Friday, October 15, 2010

Balut Meets Chocolate

An Igorot man named Fanusan was walking towards Otucan with a small basket of balut when he came upon a very small store along the dusty dirt road. Sitting on the porch was a man dressed in jeans and a PBL jersey drinking a bottle of Cokes Sprite. Fanusan loved talking with strangers and saw an opportunity to engage in conversation while eating his lunch.

He greeted the stranger by smiling and nodding his head upward. The man smiled back, but kept silent. Knowing how people love balut; Fanusan placed his basket of balut on his lap with the intention of sharing one with the stranger. In a very slow and enticing manner, he slowly removed the cover. The stranger turned and watched Fanusan scratch his head while deciding which one to pick.

There were six eggs. Each was very similar, but different in size and blemish. After a minute of turning each egg around with indecision, Fanusan finally selected one and held it up in front of his eyes. He could see from the corner of his eye that the stranger was staring at him.

“Bababalut,” Fanusan said aloud in a slow and stuttering voice while still looking forward at the egg. “KaKanayon ibagan ina ay San bbiag et kaman balut ay naka paey si lagba. Egagagay mo tinango no sino San mapidot mo.”

Fanusan turned his head to face the stranger and saw the man looking at him with an empty smile and rolling eyes. He could tell that the stranger didn’t understand him and immediately assumed the man was Ilocono. This was not a problem for Fanusan because he also spoke Ilocano.

“Kakanayon nga ibagan ni inang, ti bbbiag ket kasla balut a naka labba. Awawawan naka ammo no Anya ti mapilim,” repeated Fanusan in Ilocano.

“Hugh?” replied the stranger with one eyebrow raised and eyes squinted.

“Oh, a lowlander,” thought Fanusan. Being somewhat proficient in Tagalog, he smilingly said, “Ang bububuhay ay parang isang kahon ng bababalut. Hindi mo mamamalalaman kung ano ang madadaampot mo.”

“Dude,” said the stranger. “I’m from Chicago. I’m just visiting for a few weeks.”

Fanusan laughed with surprised, and then continued, “My momomom always said life is like a basket of bababalut. You never know wawawhat you will get.”

The stranger had no idea what he meant, but smiled and nodded his head pretending to understand. Then, Fanusan asked the stranger if he would like an egg to eat. The man graciously accepted his offer and reached out to get the egg Fanusan held out. Fanusan looked at the man staring at the egg with wonder and knew he had never eaten a balut before.

“Dddo as I do,” instructed Fanusan as he handed the stranger a small pocket knife.

“Sure dude,” replied the man.

Fanusan punched a small hole on the top of the egg with another knife, turned the egg upside down and drank the juices that dribbled out of the hole. The man watched Fanusan smile with delight and did exactly what was shown.

“Mmmm,” said the man as he drank the liquids. “A bit nectarous and pleasant.”
Fanusan smiled and began slowly removing the shell patch by patch starting at the hole. The stranger immediately followed by copying him. After a few patches were removed, the man’s eyes grew big as he quickly realized that it was no normal egg.

Staring at the man in its entire ghastly splendor was something that reminded him of an old movie that depicted a radioactive experiment gone horribly wrong. The blood drained from his face as he stared at a small duck fetus surrounded by its own albumen with sprawling red blood vessels all over it. A small beak jutted out while small feathers poked out here and there. Tucked in another area was an unidentifiable organ that looked vital in some way.

Fanusan began slurping the slimy membrane covered fetus into his mouth and then chewed. Even though the man felt like vomiting at the sight of what he just saw; he didn’t want to look like a sissy, held his breath and slowly slurped the fetus into his mouth. Unable to hold his breath longer, the man took in a breath and was surprised to find the taste of the small slimy mass in his mouth to be pretty good. Except for the crunching of pre-mature bones and parts, it wasn’t as bad as it looked and was actually delicious.

After wiping his mouth, the stranger introduced himself to Fanusan as Alex. Fanusan replied by introducing himself, and both began conversing about where Alex was from. When Fanusan learned he was an American-Igorot visiting his relatives after twenty years of being away; he became happy knowing he had just made a new American friend. During their conversation, Alex couldn’t help but notice how nice Fanusan’s handmade basket was. He picked it up and inspected it closely in appreciation for its craftsmanship. A few hours later, Fanusan stood up to leave and gave Alex the basket filled with balut as a gift. Alex gladly accepted and said goodbye to Fanusan.

Now that I made some of you terribly hungry or terribly sick, I would like to shift your attention to something sweeter: a box of chocolate. This morning I heard a sound byte from the movie, Forrest Gump, and thought how it would be if Forrest was Igorot holding a basket of balut instead of chocolate. Thus, resulting with the previous story about Fanusan.

Life is filled with constant changes. According to Fanusan, “It’s like a basket of balut. You never know what you’re gonna get.” According to Forest Gump, “It’s like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I couldn’t agree more with their assessment, but rather than delve into the “chocolates” as I did with the balut; I would like to focus on the “box” that the chocolates come in.

Although the box is much less interesting than the chocolates, it can be “a” key to greater things. Without it, the chocolates become predictable, without-surprise and would make for a far less inspiring Forest Gump story. So for now, dump the chocolates and marvel at the wonders of a flat cardboard box or woven basket for that matter.

Imagine the different colors available for such a box . . . white, various shades of brown, various degrees of black, yellow, red and so on. Now imagine the different sizes and shapes . . . short, thin, tall, round and so on. Does this ring a familiar tone yet? I thought so.

If you know me, you would know that I am a firm believer that what matters most is in the inside of people. Yet, I recognize the importance of the “outside” as well. If you were an Igorot growing up as a kid in white suburbia America during the 70’s and 80’s; you would most likely know what I am talking about.

Wanting to be accepted and wanting to have the same looking boxes as the rest of society was a common occurrence for me.  I used to wonder why my box had to be so different than the “puraw” boxes that enveloped me then.  At times it was difficult growing up with a totally different box as everyone else in school and around. I still remember being teased and called names like chink, nip, zipper head, zero, pinhead and so on.

Today, I am so thankful that my children live in a more accepting and multi-cultural world where I have observed the “coolness” of being Asian. They and their generation, for the most part, are better able to do what I found difficult to do as a child – love and appreciate my own God-given box. Unfortunately, many will still want to throw their boxes away and trade it in for another as more and more people continue hearing society’s version of what is cool and acceptable these days.

Assimilation is a normal process most immigrants undergo, but the dangers that come when we begin rejecting our own boxes to adopt the boxes of others need to be addressed. Kids these days call it being “white-washed,” whereas I used to refer to it as being “coconutized.” When we do not appreciate the box we were given, the sweet chocolate inside melts and loses its goodness. In other words, our inner balut rots and becomes unbearable to that person and that person’s box maker.

Cheers! Enjoy your balut and make sure to finish it off with a good portion of sweet chocolate.

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