Manila – Home Life And The Markets

WE have many friends in Manila, and through them are able to visit all classes of the people. Our first call is on the family of a Filipino official, who lives just out of the city. His house is a great two-storied building, with a beautiful garden about it shaded with palms and other tropical trees. A wide drive leads to the entrance, and we go upstairs to reach the living rooms of the family. The better class Filipinos live on the second floor, because it is more healthful well up from the ground. The servants have their quarters below, and the carriages and horses are often kept there.

Our friend’s house has many large rooms with high ceilings and wide, airy halls. There is a balcony around the whole house at the second floor, into which the rooms open, and this balcony is walled with windows of lattice work, composed of the shells of pearl oysters so thin that they let in the light while they keep out the heat. The pearl windows are moved back in the evening, and the air blows through the house, making it delightfully cool.

The house is well furnished. It has its piano and organ, for the Filipinos are fond of music. There are large tables, many chairs of bent wood, and sofas of woven rattan. We are shown the sleeping rooms. The beds are twice as large as ours, and each has above it a mosquito netting which is let down at night. There are no springs. The bedsteads are covered with cane like a chair seat, and a thin comfort or mat takes the place of the thick mattress we have at home. In a warm climate like this the chief thing is to keep cool, and we have already learned to like beds of this kind, although at first we rolled over and over trying to find a soft spot on the mats. The pillows are of hair, stuffed hard, and each bed has a long, hard bolster for one to throw his leg over while sleeping. We take dinner with the family ; everything is well cooked, and the meal is not unlike our dinners at home.

Our next visit is to a small merchant in a crowded part of the city. His house is on the level of the street. The entrance is through a garden about ten feet wide and twenty feet long, covered with a thatched roof through which banana trees have grown. These have extended their broad leaves over it, and keep the garden quite cool. There are seats on each side of the walk, and here we find several of the family sitting.

Our hosts rise and shake hands with us, and the mother leads us into the house. We first enter a narrow hallway with a little bedroom on each side and a dining room and kitchen at the end. The latter rooms and the garden are where the family live during the day. Each room is about twelve feet square, neatly kept, but well blackened with smoke. Very few of the Filipino houses have chimneys, and in many the cooking is done with charcoal, which makes but little smoke. In other places, such as this, sticks and bits of wood are used, and the smoke gets out as it can.

The dining room serves also as the parlor. It has a floor of red brick, and its furniture consists of two chairs and a cane-seated lounge, the latter being hung to the ceiling to be kept out of the way until needed. It is let down during our visit, and the wife of the merchant bids us sit down. Sheds a comfortable-looking, brown-skinned little lady with white teeth and a pleasant smile. She shows us the sleeping rooms on each side the hall. Each room is just wide enough for the bed of split bamboo poles fastened to a framework of larger bamboos, which stands within. The people prefer to sleep on such poles rather than on hair, feathers, or straw.

We go with our hostess to the kitchen. The cooking arrangement is merely a ledge of bricks and mortar running along one side of the room. In the top are four holes, each about as big as a tin wash basin, with a hole cut through the ledge under it to furnish a draft.

In each hole burn about a dozen sticks laid one on top of another. Upon the fire rest bowls of black clay,, in which the family dinner is cooking. Our Filipino friend lifts up the lids of the bowls and shows us their contents, and asks us to stay and take dinner. The first bowl contains rice, the second has a fish stew, the third is full of boiled beans, while in the fourth is a hash of vegetables and pork cut into small bits. The smell is delicious, but our time is so short that we can not accept her kind invitation. So we say good-by, and walk on to the markets which are not far away.

Much of the business of the Philippine Islands is done in the markets. Every city and village has its market place, often in the park or square in the center, where the people meet daily to buy and sell. Here are many huts or booths of bamboo framework thatched with palm leaves, in which men and women merchants squat, with their goods piled about them or hung up on poles overhead. The floors serve for both chair and counter, for there the customers sit, and there the merchants spread out their wares.

Not only fowls and eggs, fish and meats, vegetables and fruit, and all kinds of food, but clay stoves, wooden ware, household utensils, as well as clothes, shoes, and dry goods, are sold in the markets. At some towns there are fairs at given times of the month or year, when people from miles around come together to buy and sell. The markets of Manila are large, and their buildings are better than those of the country towns, but the scenes in them are much the same.

