love being different
A few of entries ago I mentioned that I would be joining a writing contest. I ended up writing two stories, giving myself some time to gather feedback on both, then choosing the better one. As I mentioned, I’d be posting the unchosen story here. It isn’t finished yet, but posting it on this blog will definitely encourage me to finish it (by next Monday at the latest.) So here is part one.
Chely’s: A Filipino Restaurant in Madrid
Based on a true story.
“I think it’s down this way,” Tere said.
We were walking in Chueca, one of Madrid’s districts, looking for a rumoured Filipino restaurant. Why? Because I had just gotten back from a 21-day road trip, and even if the promise of home was just weeks away, my stomach had made its decision to eat Filipino food. It needed something to keep it going on this European diet; a respite, a reprieve, just some steamed rice please.
To my left, Ricardo and Andres were talking about an upcoming trip to Bilbao. To my right, Juan was helping Tere get her bearings.
“Oh you guys,” I said, realising it that minute. “This is like the beginning of a joke!”
“What do you mean?” Juan asked.
“Think about it,” I said. “A Mexican, an Argentinian, and a Dominican,” I gestured to Ricardo, Andres, and Juan respectively, “walk into a Filipino restaurant in Madrid.”
Tere laughed. “That does sound like a joke! Okay, this way, guys,” and she ushered us into a door with a sign that said Chely’s beside it.
The restaurant had six tables, each surrounded by Monobloc chairs. The bar/cash register was adjacent to the door and made of faux-bamboo. Mounted on the wall, a television showed a satellite broadcast of TV Patrol. Noli de Castro’s voice boomed as he reported a killing in Malabon. Opposite the bar, a painting of The Last Supper hung next to a giant wooden fork and spoon.
It was like I had stepped into any carinderia in the Philippines. I looked back at the entrance. Was it a portal?
The waitress, obviously Pinay, greeted us in perfect Spanish as she put down a small bowl of salted peanuts.
“I love that everything is crispy!” Juan said as he scooped more sisig onto his plate, which still had lechon kawali on it.
“I love that everything has pork!” Ricardo said between bites of chopsuey. Next to him, Andres started scooping the chopsuey sauce onto his rice.
“Andy, what are you doing?” Tere asked.
He looked at her. “Why? Is this wrong? It just seemed to make sense to me; to put the sauce on the rice.”
Tere and I smiled at each other. “It isn’t wrong!” she said happily. “It’s absolutely right! It’s just amazing that you did it instinctively!”
“If that’s the case, I am putting this Mang Tomas stuff on my rice,” Juan said.
“Well honestly, the food isn’t extremely different from South American food,” Andres said. “I mean, it’s almost the same ingredients cooked in a different way.”
I smiled. “Look at us, four extranjeros in Madrid.”
Andres laughed. “Yes. Even if the language is similar, the customs are similar; we are definitely not home. It must be so different for you, Vicky.”
“Some customs are similar,” I said. “But yes, adjustments need to be made.”
“Like the fact that the whole country is aircon?” Tere asked, laughing. “I heard one person make that comment.”
The table laughed.
“Honestly,” Ricardo said. “What did you first think when you moved here?”
Tere smiled. “Honestly? I thought Spanish men would be more romantic! I mean, some of them are, but I was under the impression that they all were.”
“I was a little disappointed about not seeing more matadors walking around. I always thought those costumes were kind of cool,” Juan said jokingly.
“I like that people are less shy about saying hello. That’s not really done in Manila…” I said, trailing off.
“Yeah, but some people take it to a whole new level,” Tere said. “I have a friend who visited Prague. He was eating alone at some park, and one guy left his family to go eat with him. He didn’t say anything, but kept him company while he ate. That’s like… nice, but just so different.”
“Not like weird things don’t happen elsewhere, ” Andres countered. “The Hong Kong MTR is ridiculously packed with people and they’re always in your face, not quite careful about giving you breathing room.”
“Different strokes for different folks?” Juan asked.
“I like that it’s different,” Ricardo said. “It’s a reminder that I am not home.”
Just as Ricardo finished his sentence, a group of young Filipino men walked into the restaurant. They walked towards a table, and almost as soon as they sat down, the waitress put a huge bowl of adobo and another huge bowl of rice in front of them. They were conversing in Tagalog mixed with Spanish.
To be continued…