Reading, Writing, Walking
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The Other Makati
The Other Makati
By Luke Ivan B. Moro

While I was enjoying my Sunday morning ritual -- a cup of rich instant (He!He!He) coffee paired with wheat bread spread with peanut butter and my favorite Sunday paper -- I heard the familiar voice of a former boarder, Robert, who is now married with two kids noisily calling our boarder, Roland – an avid sabungero, and inviting him to a tupada that is just 50 meters away from where we live. Robert, who has been goading me to bet, also extended his sinful invitation to me. By this time, my brother has switched the FM channel to a station that plays cheesy Filipino jukebox hits on Sundays (think Imelda Papin, Roel Cortez and all their ilk pining for lost love or unrequited love, sang in country sentimental sort of way). Out of curiosity and not really in the mood to listen for another minute of Isang Linggong Pagibig or Napakasakit, Kuya Eddie on the radio, I relented.

So, off we go. There we were, three thirtysomething pot-bellied engineers, walking in our rubber slippers and looking dowdy in our shorts and sando - our shabby appearance belying our educational background. While the two are engaged in an animated conversation (read: sentences replete and punctuated with your favorite Tagalog expletive), I was deep in thought. I was wondering what is in cockfighting that interests these two seemingly intelligent yuppies I have known for years who are strangely transformed into your typical Filipino bystander whenever conversations gears towards cockfighting.

When we arrived at the scene of the fight, the kristo was in the last seconds of collecting bets from close to 50 bettors, who, like us, are in varying degree of dowdiness and whose ages range from late teens to late tys. Not surprisingly, cockfighting has its own jargons and rules that can befuddle any curious tyro like me. And then the kristo released the two cocks at the center of the makeshift pit, which seems more like a sty than a pit, to start the sultada or match, like a referee releasing the basketball in a ceremonial toss to start a game. Two cocks, vigorously flapping their wings and flying in mid-air, their hackle springing up to intimidate the opponent, each cock armed with a sharp gaff – a three inch long and angled blade that closely resembles a scythe. It’s either kill or be killed. Brutal and bloody, the whole scene is reminiscent of Roman Empire era where gladiators fight each other to death. While the cocks are clawing and pecking and kicking in mid-air and fighting for dear life, cigarette-puffing men encircled the pit, jostling for a good position to get a better view of the fight, breaking into grunts or ear-splitting roars – hollering for his bet to claw, to hit the enemy with the gaff at the head, chest, eye, etc. It is as if man has been able to find a way to communicate with an animal. In less than 10 minutes – the normal duration of a fight – it was over. The mightier cock won while the losing cock twitched and twitched before finally succumbing to the wounds inflicted by the mightier cock. While I felt pity for the cocks and repulsion at the whole ghastly scene, the owner of the winning cock and the other winning sabungeros broke into another gleeful uproar. Disinterested and still unable to understand the ‘magic’ of sabong, I decided to go home and leave my two avid sabungero companions behind as I smelled another fight being cooked er, arranged.

Coming home and still plenty of time to kill, I decided to shower to check the thrift shops at Evangelista in Barangay Bangkal. With really nothing in mind to shop, I settled for an old book on nature and a Reader’s Digest compilation on travel essays. Done with my ‘shopping’, I continued with my stroll and decided to check the place. I can’t help but notice that Evangelista smacks of Banawe, the street in QC not the municipality in Ifugao. The strip, around 200 meters or more, is filled with auto shops either selling car parts or offering auto detailing services, on either side. Strangely, in the middle of this strip are thrift shops, which extends up to the side corners running either parallel or perpendicular to Evangelista. The thrift shops are a bargain hunter’s haven. The few shops that were open are cramped with stuffs like vinyl LPs and CDs/DVDs, old books, toys, bric-a-brac, bags, shoes, and even appliances and furniture – be it wood, metal, plastic or a combination of different materials. The wide array of selection is simply inviting and cheapskate that I am, I promised myself to go back and buy something more substantial, at an inexpensive price, of course.

Treading along, I found the barangay’s public market. Checking the place, I found the market and what it has to offer nondescript – not any different from other public markets that can be found in Makati. Feeling a bit tired and thirsty, I look around for a place to have a short snack. Sadly, I can’t find any promising eatery, that is, clean, good ambience and inexpensive.

On the other side of the highway is Brgy. Pio del Pilar – the other half of the former Brgy Culi-culi, the other half being Bangkal. In the early 30s, Culi-culi - one of the four oldest barangays of Makati - gained an unsavory reputation as the red light district of then Municipality of Makati. Checking out the place at a leisurely pace, bystanders, mostly men either half naked or in sando and playful teen-agers and kids litter the streets while a party was going on on the street occupying one half of the two lane street. With a tent borrowed from the barangay, the party was protected from onlookers and other uninvited guests by a 2 meter wide white curtain made of sack wrapped around the tent’s perimeter and held in place by a wire that forms as the curtain’s frame. As I was nearing the tent, the loud and flat singing of a man singing Bikining Itim, a song about a man longing for his love, a bar girl, who went to Japan to work as a, uhm, bar girl with only a black bikini as his ‘souvenir’ greets me. Mildly bemused by this unabashed yet very Filipino way of celebration, I proceeded to check the public market in Pio del Pilar and, like in Bangkal, found the place nondescript, its offerings very ordinary, the people that inhabit the market no different from other markets – less noisy and less dirty perhaps but still very much like any other markets.

Yet in the central business district (CBD) of the city, the sight is worlds apart from what one sees in the other side of the track. Here, skyscrapers and stylish condominiums for the rich and trendy denizens abound. It is a picture of affluence and modernization where chic and urbane yuppies, executives, tourists and expatriates busily strut to and fro. Oddly, the malls have shops that are designed for customers with discriminating tastes yet they also have stalls for the C market. It’s like class and crass happily (?) coexisting. I am not sure now why it the CBD is called the heart of the city nor am I certain I agree with the term. Perhaps, the writer that coined the term attributes the fact that CBD is the city’s major source of income. But if the heart is the source of life and pumps blood to all parts of the body, what does it say to the heart if one sees thousands still wallowing in poverty. I fear that a foreign guest may not be able to give an accurate picture of the city and its people if they only see the cosmopolitan side of Makati –rich, trendy and modern city peopled by well-dressed and well-heeled yuppies.

I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness as I continued with my stroll. We are truly the brown Americans of Asia. Hardly a trace of our colonial past exists in the houses that I’ve seen. American influence in architecture, art, music and even food has completely overshadowed 300 years of Spanish rule. Sentimental and lyrical kundiman songs replaced by American top 40 hits and burger, fries and hotdogs and spaghetti replacing pancit, puto and other kakanin for merienda. We seem to have equated America to everything that is modern and good. The few remaining houses of Spanish influence I saw are either dilapidated or partially refurbished but, quite expectedly, with an American flavor. I won’t be surprised if in the next 10 years all remnants of the past have been completely obliterated by that time. Yap, the mad rush for progress and development is all over the city. Sadly, our definition of progress is erasing the past.

On the way home, I suddenly realized what I was missing. In all my walks around the fringes of the city, I saw not a soul overlooking at the window. Virtually all windows, mostly jalousie-type, were either closed, curtained or with iron grills. How sad! How tragic!
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