Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Night Out Before Christmas

Strange Saturday.

I dutifully drove to the big family reunion instead of waiting to be picked up, and ended up somewhere on the outskirts of Navotas before realizing I wasn't in Kansas no more. I doubled back and promptly got ensnared in Manila's teeny-tiny streets chock-full of jeepneys, buses, calesas, and all other forms of transport known to Pinoydom.

I proudly managed to locate Abad Santos after navigating blindly through the Escolta/Binondo area, but threw in the towel after traffic refused to budge after 15 minutes of standing still. Hurtled back down Roxas Blvd. and the safe harbor of home; only, the neighbors' Christmas party was in full swing and I wasn't enough of a grinch to spoil their fun by ramming my car into their infernal videoke machine.

I endured a couple of hours of caterwauling Christmas cheer before I fired up the car again and headed for Malate.

Ah. Malate.

I've been a stranger to the bohemian district for months and months now, and had been meaning to pay a visit to see if anything's changed. It's also the last free Saturday before my year-end tortures enter maximum overdrive, and I felt I deserved a night out. No work, no internet, no nothing. While I love my fortress of solitude, cabin fever was getting to me. I just needed to get out and chill out.

The parking manang was so ecstatic to see me I felt like I was the Homecoming King. She must've missed my generous tips, the poor dear. It was just a little over 10 p.m. - too early to party - and so I sauntered off to Silya for a quick bite, and this:

My first beer after months of staying super-dry. It was strange how it tasted after months of sobriety; I harkened back to my teenage years and the remembrance of my first taste of beer. That bitter sting, the frothy aftertaste, the rush.

As I sat lazily people-watching, I was struck once again by how much pathos lives side-by-side with all of the eros Malate is notorious for. There were the usual street beggars. The guys selling manggang hilaw and kropek. That dark, beefy fellow pushing nilagang mani (oh, I'm sure you've noticed him.) A couple of kids came to my table singing jangling carols; I gave them my coins and they sang a happy "Tekyu!Tenkyu! Maraming salamat po, tenkyu!" before moving on to the other diners.

Presently a boy carrying a box of something came around and I promptly waved him away. He moved on to the other tables and I found myself observing him and the people who were looking at his wares. He crossed the street and tried selling his stuff to other people - with little success.

Then I saw this:

And I remembered this:

At which point I summoned the boy to come over and sit down at my table.

"Ano ba yan?"

"Lollipop po."


"Kinse po isa"

"Ba't ang mahal?"

"Nagglo-glow po kasi ito."

"Pakita nga ng isa. Ipa-glow mo."

"Bawal po kasi buksan, eh."

Aw, kid, don't you have a display unit or something? Sigh. But hell. I was moved by the sight of this kid hawking useless gewgaws so late in the night when he should be home sleeping. And I remembered why Malate is Malate. Reality intrudes even in the midst of escapism.

I ended up buying a whole box before telling the kid to go home. He seemed happy and thoughtfully reminded me, upon seeing my camera and cell phone, "Ser, ingatan po niyo yang mga gamit ninyo dito,marami pong sasalisi jan."

I coolly replied "Mamamatay muna sila bago nila 'to masalisihan" before I sent him on his way.

A beggar boy approached the next table and I averted their misery by telling the boy to get one of my glowpops instead. It wasn't surprising at all that soon enough, I had a steady parade of streetchildren coming up to ask for glowpops. These included three little girls selling those infernal cheap roses.

"Wala akong pagbibigyan ng roses nyo," I said. "Kumuha na lang kayo ng lollipop."

Entire box of glowing lollipops decimated, the girls gamely mugged for my camera and went off.

Then I noticed my unopened pack of Marlboros was missing.


I summoned the oldest girl back and bluntly asked "O, sino sa inyo'ng pumitik sa yosi ko, hm?"

To her credit, she promptly frisked her mates and vanished for a short while before returning to present me with an unopened pack of Reds.

"Heto, kuya," she said. "Nakita ko dun sa kalye."

Unless that pack managed to hop off the table by itself to escape the agony of being puffed to embers by my lips, that was as likely a story as Arroyo surrendering power gracefully and willingly. But since my ciggies were returned unharmed, I brushed it off as just one of those things, and hoped that the girl who snagged my cigs took to heart what I said earlier when I discovered them missing and none of them - understandably - would admit to stealing it.

"Kaya hindi kayo pinagmamalasakitan minsan, eh. Binigyan ko na nga kayo ng lollipop, kukunin n'yo pa yosi ko."

