While I’m quite blunt about the many negative aspects of Mexican culture I do admit to loving their food. I’ve traveled a great deal and have sampled a lot of national dishes and can honestly say that Mexican food is the absolute best on the planet. If you go to a Mexican restaurant in other countries you just don’t get the authentic taste because all the right ingredients are only available in Mexico; a vast variety of cheeses, tortillas hot and fresh from the neighborhood tortillería, the terrific sauces including the famous pico de gallo and the chilis. In Mexico the important and most tasty ingredients are obtained fresh and have a very distinct taste from what you find in say, Taco Bell or any other so-called Mexican restaurant in other countries.
I now live in the Philippines where the food is pretty bland for my taste. While they do have some chilis here they usually appear in a spicy vinegar, as a condiment rather than in sauces and dishes themselves. In Mexico chili is an integral part of the cuisine while here it’s a mere add-on heavily diluted by vinegar which, to my taste, does nothing for my food. For Filipinos vinegar is the only condiment seen on their tables, while Mexicans never use vinegar. The infamous Tabasco Sauce sold in the US, is nothing more than some hot chilis in vinegar and while many Americans say they love it and assume it’s of Mexican origin, it is not. Well, the chilis may be from Mexico (Tabasco is the name of one of Mexico’s states) but that American hot sauce is purely American. Mexicans wrinkle their noses at any suggestion that it would be similar to anything served in their country.
I’ve been craving Mexican food lately and so got some chili in the local market and allowed them to dry in the sun, in the way Mexicans do sometimes. My plan was to grind up the dried chili and make some Mexican-style tomato sauce to add to my food. When they were dry I opened the pods to access the seeds. Mexican cooks are careful not to allow the chili seeds and pulp to touch any part of their skin, other than the fingers. You don’t want to touch any part of your body while that capsaisin is on your hands. For some reason the hot ingredient does not affect the thicker skin of our fingers, the fingerprint sides, but if it touches any other skin or mucous membrane you’ll be very sorry indeed.
I got careless and was very sorry indeed. I thought I was being careful but must have unconsciously touched my cheek during the process. I’d nearly finished opening all the dried pods and I began to feel a slight tingling on my cheek and gradually it became more intense. I then realized I’d been incautious and ran to the shower to get that stuff off of me. I turned on the shower at full blast and soaped up my face to get the hot stuff off as quickly as possible. I used a scrub pad as well to make sure I was getting it but instead of removing it I was spreading it. In spite of being diluted by soap and continually running water the chili spread to my forehead and even my eyeball and it stung like hell! Jaysus!
That’s pretty scary to have your eyeball stinging from hot chili and there’s nothing you can do about it. I realized the shower was not a good solution and instead dried off my face, this time pat drying and not rubbing, then went to lie down and wait for the pain to diminish. There is no antidote for that, nothing that will relieve the pain, except for time. Cripes! The pain was so bad I thought I was going to be blinded! Finally after about 15 minutes the worst was over and I went back to finishing my hot sauce. This time being much more careful about what I was doing.
It’s amazing that we can’t wash that off of our skin, and any attempt to do so only spreads the magic ingredient. I told this story to an American friend who has a Mexican wife. He said he had a similar experience; when they were first married his wife had been handling chili in the kitchen when he arrived home from work. As a newlywed he’d been expecting to have some fun immediately and began caressing his wife. She got wired up too and after washing her hands they went to the bedroom, where she began caressing his groin area. My friend said as the tingling sensation slowly began he thought to himself, “Hey, this really feels good!” but it didn’t take long before the pleasurable sensation turned to outright pain and he had to run to the bath. But the shower only spread it around, as in my case, and he soon had his entire abdomen and thighs stinging as well.
So, folks, enjoy your hot spicy foods, but be very careful how you handle the ingredients, eh! That chili is some wicked stuff!
It’s often amusing how Third World people will sometimes defer to us White folks. This is especially noticeable in Central America where the former Indian subservience to Spanish colonial masters is now manifested toward any White foreigner.
One time I was in downtown Guatemala City and walking by National Police headquarters, a massive fortress that occupies one entire block. There are guards on each street corner surrounding it as well as on the roof. The place is very well guarded and there’s a palpable tension in the zone.
