Day 224: The Man and the Sounds of the Kitchen; ‘Squat’

SQUAT?! Yesterday we get sound and today we get SQUAT?! Honestly, that’s how I feel.

Me: Hey Daily Post, think you could throw me something relevant like you did yesterday?

Daily Post: Relevant? You want relevant?! You get squat!’

Btw, it’s almost noon Eastern time, and the prompt has 0 responses so far. I find this hilarious.

Well, since I feel like the Daily Post has given me diddly-squat to work with, why don’t you just pop a squat right over there and I’ll talk to you about what I wanted to talk to you about in the first place. Boom. I just used it twice.


So the folks are expected back by the end of the week which means I’ll be surrendering some levels of autonomy and control over the household. Luckily I’ve been able to cook most of the ideas and inspirations and investigations I’ve been wanting to for a while. Now the fun part is thinking back, reflecting, tweaking, hopefully remembering what I did. Hahah. And I did request a modern Filipino cookbook as one of my souvenirs, so I am excited to look into that and see what’s been going on in the Philippines and how I can start incorporating that as well. Time to look back and look forward.

For the most part I’ve actually lived in relative silence this past month and a half. TV would be on while I was watching, my Amazon Alexa and I would play Jeopardy each day, and I’d occasionally mumble to myself, but that’s about it. I usually listen to music at work or while I’m driving. I do love me a long late night drive listening to music.

For me, music is about setting a mood, creating an environment, establishing an atmosphere. When I’m at work, I need to create a mood of calm, an environment of distance, and an atmosphere of indifference towards my fellow man. Hahah. When I’m driving it becomes partly meditative so I love songs with slow rhythms, long notes, and calm, cool tones. When I’m by myself I don’t usually need any external help creating my own internal mental attitude unless in periods of extreme stress, duress, or depression. When I’m with friends I do try to use music to create a mood, get them more psyched and excitable, and when I’m on a date or with someone I might be interested in I find music tastes are a great way to kind of gauge compatibility and engage them in conversation.

That’s why though I do have a cooking playlist on my Spotify that I am constantly looking into and updating, I don’t play it much cooking by myself. I usually use it when I’m cooking for others, especially on a date. But I do love these tracks and I do think they’re great either for cooking or eating, so I wanted to share with you some of the sounds you may have heard in my kitchen or around the table if we were sharing a meal together.

Let’s start by getting set up. Mise en place is gospel for the true chef. As I put on my jacket and start gathering pots, pans, bowls, knives, and boards, I want to be listening to my man Chris Botti. Get a little pep in my step. His album Italia is great and nothing sets the tone for the rest of the night like getting all ‘chef’ed up and looking smooth to the sounds of The Way You Look Tonight. The song gets my toes tapping and I feel like I’m becoming smooth, suave, and sophisticated. Like Sinatra standing before a crowd in a smoky nightclub, mic in hand, I’m getting set up in my kitchen, pots and pans on the stove waiting to be fired, bowls my by side, board in front, and knife in hand. I feel good, I look good, we’re gonna do good.

Okay now that I’ve got everything out and ready, it’s time to start washing, cutting, and prepping all the ingredients. I find it so much easier and less stressful when everything is pre-measured and just set around the stove in convenient little bowls to just be tossed in at the right time. Now keep in mind, you’re handling a very sharp and dangerous instrument here. You want to be cool and confident as you work your knife into a frenzy chopping, slicing, julienning, and schiffenading everything in your path. Like a masterful matador you are dancing with a bull. You want to control the bull, wrestle with it, master it. So naturally you want something with some fiery Spanish blood. Habanera from Carmen is in my cooking playlist as well, and in particular the artist Martynas’s version with him on accordion. Accordion music is awesome, y’all. (No that’s not him in the picture.)

At this point perhaps you are enticed from seeing me move so swiftly and deftly with my preparations that you want to help. You are inspired to join me in this dance around the kitchen as things start to, as we say, ‘heat up’. You’re excited, but scared. You are worried you might mess up. Make a mistake. But that’s okay. There are no mistakes in cooking. That’s the great thing about cooking. You just cook on. So I put the knife in your hand, set some herbs in front of you, wrap my arms around you and guide you. I think you know where this is going. One of the greatest dance scenes in film, and a wonderful cooking song to boot. Por Una Cabeza.

Now it’s time to start cooking! We are firing up the stove and adding some butter or oil to the pans. The butter melts, sizzles, sings. It calls to us. The kitchen begins to smell of the wonderful aroma of butter and we add other aromatics. Garlic, onion, vegetables. We’re simmering and sizzling. A lot of cooking is a matter of the senses. You want to be open enough to the process to figure out what to do. You listen to the sounds of ingredients cooking to tell what temperature they need to be at. You look at the colors as they change, you smell them releasing their flavors and essences. You poke and prick and prod to tell doneness. There is a story being told and you just want to be conscious enough to listen and figure out what’s going on. Take a stroll with your food. Relax. Like a Parisian taking a leisurely stroll along the Reine, so too do you move from one pot to another and add and sautee and season and adjust. And you do so to the sounds of Seul Ce Soir.

As everything starts to pick up pace I start dancing from one place to another. I’m at the kitchen table grabbing more ingredients. I’m at the stove stirring, sauteeing, tasting. I’m by the oven as I place our main course in to roast or bake or broil. I move like a dancer, my feet never firmly on the ground for longer than a second. I am smiling and enjoying this dance, mindful and yet not too focused on the food as it cooks. Instead I find my gaze constantly wandering back to you as you watch me. I read your face, your body, to see how you are reacting. I ask if you can smell what the Rock is cooking, if you’re getting hungry, if you’re happy, if you’re happy here with me. Playfully teasing me, you respond ‘perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’. Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.

Ooh we are smoking now aren’t we?! Speaking of which, everything is almost done now! We have to pick up the pace. Get some more energy. Some pep. Some zing. There’s a fine line between done and over done and we’re getting close to it. We finish on a high note. I want this food just perfect and it is calling to me to be finished. The oven is getting hot. It’s getting stronger and stronger and I can’t fight it much longer. Do you know what we need to finish everything? Some Sexual Healing. And some hot brass.

Well that was quite the ride wasn’t it? But now it’s almost time to eat. So we go to set the table. A wonderful meal deserves an equally wonderful setting. Let’s bring it down now, slow it down, enjoy the buildup to the reward. The clank of forks and knives being drawn from the drawers. The gentle thud of plates on elegant place-mats. The *ksssh* of a match being struck and a candle being lit. The gentle clink of empty glasses being placed together and the calming swish of wine being poured. It’s the night, it’s romance, it’s everywhere. It’s Agua de Marco.

