Monday, February 22, 2010

Shopping for groceries

To clarify, less than a week has passed since my arrival to the PI, but for me, it's felt like it's been about a month. By some combination of the heat, waking up at the crack of dawn, and the ordeal of trying to get through each meal, the days seemed to stretch FOREVER. I have been reverted to elementary school time, where everything is new and engrossing, and you say things like "I'm 6 and a quarter years old." It's very satisfying compared to daily working life, where a month can go by and you almost don't notice it. Back to the daily grind though, Jordan and I get woken up every morning morning at sunrise to a chorus of roosters and two-stroke engines so loud and comical that you're imagining it too conservatively right now. I'm going to keep the written descriptions short to save time, as they're useless without intense gesticulations and sound effects anyway. So everything that I have done since I have arrived has been done with very little sleep, a slight tinge of crankiness and severe hunger.

I guess the custom in these funeral procedures is to feed the whole countryside for a few days with these massive feasts that never seem to end. So on the first morning, after eating a hearty breakfast of some kind of fish with a nice warm glass of caribou milk, freshly squeezed... unpasteurized (just take a moment to let that sink in)...


The first order of business was to pick up some fresh meat product, so Jordan and I joined a few aunts and a housekeeper on a trip to the "dirty market" (their phrasing). Jordan and I aren't completely culturally ignorant, we both speak Tagolog (though we both do have very heavy and easily heard american accents), and we've both clocked many hours of watching TFC with our grandmother so we felt prepared for this endeavor. The drive to the market, as with most experiences here on the island, defies description... you're breathing a combination of diesel, two stroke oil, general poultry smell, and the occasional trash fire blowing across roads choked with scooters, buggies, jeeps, bicycles, market stalls, and people just walking around. Lanes are created and dissolved dynamically, and intersections are a four-way game of chicken. The shock wore off by the second or third mile, but never the sense of impending doom.

The aunts were adamant about me keeping my camera out of view... I guess the general consensus of someone stabbing me to take it was about 50%. It was overcast that morning anyway, so none of the point-and-shoot pics were any good.

Like the picture above, which is just for reference-- it doesn't tell you ANYTHING about the place. You don't get the pungent smell, the water dripping on you from the awnings, black mud all over your sandaled feet and legs, or the weird things they were selling on either side.

YUM! Fertile mothers!

The butcher was in a warehouse off to the side, within a thousand square feet of butcher's stalls packed together. Sausage, entrails, and livers were hung on hooks above the working tables, and the hooks that weren't in use were caked with blood. There was an inch of water and whatever else on the floor, adding much to an atmosphere of which the picture betrays little.

The flash was fairly bold at that point because Jordan and I were already pretty much the center of attention by that point. Everything from our crazy american clothes to Jordan's super angloid features got more attention than that time I went streaking down Water St. in NYC. The people at the market were mostly old and weathered, and they stared at us with completely inscrutable looks. We were pretty far out from Manila, and I doubt a place even as cosmopolitan as the “dirty market” gets many westerners so I guess I could at least understand where they were coming from.

Butchers casually swatted these with their cutting knives.

Saying I am a bit culture shocked would be a huge understatement. In America we've become extremely good at creating this disassociation between that slice of bacon we fry up and the actual pig it comes from. In places like here it's really in your face and impossible to play those abstract mind games that make it possible to enjoy those slices of bacon. Everything is only one degree away from it's source and it's all way too overwhelming to try and absorb and be okay with all at once. I know that I am sounding like a whiny bitch, but I am doing this here so that nobody has to hear me complain in real life, which oddly enough is just cathartic enough to do the trick! I have gotten pretty chummy with Enrique these last few days so we are going to go out and have some young people's fun tonight, so hopefully things will get better.


Trevor said...

OMG! I'd be standing at the entrance of this market having a panic attack and fagging out like you wouldn't believe! Those pictures were sooo upsetting I can't even tell you. Complain all you want because if I were you I'd be crying 24/7 until I got on a plane to go home! Stay strong homez! And when you get home I am taking you out for some good ol' fashioned american cuisine.

Anonymous said...

but the thing about getting meat a degree from its source is that its fresher and in my opinion better tasting than the meat in America.

Maybe its just me...but food in Philippines is a lot more scrumptious and flavorful. Even the restaurants, and I love how I can get mango juicy pretty much anywhere I go.

Mike said...

"Jordan and I get woken up every morning morning at sunrise to a chorus of roosters and two-stroke engines so loud and comical" - LOL. Been there.

Even worse than the roosters in Asia or Africa, is the "call to pray" at 4 AM in the Middle East. Often the "call to pray" blasting from loud speakers, like the roosters, is SO LOUD, that you can only laugh…. after being shocked awake from a dead sleep.

Anonymous said...

That pig's head with the other assorted pig parts in the large bucket was traumatizing. I agree that here in the states things have been homogenized to the point where people really do forget where the source of their meat is actually coming from. I feel your pain.

Stephen Chapman... said...

Did you have to put those pictures on there?!!?

Dean said...

That whole out of sight out of mind saying really rings true in the scenario... are the Philippines a third world country? I don't think you are being a whiny hitch if I were you I would be freaking out every two seconds.

Jason said...

Keep fighting the good fight my brotha! You are a stronger man than I because I would literally be vomiting all over that dirty market and there would be nothing anybody could do to stop me. Complain all you want here this is your safe place.

Just so you know that chicken pic was just about the most disgusting thing I have ever seen EVER! I am sorry for you because I am sure the live version was a million times worse than that pic.