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, June 28, 2006

Waffle Wars

The beginning of the school year in the Philippines heralds many wonderful things on Katipunan Avenue, home to two of the country’s top institutions of higher learning, the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines Diliman.

New businesses are opening up and down the Avenue, bringing with them the chance to add Teriyaki Boy rice bowls and “New York style” Buffalo wings to my meager diet of chicken inasal, rice topped with squid and vegetables and Jollibee deep-fried pork chop meals.

Ask a man in any college town on the globe what the return of students means, and his one-word answer will be “girls.” It’s a universal truth. College women want to start off the semester on the right foot, so they got their wardrobes, their make-up and their accessories all looking right, and that new student glow will last for at least a month.

Starbucks is packed from three in the afternoon. Trios of wobbly women can be spotted group-hugging outside of local bars after closing. The start of classes has breathed life into the neighborhood.

But that breath carries with it a virulent contagion – Belgians!

This ain't Brussells. You're in my world now, pare.

A new school year also means a new crop of Belgian exchange students staying in the Katipunan condominiums and taking classes at Ateneo. There’s no other way to say this but to put it bluntly. Over the past five months, I have grown accustomed to having a monopoly on whiteness in Barangay Loyola Heights.

I’ve got the market on tall white guys cornered out here, and I’d like to keep it that way. But how am I supposed to do that with lanky, floppy haired Belgians invading my turf. On paper, their whiteness is superior to mine. I’m a skuzzy American taking advantage of the post-colonial mess the United States left behind in the Philippines. They’re Belgian; unless the women at the laundromat are students of Congolese history, I think the newcomers are getting a free pass on King Leopold’s vile colonial policies. Sure, the trust U.S. dollar is worth more than 50 Philippine pesos, but those damn Euros can buy roughly three bodyguards for every two I can afford! Worst of all, they’re new! What if the neighborhood is tired of me and my basketball tomfoolery? Everyone will forsake me and flock to the flashy waffle barons.

What am I to do? Should I hand out pamphlets detailing the Belgian government’s role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the help they provided Mobutu Sese Seko to become Zaire’s dictatorial head of state? But America had a hand in that seedy historical episode, too. Could I engage in some tricky arbitrage and manage to sink the Euro? Not a chance.

No clever scheme is going to prove that I am the preeminent foreigner in the neighborhood. So instead, I’m sending out this statement to all Katipunan Belgians:

Non, non et non. Bawal ang Belgian.

Hello, Belgians. You want to sit on the barangay throne, but first, let me ask you: Do you carry 40-pound bags of laundry around on your back, to the delight of everyone on the street? Do you walk home in bare feet on steaming hot pavement after you flip-flops break? Have you mastered the Philippine non-verbal communication, which includes but is not limited to, raising your eyebrows 263 times a day, making the rectangular bill sign in restaurants, sticking your arm out in front of you before passing between two people who are talking to each other and making loud smooching sounds to get the attention of bartenders? Do the street children in the neighborhood call you “kuya?” Do they jump on your back and chase you down the Avenue? Do you buy them siopao and pan de sal on the sly? You’ve got a long way to go, Belgians. Remember that. Go to your classes. Enjoy your high-rise condominiums. Go surfing in Siargao or something. But this strip of pavement we call Katipunan and its din of tricycle engines and jeepney horns, its smells of burning diesel, trash fires and fried chicken, that’s my turf, and I’ll be the one dispensing the white goofiness on it.


Blogger Soccer Nut said...

Good to see you are back to updating. Have you thought about infiltrating the Belgian gang? maybe engage in some seedy antisocial behavior that can be attributed to the Belgians?

2:12 AM  
Blogger Iloilo City Boy said...

So you're the new King of Katipunan huh?! I went to Ateneo and stayed at the Cervini dorm ten years ago. I was then the "Kingpin of Kowloon House" (the siopai place in Katipunan. i don't know if it's still there today. it used to be situated beside Shakey's). Don't worry, Filipinos will always prefer you over the Belgians because you play basketball. Unless the Belgians play too?

7:13 PM  
Blogger Soccer Nut said...

Can I get a little enterprise man on the street piece on WorldCupFevah in Katipunan? In a country so obsessed about basketball I'm actually interested in whether or not the filipinos have the same kind of benign neglect to the world cup as americans do. I would imagine that their interest would be even lower given that they don't have a horse in the race. You could really best the Belgians by taking to the streets and letting the good people of Xavierville know that the white american is trying to see what's good with the world cup while the belgians are busy tending to their mutton chops

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I studied in Ateneo and all we got were lousy Korean girls! Now, ten years after I leave school, you can find all sorts of nations represented in my school - one French guy tried to pick me up while I was having lunch at the Club House. Where were all these cute guys when I was studying?!

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I studied in Ateneo and all we got were lousy Korean girls! Now, ten years after I leave school, you can find all sorts of nations represented - one French guy tried to pick me up while I was having lunch at the Club House. Where were all these cute guys when I was studying?!

5:19 PM  
Blogger micketymoc said...

I lived in Xavierville for about eight years, and I never saw me no Belgians. I say welcome to our Congo-oppressing friends, but stay off my table at Sweet Inspirations, beeotch.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Katz said...

Little known fact: Belgians keep more weasels as pets than any other country. What's up with that?They feed 'em waffles, or what? That soldier in the photo looks a little weasel-like, now that I think about it.

2:37 PM  
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2:56 PM  
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6:04 PM  
Blogger Jules said...

Don't worry... La Salle in Bacolod has been infiltrated with Belgian Exchange students also.... why Belgians in the 1st place huh? why not luxembourgians? or the dutch? or the Danish? or even the Liechtensteiners?? why belgians?

12:17 PM  

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