Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 6

Day 6

Today was a great day – it was “lechon baboy” day. Lechon baboy is a Filipino specialty and is basically a huge pig roast. Although many different cultures and countries do it, it’s a tradition that’s practically been raised to an art form here in the Philippines. I’ve heard about them for years and always wanted to experience one so we planned it ahead of time and the wife made the arrangements. It’s usually a big deal , the whole Barangay comes out and there’s a ton of food and they do piñatas and other games for the kids. Things didn’t start off very well though as I’m pretty sure I fell victim to the “Cano curse”, whereby you end up paying more for stuff because you’re American. Here’s what happened: the wife had arranged for a medium sized pig, about 30-40 kilos which cost 5,000 pisos (about $100). However, when she called this morning about it, she was told that we were given a much bigger pig – at a cost of 10,000 pisos. She was visibly upset and I was a bit angry myself because I have a feeling that as soon as they found out that the American was the one buying the pig, it suddenly doubled in size (and price). It was too late to change it by the time the beast arrived so we were stuck and the Cano Curse had struck again. Oh well, next time I will know better. I wasn’t going to let anything ruin the festivities so I bit my lip. They delivered the pig this morning and it was huge - 95 freaking kilos! After some preparation they got ready to kill the thing which I’d never seen before so I was fascinated. They had 4 or 5 guys hold the thing down with their hands and with the help of a huge wooden plank since it was so big while another guy slit the throat with a big knife. I’ll never forget how loud the thing was squealing, it was hair raising. The whole Barangay must have heard it (I got a good video of it). They put a big pan under the neck to catch the blood and after a few minutes it stopped struggling, then stopped moving, then it was dead. After that, they cut the belly open and removed all the insides and washed them in the outdoor sink. Next they take the blood and the entrails and make another Filipino specialty: Diniguan. I’ve heard plenty about Diniguan but this was the first time I’ve ever actually seen it. Basically it’s a stew made out of the blood and insides of the pig with some vegetables, spices and other stuff thrown in for good measure. I’ll try a lot of things but I don’t eat things made out of blood and I don’t eat intestines and stomachs so I passed but the Filipinos went crazy for the stuff. Even the kids, they had like three servings over rice. But back to the pig – after he’s gutted, they shave him and then wash him thoroughly with steaming hot water. After that he’s ready for the spit which is a huge, long bamboo pole. I watched, amused, as 5 or 6 guys forced the pole into the pig’s ass and through his mouth because it kept getting stuck and the whole thing took like 15 minutes. Finally it was done and he was ready for the fire. It was interesting to see how they do it: they dig a small hole on the ground, then surround it on two sides with charcoal. The pole is placed on a couple pivot poles with notches cut into them so it doesn’t fall off. On one end of the big pole, there’s a handle. There are 2 or 3 guys called “drivers” whose job is to sit at the head and slowly turn the pole by the handle. They sit in a chair and put some plywood up to protect them from the heat and take turns so they don’t get too tired. Our pig was a massive 95 kilos so they said it would take about 5 hours to cook. Every 5 -10 minutes another guy will come over with a washcloth attached to a long stick and rub cooking oil on the pig so it doesn’t dry out.

For some reason our pig seemed to be cooking a lot faster than they thought and the skin was soon getting charred and black so they had to keep spreading the coals out to even the cooking out a bit. I asked how they would know when it’s finished and was told that these guys were experts and they just know. This wasn’t good enough for the wife though as she had a meat thermometer in the house so she gave it to the main guy to use and this is where everything went wrong. Apparently the guy somehow used it wrong or read it wrong because they declared that the pig was ready after only about 3 hours or so. It certainly looked done from the outside as the skin was black in some places and golden brown in others and smelled delicious. So they took him off the fire and brought him over to the table and removed the pole from his ass and cut into him. First they cut the head off and it seemed a bit undercooked to me. Sure enough, the meat on the outside was cooked fine but the further in you got, the less cooked it was. As a result, a lot of people didn’t eat much of the meat and so we ended up with probably over a hundred pounds of uncooked meat. Nobody seemed to mind though as there was plenty of food and some of the pig meat was edible anyway. I partook of the feast and ate way too much and we had plenty of beer to wash it down and it was a really fun night, one of the best since I’ve been here. I was amazed by the wife tonight too; not wanting to let it all go to waste, she grabbed her big cleaver from the kitchen and spent a good part of the night carving up the pig carcass and filling several huge plastic bags with undercooked pig meat for people to take home with them and cook at home the next day. Turns out nobody left empty handed and man, you should have seen her carve up that pig. She would make a great butcher, I was very impressed.

In fact, since I’ve been here I’ve seen a side of my wife I’ve never seen before. I call it her “province side”. She’d been living in Hong Kong for 10 years when we met and one of the things that attracted me to her was that she was a city girl. I loved the fact that she knew her way around a huge city like Hong Kong and was independent. I knew nothing about the provinces or the kind of world she grew up in. So to see how comfortable and in her element she is here is quite unexpected and somewhat surprising as she moved to Hong Kong when she was pretty young so she’s spent most of her life living outside this place.

Jovi and Steve came over for the festivities and I had a good time chatting with Steve most of the night about football (soccer) and a few other things. He’s spent a good amount of time here so he’s a good source of information. One thing he told me that was surprising is that the water in this particular area of the barangay is considered some of the best in the Philippines for some reason. It’s so good in fact that they are considering bottling it and selling it. When I first got here I asked the wife if the water is drinkable, she said her family all drink it but that we would only drink bottled water just to be safe. I told her what Steve told me and she was quite surprised…but we’re still drinking bottled water.

I met plenty of people today but one in particular stands out: Audie. Audie is an extremely interesting individual. He was born and raised here to a Spanish/Filipina mother and a German/Romanian father. Because of this he looks like a white European but then he opens his mouth and he speaks fluent Tagolog. Not only that but he’s fluent in something like 17 different Filipino languages and he also speaks really good English. We hit it off right away and I ended up spending most of the day talking with him, completely amazed by his breadth of knowledge about so many different topics. He’s incredibly well informed about politics, current events, history and a ton of other subjects and he’s so laid back and friendly that within 2 minutes you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. He’s also a tremendous wealth of information about the Philippines and its customs and history, the people and such. I honestly could have talked to him all day and not gotten tired. I hope we’ll be seeing more of him, he is one cool cat.

As it turns out, the guy who was in charge of the lechon baboy was the wife’s cousin. His name is Roding, he doesn’t speak much English but he’s a businessman - although he certainly doesn’t look the part as he wears shorts and a basketball jersey with a huge belly sticking out from under his shirt. Part of his business empire includes managing some rental properties on the beach in San Fabian so he’s giving us a good price on a few rooms there for next week. We’re going to head out Monday for at least a day or two. I’m SO looking forward to that as life here in the provinces is really getting boring and tedious, today’s festivities notwithstanding. A few days on the beach are just what the doctor ordered right about now…

Almost a full week in now and still no snakes.

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