A little bit

I love weekends because I can bum as much as I want. On these two days, after the crazy weekdays, I can sleep a little bit longer, linger a little bit when eating my food, and walk with insouciance and a little bit slower gaits.  I am still to make up my mind what to do for the rest of the day. Gym will definitely be one of them and probably go to Ultra to swim after. Then read a book which I had not really gotten the chance to read the previous week because of my, well, schedule.

I remember in March, just when the school year was about to come to a close, I excitedly looked forward to my summer because I shall be resting and vacationing the whole time, but it seems to me now that this summer is giving me just a little bit of a room to breathe, a slightly freer feeling than the previous two sems did, which allowed me 5 hours of sleep on average every day.

The first thing I did right after I woke up at 9 o’clock today was to feed my pet fish, Hachiko. From that point on I was stricken with the deadly vice of sloth. I went back to my bed, stared at the lachrymose view outside, and listened to the diaphanous rhythm of the sound emanating from my airconditioner. Minutes later, I began to panic when I realized it’s already 10:26 and I still had not left my bed.

I checked my emails and was happy to learn that I already got a teaching load at the Ateneo next semester. I went to UPD CRS to preenlist my subjects in grad school but the system is not yet allowing students to do this. I already got accepted at the Asian Center and will begin with my master’s in Asian Studies (Southeast Asia) this semester. This incoming semester is going to be another killer, as lethal if not more lethal (somebody told me this is an absolute adjective, hence does not admit intensifiers) than the previous.

Excited because of the beautiful turn of events, I ran to the bathroom, quickly took a very cold bath, readied my gym bag, went downstairs to catch a bus, and here I am now sipping my cappuccino and enjoying my honey glazed doughnuts before hitting the treadmill.

Despite the very little room left to enjoy these small pleasures, somehow, managing to still do makes this day a little bit…

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Pinikpikan

Earlier at seven in the morning the following day, before I began my planned three-hour reading period of Margaret Mead’s Male & Female, and to avoid getting distracted in the middle of it, I gave Joker 200 pesos to buy a native chicken in the market after he promised me to cook Pinikpikan for lunch. Pinikpikan is an Ifugao dish done by lightly beating the chicken before cooking it.

Halfway through my reading, Jeddy, Joker’s cousin, called from downstairs and told me that they were about to start. He instructed me to to bring my camera with me. I had told them beforehand that I wanted to document the process of cooking Pinikpikan. What I saw lying on the ground was a mature-looking hen with her prominent comb almost covering her left eye. Her legs were tied to keep her from escaping. I sensed an undeniable docility in the tragic hen’s eyes, as if she already had a full knowledge of her impending death that was bound to be a spectacle.

According to the Ifugaos, the coagulation of blood in the chicken renders it tastier than when it is prepared in the traditional way. One would know that the beating has been done properly when the chicken does not bleed when cut into pieces.

Joker related to me that there is a ritualistic dimension to the exercise. If somebody from the area is about to venture doing something big, for example taking an exam for admission in university or making important decisions such as those that have to do with business, marriage, and war, they prepare chickens this way. If the bile of the beaten chicken looks unhealthy then they are advised to postpone the task or, he said, another chicken is killed until they found one with a healthy-looking bile.

I was glad when Joker told me that they will not beat the chicken to death. Instead they will kill it in the traditional way, that is, quickly slit its throat, sear it with its feathers still on. Minus all the beatings and some violence.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Choose a 7-8 months old chicken, preferably a free-range native chicken because it has darker (therefore tastier) meat and has not been fed commercial feeds that affect the taste of the meat. However, broiler may also be used.

2. Slit the chicken’s throat and drain the blood in a bowl with vinegar. The vinegar will keep the blood form curdling. Store the blood for future use. In our case, Jeddy’s uncle used the blood to cook Dinuguan (Chocolate Stew) which we ate while drinking Tapuy, an Ilocano rice wine before we had lunch.

3. Using firewood, sear the chicken. He advised to use firewood as the smoke from burning wood will add a delicate taste to the chicken. He’s well aware that there are restaurants in Manila serving the dish that use blowtorch. He confessed this is faster and produces more even burns, but said that it’s too inauthentic a process.

4. Remove the feathers layer by layer, plucking the already seared layer then placing the chicken back in fire after this is done. Repeat the process in as many times as required. I noticed that he made use of the chicken’s feather by inserting a stalk through its nose to give him a better hold of the chicken’s head.

5. When the chicken begins to turn black, remove it from fire and cut it up. Clean the entrails and all the rest of the internal organs. Do not discard them. In fact they’re the choicest parts. In rituals, these parts usually go to the headman.

6. Prepare the chicken and water, enough to cover the chicken, in a big pot. Peel three big ginger roots and two onion bulbs. Slice them thinly. Add them to the chicken and water. Use salt to taste. This dish is so simple that this very simplicity made it perfect.