Police and armies in Latin America often have a variety of very old weapons and vehicles, which must be a real nightmare for repairs and obtaining spare parts. One day I was walking the street that faces the entrance to that imposing building, and as I approached the street corner I saw a policeman with a curious weapon I’d never seen before. He saw me eyeballing it and he appeared to be a friendly sort of fellow so I was bold enough to ask him about it.
I’d seen photos of the old US Army Grease Gun but had never handled one nor even seen one before. But this is apparently what this cop was holding. I asked him if it was a .45 caliber and he confirmed that it was. I showed interest and perhaps even fascination with it and asked him if it was indeed the US-made Grease Gun. But he shook his head and said “No, it’s from one of those countries up north, like Panama.” Oops, this guy’s geographical knowledge was evidently deficient, and perhaps his intelligence as well, which was quite dramatically confirmed for me by his next act.
He just reached out and handed me the weapon! Oops again! Sweet Jaysus! I had to quickly take a step backward or his gun would have been in my hands. . . and I’d probably have been in the gunsights of every other cop on the street as well as the roof of the building.
Wow! I mumbled my thanks to him, made a wide arc around him, and got the hell out of that area as fast as I could.
I ran across something fascinating about George Orwell. He died of tuberculosis just at the time when TB drugs were appearing in the US and he might have used his celebrity and wealth to obtain them to save his life. However, he hesitated because it might appear to “exercise privilege”. Where has that sense of honor gone? The Brits were very class conscious not only about privilege but also about duties, noblese oblige, a very nice balance of the two and that speaks very well of them.
Exercising privilege in the Third World is a given; it’s done by anybody who has power but what’s lacking is the noblese oblige part of the equation. I have a foreign friend here in the Philippines who lives in a gated subdivision where there are fees assessed to pay the guards and other shared benefits. One of his neighbors is some high ranking cop, or he’s protected by somebody very influential, and this guy refuses to pay for this year’s gate access decal for his car. It’s as if his thoughts are “I’m powerful so why should I pay that?” It’s not a lot of money but it feeds his fragile ego to get by NOT paying it.
That’s similar to the case of the Saudi princess in Paris who charged hundreds of thousands of dollars in shops around the city and refuses to pay for the items. I had a friend in Mexico City who lived in a lovely condominium on the edge of the city’s Sunken Park. Because of some unclear legal language the condo board assessed each member for water use. However, several owners simply refused to pay for the water, leaving the others to pay the whole amount. Why? Because they could get by with it! What despicable, crude, anti-social behavior all these Third World people exhibit!
Contrast that with Orwell passing on the TB drugs so as not to appear to be uppity. And you recall how the Titanic’s passengers so nobly allowed women and children first access to the boats while the band played calming music, the men unsure of their own survival. That’s because the passengers were British and Americans. Can you imagine what it would be like if the passengers had been Filipinos or Mexican? When the Superferry 14 caught fire here a few years ago do you suppose the crew aided the passengers to leave? Of course not; the crew had been trained in handling lifeboats and so they themselves abandoned the ship and left the passengers to their own fate. Ah, what a noble and cultured race these Filipinos are, eh? Do you suppose that’s why they have such a hard time with nation-building? Huh? Huh? Captain Smith of the Titanic went down with his ship!
(In all fairness I cannot now find the link to that story about the crew abandoning the ship. For many weeks after the disaster there were various conflicting reports appearing in the press. One of them was that of the crew leaving the passengers stranded on board, and the ship’s officers having subsequently disappeared into hiding to avoid legal charges. I did see that story but cannot now find it.)
Once when Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister a man approached him and asked: “Baldwin, isn’t it? At Harrow in ’84?” Baldwin nodded. “Do tell me,” said his former school mate “what are you doing now?”
I’m not sure what that says about Baldwin’s personality or about the British upper class. I do doubt that Baldwin could have had a career in politics if he’d been a shy, self-effacing type of person. So I’m sure he was no Shrinking Violet. But the former school mate is curious. How did he not know who was the current Prime Minister? Yes, this was before the internet and television but Britain’s newspapers are excellent and widely read. How could this man not know that the Baldwin of his school days was not the same Baldwin who was PM?
