January 21, 2005
DAY 451: I've ranted about this before, but I'll say it again anyway as it becomes pertinent for this Blog entry: Filipinos will find just about any excuse to get together for a meal. That's not to say that this isn't true with other nationalities; I remember a Portuguese classmate once tell me in college that you're not allowed to turn down food from a Portuguese mother when she offers it to you -- as she will almost always do. I can totally relate to that; it's often hard to turn down food when it's offered to you in the Philippines, as it is almost always offered very frequently throughout the day.
Erik, stop complaining about being overfed, you may be thinking. There are starving children in this world. Yeah, tell that to the spare tire inflating around my waist. If this keeps up, I'll need an upside-down periscope to see my penis soon.
THE PHILIPPINES IS DIVIDED INTO THREE REGIONS, as represented by the three stars on the Philippine flag (that all you Amazing Race fans should know by now): Luzon, the big Christian island to the north; Mindanao, the big Muslim island to the south; and Visayas, the group of small and medium islands in between. The goal of the day was to make it through Visayas from Kalibo, the northwestern capital city of medium-sized Panay Island, to the small island of Guimaras off Panay's southeast coast. This began in the morning when my Tita Josie and I rode a shared minivan for about two hours through the tropical countryside to the big southeastern city of Iloilo.
Like every big city in the Philippines, Iloilo was not without its shopping mall made by the SM corporation, and it was there that we were dropped off. Immediately, Tita Josie brought me to the Bisocho Haus, a branch of the famous pastry company to stock up on bagged pastry snacks. Then it was off to Ted's Old Timer inside the mall, which sounds like a store for timepieces, or products for people who need geriatric care (or timepieces for people who need geriatric care), but is actually a place to get one of the region's most famous foods, Lapaz batchoy (picture above).
Back in the States, Lapaz batchoy was almost the only thing I ever ordered when I went out for Filipino with my family in New Jersey. The contents of Lapaz batchoy are simple; it is a soup with shredded pork, chicken, crushed pork rinds, toasted garlic, an optional egg, and egg or rice noodles. It was in Iloilo's Lapaz district that the dish was created, and then perfected by a guy named Ted, who started selling his recipe since 1945. Multiple locations of Ted's Old Timer have been created since.
The Lapaz batchoy at SM City Iloilo's branch was just as good as any other I'd had -- you really can't mess up batchoy, provided you have the right ingredients -- so good that I could not turn down Tita Josie's offer to get me another bowl. "Okay."
Soon another bowl of Ted's "Extra Super" Lapaz batchoy arrived, only to inflate the spare tire around my waist by another notch. This was followed by another "must have" in the mall, sago (tapioca bubble tea) from the Zagu chain.
"You hear the tonation of the people here?" Tita Josie asked me, referring to our private taxi driver we hailed down that I think she took a liking to. "Listen to [his Visayan accent]. It's so sweet."
Larry our driver took us around from the big, but seldom-used house of Albertito Lopez, the Filipino tycoon who founded Meralco, the Philippines' major power company, ABS-CBN, one of the Philippines' major TV networks, and the country clubs at Camp John Hay outside of Baguio.
"[Only the housekeeper stays there]," Larry said in his apparent sweet accent that I really couldn't pick up.
Nearby was the big house of Albertito's son, Joji Lopez, the bakla (gay) of the family, with pink paint all over his house to proudly show off his femininity. As one gay friend back home told me, with Filipino men you have to either be straight or totally flamingly gay to be accepted in society. Joji not only had the pink walls, but pictures of kittens and flowers painted by his front gate. Larry said that similar pictures were decaled on his bright pink pick-up truck as well.
It wasn't long before the next offer for food, just two and a half hours after we had lunch. Iloilo was not only famous for its apparent sweet accent, but its sweet oysters from the many talabahans (oyster farms) on the island. Oyster farming is one of Visayas' major industries, and with it pearl farming, giving the Philippines the nickname, the "Pearl of the Orient."
Larry drove us to Nato & Helen's restaurant, a place where you could get a full kilo of fresh steamed oysters for just 30 pesos (about 53 US cents). "This would be twenty dollars in New York," I told them, referring to New York's famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. Although I was full from two orders of Lapaz batchoy and the order of sago, I simply could not resist a kilo of my own, especially at those prices. I sort of regret it after the fact though, when my spare tire started over-inflating. Talk about your super-sizing.
"Another one?" Tita Josie asked.
"No. I'm busog (full). I barely had room for that one."
"I told you to save some room for talaba (oysters)."
"I did. And now there's no more room."
Tita Josie had Larry take us to the dock for the ten-minute ferry ride to Guimaras; he dropped us off and left us, but not after giving his phone number to Tita Josie at her request. She invited him out for lunch upon our return to the island.
Drinking? I barely have room for anything in my stomach, not even for, I dare say, a beer. Yes, I was that full.
Soon we were in Guimaras and hopped on a tricycle with a driver that knew a "shortcut" across the island, beyond the mango orchards, to bring us to Alubihod Beach. Of course the shortcut wasn't simple -- "If it were easy, it wouldn't be a shortcut, it'd just be the way" (Paulo Costanzo, Road Trip) -- and we eventually came to an unpaved road too steep to carry the weight of all three of us and our bags. We turned back the way we came and went the real way after over an hour or zipping around the island. I didn't mind; I spent my time in the back, hanging off the back with my hand clutched to a top bar, pretending I was kiteboarding.
The Raymen Beach Resort was where we ended up that night, were we checked into a beachfront bungalow with plumbing and private bath for about ten dollars. It was there that Tita Josie ordered us room service for yet another meal of the day to fill our already full stomachs with more Visayan "must-haves": bananas, mangoes, steamed spotted alimasag (crabs), and sinigang (a sour stew, prepared in Visayas not with tamarind as it is prepared in the north, but with the tangier batuan fruit). We struggled trying to finish it all.
"I've been busog all day," I told Tita Josie. "I've been busog for two weeks."
"You want a Coke?" she asked me.
"No, let's have beer." Okay, there's always room for beer. I stand corrected. One beer was all I could take though, which was more than Tita Josie could take. Apparently, her hospitality had filled her beyond capacity too.
"Busog," she finally admitted.
That made the both of us.
DETAILS AND TRAILER COMING SOON...
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