Thursday, September 10, 2020


When I arrived at Manila Airport, stepping out of the plane into the heat and humidity felt like I was wading through hot jello, a feeling that never really left. With me was a huge luggage item nominally filled with necessities, but actually loaded with contraband Marlboros (blue tax stamp), some books, plus pipes and tobacco for my own use.

The people who picked me up were glad to see me. They had despaired of my arrival, because the plane had been delayed considerably (PAL = "Plane Always Late), and communication by Philippine Airlines was spotty.
What with two American servicemen needing to be subdued for their violent drunken behaviour the authorities had their hands full. Which was good, because it meant that they had no time to search bags.

A week in Manila, whirlwinding through the sights. A restaurant near North Ongpin Bridge. Caloocan (Taoist temple, and the area where the katipunan was centered, monument to Andrés Bonifacio). Eating at Taai Hon Lau with my hosts (recommended by auntie Helen).

Food items elsewhere: Embutido. Morcon. A must see, according to many were Quiapo Church (San Juan, Iglesia Parroquial de Quiapo, Black Nazarene) and San Agustin Church (Iglesia de San Agustín) in Intramuros, plus in a nod to the Chinese Filippinos, Ermita de San Nicolas de Tolentino (Chinese historical worship of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, miracle of Buaya'ng Bato), in Makati. Visiting an auntie in Quezon City. Marikina (Ilog Marikina, Lungsod na Marikina). Binondo again for more Chinese food (kaimpang, eels, shellfish). Pork, crabs, noodles.

Intramuros where the Japanese Imperial Army resisted the American forces in a last stand during the Battle of Manila, during which the old city was largely destroyed. Mango. Alimang bagoong. Patis. Flip-flops. Giant cockroaches (really, they grow to humongous size there). Servants. Driver. Keeping clean. Infected cuts from climbing up coconut palms. Sunburn. Kamatis; like a peeling one of which the visiting American looks after bad sunburn. Fried rice.

And bananas. I had never seen banana trees, except in oils and Chinese literati watercolours, and thought they were fabulous Those giant leaves, that intense greeny-green! Especially in the rain.

Nothing visually says Southern China, Indo China, and Malaysia-Indonesia-Philippines quite like the characteristic banana plant.
To natives of places where they grow, bananas are nothing special. They're just ..... growing there. Useful, yes, and yielding both good food and either large rainshielding or food service surfaces and wrapping.
But hardly remarkable.

To people from more northern climes, however, banana trees are a totally different sight than they're used to. Evocative of a warm and pleasant climate. Unique. Tropical, a signature species.

To the Northern Chinese scholar exiled to the far Southern wilds in hopes that he would soon die of a tropical fever or poisonous miasmas and cease irritating the government, banana trees spelled relief from scorching sun or tropical downpour, and conveniently surrounded his rustic lodgings with shade and something verdantly "home like".

To a Dutch American smoking his pipe while tropic precipitation sogs and splatters, strange and elegant beauty.

To my hosts in the Philippines, my oddness and peculiarity.
Much like my smoking a pipe and drinking tea.
They were extremely tolerant.

"Ang Kano'ng iyon, kakaiba siya."



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