Like most places, the palengke in the Philippines opens really early. If hope to get anything of good quality you need to be there soon after the vendors open their stalls. The few times I went with my dad to the market we left the house by 6:30, which for him was late. By this time the hustle and bustle of the Philippines was in full force. I actually don’t think it’s ever quiet in the Philippines, not where we’re from anyway.
Driving in the Philippines is an adventure itself, as is parking. By the time we got to the market at the late time of 7 am there was no parking to be had. If I remember correctly we ended up double parking and blocking someone in. I think my dad might have known the person, I don’t know, but I knew we wouldn’t get towed because there’s no way a tow truck could fit into the parking lot.
I’m always shocked at how far a US dollar goes in the Philippines. A kilo of limes at the market is roughly 47 PHP (Philippine Peso). The current exchange rate is $1: 50 PHP. That’s right, I can ban buy a kilo of fresh, organic limes for less than $1. I had an intense urge to buy a kilo and hand them out like Oprah. YOU GET A LIME! YOU GET A LIME! YOU GET A LIME!
My family is actually what I like to call Palengke Royalty. My maternal grandparents were meat sellers at the local palengke and were apparently the best around. They were the Beyonce and Jay-Z of meat vendors. They had the best meat and sold out by 10am, well before the other vendors. Rumor is people only went to the other vendors when my grandparents were sold out. My mom even told me a story of how one of the other vendors got a witch to curse my grandfather because she was jealous and the only way to cure him was to take him to a witch-doctor.
I never had the fortune of meeting and knowing my grandparents, but from what other people say they were good business people, had a great work ethic, took care of their family and friends, and knew how to cook. Also my grandmother was a dominant, independent, and stubborn woman and suddenly mine and my cousin’s personalities make sense because I think we inherited a lot from my grandmother.
The inner part of the palengke, where they sell fish and meat, is like another world. Almost like something out of a Guillermo del Toro movie. It’s dark, illuminated by light bulbs strung up in a way that would make an American electrician freak out. The space between the stalls is tight and the term “personal bubble” is meaningless. And the smell. It’s strong and intense, and the only way to describe it is it smells like raw meat and fish.
Filipinos take pride in what they do. These people are proud to be sellers of meat and fish. They are some of the hardest workers and can be some of the hardest people to negotiate with. Well, if you’re an American. The haggling that goes on between vendors and customers is extremely entertaining and I can only pray that one day I’m as good as haggling as my parents.
As a child I didn’t appreciate my culture. Trips to the Motherland were exhausting and full of meeting people I didn’t know. But now I understand how much those trips have impacted my life and who I am as a person. Now when I go to the Motherland I try to savor every moment, every experience, every interaction. I want to tell everyone I meet about these experiences, not to seem worldly but because I want people to know about this magical place part of me calls home. Dolly Parton once told me you should be proud of your home, wherever it may be. By “me” I mean the entire Hollywood Bowl during her concert, but I felt like she was talking specifically to me about this specific situation. I am very proud of where I come from, and you should be too.
Til nex time.
Much Love. Always.