Monday, May 29, 2006

Of Shopping Sprees and Birthday Parties

Despite the fact that it was the weekend, I still found myself back in my recent trend of waking up in the middle of the night, being up for a while, falling asleep, waking up early, etc. Since it was the weekend, when I woke up for the second time at 6:30am and did some work, I went to sleep again until around 10:00am or so. I called my mom on her cell with Skype because she, my dad, and my aunt and uncle were at our house in Philly installing a ceiling fan for us. Everything was going fine, and so we talked for awhile. We definitely appreciate all the help my mom and dad have been giving us in taking care of the house. I know that she enjoys helping out in that way.

For today Tim had big plans to take me shopping and to see some of the handicraft stores around town. I have had very little opportunity to see a lot of the shopping areas around here, because I am at work when Tim goes out and explores, plus nothing much is open past 8pm. And the only handicrafts I have been able to see are the ones at Greenhills when our friend Sam took us.

So, Tim took me around to the Balikbayan Store and the Testoro’s Store on Pasay road. The prices at these stores are higher than the same (possibly lesser quality) products at Quiapo or Greenhills. However, since we don’t have a dedicated driver, and the time we pay for a driver and car, it costs us so much that we might as well just pay the higher prices at a place we can walk to. (Note to self: Should we ever be on an international assignment again to a place where we can’t safely drive ourselves and are advised not to take taxis or public transportation due to safety issues, I will insist on a car and driver being bargained into the deal. This has been ridiculous.)

I had such a great time looking at the stores and picking things out! In fact – so much fun that we had to drop off our purchases at home and then buy a new large suitcase at SM to pack all of the extra stuff in! (More about the amusing suitcase purchase experience later). I was really impressed at the awesome crafts available and was really pleased with all the purchases. After our shopping spree, though, we came to two realizations:

1. No more gift buying in the Philippines, because we have enough right now for small souvenirs for our family and friends when we get back and overflow into Christmas.
2. We need to make a pact that there will be no more shopping in this country except for groceries and things for the girls at the home.

We are very serious about this pact. We made some lists of whatever we need and decided to buy all of that in one last shopping trip along with the extra suitcase. One of the things we could use are more shirts (suitable for work) for me. It is really, really getting to me that I am so much taller and bigger than the average woman here and that people are such idiots about calling everyone fat (both Filipinos and expats) who are bigger than a size 4.

This in combination with the fact that both our washer and dryer are possessed by the devil and have ruined 30% of my clothes means that I am in need of more clothes for work. I decided to get 4-6 new shirts that would be long enough and large enough that people cannot see what I look like – even if I have to go to the maternity section to buy them. This is easier said than done. Here a size large in certain brands is the equivalent of a size 6 in the US. That works OK for me in shirts as long as the arms are not pencil thin, but no way for pants, and so we decided that I’ll just wear the same 2 pair of pants the rest of the time here and supplement it with skirts.

In the end we actually came out (throughout the course of buying some, taking them home and realizing my arms didn’t fit into 4 of them, returning and repurchasing others with store credit) with 4 shirts that I really liked. They all come down to mid thigh and are very baggy so I will get no more love handle remarks or anything else. People can just think I am a marshmellow. I don’t care.

After the clothes, we picked out a few candles that Tim saw earlier and wanted to buy, and then headed over to the suitcases. Now the malls here have a huge amount of luggage for sale. I guess this is explained partially because of the large percentage of overseas Filipino workers, but still the luggage selection here is astounding. And in each department store there are approximately 1 salesperson for every 2 suitcases being displayed. As soon as it became apparent that we were in the market for a suitcase, we were surrounded by salespeople and bombarded with questions. Each member of the sales team seemed to have their own individual item which they were determined to sell to us, whether it was anything like what we needed or not.

Tim and I got separated in the mayhem and could not even walk back to each other because we were surrounded by various luggage items being spun around, wheeled around, opened, closed, stomped on, and banged on – all for our benefit (and extreme amusement). It was all very overwhelming. Through all the chaos, I found Tim and told him I liked this one brand which he also liked. We went to a campaigner in the middle of the store and got a large, pink Voyager suitcase. 3-4 salespeople accompanied us to the cash register and waited as our order was rung up. They packed our purchases in the suitcase, and smelled all our candles which was very cute.

