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, February 07, 2007

Gimme Two Pair!! At Php 100,000 Each!

Maybe Nelly can afford Nike's super-limited edition, hand-stitched in Italy Air Force 1s, one pair made of Anaconda and the other Crocodile. The sneakers, on display at Nike's Air Force 25 exhibit to promote the 25th anniversary of Air Force 1s (in New York we call them Uptowns), sit in a glass case in a dim but warmly-lit room with plush walls and a looped film describing the Italian craftsmanship that went into each sneaker. A nook in one wall has cards for people to leave bids in a silent auction for the shoes. The minimum bid is 100,000 pesos for a pair! That's $2,000. To provide a little context, the Philippine government considers those earning something in the neighborhood of Php 15,000 a year to be at the poverty line. Without getting into the farcical idea of living on $300 a year, it's safe to say that these shoes are worth more than many Filipinos' lives.

If Imelda collected Uptowns, she'd put Fat Joe to shame.

You'd think that of all places, there might be a taboo associated with fetishistic shoe collecting in the Philippines. Imelda Marcos' closet full of thousands of pairs of designer shoes, bought with plundered government money, is one of the few subjects -- along with prostitution and a generalized notion of government corruption -- that many Americans think of when the Philippines comes up in conversation. Then again, to most of the people lusting after the $2,000-Nikes, Imelda's collection is probably something to envy rather than be ashamed of. Perhaps these brown low-tops will be among the crown jewels in their own graft-funded wardrobes someday! Sweet!!!

The exhibit includes about 30 pairs of rare Uptowns owned by some of Manila's most avid collectors, arranged in a beehive pattern on a wall in a room next to the one housing the snake- and croc-skin kicks. They all look like they were borrowed from Fat Joe's New Jersey crib -- never worn and clean enough for Joey Crack to lick the sole, as he did repeatedly in his episode of MTV "Cribs". I have a soft spot for Uptowns, however, and the collection was nifty enough to make me forget the gauche, obscene aspect of spending more on shoes than most people earn in a week and just drool over low-tops decorated like the Philippine flag and ones with a blue "Biggie" written in script near the heel. I'll go back to the exhibit and get some pictures for the blog sometime.

Would you rather own these or feed your family for a month? Do I even have to ask?

Of course, AF 1s are basketball sneakers, and most things associated with the sport are granted plenty of lee-way here. That goes for players, who are given free passes for garden-variety misbehavior at nightclubs, and also for politicians, whose misdeeds are overlooked in part because they build basketball courts and sponsor barangay tournaments. It goes for me, as well, when I walk into a neighborhood full of people who might not want to be bothered by an American writer/researcher, but who warm to me after seeing a trick with the ball and a slick drive to the basket. Is there something repugnant about blowing Php 100,000 on a pair of rubber shoes? Sure there is. But it's forgivable because it's about basketball.

The exhibit, at the Manila DJ Club in Fort Bonifacio Global City, is a characteristic over-the-top example of the rags or riches conditions that exist in the Philippines. The night before I visited the Nike exhibit, I drank "extra strong" Red Horse beers with construction workers, some of whom left school after third grade, who are staying in temporary plywood sheds alongside of a road they're re-paving. The next night, at the DJ Club, I could sip a tumbler of top-shelf cognac while reading wall-size posters describing the dominance of '80s NBA players Calvin Natt and Jamaal Wilkes, two of the Air Force 1s' first crop of endorsers. Ain't it grand?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

repugnant as it gotta admit, the company you were with pretty much rocked. :p


12:11 AM  
Anonymous Ray the Pizza Guy said...

I got a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars I used in the early 1960s. They're yours for your Red Horse Museum of StreetBall Shoes. They come from
the East Side of Cleveland, and were used to play against Manny Leakes from East High, who later played in the NBA (out of Niagara, I think). Oh, well, I'll be saving up for a pair of Uptowns in my next reincarnation.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous someoneee:DD said...

Heh, I'd like those dunks.. Only 300 bucks, right?

6:56 AM  

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