Finally we sit down to dinner together. I smile at you from across a candlelit table. The smell of everything is just tantalizing. We toast our glasses to a wonderful night together and admire our handiwork. I am so happy to have this time with you to cook with you. And as you look down at your plate as the pasta swirls and twirls and spins around your fork I watch you bring your first bite to your lips and think…I’ve Got You Wrapped Around My Little Finger.

That was, honestly, a lot of fun. Hahah. I hope you enjoyed this little culinary adventure together and this glimpse into my cooking playlist. Like I said, set a mood, create an environment, establish an atmosphere. Cheers.

Day 224

Man: 192 Loneliness: 32

Day 223: The Man and the Sizzling East-West Crossover; ‘Sound’

Augh. Daily Post is killing me with their prompt choices. I am supposed to talk about the sisig carbonara I made over the weekend today but tomorrow, as has been requested many many times by a dear reader, follower, and fellow pinoy blogger, I will be talking about at least one of my many situational playlists, the one I listen to while cooking/eating. So clearly, ‘sound‘ would just have been so perfect for that but I just…I just can’t stray from the path. It hurts too much. Hahah. I have to follow schedules. SO…playlist tomorrow, and let’s all just hope and pray tomorrow’s prompt is as fortuitously relevant. And instead today…we talk about…

sisig-carbonara-1

TA-DAH! Sisig carbonara. A true east meets west crossover that is rich, creamy, crispy, meaty, and oh so cheesy good. First, let’s meet our two very important elements in their native habitat.

Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish that originated in Rome. It is a very simple yet filling and rich dish. Pork (the tender jowl or guanciale is preferred but pancetta can be used and most Carbonara.jpghome cooks without access to their own authentic Italian salumeria use cured bacon) is cooked and most of the fat rendered before adding pasta (traditionally spaghetti) and then tossing it all together with a mixture of eggs, cheese, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Speed in tossing the pasta and being sure to do it with the heat off is essential to prevent the eggs from curdling and fully cooking. The residual heat of the pan, pork, and pasta will slowly cook the eggs and create a creamy, runny sauce that is most notable for the lack of actual cream. The first time I ever tried this pasta was at the Grand Lux Cafe in a mall near my town. It was very good but unfortunately not the most authentic version ever. It had the addition of peas (which are one of my least favorite vegetables), garlic, and was a full on cream sauce. Forgive me, I didn’t know any better. I loved it so much that I had to go home and research the pasta to make it for myself. That’s when I first learned that authentic carbonara has no cream and ever since I’ve made it the traditional way and have never looked back. With just a few easy and relatively cheap ingredients (pasta, bacon, eggs, cheese, and pepper) you too can make this simple dish at home for a weekday dinner and you’d be surprised by how quickly it’s done and how quickly you’ll want to finish it too. I use freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and whole eggs but some recipes might switch out for pecorino romano or just egg yolks. This really just depends on how rich you want the sauce to be and if you prefer the saltiness of pecorino or the nuttiness of parmigiano. I think Antonio Carluccio’s video recipe is one of the best and most authentic representations of how to prepare this dish.

Sisig on the other hand, is also one of my all-time favorite foods but I don’t necessarily recommend you try making this any time soon. Hahah. It is time-consuming, tedious, complicated, but yes with very great payout. But since it is such a quintessential Filipino dish, any good Filipino restaurant will have their own version of it on the menu for you to enjoy. Like most Filipino dishes, sisig is extremely regional and therefore subject to plenty of variations. It is traditionally a dish from the Pampanga region of the Philippines and is sisigmade usually using parts of the pig’s head (the ears, the jowls, and the snout). First they are boiled to tenderize, then chopped into tiny pieces, and the bits are broiled or fried before being served super crispy on a sizzling platter. The pork is flavored with soy sauce, vinegar, onions, and plenty of spicy peppers. The last time I was in the Philippines I got to try a lot of different variations of sisig, including ones made from chicken, squid, and even tuna. The tuna was perhaps one of the best versions I’ve ever had. I prefer my sisig super crispy and spicy, but as I’ve said, sometimes you will find milder versions and most often in the Philippines you will find that the dish is served with a raw egg that is then mixed into the dish or with mayo. The ears are great because it is just soft tender fatty meat and then crunchy cartilage in the center. Sometimes cuts of pork belly are also used for the fat and the skin which becomes incredibly crispy and crunchy. When it comes to introducing non-Filipinos to Filipino food, spicy sizzling sisig is right up there along with adobo and lumpia (our version of egg-rolls) as the best and most universally liked introductions.

So interestingly enough, carbonara has already made its way to the Philippines and is actually one of the most popular pasta dishes in the country. Food has its own legs and filipino-carbonaraoften travels a lot faster than people realize. My aunt on my mother’s side makes this incredible version of Filipino carbonara that I think is just a perfect representation of the characteristics of Filipino palettes. Filipino carbonara first of all, actually uses no eggs at all. Like, at all. Instead it is a straight up super creamy sauce made with Nestle all-purpose cream (which is incredibly sweet), bacon, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. In this way it is actually much closer to an alfredo sauce but the very particular addition of Nestle cream gives it an overall sweetness whereas the traditional carbonara is usually characterized by its rich slight saltiness. This is common in a lot of Filipino dishes. We Filipinos just really like our sweet things. Like spaghetti in the Philippines. Ground beef, hot dogs, and a lot of sugar characterize our namesake ‘sweet spaghetti’. Whenever I visit I love that my aunt always makes sure that one night while I’m there she makes this sweet, rich, and creamy pasta.

sisig-carbonara-2

But to truly make an east-west mashup, I wanted to use really crispy, spicy sisig and substitute it for the pork needed in authentic preparation of carbonara. If you think about it, sisig already displays much of the same characteristics of guanciale or pancetta. It is made from the same parts (the jowl) and the previously fried sisig has plenty of wonderful flavors and fat to render into the pasta. I use less black pepper because the sisig already has plenty of kick. In a separate pot of boiling salted water I start cooking the spaghetti and when it is almost close to being perfectly al dente I begin making the carbonara. Adding no oil whatsoever to a cold pan, I put the sisig and bring it up to temperature. This lets the sisig render some of its fat without searing and burning. You know it’s ready when it starts to sizzle and sing and the pieces start popping up and try flying out of the pan (think cooking bacon). Meanwhile in a bowl I’ve mixed four whole eggs, some freshly ground black pepper, and plenty (I mean plenty) of cheese. When the pasta is ready I drain it and toss it in the strainer to get as much moisture out as possible before adding it to the pan of sisig. Once it’s all thoroughly mixed up and I have a good amount of heat throughout the pasta, I turn off the heat and add the egg and cheese mixture. A few incredibly showy flicks of the wrist and tosses of the pan and it’s all mixed up and the egg has turned creamy and the cheese is melty and…oh my god. This thing was good. Added some extra cheese and parsley on the plate and voila, my version of sisig carbonara.

sisig-carbonara-3

Oh yeah. I could definitely make (and EAT) this again.

