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 13, 2007

Xavierville and Environs

Here at Manila Vanilla, we pride ourselves in being on the cutting edge of multimedia technology. That's why we're a whole two years behind on getting hooked up with Google Earth, which allows you to look at satellite images of just about any place in the world and interact with the images in neat ways.

Click on this image to see the full size tour of my immediate surroundings in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. My stomping grounds extend beyond this three-block radius, but these are some of the vital parts of my life in the area near my house inside the Xavierville subdivision.

  • Rafe's House -- This spacious townhouse comes with a downstairs kitchen, well-stocked with cockroaches, two bedrooms, two semi-functioning bathrooms, and two glory holes.

  • Kuya Mike's Tindahan -- The cheapest sari sari store on Rosa Alvero Street. When the others charge 38 pesos for a 1.5-liter bottle of Coke Light, Mike's will only ask 36. The low, low prices draw a splendid crowd of frugal "tambays" -- basically loiterers in English -- who sit on tiny plastic chairs and pass around a blue plastic cup of beer. The characters change, but the cup remains. Shouts to Noy, Ping and Jhun, who taught me to open bottles in my teeth here, and Chairman Effren Gallardo of the Loyola Pansol Toda tricycle drivers association, who has dropped science on me several times on Kuya Mike's stoop.

  • Meat Shop -- Anyone who would rather spend a night navel gazing in a Makati lounge than pounding 29-peso bottles of Red Horse and listening to the unpredictable soundtrack (your chances of hearing Zhane and Ghost Town DJs are excellent) and watching late-night tricycle races at the Meat Shop is a fool. Where I learned to love sisig.

  • Squatters! -- Does this rectangular area look like a mess from the bird's eye view? You should see it at ground level. Just follow the cramped little alley off Esteban Abada street and behold squalor like you've never seen before. Unless you're Filipino, that is, and you've seen it on a daily basis for most of your life. Despite having little in terms of worldly possessions, the folks back here have a seemingly endless supply of friendliness (perhaps it's linked to my own seemingly endless supply of five peso coins and hand-me-down basketball shorts). Many of Katipunan's most beloved street children live back here, including my Dream Team: Angelica, Allan, Jeffrey, Sandra and Marvin.
  • Clubhouse Basketball Court -- The Xavierville Phase II/III shared clubhouse. A great place to play with pompous 17-year-olds and toothless, 57-year-old house helpers and drivers. And when the Koreans show up, it's over.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Australia gets a taste of Barth

Even though I didn't get to thrill Australians with my "You call that a knife?" routine, I consider the interview a success.

Rafe Barth returns! Luckily, this time the interviewer gets my name right. Also, he's interviewing me about a topic much more dear to me than Philippine elections -- Philippine basketball. This ten minute podcast aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National, which is like NPR Down Under. The interview -- on a show called Sports Factor -- was recorded, so I wasn't able to piss off a nation of listeners by making repeated Paul Hogan references, but I still had a great time talking to host Mick O'Regan. We touched on the general popularity of basketball in the Philippines; the roller coaster lifestyle of PBA imports, which swings from being called "idol" in the street and choosing from a pu-pu platter of Pinays on a near nightly basis to being called a "lemon" by coaches after poor shooting nights and replaced after a two-game losing streak; the "sporting tariff" on imports' heights, as Mick calls it; the roving bands of transvestite and old lady fans who serve as unofficial cheerleading squads for several PBA teams; and the PBA's coddling of its parent corporations, which includes naming teams after consumer goods like the hot dog-inspired Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants. I'm the second interview on the program, after O'Regan speaks with the founder of the Compton Cricket Club.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

PBA Video

It occurred to me that several readers of this blog have never seen a moment of PBA basketball, and it's time for me to change that. Unfortunately, I had my Eureka moment while watching a game between the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants and the Welcoat Dragons -- a half-decent team and an awful one, respectively. In the NBA, this match-up would be equivalent to something along the lines of the Seattle Supersonics versus the Memphis Grizzlies, with a little more star power. That power comes from Purefoods guard James Yap, the PBA's reigning MVP, who is also the reigning husband of Kris Aquino (former President Corazon Aquino's daughter, actress, television host and product endorser extraordinaire), the country's most famous personality along with Manny Pacquiao. James and Kris had a well-publicized spat earlier this year, when a receptionist at a skin clinic revealed that when James went to the salon for his facials, it may have had a double-meaning. But Kris and James settled it in the best possible way -- on a nationally televised interview -- and are now happily raising their absurdly named newborn son, Baby James Yap. Yap scores a couple buckets during this sequence. Welcoat has Alex Compton, an American-born, honorary Filipino who I wrote about for the Madison, Wisc., Isthmus. The PBA playoffs are about to begin, so I'll do my best to film some more interesting action, but for now, this is all you get.