Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Kids of the chicken"

One night a while ago, we were eating at Ron’s. He had been trying to raise chickens at his row house, but cats kept eating the eggs and his young chicks. Finally he sent his hens up to Middleside, where Benny (of Benny and the Bolos fame) was also trying to raise chickens. Benny faced a problem, too, but instead of cats he had to watch out for pythons. As Ron was explaining the new housing situation for their joint chicken flock, he appeared to be saying, “Kids of the chicken.” Confused, we asked him to say it again, and it still sounded like, “Kids of the chicken.” We asked him to explain. He said, “You know, a thing to keep chickens inside.” Oh, CAGE of the chicken. We all got a good laugh out of that one.

Then Ron said, “Sometimes is hard to speak English if they use old words for food like” and then he said a word that sounded like “BUY-on.” We were trying to think about what he could possibly be saying. Was he trying to say that there was an out-of-use word in the English language that sounded like buyon? Both of us were wracking our brains trying to come up with the word that Ron could be talking about, but how would Ron know an obsolete English word for food? Steve said, “He definitely isn’t talking about ‘vittles.’ There’s another word on the tip of my tongue, but it’s not buyon.”

Then Steve said, “There is the word viand.” Then it occurred to both of us at the same time that in fact Ron was trying to say just that, “viand.” (Crossword puzzles to the rescue!) Steve said to Ron, “Viand.” Ron said, “Yes, buyon.” “Viand.” “Buyon.” We looked at each other and chuckled again. Ron just could not make the V sound. Just as there is no F in Tagalog, making Filipino “Pilipino,” there is no V, transforming viand to buyon. The final “d” is there, but barely heard unless you really listen for it. How had Ron ever heard of viand? How many of you use viand in your everyday conversation? Viand is a fairly out-of-use word for a main course item, such as chicken, pork, or fish. Now that we know to listen for it, it is actually used by Filipinos quite often, and in fact many Filipinos reading this may wonder why we are even mentioning it. In the mall food courts, your viand is whatever you order to eat with your rice.

Another word we hear often is “avail,” or the phrase “avail of,” in reference to taking advantage of tour package deals, special prices in stores, hotel rate discounts, etc. While on tours, the guides often use the phrase “fronting on the left/right” to describe a building along the street – we would most likely use “facing,” or simply say “to your left/right.”

One of the things first-time American tourists notice quickly in the Philippines is the absence of toilet seats. We too noticed this right away on our first tours. Aside from hotels and upscale restaurant restrooms, a fair percentage of toilets just don’t have seats. Of course, women will probably come to this realization sooner than men, but everyone is going to encounter it sooner or later. This is the case not only outside Metro Manila, but even in malls and popular shopping areas. Today, it seems that the better malls are increasingly more likely to have toilet seats and toilet paper, and we hope that this trend continues. We’ve learned to be prepared mentally, and to carry some tissue in a pocket as well. Some comfort rooms, as they are called here, do have tissue available but in a dispenser near the wash basins rather than in the toilet stalls. One upside to the SARS and H1N1 (swine) Flu scares is that the number of hand-soap dispensers has increased.

If you have a weak stomach you might want to skip the following short account of Steve’s intro to a men’s room in Japan, which just happened to be at Narita Airport.

“I felt fine the entire 12-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo. Just as I exit the 747 along with hundreds of fellow-travelers, too late to use one of the on-board toilets, I have to ‘go’ something awful. Afraid that I am not going to make it to a restroom, I say ‘see ya later’ to Marcia and am practically running through the crowded airport hallway, thinking to myself, ‘I gotta go, I gotta go, I GOTTA GO!’ There, up on the right, I see a sign for ‘MEN’S.’ Fortunately the sign is in English as well as Japanese characters. Now I’m inside the restroom, the feeling still welling up, and all the stall doors that I can see are closed. What am I going to do? It looks like one near the end might njust be opening up. One man is ahead of me; I’m pleading to him psychically, ‘Please, please don’t go in there. Noooo! Oh man, you took the last one!’ Wait! Is it possible? Is the very last door slightly ajar? It is! I burst inside, hit the lock, and turn around.

“There’s no toilet! How can there be no toilet? I’m in a stall in a men’s restroom, for Pete’s sake. What’s this small opening on the floor? Well, it better be what I think it is, cuz I ain’t waiting around any longer. I realize that this must be how Japanese go to the bathroom, so I drop my pants and do my business in very short order. I clean up and, feeling much better, kind of smile to myself as I look back at the Japanese-style toilet. Then I think, ‘Do they really expect all travelers to squat like this?’ By the time I walk out of the stall and head toward the sinks, I notice that the stall next to me, which is now open, has the typical U.S.-style toilet. In fact, the panic behind me, I see the symbol near each subsequent door handle. All of the others are equipped this way. Just my luck, the one stall that was available to me in my most urgent need is obviously for Asians who feel more comfortable going the old-fashioned way. By the way, the symbol on the door I used somewhat resembled a capital J laying on it’s back without the line across the top, the curved part representing the slightly raised dome where the water comes from upon flushing, and the long, straight part being the slit in the floor.

“A former co-worker and friend of mine from India had told me about this style of ‘going.’ He said that when he returns to India he has a hard time at first because it requires quadriceps muscles that are conditioned by frequent squatting. I certainly hadn’t expected to run into it myself.”

We have learned that many Filipinos were raised using the squat method, and have even seen shoe prints on toilet seats from people who prefer it. We were very surprised to encounter a toilet in a newly-refurbished unisex restroom in a Makati bank that had no toilet seat by design.

We try to include a few pictures with each newsletter. A while back, one of our readers, Danny Rodriguez, sent us a few nice photos that he shot while on Corregidor, and we are including them now. Certainly better than the alternative, chicken coops and toilet seats, don’t you think?

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