I told them they were all very serious about their luggage and the man was very serious and said “Thank you, ma’am.” The salespeople here are very cute sometimes. I definitely do appreciate all the help they give in helping to carry stuff and if I grocery shop alone, they will carry the groceries back for me for a tip. It just gets a little overwhelming sometimes when there are approximately 5 of them for every one of you.

Finally, we were home from all of our shopping and had just enough time to clean up a little bit before we had to take a car to the Power Plant mall to meet our friend Justin for his 23rd birthday. Our driver dropped us off at an entrance and we made our way up to the PowerBowl lanes on the top floor. We waited for awhile for his friends and for him (late for his own birthday party!) and then signed up for some lanes after a few drinks and some food. It was a very fun time with Justin and his marine buddies, who are hilarious. I used my patented zero-technique bowling skills and managed to do pretty well. One odd thing was that there was a locally televised tournament taking up the majority of the space at the alley. To kick off the event, a big-name Filipino Senator was invited to come and say a few words- this turned out to be a very serious, politically charged speech, starting with the line, "When the U.S. Military was forced out of Subic Bay in the 1990's, they were so bitter at having to leave that they took with them all the bowling alleys....". About a dozen hard-ass U.S. Marines stop bowling and give this guy a long, hard look.

[Birthday Boy Justin, recovering from his various physical ailments!]
[This is me. Just praying that I do slightly better than the 8-year old next to me.]
After bowling two games, we killed some time waiting for the Embassy driver by walking around the mall a bit, then piling into the armor-plated SUV and headed to a bar near our apartment where they have a long drink list, good bar food and a mechanical bull. Most of us rode the bull, which was fun.

[Patrick's gracefull bull-dismount]

Here's a link to some more pictures from Sunday night...complete with an entire series of really weird faces in the car...

The rest of the crew was ready for another bar after that one, but Tim and I headed home. I actually think Tim wanted to go to the next bar, but I gave him the look that said “You are NOT making me walk home alone at night, are you?” and he dutifully decided he was tired too. I have been feeling my age more and more. But I made it until 11pm that night ;-)

Here's video of Justin on the Bull's a bit dark, though.

Since Monday is a US holiday, I was able to take that as a vacation day with just monitoring emails, so I was looking forward to the extra sleep and hoping to just relax the next day and catch up on bills.


At 11:41 AM, Blogger Sidney said...

"It is really, really getting to me that I am so much taller and bigger than the average woman here and that people are such idiots about calling everyone fat (both Filipinos and expats) who are bigger than a size 4."

Tsk,tsk...they are not idiots. It seems you always forget that you are not in your home country.

'Taba, payat'

While waiting in that airport queue, I wondered too how our Filipino-American friends now greet each other. It's all too normal in the Philippines (and many parts of Asia) to comment on a friend's weight as part of greetings: "Uy, ang taba-taba mo ngayon" ["You're getting fat"] and that's meant as a compliment.

In a country where under-nutrition is so widespread, fat is actually seen as a sign of health, prosperity, success. Men feel they're being complimented as good providers when they're told their wives are "taba" [fat], and mothers feel their parenting skills are being praised when their children are described as taba.

On the other hand, a greeting of "Uy, pumapayat ka" ["You're losing weight"] comes through as ominous, almost like, "Do you have cancer?" (Or tuberculosis? Or AIDS?) I should know, being on the lean side. I'm saying lean, which is different from "payat." Note that we don't have Filipino words for lean, which has positive connotations: to be "lean and mean" evokes fitness, which is how I feel most of the time... until I get greeted, "Pumapayat ka," -- "payat" meaning skinny, scrawny, starving.

Fat, as taba, is good in the Philippines. Women even judge "hiyang," or the fitness of a contraceptive brand by the way it makes them gain weight, not realizing that the weight-gain is actually a side effect of the pills, one which Western women dislike.

Times do change, much to my delight. While people my age now worry about heart disease and diabetes, I can just smile, gloating at being payat. "Uy, you look younger than your picture in the Inquirer," people will say and I'll go, with feigned modesty, "No naman," followed by a vengeful, "You know, we payat people don't age as quickly."

Suddenly payat's good. While poor Filipinos complain about how difficult it is to stretch their household budgets for food, the well-off pay through their nose to lose weight: expensive membership fees in fitness clubs, the latest brand-name jogging outfits and sneakers, Bangkok pills, books explaining Atkins, South Beach, or whatever the latest diet fads are.

Source: INQ7

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