Some people just don’t seem to see things in the way others do. I was a well-behaved kid in high school and rarely got into trouble. However one time a large, muscular farm boy thought I was an easy target, probably because we were in remote wing of the building and no teachers were around. I guess he was trying to impress his friends so he knocked my books from my hands, looked down at them, then at his friends, and then smiled at me, as if to say “What are you going to do about it?”
Okay, I was smaller than he was but I could not back off from this. He raised his fists and I did the same, but somehow still held out hope that a teacher would show up and separate us. I don’t recall who swung first but his fists never once hit their target but mine did at every attempt. I was still fearful but gained confidence very fast, seeing that this guy who could wrestle steers and hay bales had no speed or agility at all. I had no trouble dodging him. Finally a teacher did appear and broke up the fight.
The next day I was in the main hallway and a friend ran up to me and excitedly said “Hey, I saw your brother in a fight yesterday! And he really whooped Glen Arens!”
I felt a surge of pride that my budding manhood was being recognized so I said “No, that wasn’t my brother; that was me!”
But my friend was not listening and said “No really. I was at the end of the shop wing and saw about 50 yards down the hall your brother and Glen get into it. It was great! That bully needed to be put in his place!”
I restated my role in that fight but I don’t think my friend really ever believed me. My brother was a troublesome character and had a reputation that made it easy for people to believe that he, not I had been the one in the fight. Therefore, in my friend’s mind, it was my brother. Period.
Jeez, it was really frustrating to find that my true self was invisible to others. I felt like Stanley Baldwin must have felt.
I was amused to read a friend’s email in which he comments about churches and their different characters. I’ve done a bit of shopping around for churches myself, back in my phase of spiritual seeking. Unity churches seemed best for me; I liked their attitude about money, that it is God’s plan for us to have wealth and we should never feel guilty about seeking it or having it. The Pentecostals are kind of fun, in their own odd way, with their dancing and jumping around and just spontaneous hootin’ and hollerin’. I’ve done some of them, as well as the good old Texas-style faith healing services. I actually got in line for that one time and got “touched” and I did in fact momentarily pass out. You know the scenes on TV where the preacher touches the forehead and the seeker just falls back. I always thought it was a crock but I can attest there is something more than smoke and mirrors in that regard.
Catholic masses are pretty dull. It must be a very long time since my friend attended (or “heard” in Catholic parlance) mass since he says the priest speaks in Latin and turns his back to the parish. That ended way back in the 60s when they switched to local languages and the priest began to face the people, to be more “user-friendly”. I often thought it great fun to attend mass in some of the countries I’ve visited and have done it in Tagalog, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Waray, Ilocano, and of course the old Latin. Here in this country many churches have masses in various languages. The main church in Tacloban has masses in English, Waray, Cebuano, and Tagalog. That makes for a very busy Sunday morning for the priests, eh?
My family was very Catholic and I recall the anxiety those changes produced in my mom. Religionists of any flavor seem to be really set in their ways, very very conservative and resistant to change. That was a worldwide change in Catholic ritual, designed to make the Church more appealing to the growing numbers of non-European members.
It even triggered some violence in the super-conservative. In one small town in Minnesota, in the adjoining county from where I lived, some of the parishioners just took over the church building and physically expelled the priest. They loved their old wooden country church and didn’t want any changes made. Part of the change in the buildings was to remove the communion rail up front, thereby giving the feel of closeness for all. The rail was seen as kind of a separation between the people and the priest as well as God. The idea was to remove the rail and unify all three. For the most part, people finally put aside their anxiety and went along with the changes, but there still remain some schismatic groups who meet and hire priests who’ll say mass in Latin for them. When I lived in Houston my neighbor was a priest who did just that. He was some kind of modern itinerant preacher and traveled from town to town and said mass in Latin in defiance of the new order.
I remember as a kid amusing myself in mass looking over the words in Latin, trying to sound out and learn a bit here and there. I never missed mass a single Sunday in my first 18 years, THAT was how religiously demanding my mother was. I was a young teen when they made the changes in the rite. One that amused my dad was the ending. Previously the last thing the priest said, as the mass ended, was some Latin phrase that we all memorized but didn’t really know. We just knew it was our cue to go home for lunch. But the new English version has the priest saying “Go. The mass is ended.” And the people are supposed to respond in unison “Thanks be to God”. My dad, who was kind of a luke-warm (to use my mom’s phrase) Catholic but played along for the sake of family unity, seemed to come to life at this point and said that last line with especial emphasis, as if he really meant it as “Yes, thank God this crap is over for another week!”
