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

Monday, August 18, 2008

The kalat in my mind

Some scattered thoughts. Photos and perhaps videos will be added later.

1. Last night was an important first. Non-Filipinos tend to be endlessly amused by the local practice of buying soft drinks served in plastic bags with straws. It's pure pragmatism. The sari-sari store owners have to return the soda bottles to be refilled, so if you don't feel like standing around while you drink out of the bottle, you can have your drink poured into a plastic bag and take it to go. The novelty of plastic bag refreshments wore off on me years ago, but last night I saw something I thought impossible. A guy had two 500 mL bottles of Red Horse Extra Strong beer poured into separate plastic bags. Some people can't pour beer into a glass without having head overflowing all over the place. Imagine pouring it into a plastic bag. Usually, the people working the counter at a sari-sari store plod around grabbing cigarettes, cans of sardines and bags of chips in a state of semi-consciousness. Indeed, getting service often means hissing or making a loud kissing noise to wake up the shopkeeper behind the metal bars. Well, the guy working at the sari-sari last night achieved some kind of heightened level of awareness while pouring the volatile brew ever so slowly into the plastic bags. If you only saw the focus in his narrowed eyes, you'd think he was working with nitroglycerin. After his virtuoso pour, he handed the turgid, golden bags to the customer, who paid, hopped on his tricycle and motored off into the dark while sipping a liter of Red Horse from straws. The U.S. practice of brown-bagging beer bottles never seemed so emasculated.

2. I watched Game Six of the PBA Finals last night. Ginebra made it an even 3-3 in their series against Air21. The television cameramen did a nice job of panning the crowd during the timeouts and gave a sense of the atmosphere in the Araneta Coliseum, which reported record ticket sales of 2.5 million pesos for the do-or-die game. It was typical Ginebra insanity. My favorite moment was a zoom shot of five Ginebra fans proudly displaying a homemade banner that was in need of some editing: "See you on game 7!" The Gin-Kings won, so the fans got their wish. See you all Wednesday on Game 7.

This item would be funnier if I made no effort to explain a bit about Ginebra and translating Tagalog to English, but I think it would be unfair. There is really only one preposition in Tagalog: "sa." For native Tagalog speakers, this makes mastering the usage of English's myriad froms, tos, fors, ats and ons, difficult. Furthermore, Ginebra is the favorite team of the Philippine masses, the people least likely to have had the opportunity to perfect their English at schools like Assumption, Xavier, Ateneo, UP Diliman, La Salle, etc. It looks bad on a sign, but if you talked in English with Ginebra fans, many of them would be able to have a comfortable conversation.

3. Pinoy readers: Did anyone else notice Dwyane Wade's sidestep in the first half of the Greece-USA game last Thursday! I don't think he meant to do it, he was just trying to beat his man, but he definitely executed a sidestep. He was driving at an angle towards the basket on the break, and a Greek defender cut off his direct path to the hoop a step outside the key, so he planted on his left foot, sidestepped across his body and across the Greek player with his right foot, and finished the lay-up. When I saw it, I yelled at my TV: "Holy Shit! Wade just did a sidestep!"

I was excited because the sidestep is a one-on-one move indigenous to Philippine basketball. To American eyes, it looks awkward and defies description. ESPN's Chris Sheridan, in trying to explain Wade's move in his write-up of the game, called it a "right-to-left twist," which doesn't quite capture the move in words. I can't do much better, but I have the luxury of more space to work with. American players are taught to go hard to the basket and finish strong on fast breaks. Make a crossover or hesitation to get your defender off balance, then explode to the basket and finish at the rim. The sidestep, according to this philosophy, is a horrible move. The offensive player, instead of using his two steps after picking up his dribble to go straight for the hoop, uses one step to go forward and the next to hop horizontally to the side and flip up an off-balance lay-up. I have had players demonstrate to me how it is not a travel, but it still looks so weird that I want to scream "travelling" every time a player does it to me. The sidestep usually lets the offensive player get his body between the defender and the ball, so even though the sidestep usually leaves the ball handler too off-balance to jump high and finish hard, he can use his touch to loft a looping bank shot into the hoop at a trajectory out-of-reach for shot-blocking defenders.

Most people tend to agree that the sidestep's origins lie in the shortness of Filipino guards. For many of them, if they went straight to the basket and finished as high and as strong as they could, they'd probably still be running straight into a taller defender, waiting to smother the ball. The sidestep lets them get the shot off. The height factor plays a role in many of Philippine basketball's most thrilling innovations and quirks, like players' abilities to finish outrageous circus lay-ups, released from down below their waists and spun off the board with impeccable English, or pektos, as they call it.


Blogger borg_queen said...

Personally for me coke in bottles taste better than in cans.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis of what a sidestep is and where it comes from. Do you think Wade did it instinctually? Or did he (likely) see some guard do it?

4:19 AM  
Anonymous JOE NOVEL said...

In Denis Johnson's TREE OF SMOKE he mentions the plastic bag cola drinks in the Philippines in the boondocks as well as in Manila circa the early 1960s. This is one hilarious take on the beer in the bag at the sari-sari. Great stuff!!!

4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah baby, Dwyane Wade the best player in basketball! Hehe. You should see old clips of Vergel Meneses adn Samboy Lim for more on the sidestep. But there's one guy, I forgot who, maybe Dondon Ampalayo "The Magic Man" who has this as his patented move.

8:32 PM  

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