Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A fundamental principle of Philippine court etiquette

Offering someone a shot while you're enjoying some private shooting drills on a basketball court in Metro Manila operates on pretty much the same principle as inviting a vampire into your house. Once you do it, you're never going to get rid of them and hell can very quickly break loose.

I experienced this just the other day. I woke up early so I could get in an hour and a half of practice before the ubiquitous league teams that reserve every court with an actual backboard showed up. Nearly every organization, subculture and occupation seems to have its own team. Tricycle drivers play together. Neighborhoods face off against each other. I wouldn't be surprised if the underground communist New People's Army comes out of hiding for league games. The point is, you need to be motivated and little creative if you want to just practice your drop-step.

You'll need a few dozen cloves of garlic, some silver bullets and a wooden stake to keep this meat salesman off the court.

I succeeded. I found some covered courts at an elementary school where the league wasn't starting for a couple hours and the only people around were guys setting up some steam tables full of porcine delights for the players to snack on between games. After about 45 minutes of shooting, one of the pork-chop vendors walked by me and smiled, so I threw him the ball and told him to take a shot.

Silly me, I thought he'd shoot around for a couple minutes and go back to assembling his smorgasbord of intestinal firecrackers. Instead, he called for the other food vendors to join in, and before I could do anything about it my kind gesture exploded into an invitation to host a one-on-one tournament of chain-smoking sausage-slingers wearing tank-tops and slippers. With every shot someone's flip-flop would go flying to the other side of the court. Most of the guys hadn't played in years and wanked the ball off the backboard from one side of the court to the other. I kept waiting and smiling, laughing along with the assorted airballs, thinking that they had to get bored and move on eventually.

Not so. This went on for a good 40 minutes. I could count the number of made baskets on two hands. There was still no sign of stopping. Eventually, I had to pretend I had to meet someone for lunch -- a lame excuse at 10:15 a.m. -- so I could find somewhere else to finish my workout.

Philippine Court Etiquette rule #1: Don't invite people to share the court unless you plan on spending the entire day there with them. This applies to any and everyone, including, but not limited to, 11-year-old girls, chain-smokers, people wearing slippers, flip-flops or any other article of clothing that ought to render playing basketball impossible, and octogenarians, who are often surprisingly nimble on the court.


Anonymous McSorley Barman said...

This phenomenon (Principle #1 of Filippino Court Etqiuette), though not uncommon in other countries, seems, like everything else, exacerbated in the Philippines.
Which certainly proves that the sport is, indeed, #1 in their country. Their playing of the game, their spectatorship and fandom, seem to go beyond normal standards, and begin to border on the maniacal and/or rabid. It makes one wonder if something in their temperament is the cause.
As you continue to experience Manila and the Philippine basketball realities, it would be edifying to hear your take on the cause of their obsession, its roots, its cultivation, etc.

3:06 PM  

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