Day 223

Man: 191 Loneliness: 32

 

Day 219: The Man and the Rubbed Breast; ‘Aware’

My weekend treat to myself this week is juicy, succulent, incredibly flavorful and meaty duck breast! I am absolutely loving getting to experiment with these new ingredients and dishes. This time around instead of re-imagining a Filipino dish, I took a very classic approach to duck breast and just added a few bits of Filipino flair. I enjoyed this for dinner and was drooling during the prep, but I have to admit the mind is already thinking of future changes and improvements. That’s the exciting thing about cooking and creating! There is always room for improvement, improvisation, and imagination!

duck-overall

The most classic preparation I have seen for duck breast has been to score the fatty skin, season generously with salt and pepper, and then first sear it fatty side down in a cold pan brought up to temp (to render some of that incredible duck fat), sear all sides, and finish in the oven. The excess duck fat is set aside for future use (which I’ve done and imagine I could use with say, some Brussels sprouts and pancetta) and what remains is deglazed in some form of sauce. I say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Duck breast is such a luxurious item to begin with that I don’t want to go mucking about with it too much and ruin the best qualities of the meat.

duck-breast

Here’s how I changed it up a bit though. First, aside from the salt and pepper, I also generously rubbed the outside of the duck breast with Chinese five-spice powder. Five-spice powder is an essential seasoning in any Asian household. A wonderfully aromatic and complex mix of cinnamon, clove, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns for a slightly spicy kick. After that I did the usual sear and then roast and as it was resting, I de-glazed the pan with some port wine and chicken stock. Once it was reduced to the consistency I liked, I tossed in some cut up canned lychees (a sweet, floral, delicate fruit grown throughout Southeast Asia and a popular snack in the Philippines) with the syrup it came in and after letting it cook a bit, finishing with a nice generous pat of butter.

duck-salad

I cut the breast into nice thick slices and was so proud of the crunch and snap of the crispy duck skin as the knife cut into the pieces. The center was beautifully pink and the five-spice powder had slightly charred and caramelized along the edges and released its full aroma. The lychees I tossed in a salad of watercress and then I spooned the lychee-port sauce over the duck and vegetables. I had a wonderful meal with a glass of port to accompany me.

mango-rum

In the future, I think I can be a bit more brave and really bring out some more Filipino colors. I’ve asked my parents to bring home some mango rum, which is a liqueur popular in the beach destination of Boracay. I’m thinking of using the mango rum, with some thin strips of dried mango along with the lychee, to create a bright orange, sweet and slightly sticky sauce instead (a sort of play on the classic duck a l’orange). I also find that with the sweet and tanginess of the sauce I am craving for some more pepper, so I believe arugula would be better with everything. I hope that along the way of my culinary journey I’ve been able to make some of you aware of the myriad potential and possibilities of Filipino food and cooking style!

Day 219

Man: 187 Loneliness: 32

Day 216: The Man and the Bone to Pick; ‘Heard’

Just in case the high-fat cholesterol-laden taba ng talangka hasn’t killed you yet, over the weekend I also made a dish using rich, fatty, super meaty and incredible bone marrow. Is it any wonder between the talangka, the bone marrow, and all the pork dishes that heart disease is a big problem with Filipinos? Hahah. In case you were wondering how I probably go, it’ll most likely be with a piece of meat.

beef-bonesBone marrow is the spongy, flexible tissue found inside the bones that contain the stem cells that turn into red or white blood cells that help carry oxygen through the body and fight against disease. You’ll find the largest concentration in the larger bones, especially the femur. That is why whenever you go to the supermarket or your local butcher’s to pick up some bone marrow for cooking or roasting, it is often either just the femur bone (which can then be halved or split lengthwise) or the shank, which is the meat on the upper hip centered around a big piece of that split femur bone.

As an ingredient, bone marrow is a prized ingredient in many world cuisines, not just inbeef-shank the Philippines. For example, the classic Italian dish osso bucco is made by braising beef shanks (veal shanks preferred) in vegetables and white wine. In fact, the name osso bucco in Italian roughly translates to ‘bone with a hole’, referring to the rich marrow in the center of the shank that provides the rich beef flavor and is a treat to suck out of the bone at the end. In Vietnam, it is the collagen-rich beef marrow bones that are used to create the deeply flavored broth that is essential to good pho. If you’ve ever had pho and wondered how they can create such a complex and meaty broth, the secret is in boiling the bones with seasonings for a very long time to completely melt the marrow and have it practically dissolve into the broth. You will often find bone marrow split lengthwise and roasted, sometimes simply with salt and pepper, other times with a gremolata like paste spooned on top and then roasted to create a rich, smooth, butter-like spread that can be either enjoyed with a spoon or spread onto crusty bread.

One of my all time favorite food experiences was at the Black Hoof in Toronto. We each Wicked Spoon Marrow.jpgordered our own plate of bone marrow and after we finished it, we used the now hollowed out bones as a luge and did shots of whiskey pouring it in one end and drinking it from the other. The whiskey get into every tiny nook and cranny and carried the last bits of rich meaty goodness and oh man…that night was a blast. If you’re ever in Toronto I HIGHLY recommend the Black Hoof. Or if you’re in Vegas, my vote for best buffet in the city of buffets is the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan, where, among there myriad offerings (they have this orange mousse dessert that is incredible) is a giant heart-attack inducing pile of spicy kimchi marinated roasted bone marrow. Look, let me tell you, there’s a reason why roasted bone marrow is known as the ‘butter of the gods’. It’s smooth, spreadable, decadent, and if you eat enough of it in one sitting you’re guaranteed to meet your maker.

So here’s my Filipino twist on it. I wanted to recreate the flavors of bulalo, which is a clear Filipino stew that is made rich with by boiling the thick beef bones for several hours. With the soft, smooth bone marrow melting into the soup and the rich beef stock and tender boiled beef, bulalo is a hearty yet simple stew great for winters (ironic, considering the Philippines is unbearably hot). The problem with bulalo though is that the boiling process usually melts all the marrow goodness out and I never get to actually enjoy it as is. So without melting it in a stew, I still wanted to get the other flavors of the soup onto split marrow bones that I could then roast and enjoy by itself.

bulalo-overview

My solution was to roast the marrow bones with a sprinkling of very finely minced garlic and onion, so fine that most of it would melt into the marrow during the roasting process. I topped it with thin slices of onion that would crisp and caramelize in the heat and then after generously seasoning it with plenty of freshly ground black pepper I (sparingly) poured a scant bit of salty/funky fish sauce (a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine) instead of salt. Aside from the unfortunately fishy smell that came from the oven, I think it was an overwhelming success. I’ll just need to Febreze the room afterwards because if you’ve ever smelled fish sauce, you know what I’m talking about. Now imagine that smell heated to 375 degrees. Like Satan’s sweaty pits.

