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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Air Tsi-nelas!

Anyone who's read more than a few posts on this blog or who has seen guys playing basketball at a covered court or street corner in Manila or just about anywhere in the Philippines will know that many, many Filipinos -- I'm tempted to say a majority -- play pick-up ball in flip-flops, which around here are called tsinelas and pronounced "chee-né-las." I could probably fill a few reams of looseleaf with a list of things I admire about the Philippine brand of basketball, but players' abilities to sprint, leap, slide and stop on a dime with nothing but a rubber pancake between their feet and the ground is simply awe-inspiring. I try to imitate the sidestep and other classic Pinoy one-on-one moves, although like most Americans, I will always think it's a traveling violation, but I would never dream of stepping onto a cement court in my tsinelas and shouting "Sige na nga! Game na!" I would be the first person in history to play in tsinelas and a couple of 10-pound ankle braces. Maybe it's a fear thing. Sometimes, when I watch guys jump stop and slide in the paint like tennis players on a clay court, I get a feeling of nervous anticipation like I'm about to witness a gore-soaked highway collision. Kinakabahan ako, I believe, is one way to say it in Tagalog -- "It's giving me palpitations." Yet the tsinelas-clad warriors play on with no fear, and it's usually me, the guy wearing ankle armor and downmarket version of Nike Shox, who hobbles off with a minor sprain.

Playing in flip-flops is an iconic symbol of Philippine basketball, so much so that it has been immortalized in song. My friend Ryan put me on to this rap song by a group called Legit Misfits, "Air Tsinelas."



There were no lyrics for the song online, so I transcribed these myself, then had Ryan fill in a few blanks that I couldn't make out by ear. Thanks, Ryan! Without further ado: "Air Tsinelas"

First Verse

Air Tsi-nelas!
De-hins nadudulas like Jolas
Gamit panlaro pag kami'y dumayo
Siguradong iiskor, kalye man o gym floor
I sting like Relosa, kung sumabog like Loyzaga
Tirang Fabiosa laro pang Cuneta
Like Patrimonio we got the skills
Tulad ni Gonalgo we get the steals
Bakas! Bakas! Pag napapalakas madali ang pustahan
Napapaharas. Back up! Back up! Pare, atras
Sa sobrang lakas ng my tsinelas.

Chorus

Patas sa Adidas, ang aming tsinelas
Patas sa Puma, ang aming tsinelas
Patas sa Nike, ang aming tsinelas
Cause our air tsinelas, hindi nadudulas

Beachwalk ang tatak ng aking tsinelas
Spartan ang tatak ng aking tsinelas
Ito ang tatak ng aming tsinelas
Cause our air tsinelas, hindi nadudulas

Basketball, Basketball
Wearing our tsinelas we're standing tall
Subok sa tibay, subok sa lakas
Ang aming tsinelas, hindi nadudulas

2nd verse

Pass it here, pass it here, I'm in the clear
Here I come, here I go, the rookie of the year
Blastin' past your ass like Benjie Paras
'Cause like Jaworski I'm built to last
Excite like Alvarez, Meneses or Limpot
Triggerman like Caidic pag tsinelas ang susuot
Strong like Cardel, tough like Shell
Rebound, rebound, grab it like a habit
Like Nelson Asaytono, destroying like Distrito
Going coast to coast like Pido Jarencio
Going above the rim, like Samboy Lim
Tabi lang pare ko kung ayaw mong tumikim

Chorus

3rd verse

Pass the ball, pass the ball, yes yes y'all
I'm wearing my tsinelas pag ako'y naglalaro
I'm doing elegant shots like El Presidente
Ume-ere pa ako parang Freddie Hubalde
Strong like the Beermen, slams like Villamin
Here comes Manoy the Bicolano Superman
Shooting threes with ease, I can feel the breeze
As I hit the spot, (Here's Nash with a shot)
Swish...
Alley-oop, Alley-oop, I'm taking it to the hoop
Stomping my tsinelas with the Misfits group
So forget the Ewings, Shaqs or the Jordans
Sa aking tsinelas, you know I'm soaring

Chorus

Talo ang lahat sa aming tsinelas
Talo ang lahat sa aming tsinelas
Talo ang lahat sa aming tsinelas
'Cause our air tsinelas, hindi nadudulas

And now, my unofficial English translation:

