Crossing Cultures, Crossing Times, Crossing Social Contradictions
By Carlos A. Arnaldo
November 27, 2016
Manila in the fifties. I recall very sharply as my uncle pointed out various buildings to me, the Manila Post Office on the Pasic River, the Supreme Court on Padre Faura, Philippine Women’s University on Taft Avenue and even St Paul’s College, just around the corner from our house in Malate. All these big beautiful buildings were pockmarked with holes from mortars and artillery. The Supreme Court was just a shell of battered walls with blackened windows, no roof, no interior. The same for all the other buildings, just charred shells, bombed carcasses of what before were splendid monuments I used to admire in postcards.
Several of my relatives showed me their shrapnel wounds blistering backs, legs and arms. When I met my cousins, I thought they were all thin and emaciated. “We had no fresh milk, not even evaporated canned milk. All we had for the children was coconut water and rice gruel.” And I was lucky with a glass of milk and cookies everyday for my after school snack.
My cousin Roy was a few months older than I, but thin and sinewy. Despite the hardship of those times, his folks were able to afford buying him a Daisy air rifle. Even if my dad could afford it for me, I wasn’t allowed to have any real guns. So happily we’d stroll through the war torn city. “Let’s shoot snails, Japanese snails, they’re all over the place, and nobody wants them. The Japanese brought them over before the war, but once the war began, they spawned all over the place.” So we shot all the snails we could, it was good target practice.”
Then my dad asked Roy to take me around town, he gave us one peso. So we took a 5 cent jeepney ride to Quiapo and went to a double feature movie at the Boulevard Theatre for ten cents each. Full of bedbugs, so Roy lit a match and flashed it under the seat. “That’s to burn out the bed bugs.” We bought 2 centavos each of peanuts and enjoyed the four hour show. Tarzan and apes was playing, and after that a cowboy film.
Then Roy took me to a carinderia. It was a simple one, but the two seater tables against the wall all had curtains you could pull across and keep your privacy. “What’s the curtain for?”
“Oh, for those who come here with their lover and don’t want their wives to see them!”
So we had pancit canton, lumpiang shanghai, camarones rebosados and morisqueta tostada. Funny, it was a Chinese restaurant and the menu was in Spanish! “In the old days, only the Spanish and the mestizos could afford to eat in a restaurant. All that was 40 centavos and we still had 10 cents to go home and some change as well. Can’t eat anywhere today on a one peso budget!
In those days, I think social media would not find the place it has today. All activity was done outside and with people. Nonetheless, people of below average income could still move around, shop, eat at restaurants and enjoy life. I don’t recall seeing beggars anywhere. This was right after World War II when the economy had been destroyed and jobs were wanting. Seems there were less ‘poor’ then that there are today.Top of Form
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