Fruit, vegetables, and plastic

Thankfully we are in full mango season and we are eating 4-6 each every day. We carry small day packs for our shopping but plastic bags are everywhere and of poor quality; so, even when re-used, they only last a day.

We go to local markets but, while in Manila, we went to a supermarket and saw many silly use of plastic: pomelos, potatoes, carrots: fruit and vegetables that come with their own natural “wrapping” packaged in solid plastic.

Fruits, légumes et plastique

Nous sommes heureusement en pleine saison des mangues et en mangeons de 4 à 6 chacun chaque jour. Nous utilisons nos petits sacs à dos mais les sachets en plastique sont partout et de mauvaises qualité si bien que même si l’on veut les réutiliser, ils cassent au deuxième usage.

Nous nous rendons dans les marchés locaux mais à Manille, dans un supermarché, nous avons vu des usages abusifs de plastique: des fruits et légumes possédant leur “emballage” naturel (pomelos, pommes de terre, carottes) brillants sous leur habillage de plastique solide.

Roosters everywhere

We have reunited and, after a few days in Manila, used a variety of public transportation means to reach the island of Mindoro.

We settled in a pleasant and quiet little hotel five minutes out of the town of Puerto Galera for three nights.

Our first trip was to the public White Beach, it was surprisingly quiet, apart from sellers of necklaces and bracelets every few minutes.

Sabang beach is an unattractive place and we can easily imagine the disappointment of people who discover it, having booked online. The only thing then is to take a boat out to diving spots, although it is also possible from other places.

A six-hour jeepney/mini-vans trip got us to the island’s capital, San José, in the evening. We took a ferry the next morning; it was slow (7 hours) but we could lie down. There were a lot of roosters onboard, albeit on another deck.

Cockfights are an institution in the Philippines which is one of the few countries where they are legal. While driving across the land, we saw big fields where roosters were tied by one leg to its cabin, about 2m apart. We hear they are well-fed and get vitamines. It is estimated that 30 million roosters are killed in combats every year. Tradition calls for the loser to be eaten at the end and the name of the dish is “talunang manok” which means losing rooster. Obviously, we did not want to see any such fight.

Des coqs partout
Nous nous sommes retrouvés à Manille d’où nous avons emprunté divers moyens de locomotion pour nous rendre sur l’île de Mindoro.

Un séjour dans un joli petit hôtel à 5 minutes du port de Puerto Galera nous a permis d’explorer les lieux.

Nous nous sommes d’abord rendus à la plage publique White Beach, tranquille mais les vendeurs de bracelets et colliers nous interrompaient constamment

On peut aisément imaginer la déception des vacanciers ayant réservé leur logement à Sabang beach… la ville et la plage aucun intérêt. On peut bien sûr y emprunter des bateaux pour aller faire de la plongée mais c’est possible depuis beaucoup d’endroits.

Le voyage en jeepneys et mini-vans jusqu’à San José, la capitale de l’île a duré six heures. Le lendemain matin, nous avons pris le bateau pour Coron; il a pris 7 h mais nous avons pu nous allonger. Il y avait beaucoup de coqs à bord.

Les combats de coqs sont une institution aux Philippines qui est l’un des rares pays où ils sont légaux. En traversant le pays, on peut voir d’immenses terrains où les coqs sont attachés par une patte à leur poulailler avec une envergure d’environ 2m. Ils sont bien nourris et reçoivent des vitamines.
On estime à 30 millions le nombre de coqs tués dans ces combats chaque année. La tradition veut que le perdant soit mangé à la fin du combat. Le nom du plat est “talunang manok” qui signifie “coq perdant”. Nous n’avons pas voulu voir de tels combats.

Thaipusam, first evening

The first day is about hauling the chariots from the temples in Georgetown to the Muragan temple on the hill, allowing for many stops for offerings on the way. This is the largest built (so excluding caves) Hindu temple outside India.

Georgetown has a very active Couch Surfing group who organise weekly meetings and activities linked to local events. Respect. The organisers put in a lot of effort to keep the group alive.

I joined the couchsurfing group at the approach to the temple. Together, as a loose-knit group, we walked along the road. At the foot of the stairs we removed our sandals, then climbed.