One time when I was in the army and hadn’t yet fully shaken off my Catholic guilt, I was leaving to mass one Sunday and one of my barracks mates asked if he could come along. He’d never been to a Catholic service before and just wanted to see what it was all about. Afterwards, while walking back to barracks he commented that the priest was really very piggish in handling his bread. I found that amusing but I can understand from his viewpoint it really must have appeared so. At the beginning of the communion portion of the mass, the priest blesses both the wine and the small circular pieces of bread called hosts. He is supposed to consume his bread and wine before serving it to the congregation. But his host is much larger than that which we get, perhaps so that it’s easily seen from far in the back. But since it has already been blessed, and is then considered the body of Christ and no longer mere bread, he must be very careful not to drop any crumbs. And his host is bigger than a single mouthful so he must break it up, then carefully get all the pieces that have fallen. And on reflection I must agree that, to a non-Catholic his movements probably do appear very awkward and maybe even “piggish”.
It is odd how people perceive the behaviors and rituals of others. I remember an old movie about the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Inca, a ruler and a god to his people, is told by an advisor that the Spanish are curious people. “Lord, they EAT their god; I have seen them do this!” A funny line indeed.
In Latin America, especially where the Indians form the majority of the populations, Catholicism appears to be more an expression of popular culture than a true spiritual exercise based on knowledge of church history and ritual. One time in Honduras I was in the communion line and I saw a peasant holding his boy of about three. After the priest placed the host on the father’s tongue, the father motioned for the priest to give one to the kid as well. Dad seemed quite disappointed when the priest refused to do so. I guess the peasant saw people lining up because the priest was going to be giving something away, and he didn’t want to miss out on the freebies. Just to clarify, a Catholic does NOT take communion until he’s gone through a rite of passage, at around seven years of age, in which he learns that he’s become part of the community of believers (communion, community. Get it?). It’s a very important ritual for any young Catholic (marked by family photos showing off new clothing, as well as gifts of rosary and missal) so it’s obvious to me that the Honduran peasant had no real awareness of his church.
But that’s perhaps the result of the imposition of Catholicism on the natives of America and the Philippines by the Spanish. Their forced conversions were probably done more to avoid the wrath of the friars than out of real belief. Besides that, the Spanish Catholicism was the 16th Century version, the most rabid and vicious type, that same one evidenced by Torquemada (what a lovely man, eh?) prodding Queen Isabel to expel the Jews and Moors if they refused to convert or suffer the wrath of the Inquisition. That’s the heritage people of the old Spanish empire live with daily, where priests have exaggerated power and prestige in their communities. In contrast, Catholicism practiced in nations colonized by northern Europeans, is more attuned to democratic ideals, where there is no majority church and folks just seem to try to get along without imposing on others.
In my hometown we Catholics had only one parish while there were many Lutheran and a few evangelical types of churches. While Catholics are 22% of the US population, in my hometown we must have been less than half that so any incorrect perceptions about us may have been exaggerated a bit. One time the parish was building a new wing and the priest loved hanging around the construction site and chatting with the workers, most of whom were non-Catholics. One time one of them said “You know Father, we’ve been digging around here for weeks and I still haven’t seen any of the arms you Catholics supposedly have buried here to use on us Protestants!” Joke or not, it still indicates some latent Old World animosity. And I should add here that in my town there were no Irish nor English names in the phone book, so this event cannot be linked to the Troubles in Northern Ireland that erupted later.
In all the eighteen years I spent in that parish, we had the same priest. We did have a couple of assistant pastors but they were young and clashed with the old guy. One of the young ones was even helping young people escape the draft and courts martial by getting them to nearby Canada. The old guy was much too conservative to put up with that and the young ones were soon transferred out. But Father really did need some help because he was aging noticeably; his homilies droned on and on and were so repetitious that we all joined my dad’s “Thanks be to God” when mass was finally over. After I’d already left town my younger brother married a girl from a nearby village and moved there. He thought he was finally free of old Father Rousseau and said he enjoyed going to mass again. But before two months had passed the bishop retired the old man and placed him. . . . . . . yes, you guessed it! In my brother’s village so he could have a lighter workload.