Bulalo Bone Focus.jpg

Often times, to counter the super richness of the bone marrow these dishes are accompanied by some citrus or a light salad with an acidic vinaigrette to cut the fattiness. I decided to pair it with my homemade ‘minute’ version of atchara, which is a dish made by pickling papaya, carrots, and peppers in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and seasonings. My ‘minute’ version is accomplished by blanching julienned carrots, red and green peppers, and celery in a similar pickling mixture that I season with garlic, ginger, peppers, and star anise. By blanching them I help them keep their bright color and crispness, and at the same time I am able to impart them with just enough acidity and bite to help pair nicely with the bone marrow.

Bulalo Atchara Focus.jpg

So in case you’ve been living underneath a culinary rock and haven’t yet heard of the gastronomic wonder that is rich, meaty, sinfully delicious bone marrow, I hope this has given you some courage to seek it out.

Day 216

Man: 184 Loneliness: 32

Day 215: The Man and the Edible Mentality; ‘Tremble’

Yesterday as I was looking up some information about the taba ng talangka and how it is harvested/made I found out that aside from the food, when you say talangka (crab) to Filipinos it could also be used to refer to someone who has a talangka mentality. That is to say, a way of referring to someone who is prone to jealousy and does not like to see others succeed or surpass them.

crab-mentality

If you’ve ever been to a live seafood market, check out the live crabs in their bucket and you might notice where this phrase came from. As individual crabs on the edge of the bucket try to grab and claw their way out of the bucket, the crabs further down and more in the center will actually grab onto the crab and in doing so, pull it back down. This is often why no lids or other means of securing the crabs are needed. They do it to themselves.

So having a talangka or ‘crab’ mentality is akin to the behavior of crabs in a bucket. As we see those around us succeed, rather than feeling either a sense of joy for their crab-frenzyaccomplishment or a sense of inspiration in a desire to emulate them, we are overcome with feelings of jealousy and bitterness towards their success and wish to see them fall; perhaps even going so far as attempting to facilitate that either by sabotaging their attempts or undermining their accomplishments. In the Philippines we call this feeling of envy and bitterness ‘inggit’. When someone experiences a sudden burst of success and prosperity, we don’t want to be them, we want them to go back to being like us. Now to be fair, I don’t want to paint my fellow Filipinos as particularly resentful or envious people. Nor do I want to claim that this is an exclusively or even particularly Filipino trait. I think we can all relate, at least at times, to this particularly destructive feeling of envy. It is I believe, natural and even common, to sometimes feel jealous of the success of others. On its own this does not make us bad or narrow-minded people. I believe it is when we succumb to this tendency and lack the ability to elevate ourselves above this mindset that we become like those crabs in the buckets and turn a momentary reaction into a permanent characteristic.

What’s interesting is that while ‘talangka’ mentality might be a common phrase in the Tall Poppy.jpgPhilippines, most cultures have their own way of expressing this though; further emphasizing that this is a universal and deeply human emotion that we get to wrestle with, analyze, and grow out of. It is part of our experience in growing and improving. In Britain and Australia you may have heard of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, which is strikingly similar. This comes back to a reference by the Greek historian Herodotus in his Histories series.

Periander had sent a herald to Thrasybulus and inquired in what way he would best and most safely govern his city. Thrasybulus led the man who had come from Periander outside the town, and entered into a sown field. As he walked through the wheat, continually asking why the messenger had come to him from Cypselus, he kept cutting off all the tallest ears of wheat which he could see, and throwing them away, until he had destroyed the best and richest part of the crop. Then, after passing through the place and speaking no word of counsel, he sent the herald away. When the herald returned to Cypselus, Periander desired to hear what counsel he brought, but the man said that Thrasybulus had given him none. The herald added that it was a strange man to whom he had been sent, a madman and a destroyer of his own possessions, telling Periander what he had seen Thrasybulus do. Periander, however, understood what had been done, and perceived that Thrasybulus had counselled him to slay those of his townsmen who were outstanding in influence or ability; with that he began to deal with his citizens in an evil manner.

-Herodotus, The HistoriesBook 5

References to ‘tall poppies’ can be found in recorded debates in Australian government over things like controversial knightings or taxpayer costs and in Britain it is even said that Margaret Thatcher is quoted to have used the phrase when discussing her governing philosophy.

So, while maybe not as extreme as resorting to trying to kill everyone with influence or power greater than yours, I do think we can agree that there is something comfortable, australia-poppyfamiliar, and sometimes regretfully habitual about feeling jealous of others. It is sometimes subtle, sneaking into our subconscious mind and influencing our thoughts. Maybe we find ourselves questioning just how someone got their position in a company or how they are able to afford themselves such seemingly nice and expensive things. Bitterness and vitriol leads us to sometimes accusing those around of us of certain unscrupulous things because we find that temptingly easier than rationalizing the benefit but also effort of genuine hard work. If we do find ourselves resorting to this kind of unproductive and toxic thinking, how do we elevate ourselves out of this ‘bucket’?

We have to realize that success and prosperity is not a ‘zero-sum game’. In game theory, this refers to any sort of game where the win of one person has to mean the loss of another to keep balance. I think one of the reasons why we have this ‘crab mentality’ or ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is because we fear that the success one of our peers achieves and Image result for crabs gifexperiences could in some way mean that there is less chance or room for our own. You may fear that there is only so much success and positive attention to go around and that its limited resource means you have to bring someone down before you can bring yourself up. This is often characterized in communities where upwards mobility is seemingly limited. For example in poor communities where it is difficult to ever leave the environment. I believe this could explain why a lot of Filipinos seem to either relate to, or fear they are the victims of, this ‘talangka’ mentality. When you grow up thinking that there are only so many opportunities out there in the world, you become cynical and jealous and wary of others’ success. From this, we have to realize that there is always room for everyone to succeed. In fact, it is often best to encourage and support the success of others because it keeps us focused on the goals rather than the misses. Not to mention that when I find myself in positions of advantage, I like to reach out to those who have helped and hopefully give them a leg up as well. It isn’t about being the only crab out of the bucket or the only poppy to grow tall. It’s about seeing how many we can work together to see succeed. Unless you’re a crab catcher. Then you make sure all those suckers stay down.