To my surprise, though, the oldest girl bussed my cheek before they left, reminding me I promised to give them their pictures the next time I was in Malate. Getting beso-beso from a rose-selling street urchin was surreal, and I wasn't even drunk yet.

Ah, these nights before Christmas.


  1. I know that girl. kinukuha din niyan yung bongga kung mask noon eh. Binilhan ko na nga ng roses, nanakawan pa ako. Kaloka talaga.

    Sayang. I went to Malate last sunday. not saturday -_-

    your post made me think of wandering around malate more often to check out them other bars. BED, O at CROW palang ako eh.

  2. the girl somehow reminded me of sweet's character in the play last order sa penguin.

    reality intrudes even in the midst of escapism.

    -nice observation!

  3. @ Herbs D. : Hey, up so early, eh?

    I can only assume this girl is a product of her environment, and hope that somehow, somewhere, she will be in the company of people who can teach her that stealing is bad, among other tenets of "proper" values. That rules out government officials, alas.

    It was my first time to see *snicker* Crowbar. Scuttlebutt had it that O-Bar was supposed to get that corner lot and expand their club, but I don't know what's what, I'm so out of the loop.
    SILYA's quite popular with PLUs - I'm surprised you're unaware of it? Food's good and reasonably-priced.

    I should take you to Penguin sometime.

  4. @ Wanderingcommuter: EWIIIIIIIKKKKK!!!!!!!! Hahahaha the FAMOUS! Ano na, ano na, hahaha!

    How odd that my reply to Herbs ended with Penguin, and seconds later there you are with a play with that very name in its title.

    I missed that. Sounds interesting.

  5. CHEE!!!

    mukhang nagsettle in na ang mga tao. hahaha!

    the play was a delight for me that i needed to go to the bar and actually read it there just to feel the vibes!

  6. OMG The Grinch has a heart! Hehehe.

    Funny how "Last Order Sa Penguin" was mentioned, because I'm friends with the playwright (Chris Martinez) and he had pointed out to me who the real people were behind the characters of the play.

    Malate is quite the same yet quite different. The people and the establishments change, but the vibe, the despair, the need, the negotiations... they're timeless.

  7. i try not to go near Silya hehe
    dami ko clients dun kase hehe

    kala ko pinas ka lang

  8. awwww.kind.:)

    merry christmas!

  9. yey for kind people... kahit Christmas lang. i love rudeboy na! =)

  10. it's been a while since my last Malate visit... funny coz that was where I grew up...

  11. that's why i'm scared of malate. =)

  12. Rude: aaaaaaw. merry christmas :)


    the question of herbs is very, very telling!


  13. Eeep! I spend the day watching Avatar (fantastic movie, by the way, especially in iMAX. Blew my socks off), and see you guys have some time on your hands, too!

    @ FaceB : Thank you and Merry Christmas to you, too.

    @ domjulian & DarcDiarist : Was it kindness or charity? Ah, I shan't belabor the point. Let's just say whatever was given was returned, and leave it there. Christmas is for children-I suppose if anyone should be happy during this season, it should be them more than anyone else.

    @ joelmcvie : There's still time to steal Christmas, my dearie. And your little dog, too!

    Haha, srsly, nice to hear from you again, you busy busy bee.

    @ thecurioscat : "Kala ko pinas ka lang."


    @ Chingoy : I'm pretty sure the old-timey residents still living there wish it were still like it was before.

    @ engel : Don't be scared, engel. Samahan ka namin ni Ternie, gusto mo?

    @ Herbs D. : It's a flightless bird that mates for life.

    @ Ternie : I'm almost afraid to introduce Herbs to Penguin for fear he'll love it - to the detriment of O and Bed.

  14. That's just selfish haha. If its a good place to get me good boys. I'm game :D

    wouldnt it be a great Christmas present for a kid like me :-p I've been really good this year. wait. I think. nvm.

  15. bakit ako, glow in the dark na vibrator binebenta sakin pag nakatambay ako sa silya? hahahahaha

    @ Herbs... at talagang tumuloy ka pa sa Malate nung linggo ha? malandi.... :)

  16. Aw... those kids. So nice to see their pics in the web.:)

    Merry Christmas!

  17. @yj- never thought there were more cute men on sundays. no wonder they call that day holy.

  18. nice work. with all PLU bloggers blogging about Malate, i hate to admit I've never been on a nightout dyan sa lugar na 'yan. maybe next time...