It's been some time since I've walked around the neighborhood and had the time and presence of mind to absorb and breathe things in.
Of course, day in and day out in an 8- 5 job, I'd walk a good 10 minute-sprint from our house to the jeep/FX terminal. But because I am always, ALWAYS, running late, I barely have time to look around and observe.
For fear of exposing where I exactly live, let's just say I live in lower grounds of Pasig, in a middle class neighborhood. Unlike private subdivisions, there are no guards that check the stream of vehicles and residents coming in. Any person is as free as a stray dog or a mother hen to stroll the streets for a leisurely walk or any other purpose.
Today, my mom and I walk towards a nearby mall for just a bit of exercise and maybe, some shopping on the side. Along the way, I keep warning my mom of the dog poo on the street, as that definitely would have ruined our chances of being allowed into the mall.
Our village's center is called a "kanto", a commercial place with a palengke, fruit stands, school supplies shop, parlors, a cloth alteration shop, some convenient stores, a bakery, an internet shop, lots of e-load stations, fish ball stands, a mobile mami tayo, selling hot noodle soup for just ten bucks -- everything a modern-day living Filipino needs to thrive and survive.
Our kanto is the perfect epitome of the backward way a Filipino lives. Cars and vehicles double-parked on all sides, sidewalks supposedly for passersby on foot like us occupied and blocked by vendors of DVDs, fish, sandals and other assortment of odds and ends. A nearby tricycle terminal with overworked (and some over-drugged) drivers causes me to be cautious and nervous, not for me but for my mom. You can be too careful, but when you're not on a side walk, a tricycle, a motor or a car can just zoom by and hurt you.
I hold my mom's hands firmly, guiding her carefully through the zig and zag of our market. For her, it's a jungle, an obstacle course with the bumps on the road, the man hole, the cracks on the floor where there is dark murky water, the smelly dirty side walks moistened by the friendly neighborhood butcher who throws a pail of reddish bloody water again and again.
Our kanto is a melting pot of Filipino masa -- the pineapple vendor rumored to be a former ex-con, three gay parloristas, with blond hair streaked with white, betraying their age, hungrily watching out for the neigborhood hunks, who are also hoodlums just fresh from a basketball game, the resident loony called Jimbo, who was a former drug addict, infamously rumored to have drugged himself to insanity. Everyone has had a chance encounter with Jimbo with his incessant, "Miss, miss, pengeng piso." And of course, the sad mothers with their swollen bellies and their little tykes wrapped around their arms and even their legs, bawling for attention and some twenty pesos to buy some tsitsiria and a bottle of coca cola.
We turn at the corner-- my mother and I-- and buy some sweet lanzones and bananas. The policeman winks at me and offers to hold the bags I was carrying so that my hand can be free to pick soft lanzones among the pile. The vendor narrates an amusing anecdote about these two elderly women who asks for two lanzones to check if they're sweet... "Sabi nung ale, isa pa nga kumuha pa ng dalawa, tapos dalawa pa 'di tig-apat na sila. Hindi pa rin nakuntento, kumuha pa ng tigalawa." The policeman exposes a toothy grin. "Naknamputa, bumili nga, one-fourth lang ang binili, sabi ko naisahan ako nitong dalawang to ha!" At this point, the policeman chuckles loudly. I smile back at them to show I was also amused.
As we step inside the mall, an air-conditioned, brightly-lit market, filled with stores, boutiques, tiangges, food booths and restaurants, I feel a mixture of relief and sadness. I don't understand why, but for some reason, looking at all that circus of a mall, with the neon signs, 50% discounts, arcades, a girl belting out a Sarah Geronimo in a videoke booth, french fries, long lines in the Lotto stand, and the song and dance show at the recreational stage area, I suddenly feel confused. It seems fake, even artificial, and the raw albeit dangerous kanto seemed more real and genuine to me.
My mom buys a cork board and a discounted paperback novel. I nudge her arm, "Ma, tara lakad tayo ulit sa labas."