We make our way through the drays and carts surrounding the market, and enter the dense crowd of women and men within. How noisy it is ! Some are buying and selling, some laughing and chatting, and some hurrying to and fro with great burdens on their backs or heads.

All trading is by bargaining, and the people are yelling and screeching out their offers to buy and refusals to sell. Each protests that the other will ruin him until the purchase is made, when usually he smiles, and the two laugh and chat together as though they had not been almost quarreling before.

How many women there are ! ‘ They do most of the selling, and most of the buying as well. The porters are women. Those girls with hats as big as umbrellas have come in from the country with something to sell.

The Manila market is divided up into streets, each having its own kind of business. Here is a section selling nothing but clothes. It is like a bazaar with many cells, each owned by a brown-skinned woman merchant. The dealers are bareheaded, and we can see their little bare feet sticking out of their skirts as they sit on the floor and show us their goods. Each woman has a money box beside her, and all are keen at a bargain.

Passing on we go into another street where they are selling nothing but shoes. And such shoes! The most of them have wooden soles with only a strip of leather over the toes or the instep. Some are rain shoes with toes and heels extending several inches below the soles, so that the wearer is kept well above the water and mud. None of the shoes confine the heel, and as the people seldom wear stockings, their bare feet may be seen bobbing up and down as they walk.

Farther on we find stoves and cooking utensils. The shopkeepers are selling pots, pans, and kettles made of red clay. The stove most common is a clay bowl with little knobs inside it to hold the pots above the charcoal fire built in the bottom. A separate stove is used for each dish, and in rich men’s houses a dozen fires may be going at once.

We spend some time among the rice sellers who are measuring out rice from the enormous baskets in which it is kept. Rice is the bread of the Philippines, and every family buys some every day.

Not far away is the fish market, where are all kinds of fish, fresh and dried, from minnows, not so big as a baby’s little finger, to fish so large that they are cut in slices for steaks. Many fish are sold alive, being kept in baskets of bamboo so tightly woven that they will hold water. Every customer feels the fish before buying, to make sure that it is fresh, and then the peddler kills it by pounding it on the back with a stick.

It is interesting to see the chickens and pigeons in baskets and cages of loosely woven bamboo. Hogs are kept until wanted, and there are pens of the dearest little guinea pigs, which are sold to be eaten as we eat rabbits or squirrels.

Among the most delicious things sold are the fruits. There are bananas, large and small, with skins red, yellow, and white; there are lemons, oranges, pineapples, and great balls of breadfruit. We each try a slice of the papaw, a fruit as big as a musk melon, and not unlike it, although it grows on a tree. It tastes sweet, but is rather insipid, so we buy something else. We are delighted with the mango, a rich yellow fruit as large round as your fist, and often six inches in length. This is the queen of the fruits of the Philippines. It has a long, narrow seed surrounded by flesh which is deliciously sweet, with a slight turpentine flavor. It grows on a tree, found almost every-where in Luzon, and also in other parts of the Philip-pines. A few cents pays for all the fruit we can eat, and we walk on, peeling bananas and munching them as we go.

Among the vegetables are lettuce, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions, the green shoots of the bamboo, as well as many things strange to our eyes. One of the woman peddlers picks up a handful of the white roots she is selling, and asks us to buy. We each take a root and bite into it, but spit it out quickly. It is as hot as fire, our tongues and lips smart as though they were poisoned, and we take quick bites of banana to cool them. This root is ginger. It grows wild in the woods, and is used by the natives to make a weak tea and a fish sauce.

What are the queer nuts in that tray on the other side of the ginger ? They look like green butternuts. There is a little pile of lime near them, with palm leaves and tobacco beside it. See that old woman who has come up. She picks up a nut and bites into it. As she opens her mouth, we notice her gums are apparently bleeding. Her tongue is red, and her teeth seem to drip blood. She has a quid inside her left cheek which she chews now and then during her talk with the root seller. She is chewing the betel, a nut like those on the tray. The betel nut is the fruit of the areca palm. It is cut up and mixed with lime and tobacco, and thus chewed, making the saliva the color of blood. The habit is common not only throughout the Philippine Islands, but also in Siam, Burma, and other parts of the world. It has much the same effect as tobacco upon those who use it.