7. Bring it to a boil. Cook chicken for 45 minutes or until tender. Make sure that the firewood is replenished regularly. Joker also recommended to use firewood when cooking this dish instead of cooking it on top of the stove. He did not, however, elaborate on the advantage of firewood over gas but I am heeding his advice next time I decide to cook this dish.

8. When chicken is cooked, add slices of chayote or green papaya.  You may also add in young chayote stalks.

  

This dish is best served with indigenous rices varities such as tinawon, nagacadan, and julungan.

I felt like a powerful headman when the dish was served–I was given the best parts, but as sign of gratitude, I shared these to the people who partook with me that sumptuous lunch–Joker and his wife got the gizzard and Jeddy had half of the intestines. It was unforgettable. To date, nothing compares to that delicious and simple meal eaten under the scorching heat of the noonday sun while the cool breeze from the mountains of Banaue caressed my sunburnt cheeks.

‘I miss you.’

I am back! (This statement presupposes that I was missed [note the passive construction] but in reality, or, to be more accurate, virtual-ness of the schema, there’s no here or there; our concepts of here-ness and there-ness were demolished a long time ago. Nobody is here or there as we’re all always everywhere. The lines ‘i miss you’ or ‘you’re missed’ are to be deemed meaningless.)

[Thoughts at 4:24am after a 10-hour bus ride]

Daily occurrences: Banaue

Banaue is a community nestled on foots and edges of several hills where the rice terraces that vary in color depending on the season are carved. It’s a municipality of 12,000 composed predominantly of farmers, though it also heavily relies from revenues brought in by tourists.

The people are generally welcoming, especially the younger generations of Ifugao, having gotten used to the onslaught of tourists that are mostly Europeans. Older inhabitants, on the other hand, those who have seen far too many, those who have had their fill of more than a reasonable number of Caucasians  that look ridiculously comic in the traditional Ifugao g-string, have gone jaded and would make an indifferent Parisian in Paris blush. Their ‘you’re-invisible’ attitude toward anyone who is obviously not from the place is several notches above that of an arrogant Frenchman in his native France.

This old weaver refused to have her picture taken; she was aghast when she realized I took her picture as the flash from camera must have startled her. I tried my best to befriend her, but my insolence has created an unbridgeable rift between us.

Right after I found a house to stay in the next two days and introduced to a knowledgeable guide recommended by the caretaker of the house, I asked for a slack time of two hours before we began the trek which the eager guide named Michael happily agreed.

I thought I did not need to begin the trek very early as the sky appeared relatively cloudy and the sun did not give any hint that it’d make its fierceness felt any time. It has been raining in Banaue for weeks before I arrived, according to Joker, the caretaker, while he’s making funny faces to the glee of his three-year old daughter, Gem.

I was lucky, he added, that there was no sign it was going to rain that day as there were some small punctured parts of the sky where the sun’s intense rays cut through.

I spent the two hours walking around the community center and the narrow streets in the fringes. It was barely thirty minutes past seven in the morning. Most people were still in their beds enjoying the cool morning, but few individuals were already on the streets, including these two kids who were playing when I passed by in front their house,


…these two young men who happened to come from nowhere while I was taking the picture of the two boys above,

…and this dog that was scavenging for food beside the street.

As in many small communities all over the Philippines, Banaue not exempt, shame or the fear of losing face is still an important deterrent against deviance. Here is Banaue’s version of a public pillory: a list of names of people who have outstanding debts.

From the public market, I crossed this rusty hanging bridge painted reddish orange as if to mock the corrosion that is slowly eating the metal up. The joints that flimsily hold the bridge together sang a requiem every time I made a step. Two men who were coming toward my direction traipsed fearlessly, furthering the shaking; I feigned a smile and greeted them good morning.

Below the bridge is a small terrace where I caught this farmer plowing the soil. He’s wearing a shirt that made quite a statement:

And on the edge of the paddy, sitting pensively, was  a boy, probably the farmer’s son, who gave me a stare after he saw me taking the picture of the man wearing that intelligent shirt.

Tall houses line the street and their architecture is as haphazard and random as the general plan of the community is random.


Expression of love, I am starting to think, is one of man’s few universal yearnings.

Despite the relative remoteness of Banaue, the community has kept itself abreast with technology. A number of houses have satellite dishes that look exactly as sad as this.

Even though they have cable subscription and an equally lonely-looking satellite dish attached to the east side wall of their house, I was thankful that Joker and his family are of the opinion that television is repulsive, so it remained shut during my stay.

Whenever I go to a new place, as I am wont to do, I would examine its public elementary school. This bleak welcome sign to Banaue Central School did not look very promising.

But there is something this place has that should keep it optimistic despite grinding poverty and government neglect: the smile of a boy playing with his friends outside the gates of the school was the most hopeful I’ve seen for a long while.

This short trip taught me a very important lesson: that I need not much to be happy.

5:34 a.m. Banaue, Ifugao

First thing I did when I arrived here was to find a place. I found a simple house on top of a cliff that calls itself Banaue Museum that charges 500 pesos a night. Not bad. Then secured a whole-day tour for 750. Cheap. A breakfast now overlooking the poblacion for 100. Peanuts. The peace and quiet this trip is giving me. Worth a fortune.

