Posted by asm826 on August 25, 2006
Emie sat down at a glass topped table near the door of the shop. Tom and Bill joined her. The air conditioner over the door hummed and clicked, but it worked, pouring a stream of cool air into the ice cream shop.
“What did you order?” Tom asked.
Emie smiled, hiding her mouth behind her hand, “Corn. After vanilla, corn is the best, the most popular.”
Tom reached out and she handed him her cone. It looked and tasted like frozen creamed corn. Not bad, but unusual. Like many things in the Philippines, it was just different enough to catch your attention. He returned it to her, and went back to his chocolate. Even the chocolate was different, somehow. More like a sherbet, made with cocoa.
Emie looked at Bill, “Who are you shopping for?”
Bill ticked off his mental list, “My dad, mom, older sister, and younger sister. My older sister’s birthday is soon, but for the rest I just want to get them something. And maybe something for me, to remember.”
The heat of the afternoon enveloped them as they left the ice cream shop. Rows of tall clouds stood above the mountains in the distance. Bands of bright blue sky shone between the clouds. Emie looked up to see what had their attention.
“Monsoon comes soon. Every day, more clouds, then one afternoon it will rain, and then again, and then soon all it will do is rain.”
They crossed the side street, climbed up onto the loading dock, and entered the market. The stalls were separated by narrow aisles, and the three of them worked their way past the women shopping. Each booth was lit by bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. Each vendor sold only one commodity. Salt, eggs, corn meal, chicken, everything had to be purchased individually.
Purchasing might have been simple enough. But each vendor had to be greeted, custom required conversation and consideration of the product. Nothing was rushed, and no prices existed. Everything was negotiated. It soon became clear that having them along made Emie’s shopping impossible. So they walked through, exploring the shops, allowing Emie to serve as their guide.
Finally, coming out the front, they stopped at several small shops and Bill found his family’s presents. Emie tried to negotiate, and finally turned to Bill, shaking her head.
“If you wait, I will buy these things later. If you must buy them now, you are American, and you have to pay more. And the carrier is coming in, she says, it will be here in four days.
So they can wait, and sell to the sailors for five times as much.”
Bill shrugged, “The price is fine. Really. Thank you, but I want to finish this and get them mailed home.”
Tom pointed out a carved mahogany lion, and mentioned that he liked it. Emie would not allow him to buy it, or anything else. They wandered along past the rattan furniture, military plaques, and t-shirts, left the market and took a jeepney back toward the base.