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

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What you need, Lehman?

Apparently, the Wall Street credit crunch has yet to hit pawn shops on Anonas Street in Quezon City, where even in the face of declining markets around the world, you can still get a loan in FOUR MINUTES OR LESS! And the interest is probably a very reasonable 100 percent, compounding daily. Borrow now, my friends, and make your dreams come true. Maybe all the Indian Five-Six loan sharks of Cubao will band together to drag the world out of financial ruin.

Sweeter than Buck Williams. Milkier than Kurt Rambis

Rebound Milk Chocolate, exhibit number 4,693 of basketball's commercial appeal in the Philippines, is a notably ridiculous attempt by some business owner to cash in on basketball's significance in local culture. The product is just a small, round piece of chocolate wrapped in tin foil with basketball designs on it. The choice to associate candy with rebounding is a mysterious one. Grabbing boards is an undeniably important part of the game, but like noted rebounders Buck Williams and Kurt Rambis, it's neither glamorous or sweet. If I had to compare rebounding to a food, it would probably be broccoli, not milk chocolate. But, since basketball is used to sell everything from tires to margarine, I won't second-guess the experts, who seem convinced that slapping a basketball on the package can improve just about any product.

The back of the bag reads: "Rebound -- a key offensive and defensive skills (sic) in basketball which results in winning the game." Mmmm, tasty! Then: "Now!!! Rebound is the new chocolate basketball that will win you and your games always."

You had me at "rebound."


Never have two simple words so captured my hopes and dreams. Alas, I think whoever made the sign wasn't asking for a place to dump human waste, but someone to sew clothes. A mananahi, so to speak.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Secret of the Ooze

Sorry about the absence, folks. I guess it's nothing new, but in this case, I've been eager to post, I just haven't had Internet at home. I still don't, but this ought to be short, so I won't lose too much money writing it at the café under Drew's bar in Katipunan.

About a year ago, I wrote about the PBA mascots. And then, a few months ago, I wrote about them again, thanks to the appearance of the Lactobacillus "condom na condom" character on the sidelines during games. But my all-time favorite mascot will always be the Omega liniment fellow. When I first wrote about the Omega man, I described his khaki shorts and his trademark dance, a machine gun pelvic gyration. Let's call it epilepsy of the crotch. At the time, I interpreted this dance as a reflection of Philippine popular culture. Aside from the Papaya song and dance, which possess a hypnotic blandness, it's hard to think of any local dance craze that didn't require agile hips -- Itaktak mo, Boom Tarat Tarat, Otso Otso, Doo Doo Doo Dah Dah Dah. I can list these for days.

But thanks to a recent rafting accident on the Chico River in Kalinga province, I now have a reason to use Omega liniment. The boat I was in flipped over in the rapids and an underwater rock smacked my thigh muscle while I held onto the side of the raft for dear life and rode out the rapids. It gave me the worst charlie horse of my life, which is still a fairly minor injury, but the muscle became so tight I could hardly walk. To loosen it up, I bought some Omega, and within 30 seconds of slathering the chalky, lime green ooze on my upper leg, I understood the Omega dance on a deeper level. All that a-pumpin' and a-thrustin' he does could be more than just the standard wiggling. It could the napalm burn sensation of Omega on your flesh. Indeed, once it's on you, for 20 to 30 minutes you feel like moving exactly like the Omega mascot dances, like fire ants are devouring your skin and you will shake your skeleton out of its fleshy shell to get them off of you.

This is only a slight exaggeration. Omega burns way hotter than BenGay and Icy Hot. Let's hope that VP Dick Cheney never gets his hand on this stuff, because people will be getting Omegaboarded like it ain't no thing.