Tuesday, November 29, 2005


It was a dark and somewhat ominous afternoon when I took Singaporean photographer Jimmy Lam around the bowels of downtown Manila. He was here to do research and take shots of one of Manila's most ubiquitous sights: street people. It's part of series that he is doing on street dwellers ALL over Asia. Naturally, I took him to the riverside area of San Nicolas directly across Intramuros, a place I remembered to be chock full of the "sleeping-in-trees-and-cooking-dinner-in-an-selecta-can" crowd. But when I got there, I was rather shocked to see the place being renovated into a park and promenade. Nevertheless, energies are never destroyed, only transferred. So there were still a few stragglers who refused to move and managed to live amidst all the construction. All was going rather normally with the conversations we struck with the people we met until...

I met this man.

He was part of a larger group that was catching a nap right by the tugboats near Manila Bay. A rather affable fellow; he was well-spoken, intelligent, and didn't smell like a street person. He also acted very dignified and was dressed rather well for Philippine street dweller standards (i.e, he was lounging in long pants, shoes, and a button down shirt, as opposed to walking about shirtless with oversized basketball pants pointing fingers toward an open mouth). He also had a fantastic smile.

And that's when I noticed he had fangs. Yes. Fangs. I asked him to pull his upper lip and yes, they were real as real can be. Sticking out from the front of his teeth, they grew right out of his gums. He said his mother, while pregnant with him, made "lihi sa pusa". Unfortunately, due to his soft-spoken Tagalog, I couldn't hear him well and still can't figure out whether the direct translation of his words meant "she had a fondness for cats" or "she had a fondness for eating cats" when she was pregnant. Either way, it was too bizaare to believe.

Until I asked him where he was from. "Siquijor". Ah. Ok. Of course. Silly of me not to realize that off the bat.

Then when I asked him what his name was and he replied "Carlos". I couldn't deal anymore. I had to leave. Too freaky for my blood. And I'm already freaky.

Jimmy Lam hard at work. He gave twenty pesos to every person he met. God bless his soul for objectifying them and compensating them for doing so. It was a really neat arrangement for both parties.

My parting shot for the day. Too bad there isn't much detail in the photo. There were flies all around his feet and his home which is the umbrella next to him. And if this photo doesn't scream out: "The Philippines has become a total train wreck so let's all just stop bitching at one another, get our act together and pull our ass out of this ghastly mess were in", then I don't know what does.