Ultimately, I think it is just important for us to realize that the world is bigger than just our bucket, and that just because one poppy may be taller than ours, the sun will reach both just as much. With the current political climate, I absolutely believe that there are certain peoples of power out there who would totally want us to believe that this is not the case. Right now so many of us are succumbing to the easy and insecure belief that there are people out there trying to ‘get us’ and that their attempts at trying to secure success and livable conditions for themselves somehow impedes on our own. Loud and frighteningly powerful voices are trying to convince us that the world has become an ‘us or them’ environment. I refuse to believe this. It will take the most noble, selfless, and generous aspects of our spirit and dignity to rise above this rhetoric and not tremble and realize that the best thing we can do for our own mutual success is to work towards, or at the very least do nothing to obstruct, the attempts of others to succeed. Don’t be afraid if you happen to catch others leaving the bucket faster than you. You’ll get there also. And maybe even with the helpful claw from the other side.

Day 215

Man: 183 Loneliness: 32

Day 214: The Man and the Daily Catch Daily Prompt; ‘Lovingly’

Today’s dish is a wonderful introduction to the rich, fatty, super umami, and uniquely Filipino ingredient known as taba ng talangka.

This bright orange, slightly granular paste is made from tiny freshwater crabs that grow along the rivers in the Philippines. It used to be a major product of the Pampanga region but after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the resulting dredging of the Pampanga region, it is now more commonly harvested in Bicol. Regardless of where you get it though, the process of harvest is pretty much the same. These tiny crabs, no bigger than two inches across, are harvested, painstakingly peeled open and then the tiny amounts of crab roe inside (even though taba in Tagalog translates to ‘fat’ and talangka are the crabs, this is not crab fat but crab roe) are harvested and then sauteed into a paste with plenty of garlic for flavor.

Alone, the flavor is incredibly deep, rich, and complex. It possesses the kind of rich sea umami of say, Japanese uni but with not as much of the saltiness. Super fatty and best enjoyed in small doses a) because of how rich the taste is and b) because too much of this and you’ll have a cholesterol-laden one way ticket to the emergency room. The texture is slightly grainy, but when cooked into dishes it smooths out and almost disintegrates, leaving a slight aroma but deep orange color and permeating flavor. In the Philippines it is traditionally served as is, spooned over warm white rice and mixed together to melt and combine. I’ve also seen it prepared as a pasta sauce but most recipes call for a whole jar just for one serving!

My goal was to find a way to introduce this wonderful ingredient and taste in a way that would not be too foreign and too off-putting. I wanted it to simultaneously be the signature flavor star but not the main focus. The idea of mixing it with rice made me think of fried rice, which is a common item in the Philippines as well as any Asian country, and so playing on the Filipinos’ love of fried rice, I made my own version of seafood fried rice with the taba ng talangka mixed in!

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Ta-da! This is the final result. First, in a very hot wok I saute garlic, onions, ginger, green onion, and labuyo (a tiny but super spicy and tasty Filipino chili pepper) until fragrant. I then add squid, scallops, lump crab meat, and shrimp. Next come the bean sprouts. Finally I add the rice, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and a generous heaping portion of the taba and mix and fry. The taba melts and colors each grain of rice that wonderful orange color and flavors the entire dish while still letting the seafood come through. Once it’s all cooked and the rice is loose and every grain is separated, I lovingly sprinkle some green onion on top.

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This is at once an homage to Asian-style fried rice, Spanish-style seafood paella, and yet also a distinctly Filipino dish in taste. I used a quart of day-old rice because older, dry rice is much better for fried rice and now I have some great leftovers to look forward to having for lunch.

If you are an adventurous foodie or a big seafood lover, I highly recommend visiting your local Asian grocery store and if you’re lucky, you might find this in the Filipino aisle. If you’re not, you’ll have to hope I open up a restaurant near you. Hahah. Either way, I definitely think that this could be one of the best unknown ingredients for the enterprising chef and is definitely a flavor worth exploring.

Bon apetit.

Day 214

Man: 182 Loneliness: 32

Day 207: The Man and the ‘Leg Up’on Tradition; ‘Replacement’

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Ahahah. Get it?! It’s a ‘leg up’ because it’s duck legs!

Wonderful, delicious, fatty, rich duck legs.Made even more wonderful using what is perhaps the most recognized Filipino dish, adobo.

Recently I’ve been loving playing around with Filipino food and Filipino recipes. Honestly Filipino cuisine is a wonderful playground for creative minds for three reasons.

The first is that Filipino food is, by its very nature, improvisational. It is hard to nail down a uniform Filipino culinary identity. Most Filipino recipes rely on a sense of ‘tantsya‘ or ‘cooking by feeling’. The senses take over and inform the decision making. You know what adobo should taste like, look like, smell like, so you chase after that image in your head. The basic technique, the major underlying characteristics, are there but the specific amounts and ratios can vary from person to person, day to day, mood to mood. For example, the Filipino version of adobo is meat simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. But how much soy, how much vinegar, that’s entirely up to you. But not only that, whatever else you add may be subject to regional, familial, or personal preference as well! Can I say with 100% certainty that adobo should also include onions, garlic, and bay leaves? No, I cannot. Did mine? Yes, it did. A TON of garlic. Why? Because I LOOOVE garlic and this is my baby after all. But you can add as little or as much or none at all, based on what you want. And still every single version of this dish can be called, without a doubt, adobo. Why? Because it still has the same feeling. Travel around the Philippines and you may find a hundred different version of the same dish, each highlighting different aspects or regional flavors, but all of them will be immediately recognizable. Because of this, the Filipino chef is not afraid to experiment and is never unsure or uncertain what to do in the kitchen. Give them enough ingredients, and they’ll be able to make anything close to home.

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Which brings us to the second point. What I have loved discovering about Filipino cuisine recently is how international it really is. Now I know Thailand and Vietnam with their French, Dutch, and English influences has really dominated the Southeast Asian food revolution, but don’t forget that the Philippines was for a very long time colonized, and therefore influenced, by the Spanish. So while we have our own very distinct and local ways of preparing dishes and flavoring foods, we also have that wonderful Spanish culinary background. I have been looking up some of the most popular and well-known Filipino dishes in the Philippines and I’ve realized so many of them have counterparts in other well-known cuisines. We’ve been right there with France and Italy and all the Asian culinary giants this entire time! You love French escargots or maybe frog legs? We do them too. Thai peanut sauce really get you going? Kare-kare is a stew of vegetables and beef in a rich peanut sauce. Japanese tempura? Try our camaro rebosado and forget about it. I’m not saying Filipino food is the end all be all. I’m saying that Filipino food has had an international sense for a very long time but has lacked the international recognition (I feel) it deserves. But it’s great for me because I get to play around with this bridge. I can use these similarities to bridge the familiar with the new. For example, this duck adobo, simmered in this sauce and its own fat, is just close enough to duck confit for those who have never tried it before. If you’ve grown up eating, or better yet cooking and preparing, every cuisine but Filipino, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many things we’ve already been doing.

