I was telling Lady Hiva today that we may have some culture shock going back to the United States after living here in the Philippines for two years. As I was driving home I thought how the crazy traffic, the honking, the food, the buildings, and the lifestyle, none of it surprises me anymore. I swerve across three lanes of traffic to my exit, bully the little car next to me for space just because I am bigger, drive in a lane that is not really a lane, turn left when it says not to, (I even went up a one way street the other day and people just waved and I kept driving!), and I honk like the best of them. AND the great part is: NOBODY CARES because they do it too! Not much is shocking at this point. We are even getting used to all the salespeople pestering us as we try to walk. Before we would stop a conversation due to their persistence, but we now can just carry on walking and talking.
That being said however, there are moments I still get surprised.
We were at one of those malls with several booths all selling similar things and all of them want your business of course, so the yelling for our attention begins when we enter the door. You can buy anything at these places. I mean it, anything. Decorations for the house, furniture, fabric, toys, electronics, clothes—both real and “real” designers, bootleg DVDs, shoes, food, and plenty of bags, purses and pearls. It is amazing to see all that is for sale for being such an economically struggling country.
We bought a few things and then were walking around while we waited for some friends. We found some really great food places. This one little bakery makes Hopia out of Ube. Ube is a purple root similar to Polynesian yams. For the Hopia, they cover some ground Ube with dough and then grill both sides. It becomes bite sized yummy-ness!
As we were exploring we saw a few things that surprised me. One of the rug shops was highlighting their newest addition to the exotic collection and there on the top of all the other rugs was BEETHOVEN! He had died and been skinned and was ready for your floor. I am not sure why this was so bothersome to me. I have tried dog meat before and there are several people with cow hide or sheep hide rugs in their houses, but the dog rug was appalling. It still had its black nose and floppy ears! I could not help but think who would want their dog for a fur rug? I can see the conversation now, ‘We would miss Beethoven so much around the house, we decided to have him skinned and made into a rug. We will always have him lying in front of the fireplace like he used to at night.’ Then I would add this to their words, ‘Yeah, still shedding hair and causing dander. Yep. He is still there, except for that fact he is NOT!’
As we crossed over the aisle and went to the next few stores, I passed a whole bunch of purses that looked like frogs. They were tanned and leather looking with plastic beady eyes glued onto them. The mouth was a zipper for your access. After seeing Beethoven skinned I leaned in closer to see if the frogs were real too. I turned slightly to my left and was startled because the sales lady’s face was inches from mine with that eager-to-have-a-customer-at-my-booth-I-want-you-to-buy-something look and she proudly exclaimed, “Real FROGS!” and lifted one off for me to hold. HINT: as I have said before, if you are not intending to buy anything in Asia, don’t point at it and definitely DON’T hold it. If you pick it up, there is a chance you will be walking away with it! Instead of being impressed like she had hoped, I was rather disgusted. Who wants to put their money in a dead frog? Then reach into its throat to retrieve it? NOT ME! So I smiled and said, “Tingnan lang…” (Just looking) and I walked away. As I said, sometimes I am still shocked.
One of the things about Filipino culture that I have not yet mentioned is the acceptance of Lady-boys—sometimes called Mahu in Hawaii or Drags in the States. They are all over, there seems to be quite a few of them that sell in stores or restaurants. In many ways you cannot tell they are not female from a distance. It is only when the female body says, “Hello Sir,” in a deep masculine voice that I do a startled double take. They are always funny to talk with and Hiva got a few to pose for a photo for her. Yes, getting used to the Philippines brings new experiences every day.
Hi all, this is Hiva picking up the story from here. Bryan the intern was trying to buy purses and pearls to take home to his wife to appease her for missing their first anniversary. So he asked if I would help him pick out purses for his lady folk. I joined him in the middle of his bartering for purses with the lady boy sales person. I heard from the lady boy, “Sir, you’re handsome, are you married?” Bryan blushing and showing his ring “Yeah.” Lady boy displaying the diamond rings on his left hand ring finger, “Me too, see?” I playfully asked the lady boy, “Where’s your husband?” The lady boy burst into teenage girl giggles and happily continued on with the bartering process. Bryan and the lady boy eventually agreed on a price for the purses and we merrily went on our way.