Tuesday, March 20, 2012

count down to the New Year (TheBlackoutBlog Does Asia, Day 4)

So, while I was out with KIM, The Good Ambassador was at the airport picking up my parents from their midnight arrival. I was scared to death I’d have to go from nodding off in a cab to “Oh, hi, jet-lagged Mom and Dad” mode when I walked in around 6am, but luckily no one was up when I arrived.

Later that day, we went to one of The Good Ambassador’s favorite restaurants near Market! Market! for lunch. I asked the waiter for a vodka and lemonade.

Waiter: “Here is your lemon with soda.”
Me (after a confused first sip): “Oh, sorry. I just wanted a lemonade and vodka. Can you do that? You serve liquor, right?”
Waiter: “Oh, yes. Of course! [2 minutes later] Here is your diet lemon with soda and no syrup.”
Me: “I… er, thank you.”

image from quickmeme.com

It was just as well: no one else at the table was ordering alcohol, plus it was the middle of the afternoon. And fuck you for judging; the waiter asked me first, and I was hoping to set a trend at the table!

After lunch, we headed to Bayan, a handcraft store, to do some knick-knack shopping. They had all kinds of handcrafted wood items from tiny elephants to 4-post beds and other massive furniture. If only I had a large apartment to furnish… and a large budget to match.

Next, we stopped by the Manila American Cemetery where thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were buried (since they were fighting in the US armed forces at the time we colonized them). It’s a stunningly landscaped piece of land on a hill that has a view of the city. Inside the memorial structure, they have maps that give graphical descriptions (think An Inconvenient Truth) of the different World War II battles in the Pacific Arena. Very helpful, once again, to augment my euro-centric history education and my distaste for historical studies in general. Also, my grandfather was in WWII in the Pacific, but he never spoke much about it to me. It was quite emotional for Mom when she saw the map of the battles where he was stationed.

I was ecstatic to get back to the compound for a nap. The staff was tying up loose ends before leaving for the holiday.

Niles: “Do you need anything else Mr. Kareem? Do you remember how to turn on the sound system for the house?”

The Good Ambassador: “See, your mom thinks she’s being helpful and independent by asking them to do stuff like bring the ironing board upstairs. I wish she’d just give them what she wants ironed and ask them to do it. This is how they get worried about their job security. You want to iron your clothes: you don’t like how they iron. You cook yourself breakfast: there’s something wrong with their cooking...”

After a nap that was too long for any disco, Joel came with his bodyguard, driver and manager Frank to pick me up en route to the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati. We joined his very friendly and loquacious sister (whom I’d met at his dinner party), some other family members (whom I’d later hang out with at Joel’s mother’s house), and a number of people Joel knew through work or friendships, including a member of a Filipino boy band, the name of which escapes me. We enjoyed champagne (not as good as the one we had at Joel’s condo) and a series of buffets from Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Thai and American restaurants within the hotel.

image from sirearevalo.com

It is a family tradition for everyone to gather at Joel’s mother’s house to count down to the New Year and to eat a shit-ton of food. If her neighborhood were in the US, it would be the hood, but in a 3rd world country, it’s solidly working class (you should have seen some of the tenements we passed on the way!). Of course, Joel had offered to move her somewhere fabulous, but she was happy to stay where she was (and reluctantly let him trick out the interior and provide house staff). After we greeted our hostess and did a round of introductions to even more family members, Joel’s cousins took me outside to see the fireworks.

In the Philippines, fireworks aren’t as regulated as they are in the US. As a result, there are hundreds of accidental deaths (even sometimes from a stray celebratory bullet) and thousands of injuries. The danger of a faulty fuse on a firecracker (even the most basic ones are twice as big as the paper footballs we’d make in middle school and rattled ribcages from 10 feet away) was so great that they kept buckets of water outside to douse them. Imagine walking onto the street, stepping on a dud that someone had left and having it explode. Apparently, that’s not unheard of.

I ended up missing the countdown to midnight because the frenzy on the street got so insane. I ended up taking video because it was so unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They had these centipede-looking chains of firecrackers that were about 5 feet long that they’d fire off in the middle of the street. And just down the street, they tied together a chain of these that was so long that it lasted 7 minutes!

You can see all the smoke in the air and casings on the ground. Even those sparklers are heavy-duty.

Me: “Oh, the City does fireworks, too! They’re nice.”
Joel: “No, that’s just somebody in the next neighborhood.”

This is all part of a tradition of opening all the windows and doors to your house, playing loud music, and generally making as much noise as possible to drive out bad spirits/energy for a fresh start. And they had lechon! Lechon is a Filipino specialty that’s basically a spiced roasted whole pig with a savory sauce. We all stuffed ourselves until about 2.

I was ready to check out the nightlife scene, but Joel told me all the clubs would be closed because of the holiday. How opposite from America! I had to be content with the bottle of Absolut 100 (which no one else was drinking from… awkward) and the loud music Joel’s brother was playing. Around 2:30, Joel’s driver took me back to the compound.

Did I mention Joel’s invitation to his country house in the mountains south of Manila? Yeah. 

Click here to check out Day 3 (and what happened in the gay club). 

Click here to check out Day 5 (and Joel's ridiculous country house).

Click here to check out my New Year's Eve going into 2011.

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