A view from my breakfast table

The bus trip from Baguio took me more than 8 hours. The bus seats were uncomfortable, the ventilation bad, and it was a wrong decision to use the route from Baguio because it doubled the distance. Had I taken a bus in a terminal on Espana in Sampaloc, it would have only taken me 9 hours from Manila. The route I followed took 15 hours. But other than this, I got nothing to complain about. This trip is turning out to be a very good decision. I got no plans yet for today and tomorrow, probably just let things take their course. I might do a trek today and reflect and write the whole day tomorrow.

My tour guide told me that there’s a cultural presentation tonight, something that I look forward to with great anticipation.

I have a craving for dog meat.

Three hours in Baguio

I arrived in Baguio at 6 this evening after a gruelling four and a half-hour bus trip from Dau in Pampanga. I took a cab from the bus terminal where I got off and went to Burnham Park where I shall take a Ohayami bus that will bring me to my destination later tonight.

I originally planned to wait for tomorrow and take the first bus to Banaue (not anymore going to Sagada) but I was told that they only have two schedules of trip: 8am and 9pm. The travel from Baguio to Banaue is a butt-soring 7 hours. I’ll be there at around 4am later.

Since I am feeling romantic this time, albeit going on a solitary trip, I thought that seeing the sunrise tomorrow with the magnificent rice terraces on the foreground is worth the sacrifice I have to endure later for taking a night trip. A young-looking, betel-chewing man in a shabby Versace leather jacket issued me this ticket that costs 360 pesos.

I thought that the Rice Terraces are a better backdrop to my introspection, the main reason why I even contemplated on having this escape in the first place. The terraces are, for me, more tactile than the abstract image of Sagada on my mind.

I remember the chart my second-grade teacher pasted on our classroom wall showing the different wonders of the world. The Banaue Rice Terraces left the most lasting impression on my young mind. It was the only ‘wonder’ that is from the Philippines and it was, for me then, and tomorrow at sunrise, the most beautiful of the Eight Wonders and of the things I have yet seen.

After buying my ticket, I strolled around Burnham Park. This city landmark was literally littered with tourists who take pictures of themselves and their friends at every conceivable opportunity. Riding one of those grotesque swan boats, although a staple in the list of must-dos of anyone who has been to this city, was not an option for me–one, because collectively they look like they were taken fresh from a Tagalog horror film gone awry; two, because I do not want to be splashed with that murky stagnant water reeking with all virulent pathogens known to Science; and three, because I am a lonesome tourist away from his beloved. Being on one of them, alone paddling, is rubbing salt on my still bleeding wound.

Well, sipping free coffee from a paper cup while standing beside a makeshift stall selling roasted dried squid was a good enough image of a city whose feel I barely remember since my last visit when I was 14 years old.

For now, I have to brave the slight drizzle outside this internet cafe and find my place in that cramped, ricketty pink bus.

Banaue, here I come!

Journey alone

I’ll turn my back on Manila this Thursday. I’ll  join Babe to Pampanga then we’ll part ways in San Fernando. I’ll be staying with my sister in Mabalacat until Friday then catch the first bus going to Baguio at Dau terminal in the morning. If my itinerary is followed to the minutest of details, I’ll reach Sagada by Saturday afternoon, that is, if I decide to stay a night in Baguio. This plan was finalized an hour ago. Other than basic facts such as what buses to take, where to take them, where to stay for the night, and where to get a clean meal (save delicious), I had to keep myself from reading descriptions of the trip and veered away from reading reviews of hotels and restaurants in the area. I want to reach Sagada with my sense of wonderment as whole as that of a five-year-old’s.

It’s a trip I have been dreaming about and finally embarking on alone. I am forgoing a Visayas trip with former college classmates at UP in favor of this sojourn. I’ve had too much of talks these past few months that I reached a point when I get nauseated whenever I hear any form of utterance. I do not want to spend this hard-to-come-by vacation in loquacity. I have deprived myself of this much needed introspection which can only be had by distancing myself a bit from all these things that caused me undue stress, and from my very self, including.

My backpack will contain only the most essential–a little cash, toiletries, clothing for two days, my laptop, a camera, and two paperbacks. Trips of spiritual nature, though I am far from being the spiritual sort, are best conducted in ascetic fashion and in solitude.

I tried my best not to sound like I romanticize solitude in writing this post as aside from the fact that I do not want to be called funny names such as troglodyte, recluse, solitary, anchorite, solitudinarian, or worse cave dweller and/or hermit, the whole concept is trite. I need somebody to survive. In retrospect, it was an illusion I cultivated during my teenage years: that I can be self-sufficient. A fallacious assumption. However, in spite of this realization I recently have, now that I am in my mid-20s, I still believe that I owe it to myself to seek quiet whenever chance lets me. And this is exactly what I am going to do in the next four days.