Yesterday I woke up without a plan.
After breakfast I texted my cousin Ate D and told her I had no plan, and offered to help her with preparations for the big debut (my neice’s 18th birthday party/cotillion). My cousin texted back that she would send a driver to pick me up, and I told her that I would über.
The über took 80 minutes, which is neither here nor there, it takes however long it takes. The driver used Waze, which is the traffic app that everyone uses here. The fare estimate was ₱140-175, and the actual trip cost ₱180, which is still less than USD $4 to cross Manila.
When I arrived at the house, the only one around was Little G, my youngest neice here, who jumped up and hugged me at the door. I said hi to the helpers and sat down to watch The Lorax with Little G, who skipped around to her favorite chapters of the DVD, and explained to me very patiently in English what was about to take place, and then gesturing grandly with her arm when the action unfolded exactly as she explained. Her parents and sisters eventually wandered out of their various hideouts in the house, and I kissed them all and took selfies.
For lunch we had roast chicken, two kinds of shrimp, pulpog (grilled pork belly and liver pieces soaked in vinegar) plus some chuncky soup made of goat chittlins, which I declined. After lunch the family disappeared and I realized that my agenda item for the next three hours would be sitting on a couch in the dark watching a TV show I did not want to watch. So I told my cousin I was going to Starbucks, so I could walk and get caffeine. Suddenly my neices appeared, and I realized they were putting me in the car with them to ride to Starbucks. Google told me that Starbucks was the monstrous distance of 650 meters away. I couldn’t believe we were driving, but I figured I’d treat my neices to something at Starbucks. Once we arrived, though, they kicked me out of the car and I realized they were off on a different errand.
At Starbucks I got my caffeine fix and then messaged my mama in Las Vegas; I thought it would be fun to chat to her from her old neighborhood. I told her I was at Starbucks near the church (National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes) and that I intended to walk down Retiro to Dimasalang, and check out the lechon pits. The neighborhood, La Loma, bills itself as the lechon capital of the Philippines, and there seem to be dozens of businesses selling spit-roasted suckling pigs.
My mama told me that it was a long way to walk; Google told me it was one single kilometer. She also told me there were a lot of mandurukots there (pickpockets). I somehow failed to find a single mandurukot in the the pig-roasting district. What I found instead were people eager to sell me their lechon, and tons of interesting looking places to eat. It was not hot out. I didn’t take pictures of the lechon because I didn’t want to tease the vendors and then not buy. Along the walk I sent a few pictures to my mama; she messaged back identifying the streets by their former names.
When I got back to the family house, the girls were just arriving back. They disappeared upstairs and I was left sitting on the couch in the dark with some of the older folks watching a melodramatic and sexy episode of “Karelasyion,” a series of stand-alone hour-long strories of love affairs. In this episode, a beautiful young couple is having trouble, and at the climax of the story the hunky young man offers himself to the grumpy older gay man, and the music swells, and then when it seems like the gay man is reaching for young and hunky, it turns out he’s actually handing him a shirt and is like, dude, no. Later the young couple comes to visit the older gay man, who is no longer grumpy, and who holds their newborn baby tenderly. The presenter comes on to wrap it up, and then there’s a commercial about a deodorant/antipersperant that whitens the skin of your armpits. And I’m like I WOULD RATHER GET PICKPOCKETED THAN WATCH THIS TV FOR ANOTHER SECOND.
Mercifully, three more neices showed up, the daughters of Kuya D. Of course they are all grown and beautiful and I took a bunch of selfies with them and kissed their foreheads. Then Kuya G started setting up a folding table in the patio, and I thought, YES! THE MEN ARE DRINKING! So for the next few hours I sat outside with them, drinking brandy and eating peanuts and it reminded me of when I used to do the same thing with my friends in China. They put the radio on the John Mellencamp channel and I followed the Tagalog conversation the best I could. Later, this teenage boy walked in, and they said, J, you don’t remember your Uncle John? And I was like THIS IS LITTLE J?
Later they called us for dinner. Kuya G and his boys didn’t move but I got up because I don’t miss a meal. Dinner was the same food as lunch, plus there was baked lapu-lapu, which was delicious. The older sisters were peeling shrimp for the younger ones. After dinner I rejoined the boys ouside for a few more beers. Booze makes my blood sugar take a dive, so I have to manage it with food and water.
After an hour or so I piled into the van with Kuya D’s daughters and went home with them to Cavite. It was cool to drive through Manila at night; we seemed to take a route past all the monuments: Quiapo Church, Intramuros, Rizal Park, Super Mall; down Roxas Boulevard all along Manila Bay.
A couple of hours later, we arrive in Cavite and Kuya D is in the street to greet us. The girls disappear and then Ate D appears and they offer me food. Then I’m told that the order of business for the night is a potluck in the gazebo with neighbors, where we would sit around, drank dranks, and eat food. I ended up drinking a few more beers and singing karaoke on a crazy karaoke system that seemed much too powerful for the neighborhood gazebo.
At midnight, Kuya D sent me home with a driver.
So now today is Sunday. For breakfast I walked to SM Jazz and got a Colombian-style carne asada, apparently. Now I’m in Starbucks for caffeine and blogging, and I’m FREEZING in the a/c. Not sure about lunch or the rest of the day.