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And the third best thing about experimenting and cooking with Filipino food is while the techniques may be universally recognizable, the ingredients certainly are not! And this is where I really get to have fun with experiments, replacements, and substitutions. For example, I love that this version of adobo with the duck is also a great way to introduce more people to itlog na maalat, or preserved duck eggs. These salt-cured eggs are soaked in a brine for a couple weeks giving them a completely different texture and very strong taste. But its saltiness wonderfully and perfectly complements the complexity of the adobo and with the fresh ripe juicy tomatoes, it is a common pairing in the Philippines. I love these eggs, often times having them at breakfast with fish or dinner with adobo or any time we need a quick and easy vegetable side that still packs plenty of flavor and character. Another wonderfully unique and complex Filipino ingredient would be taba ng talangka, or crab fat. The fat of small, local crabs is painstakingly harvested from hundreds and then sauteed in garlic to create a paste that is seafood-y, slightly brine-y, and chock full of the same umami characteristics as say, Japanese uni (sea urchin) only often times at a fraction of the cost. I get to use these very Filipino ingredients and dishes (like sisig, which will make an appearance later on) and showcase them in Filipino riffs of other cuisine’s dishes to do the reverse. I can either showcase Filipino ingredients by using them in familiar recipes, or use Filipino recipes to reintroduce people to familiar ingredients.

I still have plenty more recipes to experiment and to share so I hope you all enjoy!

Day 207

Man: 175 Loneliness: 32

Day 91: The Man and the Taste of Identity; ‘Daring’

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So apparently October is National Filipino-American History Month. Another reason for a guy to love October I guess. Filipino-American History Month was established by the Filipino-American National Historical Society back in 1988 but was only recognized nationally starting in 2009. The FANHS decided on October as the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the US was on October 18, 1587 when ‘Luzones Indios’ (natives of Luzon) were brought on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza to the shores of Morro Bay, California.

It’s pretty cool and all. And I am damn proud to be Filipino-American and that they have set aside this month for us and everything but I’ll be honest with you…I can’t say much to Filipino identity or notable people or culture, really. When I say I’m Filipino, I really mean that my parents are from the Philippines. I never, and I emphasize never had any desire or interest in joining any Filipino culture clubs or anything in high school or college. It actually just *shudder* made me cringe just to think of it. UAASO, United Asian-American Student Organization, was the largest Asian club on campus in college and it was completely run by Filipinos. You’d think I would’ve run there with arms wide open, burst through the doors and yell ‘My people! I have come to you!’ Instead I went the complete opposite direction and became President…of the Chinese Student Association.

I think it might be a Filipino-American thing though, honestly. When I visit the Philippines it’s not like I think ‘oh god I can’t stand being around all these Filipinos’. I find the native Filipino spirit and personality very friendly and agreeable and a lot of fun. But Filipino-Americans around here…eeh…yeah not so much.

My family and I are perfectly content and happy to be proud Filipinos…on our own. We really don’t feel the need to broadcast this to everyone or to be with others just to tell ourselves how happy we are to be us. We still behave and act and think and do things in very Philippine ways. Yes we have a painting of the last supper hanging in our dining room (and another in the kitchen). Yes we point with our lips and pick things up with our feet. But we never thought we would ever want to make that our ‘thing’ or identify with all of this. We just wanted to do it because it made sense, whether culturally, historically, logically, or emotionally.

Don’t ask me about famous Filipino figures. Don’t ask me about Filipino art or music or literature or film. I feel like sometimes I purposely go out of my way to avoid Fil-Ams in pop culture because it would just feel like lazy adoration. Like, I’m not going to like or listen to the Black Eyed Peas just because apl. de. ap. is Fil-Am. I’m not going to listen to Bruno Mars for the same reason and I don’t want to give people the chance to assume that of me. Having Dante Basco be the voice of Prince Zuko was pretty bad-ass though. And yes, I admit I did have a crush on Vanessa Hudgens. But an awesome TV show and a pretty face precede any sort of national or cultural affiliation!

I think one of the reasons why I have such a disconnect with Filipino culture here in the US versus actually in the Philippines is because of how fluid it seems to be. One of the greatest strengths (and conversely greatest weaknesses) of the Filipino is adaptability. We are the second largest Asian ethnicity in the United States and why we are so numerous (and why you probably didn’t even realize that) is because of how well we can assimilate into our environment. We really don’t want a lot of attention drawn to us. We would much prefer to be known for how easily and quickly our neighbors felt safe next to us. Hahah. But because of that I’ve always struggled with the concept of ‘authenticity’. I don’t know what it means to be ‘Fil-Am’ when we have no real strong sense of community or identity. A first generation Filipino-American growing up on the East Coast is going to turn out a whole hell of a lot different from a West Coaster and I really don’t feel comfortable or at home with either. I grew up around other ethnicities. My best friends were and still are Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, and white. My entire sense of Filipino identity was derived only from my parents who also quite notably did not really interact with other Filipino families. (I understand their reasons now but…hardly seems apropos considering we’re supposed to be celebrating Filipinos right now. Hahah.)

Even our food, which is usually used as a mark of cultural identity, differs from place to Adobo.jpgplace. We cannot even unite on what should be on our plates. This is more than just a regional anomaly. This isn’t like categorizing Chinese food as either Szechuan, Hunan, Cantonese, or Mandarin. A dish can change from family to family and interpretations abound. You will often times find more ‘Filipino Fusion’ restaurants than you will ‘authentic Filipino’ simply because almost all Filipino food is fusion. No one wants to unify or define Filipino dishes for fear of singling out certain areas or ethnicities or offending the myriad Filipino families who can cook the same dish a thousand different ways. Who would get to define what Filipino food ‘is’ and how would we even establish their credibility or criteria for such a task.

Still, when it comes to cultural identity, you can talk to me about food. I know food. Filipino dishes still share many of the same characteristics despite the variances. I love Dinuguan.jpgthe hearty and flavor-packed ‘sabaw‘, or sauce that comes with each dish. A lot of Filipino food is stew-based and the rich sauce that is the result of that long stewing process is so good over steaming white rice. Unlike many East Asian dishes that focus on exemplifying and stressing one or at most two different flavors at a time, Filipino food is about packing as many flavors and textures into one dish as possible. For this reason many of my friends have had to become ‘accustomed’ to Filipino food because of how strong the flavors are. Now they love it and when they crave hearty and rich, they know where to go.