My brother’s village is a curious place. There is only one Catholic church and one Lutheran church, each having about half the population. But since the village was a bit remote for both denominations, their bishops tended to assign either very old or very young pastors. Father Rousseau finally had to be institutionalized due to age and infirmity. The new young priest and the young unmarried Lutheran pastor became very good friends and fishing buddies. No rivalry or animosity there! Just like in the movie “The Quiet Man”.
After having written the above I see how much the religious community of our youth sets us up in life and defines who we are and what we do. Even after all these years, and no longer being a practicing Catholic, that upbringing remains at my core. I remember how the late-night talk show host Tom Snyder often humorously reminisced about his experiences with the nuns and monks in Catholic school. And Jewish comedians often base their routines on that which is unique to their experiences as well.
Grrrrrr! I just found out why they used up so many rice cookers there at my girlfriend’s house. I saw the rice cooker with starchy rice water running all over the sides so I asked what’s going on; it never does that for me. The girlfriend says the maid put in too much water. Ah ah ah. . . like the instructions are pretty basic, ain’t they? For each scoop of dry rice you add one cup of water and the sides of the bowl are clearly marked in half and one cup increments. Just how much intelligence does one need to operate a rice cooker? It turns out that she’s been guestimating the water just like Filipinas do when cooking rice over a fire. It has something to do with dipping your finger into the water and seeing at what joint it reaches. Goodgawdawmighty! If she messes up this rice cooker I ain’t buying another one. We’ll eat peanut butter sandwiches for all I care. The last time I was in the house I saw at least three non-working rice cookers with all kinds of crusty starch crap all over the exterior, including the electrical stuff. You know we from the US live in a pretty tech-savvy world, where even kids can program cell phones and TVs but here I am with folks who can’t even properly operate a rice cooker.
It’s not just the Philippines apparently because a friend with a Mexican wife tells me the same. Third World women just don’t want to adapt to modern technology. The amounts of water and dry rice must be precise because the rice cooker shuts itself off automatically. And that means starting it and leaving it alone to do its job. . . a u t o m a t i c a l l y! But my friend’s wife keeps going back and “checking” the rice by lifting the lid (it’s glass!) which releases steam and messes up the cooking time.
The scariest case of non-technical thinking I witnessed was the time I flew with the old Soviet airline Aeroflot. They had a daily Moscow-Tashkent-Delhi-Singapore run. On arrival in Singapore the plane just refueled and turned around with a fresh crew. So those arriving commie Russian crews must have loved to fly that route, getting a 24-hour stopover in capitalist Singapore. When I was checking in at the Changi airport in Singapore for my flight to Delhi I found myself right behind the crew members who were going to fly us. They were in the check-in line with us passengers because of all the loot they’d accumulated there in Singapore: cameras, boom boxes, electronic keyboards, etc. I suspect those socialist comrades had some decadent capitalist tendencies and were reselling that stuff back in the Worker’s Paradise. Ok, so I’m right behind this guy in an Aeroflot uniform who can’t figure out how to operate the luggage cart. It was one of those with the automatic brake which stayed locked unless released by squeezing the lever on the pushbar. But he was unable to get it to work right and was forcing the cart forward with locked wheels. And this is somebody who’s gonna either fly the plane or is gonna organize an evacuation in an emergency? Wowser!
I don’t say that in admiration for the business acumen of the Malay Filipinos since they tend to go for the micro business opportunities like sari sari stores. But they certainly are astute to find ways to make a quick buck. That’s because their culture doesn’t let them accumulate any capital to start businesses; if they do start to save somebody will just show up to borrow it and saying no is not an option in their lives. So businesses like the sari sari stores are really the urban equivalent of subsistence farming, where the small income generated is only consumed by the household, with never any money set aside to invest in enlarging the business.
Chinese Filipinos have a culture that honors thrift and hard work and family unity and so they can really get ahead in just a generation or two. Their businesses will grow.
I just saw a news item that again shows the micro entrepreneurial spirit of the Malay Filipinos. It seems that the Quezon City courts insist on formal dress in the building and many Filipinos tend to be very informally dressed. So, for those people who’ve shown up for an appointment in unacceptable attire, some shops outside on street will rent used clothing. Very interesting.
