Laksa is one of the greatest inventions of mankind, the Malay world’s great contribution to world cuisine. Whether Lemak (with coconut gravy) or Assam (with sour soup), Laksa demonstrates the intensity that so pleases the Malay palate.
I’ve been to Singapore three times and to Malaysia four, and on each occasion I made it a point to try as many kinds of laksa as I can. Here are some of them.
I hope to try all the kinds of Laksa out there, and as I try new ones this post will be updated!
Clockwise from the left: Star Bakehouse Ticoy from Davao, Espasol from Kidapawan, and Rose-flavoured Turkish delight from Singapore.
These three soft, powdery sweets each represent poignant periods in my life.
I grew up eating the espasol in Kidapawan. It seems the matriarch of the Burgos family, our neighbors in Rizal street (my childhood neighborhood and where my father’s family has lived for generations) is the only one who makes espasol in Kidapawan. Lightly sweet and really not that memorable, the stuff nevertheless grows on you, and like Kidapawan you miss it when you haven’t had it for a long time.
I also grew up eating Star Bakehouse Ticoy, which I would get to taste whenever someone in the family goes to Davao and brings some back. Among all the tikoy brands available in Davao this is the only one without any filling, just the way I like it. it has a faint vanilla-banana flavour, mellowed by the powder.
My current box of Turkish delight I bought from Singapore in 2013. The strong rose-flavour faintly reminds me of Bandung, which I loved drinking when I was there. Intensely sweet, Turkish delight is definitely one of the tastes of my Singapore summer.
I eat these three sweets together on special occasions with tea, often Earl Grey. Eat them together in one mouthful and you get a taste of my life.
But increasingly that has become more and more difficult to do. Burgos, I hear, rarely makes espasol these days because it is such a labour-intensive product. Whenever I go home to Kidapawan it’s never available in Mega Market, the only place where one can buy it. Similarly Star Bakehouse Ticoy is getting ridiculously difficult to find in Davao. It’s usually displayed on the hopia section of most convenience stores and groceries, but it’s becoming rarer and rarer. And my box of Turkish delight is down to just three slices, with no prospect of buying a new box. This photo was taken in 2014, the last time I had this combination.
Why are memories so difficult to keep?
One of the first things one notices about the Filipino languages is the proliferation of honorifics used to address family members.As a sign of respect to these relatives one cannot call them by their names, and instead use these terms of address.
In Tagalog, for instance, one has the following common honorifics:
Mama/Inay/Nanay – mother
Papa/Itay/Tatay – father
Lolo – grandfather
Lola – grandmother
Tito – uncle
Tita – aunt
Kuya – older brother
Ate – older sister
Ninong – godfather
Ninang – godmother
In some families with Chinese roots a more nuanced set of honorifics are also used for first, second, or third sons or daughters. In some families with Spanish roots too, ‘abuelita’ and ‘abuelito’ may still be used to refer to the grandparents. These cases are now rare outside of such families.
It must be noted that ‘tito’ and ‘tita,’ as well as ‘ate’ and ‘kuya’ for younger elders, may also be used for any other person older than one, particularly for family friends or parents or siblings of friends.
These honorifics have generally encroached into the other Filipino languages (a quiet sign of Tagalog imperialism), but distinct honorifics still continue. In Cebuano for instance, ‘kuya’ and ‘ate’ may be used, but the original terms of address may still sometimes be heard:
Mamang – mother
Papang – father
Manong – older brother
Manang – older sister
Dodong – son/any boy
Inday – daughter/any girl
‘Gaw (shortened form of ‘ig-agaw’) – cousin
In Cebuano it is also common to refer to other people who are older with ‘angkol’ or ‘anti,’ corruptions of ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie.’ I speculate this has Chinese roots.
My family is part Ilocano, so I grew up with the word ‘ading’ (younger sibling). In our Kidapawan Tagalog-Cebuano-Ilocano hybrid mother tongue, this is more a referential term than an honorific, although I remember my father sometimes using it for my brother in a cute, patronizing tone (‘ading, saan ka na naman galing ha?’).
Which may lead one to wonder why a father would be calling his son ‘younger sibling.’ But this is not uncommon in Filipino languages – or indeed not surprising in any language, as parents often use the appropriate honorifics their children should be using to give their children examples. Hence a husband may call his wife ‘mama,’ and the wife call him ‘papa’ so the children will learn. In my family too, my mother calls me ‘kuya.’
But this ends up being carried over even to the succeeding generations, and it can be confusing to the unfamiliar. My family demonstrates that best:
(lolo) Papa/ Tatay – my maternal great-grandfathers
(lola) mama/ Nanay – my maternal great-grandmothers
Ninang Ludy – my grandfather’s older sister (my mother’s godmother, other relatives call her ate)
Kuya Chito – my maternal grandfather’s younger brother
Uncle Andres – my paternal grandfather’s younger brother
Mommy Vinia – my maternal grandmother
Mama Mila – my paternal grandfather
Kuya Eric – my uncle
Tita Yayang – his wife
Ate Christie/Ate Yayan – my maternal aunts
Tita Lanie – my paternal aunt
To make it even more confusing language sometimes plays a role in making distinctions: between me and my brother, without specific context ‘ang mama’ would usually refer to our mother, but ‘si mama’ would refer to our paternal grandmother Mama Mila. ‘Ang’ as an identifying article is Tagalog, so it’s not unusual for my mother, but Mama Mila is Bul-anon.
