marketplaces, “through the years”

Some weeks back, i visited the market at Baseco –


This street looks and feels like the pasar malams (night markets) we have in Singapore. They sell pretty much the same stuff too, miscellaneous basic necessities such as cutlery, slippers, socks, nail clippers and the like.

Then, the wet market –


We went in the afternoon, and many stalls were already closed for the day. The meat would have been laid out in the open, and the shopkeepers (or their children) would have been swatting flies using a stick with plastic strips tied on the end.

Most interestingly so, many of the stalls sell their items for use by the day, because the residents usually work in jobs that pay a daily pittance. Cooking oil is sold in finger-sized plastic bags, perhaps about 30ml worth, likewise sugar. Candies are sold singly, likewise biscuits. With the living conditions being as shockingly bad as they are, it was a bit too much to take in and was in fact quite numbing, but watching a child buy a single biscuit out of a tin really tugged at my heartstrings.

Earlier today, I chanced upon the Trieste Market during my morning ramble –



My mum’s comment on the Baseco market: “like our markets from the 70s.”
My mum’s comment on the Roman market: “looks like Tiong Bahru market.”

Right. So, something as simple as the wet market marks Singapore’s development “from third world to first”…in terms of cleanliness and hygiene, of space demands, of choice of produce and its freshness. Certainly nothing as dramatic as the skyline, but speaks volumes about the rise in the standard of living nevertheless.


a rainbow over san agustin

we rushed for anticipatory mass last saturday, nearly not making it due to the terrible traffic in manila.

here’s what greeted us at the church


“And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”
-Genesis 9:14-16 KJV

a hard promise for the philippines, to be sure, what with an average of twenty-two typhoons a year.

i didn’t attend mass as my colleague, an agnostic, was interested in doing so and i let him take my place. i took a walking tour with the rest around intramuros instead. that was just as well, for we ended up at the manila metropolitan cathedral-basilica, and i was placed in the unique position of explaining the significance of various rites and practices to non-believers. weirder yet, when they realized that im protestant and proceeded to ask about the differences regarding the two belief systems. i don’t think i did a good job of it, being much too simplistic and superficial, but there’s a first for everything, i guess.

two sunsets, a year apart

somehow, i notice the sun rise and set more when im out of singapore. is it because our daily hectic lives distract us from it, or because our view has been obstructed by all the skyscrapers?

above, on the outskirts of siem reap, the sun setting over a wasteland of grass, potholes and thatched huts, admired by us all after a long day trying to help but ultimately hindering the work of local carpenters building a classroom.


below, the sun setting over the pasig river at baseco, manila, after a day planting mangrove seedlings which we pray will survive the typhoons over the next two years at least.

three consecutive years now of overseas service learning missions, but i am as conflicted as ever about our role and purpose in those communities. more in another post. meanwhile, enjoy this hilarious comic regarding sunsets:


getting a sense of location

i didn’t get to go to baseco today as i was sick-sitting some others. the good thing was, i had the opportunity to explore the area around my guesthouse while hunting for sick people’s food. having spent the previous days being shuttled to and fro the project site, i could hardly get my bearings. i didn’t even realise that we were so close to manila bay.

i thought the following quote from rebecca solnit in wanderlust: a history of walking resonated strongly with my insecurity today.

“…the sense of place that can only be gained on foot. many people nowadays live in a series of interiors – home, car, gym, office, shops – disconnected from each other. on foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. one lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”

i do feel a little more secure now knowing what lies around the corner of the guesthouse. it was slightly unsettling, as always, to walk past the homeless, then wondering whether it’d be better were they to move into an informal settlement (but that would compound the spread and problem of the settlements)

* * * * *

bought myself a snack by the name of ensaymada – a soft bread topped with sweet cream, then a liberal layer of grated cheese


and also ran into a feast day procession for our lady of remedies.


generally uneventful but restful sunday, I’d say.

getting to know a place

i am currently on a service-learning trip at Baseco, Manila, Philippines.


the public opinion regarding this place is that it is dangerous, a place where theft is commonplace, where fights are not infrequent, and perhaps even murder is not altogether surprising. our local guide had apprehensions about bringing us here, and the local representative for Mercy Relief had much difficulty catching a cab to the area.

i happen to be reading rebecca solnit’s absorbing wanderlust: a history of walking, and came across the following:

“walking is about being outside, in public space, and public space is also being abandoned and eroded in older cities, eclipsed by technologies and services that don’t require leaving home, and shadowed by fear in many places (and strange places are always more frightening than known ones, so the less one wanders the city the more alarming it seems, while the fewer the wanderers the more lonely and dangerous it really becomes.)”

in the same way, the more avoided Baseco is, the more they are left to themselves, the scarier it feels to the outsider. And just perhaps, the more dangerous it does become.


even so, nothing has happened to any of us here. as a contingent of foreigners we do attract a fair amount of stares, but smiles are far more frequent. we even played a GG basketball friendly with the locals (and we would’ve been totally trashed if they weren’t playing nice).


what makes us think, expect, the worst from other human beings? why do we feel surprised to experience human kindness in these forgotten, ignored, invisible places?