I still remember one hot summer day (during Cuaresma – Lent in the Ilocano language) we spent in the Philippines. Our ship moored dockside at Alava Pier, NAS Cubi Point for a couple of days of rest and recreation en route to the Indian Ocean. Sunshine drenched the countryside and the weekend beckoned.
“You want to come with me to the public market?” I asked a shipmate buddy who was folding his freshly washed laundry.
“Why? What’s there to see?” he replied never taking his eyes off the linen he splayed in front of him.
“You might be surprised,” I said, quickly grabbing my baseball cap to leave. I thought I’d share some Filipino culture with my American friend. And the public market would be a good place to begin such enculturation.
“Wait,” he said. “Give me a second and I will go with you.” I knew he was just trying to be nice. He probably figured I needed company.
Before long we were off to the public market, dodging weaving tricycles, avoiding wobbly ox-carts piled high with rice straw, and politely turning down independent shish-kebab merchants lining the sidewalks hawking their wares.
Entering the open bazaar we first came upon the fresh vegetable stalls. “Whoa… are those things what I think they are?” he exclaimed pointing at a stack of freshly cut bamboo shoots. “They look like 16 millimeter projectiles.”
“You’re right. Them’s bamboo shoots – not projectiles,” I shot back.
“But what will happen to the bamboo plants if you take the shoots? What will happen to the Panda bears who eat bamboo? Who buys that stuff anyway? What is wrong with this picture?” My friend went on and on. He was Mr questions. I smiled contentedly. Here’s our cultural teaching moment.
We walked deeper into the center of the bazaar. The air became staid. Different odors met our nostrils, some sweet and some downright repugnant. Then we came by the salted-fish merchant stall. “Eeeeks…” even I felt repulsed by the fish left fermenting in those huge gray clay jars.
My friend loudly protested. “What in the heck is this place? Let’s get out of here. I’ve had enough of this &%^#!” (the euphemism is my choice since his very words are unprintable here). I felt embarrassed for my friend but what could I do? We hurried back to the ship.
Since it was already past noon, we stopped by the Exchange Cafeteria for a cup of coffee and some lunch. I paid all charges; a peace-offering. My friend couldn’t stop telling me how much he enjoyed the Filipino food items I ordered for lunch. He said the vegetable stew tasted like something he ate in Thailand, and the soup was reminiscent of the seafood soup he ate in Vietnam. He went on and on about how much he liked the fish lightly battered and cooked in sun-dried tomato sauces. I listened intently.
I told him about the basic food ingredients used, the seasonings and spices that made the dishes tasty. I told him also that he saw all those ingredients in the public market place when we went there earlier.
He took a gulp of chilled coconut juice but largely remained silent. I wondered what he could have thought. “Didn’t he like the food?” I silently asked myself.
Then he said, “I have concluded that Filipino people are good cooks. And I can eat this food all day.”