Air Tsi-nelas!
Never slipping like Jolas
Using them to play when we go to other courts to challenge teams
Definitely gonna score, on the street or on the gym floor
I sting like Relosa, on fire like Loyzaga
Fabiosa-shooter playing in Cuneta
Like Patrimonio we got the skills
Like Gonzalgo we get the steals
Stamping footprints, when we're strong the bet is easy
Harassing you. back up! Back up! Dude, back up
From the awesome strength of my tsinelas

Equal to Adidas, there's our tsinelas,
Equal to Puma, there's our tsinelas,
Equal to Nike, there's our tsinelas,
Cause our air tsinelas never slip
Beachwalk's the brand of my tsinelas
Spartan's the brand of my tsinelas
Here's the brand of our tsinelas
Cause our air tsinelas never slip

Basketball, basketball, wearing our tsinelas we're standing tall
Tried and proven stamina, tried and proven strength, our air tsinelas never slip

Pass it here, pass it here, I'm in the clear
Here I come, here I go, the rookie of the year
Blastin' past your ass like Benjie Paras
'Cause like Jaworski I'm built to last
Excite like Alvarez, Meneses or Limpot
Triggerman like Caidic when I'm wearing tsinelas
Strong like Cardel, tough like Shell
Rebound, rebound, grab it like a habit
Like Nelson Asaytono, destroying like Distrito
Going coast to coast like Pido Jarencio
Going above the rim, like Samboy Lim
Step aside bro if you don't want to try me

Pass the ball, pass the ball, yes yes y'all
I'm wearing my tsinelas when I'm playing
I'm doing elegant shots like El Presidente
Still hanging in the air like I'm Freddie Hubalde
Strong like the Beermen, slams like Villamin
Here comes Manoy the Bicolano Superman
Shooting threes with ease, I can feel the breeze
As I hit the spot, (Here's Nash with a shot)
Swish...
Alley-oop, Alley-oop, I'm taking it to the hoop
Stomping my tsinelas with the Misfits group
So forget the Ewings, Shaqs or the Jordans
In my tsinelas, you know I'm soaring

There you have it. I'm a little worn out from that, so I'm going to cut my analysis short, but I like the way the song gives a roll call of PBA greats. It's a Philippine answer to Kurtis Blow's "Basketball," which is also kind of corny but extremely lovable. I was thrilled to hear Jojo "Jolas" Lastimosa -- who may be Manila's biggest Obama booster -- get the first shout out in the song. Another former Alaska Milkman, Bong "Mr. Excitement" Alvarez, is notable for his athleticism and for getting traded shortly after he was shot in the butt outside a massage parlor. El Presidente is Ramon Fernandez, sort of like the PBA's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a big man who was around forever and leads most of the career scoring categories. He even had the elegant shot, a patented running one-hander that has a name and reputation like the Sky Hook.

There's plenty more to say, but I'll let the Web community add more stories about guys like Rudy Distrito, Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, et. al. Oh, I can't resist one Samboy Lim story. He's about 6'2'' and was known as the Skywalker. A month ago a beachfront restaurant owner in Palawan cornered me and spent an hour and a half regaling me with Samboy stories. He claimed to still have a poster of Lim dunking over Sam Perkins in the 1985 Jones Cup in his mother's house in Manila. Readers, please feel free to add stories about any of these players, playing in tsinelas or just to clean up my translation!

5 Comments:

Anonymous skeed said...

Pare, it's "Patas sa Adidas, ang aming tsinelas...."

Patas means "equal".

Tirang Fabiosa *larong pang Cuneta (as in Cuneta Astrodome).

Idol!!! haha.

9:57 PM  
Blogger RafeBoogs said...

Salamat sir! It sounded like a 'T' to me but I couldn't figure out the right word. I was trying to find a meaning for 'pata' that fit and there was nothing. This makes perfect sense! Your corrections have already been incorporated into the blog entry.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post here on tsinelas adds a poignancy to your post a couple years ago on the discovery of worn-out jetsammed soles (souls) of sneakers in the courtside grass.
Anthropomorphizing the tools of the sport.

2:31 PM  
Blogger poni said...

speaking of local basketball songs..have you heard gary granada's ginebra series?:
'pag nananalo ang ginebra'
'pag natatalo ang ginebra'and
'nang maging champion ang ginebra'
also used as a commercial jingle,
'sana manalo ang ginebra'

same melody, with some variations in the lyrics. here's one version sung by bayang barrios on you tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXlJ2kR7FlQ

10:25 PM  
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