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, January 04, 2006

Bootleg Paradise and Engrish DVDs

This will not be news to anyone familiar with Manila, but the flea market-style tiangges at the Greenhills Shopping Center put New York's Canal Street -- and any other U.S. discount/bootleg Mecca -- to shame.

This is about 0.5 percent of the action to be found at Greenhills.

The designer impostor versions of name brand sneakers were better than anything I've ever seen before. I didn't really examine them, but none of the obvious signs of fakery -- backwards swooshes, not-so-subtle misspellings like "Reebock," and never before seen color combinations -- were there. The Lebrons looked very much like Lebrons.

Greenhills boasts a few hundred five-foot by five-foot stalls selling fake Lacoste, fake Louis and some combination of real and fake pearls that I'm not qualified to assess.

But forget all that stuff. The real draw is pirated DVDs. Due to some inexplicable kink in Philippine copyright law or the way authorities choose to enforce it, selling bootleg DVDs is more illegal than selling homemade Lacoste polo shirts. Instead of hawking their wares on the Greenhills premises, the DVD vendors stash their merchandise in nearby hideouts.

To get to the movies, then, requires a leap of faith. You need to leave the shopping center with one of the sinister-looking teenagers who lean against the wall and hiss "DVD" at passersby. After leading you down a dark alley next to a local Metrobank, he will bring you into his ramshackle abode, made of aluminum siding and spare two-by-fours and filled with cigarette smoke, a few thousand DVDs in plastic baggies and a Filipino family of seven.

Lonley Planet: Philippines will probably advise you not to follow unknown teenagers down unknown alleys. But Lonely Planet doesn't know how badly you want those good Malaysian rip-jobs. And if you have to risk getting jumped by a dozen 5'4'' teenagers wielding sharpened spoons and wet banana leaves to get some $3 DVDs, then doggone it that's what you're going to do.

At least that's what I did. And it was worth it. I wouldn't be a proud owner of School Ties if I had to pay its U.S. retail value. Now, I can't wait to watch Brendan Fraser's special brand of Jewish, gridiron magic while I curse that priggish WASP Matt Damon.

The funniest moment of my DVD splurge came shortly after I arrived in the salesman's house. He assured me that his DVDs were "all original." Yep, nothing says "genuine" like standing next to the vendor's mother in a squatter home and rifling through stacks of DVDs while she cooks garlic rice. When I asked what he meant by original, he explained that the DVDs were "from Malaysia." Oh, right, "original."

The sweetest nectar that comes from the bosom of Asian video piracy, however, has to be the back-of-the-box descriptions, written in the finest Engrish money can buy.

Thanks to Rex the DVD pirate, I'm looking forward to multiple dates with Jack "Bower".

Now, I present to you, straight from Malaysia and blissfully unedited, descriptions of 24, seasons three and four:

Season 3: "In the very strong and fatal virus in the dissemination infection of Los Angeles, the terrorist requests the government at release the in custody and big poison thunder i 6 hours Receive, willet virus spread to the whole city otherwise. Anti fear the troops mission is huge, fearing with anti of the right bower the leader elite cannot no longer Ina conflict for throwing in this field alive withlu assasi nating, selling illegal drugs, scandal, scan dalous story, bloodyly with natural affection quarrel, in limited time Uproot the enemy, stop the disaster."

Season 4: "This quanreply, thistn liitted the third quarter inside the herdin drug addiction that infect by, leave anti fears small cent brigade (CTU), beginning is the United States defense secretary (William's is virtuous ten thousand impersonation) work. Will have moreover the some new appointee show up, among them pack the some CTU in is newly arrived with the work, and a flock of all new bad persons. The enemy of the is a rightness of husband and wife who come from primarily Middle East, they hatch the all new improbity plans, among them wife's dime is from acquire because the nominative n supporting to reach...."

YES! Never before has anyone distilled the allure and excitement of 24 into gripping phrases like "big poison thunder," "scandal, scan dalous story," "flock of all new bad persons" and "all new improbity plans."


Anonymous Larry in the Bronx said...

Listen, my brother's a librarian at the Brooklyn CUNY branch, and he's always lecturing me on pronunciation, syntax, all the grammar goodies. I was telling him about the taxi drivers in Manila you wrote about, how well they speak English. Well, after reading this, I guess we can cross off the Malaysian tribe over there in Asia, the Engrish they be ain't no good writing uh uh uh lexicdys
copulating toward Tourettes borning
funnyshit. Jus lik in de Bronx.

2:06 AM  
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