding to “Hey Joe!”, all the way.
Upon reaching the bakery there was a semi circle of people around a very small barred window; mentally scratching my head I wondered how I was going to crack this nut. I got in the back of the crowd and patiently waited my turn. After noticing people wiggling their way into the front of the line from the edges of the crowd, then sticking their arm through the window, shouting “Vente” (what in the world? Spanish?) and receiving another flimsy red plastic bag filled with pan de sal, I finally caught on. I then gently and politely inched my way forward to the front of the crowd (maybe being 6-1 is useful after all) stuck my arm in with a P20 note saying “Vente” and was handed a bag of hot bread by a very startled pretty teenage girl, backed my way out of the crowd and proudly made my way back home. Once there I was greeted by a suspicious wife and mother in law who inspected each item like a drill instructor inspecting a recruit. Satisfied that I didn’t buy something completely wrong, I was given my breakfast in the garden (see picture) and left in peace with my paper. I remember asking my mother in law. “Mom how much is P50 in American money?” “A little over one dollar” was the reply. HOLY SMOKES I thought, I could get used to this.
Later that day the wife announces “Let’s go shopping” GRUMBLE. I was soon taking my first jeepney ride which in about five minutes dropped us in front of Shoe Mart Sucat. I remember gazing at the large mall thinking “What the heck?” Then upon entering “Air-conditioning?” looked to the right “Ace Hardware?” Looked to the left “McDonald’s?” Needless to say I was surprised.
I won’t go into all the other beautiful things I saw that first trip, like the beaches of Boracay, the lake at Laguna, the mountains of Baguio, the hot springs and jungle of Tagaytay and the countless churches and cathedrals.
Let it suffice to say in one day with that first solo excursion to buy breakfast, and what is normally a chore of going shopping with the wife, was when I decided I would retire in the Philippines. What a combination of old and new, primitive and modern, bustling metropolis and rustic old world charm and the guarantee that each time I turn a corner there is a new experience to discover.
Some links for your Paranaque viewing pleasure.