Filipino food is also all about being daring. We never let any part of the animal go to waste Balut.JPGand we’ll be damn clever about it too. I love dinuguan, a pork stew of belly, ear, and offal braised in pig’s blood (regional varieties include my preferred one which lessens the amount of vinegar and adds hot green pepper for punch). There is of course the infamous (though utterly delicious) balut. Easy shock-TV material for the uninitiated  but really, it’s just a fertilized duck egg.

 

Okay I get it, that might be a bit…tough to swallow. (HAH. Get it. Swallow like to eat and swallow like the bird which comes from an egg.) You don’t have to jump off the deep end just yet. To be perfectly honest my mother and father were born and raised in the Philippines and refuse to eat balut. Personally I think it’s a great breakfast alternative. Regardless, if anything at all, I would highly recommend that this October in honor of Filipino-American History Month, please, find your friendly neighborhood pinoy and ask them to take you a restaurant. Try some Filipino food if you haven’t yet had a chance. I guarantee you that there isn’t one too far from where you are. We’re everywhere. We’re just very good at blending in. But everyone is going to need a nurse or a nanny!

Day 91

Man: 72 Loneliness: 19

 

 

 

Day 62: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Cake’

I love to cook. I hate to bake. If you’ve spent any time doing either, you’ll very quickly realize that though they may appear similar, they are two completely different things for very different people. A chef and a baker may inhabit the same room but they are from very different worlds.

Like most writers, I am a man of passion. Impulse. Prone to getting carried away in the moment. In order to do well in our craft we must feel on a grander and simultaneously more minute scale than most people. We Souma.gifhave to feel the very rhythm and emotion of the earth in the smallest nerves of our body so that we can distill every external and internal inspiration into cohesive physical thought and word. Such is the task of the chef. My cooking largely depends on my mood and the inspiration I draw from within and without. A chef’s emotions can largely affect the taste of a dish. If he is having a particularly bad day and is angry, you may find more hints of pepper and spice than normal. If he is in a happy mood, you will taste more sweetness and perhaps freshness. The stereotype of the troubled emotionally erratic chef in the kitchen is not so far off from the real deal. Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, and David Chang, all culinary idols of mine, all have reputations of being particularly volatile in the kitchen. It is this fiery personality that pushes towards boldness and innovation. It is the tortured soul that breaks down barriers and constantly chases new frontiers. A creative spirit that needs consistent feeding. Confidence and insecurity also broadcast into the dish. I notice that when I attempt something for the first time, often it is…’unfinished’. Perhaps lacking in seasoning or not fully matured. I am unsure of myself and therefore am more hesitant to carry through with a dish. This is in contrast to dishes that I have made time and time again. My ‘go-to’ recipes that always guarantee satisfaction. I can move through those dishes with ease and confidence and so the flavors are boldly pronounced and vibrant. They are aggressive and complex.

Never try asking a Filipino for a recipe. It’s not that they won’t share with you, it’s that they won’t know how to. See in the Philippines we cook by what we call ‘tantsa’. One of my more regular readers and commenters, a native speaker and incredible writer in both languages, can probably speak better to the translation, but to me it equates most similarly in cooking to the phrase ‘cook by taste’. ‘Tantsa’ is more than a method, it is a culinary philosophy that purports that cooking is done not by calculated measure but by cooking with the eyes, the nose, the tongue, but most importantly the heart. There is no measure to how much of any one ingredient you need to put into a Filipino dish. You know it when you recognize it deep in your soul. We all grew up with these dishes and you’ll notice that most provinces have their own take and without any need for formal Pusheen Processinstruction or procedure we all gravitate to being able to replicate those dishes ourselves. It’s this wonderfully interactive and reactive dance of taste and adjust and feel that ties you so deeply and personally to your food.  I love garlic. To me it is one of the best ingredients around. Sauteed. Simmered. Roasted. Fried. As part of the dish or just garnish, I cannot exist without garlic. So my dishes oftentimes feature a bit more garlic than recipes call for. Certain areas in the Philippines are known for a characteristic preference towards spice and so their dishes all have some level of heat usually more than is customary or the norm in other parts of the country. My aunt makes the best dinuguan (a native dish similar to blood pudding) I have ever had but she makes it unique to her style and no restaurant or Filipino cookbook would have ever thought to do what she does. My mother’s callos is hands down the finest example but that is from years of tweaking the recipe to the very distinct and selective taste buds of my family. So your chances of getting a callos like my mother’s are pretty rare unless you come by one time! Five different restaurants can have five different interpretations of adobo, arguably the Philippines’s most notable, significant, and hard to define unofficial national dish. Every house has a different take, and all because the spirit of the dish may be the same but the heart, the ‘tantsa’, is fiercely unique. When I cook I may have all the ingredients but I certainly don’t have all the measurements. I move with the dish as it transforms and speaks to me and there is this two-way communication that I think is unique to this cooking. If I feel particularly garlicky (clearly not cooking for a date) I’ll run with it. If I’m feeling eggy I’ll crack a few more shells.

But do you know what happens when you feel particularly eggy when baking? Your whole dish changes. You balance the fine line between a souffle and an omelet. Your bread changes all of its characteristics: texture, smell, taste, crust. Your cupcakes and muffins blow up. You don’t mess with a baker’s recipe. Unlike the ‘tantsa’ that is a literal roll of Pusheen Bakingthe dice, baking is an exact science. The best, most efficient and effective methods, measurements, and modes have all already been established. The mark of a good chef is his ability to create. The mark of an expert baker is his ability to replicate. Consistency is key. Capturing the exact precise moment that cooking becomes more science and alchemy than improvisation and art. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way disparaging baking or trying to claim one over the other. Like I said, they inhabit the same room but different worlds and if anything, I am in awe of how difficult and unforgiving and inflexible baking is. My friend is the baker of the group and I am constantly amazed and impressed by what she is capable of. It’s very interesting when we are in the same kitchen doing our thing. She sees me flying by the seat of my pants, constantly adjusting and readjusting, while I watch her careful and exacting, knowing exactly what to expect when and how and why even before she adds the ingredients. There is a very clear and vivid picture in her mind at the start whereas I am chasing an emotion felt on the breeze. I have a very realistic image of myself; I know what I am and am not capable of and so I recognize talent in things I cannot achieve myself. I admire bakers. I could not inhabit their world. I don’t have the patience or the ability to absorb the vast knowledge base needed. They are artisans and scientists and craftsmen all at the same time. I am a whirlwind of impressions.