Something similar happened when the US embassy suddenly changed its security policy and stopped allowing cell phones in the building. Some people travel several hours to get to Manila and line up early to make their appointments. But on arrival find they can’t take their phones inside and have no companion with whom to leave it. Not to worry! There are women outside the embassy who will hold the phone for a fee.
The place where I buy my bottled water is only 100 meters from my apartment. When I first moved here I’d call and have it delivered but then I’d often be forced to adjust my own schedule while waiting for the truck. So now I just walk down there with the empty, have them fill it, then carry it back. Mission completed in 15 minutes.
The owner is seldom there because she has several other locations but when she’s in we often have pleasant conversations. One time while her attendant was cleaning and filling my container I asked her how she can be certain her employees are not stealing from her when she’s not there, since, after all, her only raw product is tap water.
She said that when she first opened the business she was kind of green and didn’t know all the tricks to protect herself. She had employees selling off her water coolers when they are supposed to be leased, and no record found of who had them. And she had no inventory control over the amount of water filtered until she installed meters on the lines.
She told me she has to be continually alert because “99.5% of Filipinos will steal if there’s an opportunity!” Take note here that those were HER words, not mine. A Filipina said it, not this foreigner, eh!
Alright. So I found that amusing to hear from her, which confirmed what I’d already suspected but was too polite to say in her presence. While we were speaking I handed her a 50 peso note and she walked back to the desk, got a 20 peso note for change and wrote out my receipt. Then returned to the counter where our conversation continued uninterrupted. She handed me the receipt but I noticed that the 20 peso note stayed in her hand. I guess she assumed I was too animated in conversation to pay attention. As we talked the note, little by little, slipped further and further into her palm, until it was no longer visible. I found this very amusing since we in fact were discussing thievery and the innate dishonesty of Filipinos.
Had it been under other circumstances I’d have called her on it but this was too good, too ironic a situation to spoil. So I let her keep my 20 pesos and walked away with my water container, secure in the thought that I’d made a most fascinating discovery that day at the cost of only 20 pesos.
Recently I took my girlfriend and her boy to Manila to see the zoo. We did it a couple of years ago but at three a kid doesn’t really get it all. Now he’s five and can understand and appreciate it more. We went early to be the first at the zoo and that was a good move, a very good move because by noon the place was packed and we were ready to leave.
We then went for a long lunch to regain our energy and since we still had plenty of time we moved on to the Children’s Museum. The place advertises on TV and newspapers like it’s the best damned thing ever. I’ve seen one or two kids’ museums in the US and they are really well-done. This one appears to have been well-built when it opened but it’s the Filipino idea of maintenance that is killing it. It almost appears it was built by a foreign contractor to foreign standards and then left in the hands of the locals. Just like Mexicans, the Filipinos have this “Oh well, this is good enough” attitude about repairs and replacements, with everything slipshod or undone.
It’s funny that both Mexicans and Filipinos actually have catch phrases in their languages for this attitude. It’s as if they recognize it in their cultures, enough to even laugh at themselves a bit, but not enough to actually stimulate change in attitude. Mexicans say “Ahí se va!” and for Filipinos it’s “Puede na!”. This museum even had sections roped off because some of the exhibits were not working. Like hey, guys!, isn’t that the job of maintenance to FIX those things? And they were not even complicated things, just simple kid stuff really.
Gawd! What a disappointment. The zoo, we’ll do again. The Children’s Museum, not likely.
Malay peoples used only one name and that’s still the case for Indonesians. But the Spanish colonial authorities long ago decided that Filipinos needed surnames to facilitate census and baptism and other record keeping tasks. In some cases the surnames were assigned alphabetically and so there are towns here where everybody has a surname that begins with the same letter.
But some of the Spaniards who assigned names were undoubtedly cruel. I’ve seen some very odd last names here like Enano, which means midget in Spanish. Another is Elefante.
But the worst name ever has to be Recto. Claro M. Recto was quite a famous and respected Filipino and there’s even a street in Manila named for him. His family members continue to be prominent and influential. So what does recto mean in Spanish? Well, it’s rectum! A lovely name for a family dynasty, eh?