But these honorifics not only so give one a sense of the linguistic diversity in our homes, it also lets us who use it feel closer to otherwise distant ancestors and elders.
It’s become fashionable for young people these days to ask ‘if there is Forever.’ Invariably the question is romantic in nature, inspired by the recent ABS CBN Teleserye Forevermore.
The popularity of the question, and how seriously many ask it, is intriguing. The physical attractiveness of Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano (the stars of Forevermore) seem to have touched the romantic nerve of the Filipino in the original sense of the word ‘romantic’ – that is, a deep, overwhelming realization of realities greater than the mundane lives we all live.
Owing to its origin, the question ‘meron bang Forever?’ is more substantially, ‘May forever kaya para sa maganda?’ and by ‘maganda’ is meant all that is beautiful, sacred, pleasurable.
To the wide reader of course, both Western and Eastern traditions of thought have had the same answer: ‘walang Forever.’
In the Romantic English poet Percy Shelley’s (ironically) now immortal poem ‘Ozymandias,’ the sheer power the eponymous Pharaoh once had is portrayed pathetically as his mighty statue stands alone in the middle of wasteland.
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains…
The West has always contemplated on the impermanence of things in a pessimistic, almost despairing tone. From Neruda’s still smarting breakup poem ‘Tonight I can write the saddest lines
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same…
Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
To the (self-consciously) anticlimactic ending of Eliot’s Hollow Men:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
The Western attitude towards ‘Walang Forever’ is perhaps best encapsulated by the Latin maxim ‘sic transit gloria mundi,’ ‘thus ends the glory of the world.’
To the East however, particularly in Buddhist circles, contemplation of the impermanence of things is seen as a way towards enlightenment. The Three Marks of Existence for Buddhists are Suffering, Impermanence and Non-selfhood.
There are no such things as selves, only momentary existences that are results of the past and themselves causes for future fleeting existences. Where, the Buddhist ask, is the river, when the river you step on now will not be the same as the one you step on tomorrow? Existence is the constant fluctuation of existences, every ‘change’ is actually a change in identity. Likewise, if you love someone today, she will be a different person tomorrow, the world has altered her in the span of a day.
And so there is likewise no Forever, not even for the beauty of LizQuen. As the classic Japanese Iroha poem puts it:
Colours, though fragrant
will only scatter away.
Who in this world is unchanging?
But the East has never lamented this impermanence. Forever has always been a poisonous lie. It is blindness to the reality that there is no Forever that causes suffering. So long as we continue worrying about lasting Forever we will never be free to live the now. The Dhammapada puts it beautifully with the metaphor of house building:
Looking for the builder of the house, I shall be reborn ceaselessly until I find him
And painful is the endlessness of rebirth.
But oh house builder, you are found,
you shall build no more houses!
There is an almost jubilant liberation in the declaration that no ‘houses’ (sense of Forever) will be built again. No, there is no forever, we don’t need to worry about that anymore.
And we can think of better things, like enjoying the now. In Japanese aesthetics, there is the concept of ichi-go, ichi-e, literally ‘one time, one meeting.’ It means experiences will happen only once, and they are different each time. As such we must enjoy each moment, being fully aware that we will never enjoy it as it is again, but be open to enjoy the next fleeting experience that comes.
This of course does not mean relationships should be short lived. Rather, it means everything is short lived – life itself is short lived – and those in relationships must always live the moment as it lasts. If you think about lasting Forever all the time you forget about enjoying the relationship now, and that is a recipe for disaster.
Love like enlightenment is a journey, and the point is the journey and not the destination. ‘When you see the Buddha on the road, kill him,’ as the Buddhists would put it.
And when you see Forever on the road of love, you’re not doing it right.
I’m currently writing my master’s thesis, and I’ve been looking at the Creative Writing masters thesis and doctorate dissertations in Silliman’s graduate school for reference. With Silliman’s illustrious literary history I have a veritable array of theses to choose from. here are some of them:
It’s still very frustrating however to find no clear template to pattern after. Silliman needs to come up with a specific format for any future Creative Writing thesis.
The Chinese knot they always call ‘ruyi knot’ does not look like a ruyi at all.
Frustrated, I tried to come up with my own ‘ruyi knot.’ And this is what I came up with.
It’s a matted Prosperity knot, with a button knot tip, a matted doubled coin knot at the other end, and the ends were made into a flat knot/ square knot chain until it reached the Prosperity knot again. The flat knot body was slightly bent to show the ruyi’s curves.
I’m pretty happy with the results.
The ruyi is one of those unusual cultural items that mean a lot but don’t actually have any exact purpose. They’re staffs of power in Chinese culture, but how exactly they came to symbolize power is unclear.
The decorative art form of knotting used to replicate a purely decorative object – this is the Chinese ivory tower!