I am happy though in my world. It speaks to me as I speak to it. My emotional state characterizes more than just my cooking, it speaks to my relationships, my writing, and my perspectives. I need to feel when I cook. I need to feel when I write. I need to feel when I’m with someone. And in the meanwhile, I’m perfectly content buying my cake from the store.

Day 62

Man: 46 Loneliness: 16

Day 57: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Fierce’

Tell me what you would do in this situation.

You check into your AirBNB for the weekend in the Poconos. Your friends have all split the cost for two nights and it came to ~$140 per person for this house rental.

You find out only after opening the door that the house has no central A/C. It is currently 89 degrees. You would like to turn on the fans around the house, but they are all coated in dust. You blast the central A/C unit in the kitchen and hope it spreads while you explore the rest of the house. Luckily the rooms have their own individual units but again, fans and surfaces are dirty. It’s been a long two and a half hour drive due to traffic and you go to relieve yourself. You reach for the toilet paper and the holder drops with a loud, threatening metallic THUD as the stainless steel paper holder drops to the ground, seemingly attached to the wall by a strand of hair. You go to place your towel on the towel rack by the shower and THUD it falls as well.

Whatever. It’s fine. We’ll just place the toilet paper on the window sill and our towels by the sink. You and your group all go grocery shopping, spending more than $200 as the plan is to cook all your meals as part of the experience. You return home hungry to begin the first meal and notice that the stove fire is weaker than normal…and weakening…and weakening…and then…it’s out. Like, completely out. You try to reignite. The starter works. You hear the characteristic *click click click* of the starter and you can see the spark. But no flame. In remote PA, you know all the houses rely on their own propane supplies versus hooking into a gas line. You fear the worst…and check the fireplace. You hit the start and hope to see a flame. It flickers…flames…and then dies again…

The propane is out. You notify the homeowner who tells you that, while they apologize for the inconvenience, they cannot get anyone to refill the propane until Monday. When you check out. It is Saturday and you have two days’ worth of food in the refrigerator. It’s fine. Whatever. We have an electric rice cooker, an electric griddle, and a microwave. We’ll cook everything hibachi style like our ancestors at Benihana (note, I am Filipino, one friend is Korean, and the rest are Taiwanese).

Ultimately, for the inconveniences of the house the owner reaches out to your group and offers a consolation of a $50 refund. The groceries cost $200, and each member paid more than $100 for the two nights. You feel it is a paltry sum and not reflective of nearly the amount of inconvenience, but it’s fine. Whatever. We’ll go spend it on gas and tolls.

TigerI know there are many of you reading this who would have been up in arms by the third paragraph. Outraged by the fourth. Livid by the fifth. There would have been harsh words. Demands for more compensation. Sharply worded complaints and negative reviews.

So what did my group of friends and I do? We wrote a four star review noting how wonderful the owners were for caring and trying to make us happy.

This is the curse of the Asian attitude. A cross-cultural embedded ethos of humility, meekness, and tolerance. It is why issues of racism against Asians and Asian-Americans are never as widely publicized or heard. This is why American actors are cast in Asian movies and no one cries foul. It is why relationally, American women are not as interested in Asian men as they are seen as ‘weak’ and American men fetishize Asian women as ‘submissive’.

When I was a travel agent, this presented a whole new level of complication and issue because my capacity to endure trouble and hardship without complaint was now affecting my clients. Clients who, primarily Caucasian, would call me furious about the fact that the ‘blankets are gaudy’ or that the room is ‘ocean view and not ocean front’ or that ‘the hotel has to move us from one room to the other in the middle of the trip’. All of these issues that, were it me or my family or friends, we would have accepted as part of the unpredictability of travel and would simply soldier on. But for my clients this was the end of the world and somehow I had to find within me a fierceness and an aggression not characteristic to me or my culture to demand of equally confused hotel staff refunds, upgrades, special amenities, things I have never dreamt of asking for.

KittenThis is by no means a criticism of American culture. It is an observation of the Asian mindset that has characterized many of my social interactions. I don’t know who of us is more right or appropriate. There are certainly times when the fierceness of a tiger is more apropos than the meekness of a cat. But conversely there are times when the ability to accept and move on is critical and better for the heart and the blood pressure.

I think the Filipino is even more at a disadvantage than most other Asians. See a key characteristic for the Filipino is in fact their ability to endure. ‘The Filipino endures’. Corruption. Poverty. Natural disaster. The Filipino is applauded for his ability to endure and smile and move on. They never cause a ruckus, never raise a voice, they are the most adept at adapting. You could throw one of us anywhere in the world in any situation and we would find a way to succeed. It is a matter of strength and resolution but also of accepting one’s fate and making the best of it, rather than subvert or augment it.

But there must be a turning point when to adapt is no longer acceptable. A firm stance is necessary. It seems so difficult, combining Catholic values of ‘suffer in this life to be rewarded in the next’ with the natural tendency for Asians to be more reserved, less open about troubles and difficulties, for us as Filipinos to ever ask, expect, or seek better in life.

Take meals for example. If you are not Asian and have ever eaten with them, you will notice a certain phenomenon near the end of the meal. No matter how hungry people are there seems to always be one last morsel of each dish still on the table. And now comes the song and dance of trying to get others to eat it and being offered by others to eat. There are smiles and gestures and gestations and it’s all a big commotion. Until your white friend, confused by what is happening, unused to the rhythm of the dance, helps himself to it all.

EatingThis is a huge social faux pas. What is happening behind the scenes is every good little Asian boy and good little Asian girl is doing what was always taught to them. Concern yourself with others and, ignoring your own condition, offer to someone else and allow yourself to take only what is offered to you. We are all hungry. We all want something. We know who to offer what so they can get what they like and we know someone will offer to us what we want. We won’t even find the ability to tell our friend what happened because again, we should simply be good diners and allow him to finish what he would like. To the untrained eye though, it looks like the perfect environment for more aggressive and self-assured people to thrive and take advantage.

Filipino Eyes.gifMake no mistake. Asians are fierce. Fiercely proud and protective. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely attached to honor and tradition that we endure the mark of meekness. If you cross us we will fight back. We have overthrown governments and dictators. Started revolutions. We just think that going a little hungry is less important than the contentment of our friends. We are used to a bit more hardship, and in the grand perspective of things, we shrink to the common trivialities and difficulties of the everyday. But we are fierce. And Filipinos? Some of the fiercest lovers. Blame that on some of our latent Spanish blood.

Day 57

Man: 41 Loneliness: 16