Take Off Your Necklace

Traveling has given me this terrible identity crisis. My looks confuse people, I already knew that. At home, the most frequent guess I get is Hispanic. I’ve had people come up to me speaking Korean, Japanese, and even Armenian, completely shocked when I don’t understand. That’s why I was so excited when I came to Hong Kong – everyone here knows I am Chinese! 9 times out of 10, people speak Cantonese to me before English, even if I’m surrounded by people who are obviously foreign. Of course, I hate the look of disappointment on their faces when they realize I have no idea what they’re saying. That’s what made Beijing so awesome – I could actually respond! Usually I just said, “Please speak slowly, my Chinese is terrible,” but it’s something at least. Then I went to the Philippines this weekend, and it started all over again. So many people asked me if I was Filipina, and were surprised when I said no. People ask where I’m from, I say I’m American, and they say “But, but… you don’t look American.” How does one “look” American, anyway? That’s beyond me. But I’ve realized that I can look like a local pretty much anywhere I go. I’ve decided that from now on, when people ask where I’m from, I’ll give them a random answer and see if they call me out on it. Next time, I’ll be Vietnamese. Maybe after that I’ll be from Guam. Then Indonesia. I bet they would believe me.

Anyway, I spent this past weekend in and around Manila. The city is really unlike any I’ve ever been to. It’s beautiful, but very run down, and there are homeless people everywhere. I can deal with people begging, I’ve seen that before, but I wasn’t prepared to see so many homeless children. You walk anywhere in the city and a three or four year old child will run up to you with their hand stretched out.

Since the city is kind of (really) scary, we took two day trips on Friday and Saturday, and just spent half of Sunday around the city before our flight. Friday we went to the Taal Volcano, about 30 miles south of Manila. We took a van to Tagaytay, then a small boat across the lake to the volcano, which got us completely soaked! My friend said she saw online that we might get a little wet on the way, but we thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and turned down the offer for a plastic poncho. By the end we were completely drenched.

Once we made it to the island, we rode horses up to the top of the volcano. I don’t know if you could really call them horses… They were all very small. But definitely way too big to be called ponies. I don’t know. But mine was named Jericho and my butt still hurts from his stupid saddle. When we finally made it to the top, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Back down the hill on the horse, back across the lake on the boat (we got soaked again), and there was lunch waiting for us at the boathouse. When they had asked me if I wanted my fish fried or grilled, I didn’t realize it was actually my fish. That is, they gave me a fish. A whole fish. Tilapia. With scales and fins and a face. A FACE. Staring at me. Making me feel terrible for eating him. But he was delicious. He even had bell pepper and onion fish guts inside. They catch them out in the lake; I’ve definitely never had fish that fresh in my life.

On Saturday, we were supposed to go to the Pagsanjan waterfalls, but the weather had other thoughts in mind. Instead we ended up at Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation about two and a half hours outside Manila.

This place was weird. They’ve tried to make it into this tourist attraction, but it just came out all strange. You ride in a cart pulled by a water buffalo to the other side of the “resort,” and all along the way are these cheesy colorful statues made to look like people working in the plantation. The weirdest part is the museum, which is a huge hot pink building made to look like a church.

It’s not really a museum. It’s a bunch of crap collected by the Escudero family all stuffed into one building. They’re pretty much just rich hoarders. There’s a ton of religious stuff, like crosses and awkward Jesus statues, hunting knives and the heads of animals killed by the guy, coins from around the world, old perfume bottles, spoons, WWII memorabilia, and tons of Chinese porcelain. They won’t let you take pictures inside, and the guides continuously stress how rare and expensive all the items are.

The coolest part of the whole place is the restaurant. There’s a fake waterfall and you sit right in it. You take off your shoes and sit with your feet in the water. Such a neat idea! And it’s a big buffet of Filipino food. My favorites were the jicama just because I love jicama, green beans with pumpkin or some kind of squash, and the fried bananas. I must have eaten three or four of those. Yum.

This was the first time I’ve eaten a big piece of chicken since I started eating meat again. When I have to eat meat, I prefer it cut up into little pieces so I don’t really have to look at it. With the tilapia, I could at least use a fork, but I had to use my hands for this. Freaked me out a little. Okay, a lot. But I was determined to try everything.

On Sunday we went around Manila for a few hours. We rode jeepneys to the national museum, Rizal Park, and finally to Chinatown. If you’re ever in the Philippines and are in the mood to buy useless crap, Chinatown is the place to be.

I kept my eyes peeled for Taco Bell the whole time I was there, but never found one. Manila has even more American fast food than Hong Kong. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Dairy Queen, even Krispy Kreme! I really could have gone for a seven-layer burrito though…

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I Like Jicama and Ponies

I didn’t have time to cook this weekend; sad life. My amazing loving perfect wonderful boyfriend drove six hours to visit me… He named this post. We had a great time – we went to this place full of trampolines (what?! I know) and to the beach at Santa Cruz (where a seagull pooped on my forehead… yep). Then on Sunday we went to the San Jose Flea Market, which just so happens to have a Farmer’s Market.

My bank doesn’t have any ATMs up here, so I bought a banana at Lucky and got cash back. Honestly, why pay a $3 ATM fee when you can buy a banana for $0.18? Then I got a mango and a jicama at the Farmer’s Market. I really wish I had gotten more than one mango, because it was so good!

I made a fruit salad with the banana, mango, half the jicama, and a squeeze of a lemon, so this isn’t much of a recipe. More just a lesson about fruit.

First: the banana. How do you open your bananas? If your answer is from the side with the stem, you’re wrong. Squeeze the other end and it will open right up. Magic.

Now, the mango. Do you know how to cut a mango? It has a disk-like pit on the inside. Cut off the sides, around the pit. Then cut a grid in each of the halves, without  slicing through the skin. Then you can flip it inside out and cut off the cubes!

At this point, if you’re a good person you’ll scrape off the rest of the mango flesh from the skin and pit with your teeth. Delicious.

Last but not least, the jicama. I’ve never bought a jicama before, so this was new for me too. I read online that you should cut it with a serrated knife, but mine just wasn’t cutting it, so I had to bring out the big guns.

It got stuck.

It took about five minutes just to cut it in half. Once I did that, I cut one of the halves again, then peeled and cubed the quarters. This is a pretty big jicama – about 2 pounds, so I only wanted half for now. The other piece went in a bag in the fridge.

For those of you who haven’t had jicama before, it has a pretty subtle flavor. A little nutty, and mildly sweet. It’s crunchy, almost like water chestnuts.

Fruit salad, yummy yummy.