Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)

It’s time again for our Friday in the Philippines. Last week we ended up nearly freezing to death in the tropics. If you missed that episode, or any of the previous ones, you can find them here:

Philippines, Part 1: Have Baby, Will Travel
Philippines, Part 2: Do You Know How to XOOM?
Philippines, Part 3: Confessions of a Carseatless Baby (Vigan)

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins! (Sagada)

Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Icebox (Banauae & Batad)

Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)
Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks (Anilao)
Philippines, Part 9: “Sexy Chic” at the Playboy Fashion Show (Field Study Research)
Philippines, Part 10: Luxury Travel, Filipino Style (Cebu)
Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol)
Philippines, Part 12: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . . (Panglao)
Philippines, Part 13: The Chocolate Hills (Bohol Again)
Philippines, Part 14: Trouble in Paradise (Malapascua)

Nobody caught pneumonia from the bus ride, and we arrived safely back in Manila, where we spent a few days with Gary, a friend from Tony’s mission five years before. Gary and his wife Sheila took us to Chow King (the immortal Filipino fast food chain), where they introduced us to an iconic Filipino dessert: halo halo. During our time thus far in Manila I had seen several street vendors selling a subdued version of halo halo. It looked to me like watery milk with little beans floating around in it, and I can’t say I had ever been tempted, although I had found it slightly intriguing.

Here at Chow King Gary and Sheila went all out and ordered us each a gigantic deluxe halo halo. The name, I was told, means something like “stir it all up,” and is an apt description of the dish. The specimen with which I was presented started out with a scoop each of two different kinds of ice cream in the bottom of a large bowl. On top of this were piled multicolored nuggets of finger jello in shapes ranging from large squares to small bubbles. Next came a sprinkling of various kinds of cooked beans. Finally, the bowl was filled up the rest of the way with crushed ice, and milk was poured over the top. I don’t know if they had already stirred it, or if I was meant to do the stirring, but I also noticed some other unidentified objects floating around in the mixture. Regardless, it actually tasted delicious. Halo halo became my official favorite dessert on the spot, and remained so until a few weeks later, when I suddenly maxed out and could no longer stomach it at all, a condition in which I unfortunately remain to this day.

Now it was time for an event we had been anticipating for months: opening night of STAR WARS, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In my family, our holiday tradition for all my childhood years was to watch all three original Star Wars movies on Christmas day, so you can imagine what importance I attached to the premier of this final episode. When we approached the ticket booth, the people behind the counter stared at us dubiously and started talking among themselves. It looked like they weren’t going to let our baby in, which for us would have been disastrous. We would probably have gotten into serious trouble with the authorities if she had been discovered alone outside the theater. To say nothing of the headache if she were kidnapped. But we weren’t about to miss Star Wars!

Fortunately, we were not forced to choose between responsible parenting and seeing Star Wars. The people at the ticket counter were just deciding whether they could get away with charging for the baby. They decided that they could, and we paid 101 pesos ($2.00) each, which turned out to be fair, because three-month old Axa really did watch the whole thing, especially the light saber battle between Obi Wan and Lord Grievous. We had arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to make sure we got good seats and saw all the previews. So we were annoyed to walk in and see the movie already going. But our annoyance quickly deepened to horror when we realized that we were watching the end. We quickly dashed out of the theatre, having found out to the detriment of our long-cultivated suspense that in the Philippines they just loop the movie nonstop, and people come in and leave whenever they please. We waited until a large concentration of people began exiting, re-entered the theatre, and did end up seeing the whole movie more or less from start to finish.

This was also the week when we procured our housing for the summer. As penniless college students used to living in on-campus cinderblock housing, I think we can claim to have had modest expectations about our accommodations. But I’m afraid I was not prepared for what I would find in our apartment in a “nice” suburb of downtown Manila. The front door opened into a tiled living/kitchen/dining area, from which was visible an enchanting view of the peeling paint of the next apartment building, two feet away. On the left was a narrow metal staircase that wound perilously up to the strangest bedroom I had ever seen. The bed-frame was a little protrusion that looked dizzyingly out over the living/kitchen/dining area below. We were sleeping with our baby at the time, so we had to take the mattress down from its perch and put it on the floor, virtually eliminating all the extra floor space in the bedroom. I tried not to think about the fact that the Philippines is a country of large insects, or that the floor is the most likely place to find them. My not thinking was interrupted by Tony peering into the bathroom and commenting that we would need to make sure we put a bag of rice over the drain in the shower at night, so nothing would be able to crawl out of it.

When we first looked at it the apartment on a Wednesday afternoon, the landlady assured us that it would be cleaned before we came back the next day, and she would also replace the burned-out light-bulb. Foolish, impatient Americans that we were, we took her seriously, and duly turned up around eleven the next morning to find the apartment looking exactly the same. We decided to check the air conditioning, since we had forgotten the day before. Air conditioning is of prime importance in the Philippines for two reasons. First, it keeps the house at a temperature that can support life. And second, it eliminates the constant temptation to open a window, thus inviting all the unsavory insects in the neighborhood to enter. Unfortunately, after running the a/c full blast for 20 minutes, the tiny apartment was still hotter than the street outside.

Tony made a detailed little to-do list (fix a/c, sweep/mop upstairs and downstairs, replace the light-bulb, etc.). We went off to a nearby mall to have lunch, and the landlady promised everything would be done when we returned at 1:00. Upon our return, we went up to see the apartment, which still looked exactly the same. We went back to our landlady, who calmly informed us that they had already bought a light-bulb. Everything, she assured us, would be finished by 2:30. This time we decided to wait around till we actually saw something happening. Coincidentally, they finally started working on it at exactly 2:30. By the time we had  made another trip to the mall for pillows, sheets, and food, everything was done. Or so we thought. When we tried to cook rice that night, it took forever on the rickety old one-burner electric stove our landlady had thoughtfully included in the deal. And we still ended up with crunchy rice.

So the next morning we took the stove back to her and she exchanged it for one that looked nicer, newer, and much more promising. I wondered why she hadn’t given us that one in the first place. However, with high hopes, I turned it on to cook breakfast. Happily, it began heating up much more quickly than the previous one. But as it grew hotter, there was a scuffling and scrambling inside, faint at first, and then louder. Suddenly, cockroaches began pouring from the stove and scurrying in all directions. I lacked the presence of mind to unplug it, but it would have made no difference, since at this point the stove was already hot, and there was really no way to stem the flood. Axa and I fled the apartment, and Tony manfully remained behind, smashing cockroaches as they fled the stove. He ran the stove until it was hot enough to kill anything left inside, and then scoured the rest of the apartment for survivors. When he finally came out to find me, he had tallied over thirty cockroaches.

After a housewarming party like this, we needed some R&R. Stay tuned next week as we visit a luxury beach resort in Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks.

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