Devotees carry urns of milk and honey on their heads on the long path to the temple. In an inner sanctuary stands a statue of the god Muragan. Attendants take the urns of offered milk and pour it over the statue.

The milk is now blessed. Outside it is recovered and anyone may drink the milk. Some take a bottle home.

We sat on the floor of the temple to absorb its energy.

Back down on the road, the gold chariot was approaching. Piles of coconuts line the road. Companies and familes have them delivered.

As the chariot approaches they smash the coconuts on the road. This purifies the road for the chariot.

It also allows the person throwing the coconut to unburden themselves of their bad deeds, to pay penitence.

The chariot drew abreast, the music throbbed, offerings were made. And it was gone.

Thaipusam, first morning

At 5:15 I rose, showered and was gone.

Forty minutes later I arrived at Lorong Kulit, main centre for piercing of devotees.

Nobody, just a few food market stalls setting up.

“Where are the kavadi?”

“Haha, not before 8am.”

Back in Little India I was on time to see the departure of the Silver Chariot. It was crowded, yet fluid. Moving within the crowd was easy.

Anticipation was in the air; 7 am and already hot.

An unseen signal and devotees raised their hands above their heads, palms together, in prayer. The troop ahead of the chariot, wearing elaborate headgear featuring bundles of peacock feathers, moved.

People who had been close to the chariot started streaming in the direction of travel.

The chariot advanced, I think pulled by devotees. It moved rapidly, turned a corner and stopped.

Thus began the offerings. Bowls with banannas and burning coconuts and flower garlands were passed up to the men on the chariot.

And it advanced again, perhaps 100 metres.

The crowd dispersed behind the chariot. The flottila of cleaning trucks flowed behind the chariot.

Breakfast was offered to all.

One woman was holding a devotional bowl, another was feeding her. She caught my eye so I complimented them on their skill eating wth their fingers. “It’s a mother daughter thing.” she laughed. We chatted, they offered me a second breakfast, then the family of four left with waves.

So many casual, friendly meetings, yet I will not see them again. No exchange of FB nor emails. Gone.

Back at my guest house the other, golden chariot had just arrived.

Bowls of offerings were passed up to the chariot.

“Vel!, Vel!” chanted those pulling the chariot. It advanced, stopped, accepted more offerings.

When it had passed, I returned to bed.

Thaipusam Eve

“Surrender to India”

Recently I was talking with an Indian friend who told me, if you want to visit India, you have to surrender to India.

Georgetown, Malaysia, has its “Little India” which organises the Thaipusam celebrations.

Thaipusam is a Hindi festival mostly celebrated by the Tamil community.

It is celebrated in the Tamil month of “Thai” whilst “pusam” refers to a star which is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birth of the Hindu god Muragan, son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. You hear the devotees chanting “Vel, Vel”. Source: Penang Tourist Office brochure.

On the eve of the celebrations I walked into Little India to have dinner.

The atmosphere was already warming up. Long queues of Hindus waiting to enter the main temple to pray. Women in beautiful saris everywhere.

Gold shops were full of people. They have elaborate, chrome-plated grills to prevent theft. They buy and sell more elaborate jewelry. Shops selling smaller gold jewelry were packed.

As I wandered through the streets I was drawn to an open-fronted store with men in long white sarongs at the entrance.

“Come in, share our food!” I approached to see better. “Should I take my shoes off?” I asked. “No, it doesn’t matter.” A magnet of hospitality drew me in.

Surrender to India.

As I sat on a stool people smiled at me, made small conversation, asked me where I am from, gave me more special food, complimented me on my skill eating with my fingers. I felt welcome.

Surrender to India.

After my meal, I walked back to Chettiar Temple where the silver chariot was outside waiting to be drawn through town tomorrow.

A dance of two big puppets (one person inside each) and a fire-eater was enacted. The musicans played drums and cymbals to rythms I do not know, but I lost myself in them.

Surrender to India.

Back near my guest-house was a display of Chinese Dragon dancers. I asked somone, “Why are the Chinese celebrating Thaipusam?”.

” They worship some of the same gods, and in Malaysia we are united.” Great answer.

They performed different dances with different dragons. The last was a long, thin, yellow and green dragon manipulated by seven men. The dragon whirled in circles and then undulated so the middle five men had to jump over the body.

They played drums. Then they were gone.