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

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sensationalized History Lesson

I don't know about everyone else, but when I read history books, I'm looking for the insane, disgusting, gruesome and sexual details that pop up every 30 pages. Vile punishments, corrupt largesse, megalomaniacal bosses -- these might not be the driving forces of history, but they are the forces that propel me through a book.

Here are some highlights from the first two chapters of Stanley Karnow's Pulitzer Prize-winning history of American involvement in the Philippines, In Our Image.

Brothers don't shake hands. Brothers gotta hug.

  • "Reflecting the racist attitudes of his time, [William Howard Taft, governor of the Philippines from 1900-1913] was not particularly fond of the Filipinos. But obedient to Root's instructions, he undertook to Americanize "our little brown brothers." Now I have something to say back to people when I'm pissed off and tired of hearing "Hi, Joe!" 17 times per walking mile. "Well, hello to you, my little brown brother."
  • On local justice before the period of Spanish rule began in the 16th century:
    "Trials were public, but not adversarial. The chief sat as judge and the elders as jury, and without lawyers to complicate the proceedings, justice was swift and brutal. Defendants were put through rigorous ordeals on the theory that the gods protected the innocent; to refuse to retrieve a stone from boiling water, for example, was an admission of guilt."
  • On the sex lives of indigenous Filipinos, before Spanish prudes ruined coitus:

    Interests: Golf, the beach, romance novels and backshots from the dong prong.

    "Early Spaniards were avid voyeurs who took a prurient interest in the sex life of the natives ... Antonio Pigafetta [a Venetian aristocrat who chronicled Magellan's first voyage to the Philippines in 1519] interviewed and examined couples at length, with the diligence of Masters and Johnson. 'Both young and old males pierce their penises with a gold or tin rod the size of a goose quill, its ends either pointed like a spur or shaped like the head of a nail ... When a man wishes to have intercourse with a woman, she takes his penis not in the normal way but gentley introduces first the top spur and then the bottom one, into her vagina. Once inside, the penis becomes erect and cannot be withdrawn until it is limp.'"

    Well, that's one way to nip indecisiveness in the bud. Karnow notes, then mocks, the Europeans' cocky and mistaken notion that 16th century Filipinas were into that soft, Luther Vandross style of loving practiced in the West:

    "Pigafetta asserted that the women hated this mode of fornication, which lacerated their organs. 'They very much preferred our men to their own,' he noted with the hint of a boast. He was wrong. Later Spaniards found the painful posture to be the rage, especially in the Visayas. Juan de Medina, an Augustinian friar, wrote that women there would copulate only that way and were "grief stricken" when Catholic missionaries compelled them to reform."

    Note to self: get fitted with an ultra-violent Prince Albert piercing before visiting Cebu.

Of course, these excerpts are to Karnow's book what the local news is to life as a whole. If it bleeds, it leads. All the tantalizing, sensational, bloody, freaky-deaky details.

Karnow digs up some examples of cultural misunderstandings -- the Filipino habit of agreeing with everything you say and promising to help you in face-to-face relations, then completely ignoring those promises, for example -- that plagued Spain's first Philippine viceroy, Manuel Lopez de Legazpi, and continued to marr communication with Westerners all the way through the American colonial period. He also introduces trends like the perpetual dissidence of Muslims in southern islands like Mindanao and the divisive regionalism inherent in a country composed of more than 7,000 islands with hundreds of dialects between them, which in many ways are as much a fact of Philippine life today as they were 500 years ago.

But who cares about that stuff? Bring on the penis prongs!


Anonymous Cecil B. Normal, Esq. said...

My employer, Pfizer, has asked me to communicate this fact to you: our Viagra will outperform any prong, physical or chemical, that might be used in the Philippines, or elsewhere on the planet, in the act of sexual intercourse, natural or unnatural, organic or inorganic.
Any attempt to disaparge Viagra by touting penis prongs of whatever nature will be deemed a form of libel. Thank you for considering your position.

12:32 PM  

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