What you need, Lehman?

Apparently, the Wall Street credit crunch has yet to hit pawn shops on Anonas Street in Quezon City, where even in the face of declining markets around the world, you can still get a loan in FOUR MINUTES OR LESS! And the interest is probably a very reasonable 100 percent, compounding daily. Borrow now, my friends, and make your dreams come true. Maybe all the Indian Five-Six loan sharks of Cubao will band together to drag the world out of financial ruin.

Rebound Milk Chocolate, exhibit number 4,693 of basketball's commercial appeal in the Philippines, is a notably ridiculous attempt by some business owner to cash in on basketball's significance in local culture. The product is just a small, round piece of chocolate wrapped in tin foil with basketball designs on it. The choice to associate candy with rebounding is a mysterious one. Grabbing boards is an undeniably important part of the game, but like noted rebounders Buck Williams and Kurt Rambis, it's neither glamorous or sweet. If I had to compare rebounding to a food, it would probably be broccoli, not milk chocolate. But, since basketball is used to sell everything from tires to margarine, I won't second-guess the experts, who seem convinced that slapping a basketball on the package can improve just about any product.

The back of the bag reads: "Rebound -- a key offensive and defensive skills (sic) in basketball which results in winning the game." Mmmm, tasty! Then: "Now!!! Rebound is the new chocolate basketball that will win you and your games always."

You had me at "rebound."


Never have two simple words so captured my hopes and dreams. Alas, I think whoever made the sign wasn't asking for a place to dump human waste, but someone to sew clothes. A mananahi, so to speak.

The Secret of the Ooze

Sorry about the absence, folks. I guess it's nothing new, but in this case, I've been eager to post, I just haven't had Internet at home. I still don't, but this ought to be short, so I won't lose too much money writing it at the café under Drew's bar in Katipunan.

About a year ago, I wrote about the PBA mascots. And then, a few months ago, I wrote about them again, thanks to the appearance of the Lactobacillus "condom na condom" character on the sidelines during games. But my all-time favorite mascot will always be the Omega liniment fellow. When I first wrote about the Omega man, I described his khaki shorts and his trademark dance, a machine gun pelvic gyration. Let's call it epilepsy of the crotch. At the time, I interpreted this dance as a reflection of Philippine popular culture. Aside from the Papaya song and dance, which possess a hypnotic blandness, it's hard to think of any local dance craze that didn't require agile hips -- Itaktak mo, Boom Tarat Tarat, Otso Otso, Doo Doo Doo Dah Dah Dah. I can list these for days.

But thanks to a recent rafting accident on the Chico River in Kalinga province, I now have a reason to use Omega liniment. The boat I was in flipped over in the rapids and an underwater rock smacked my thigh muscle while I held onto the side of the raft for dear life and rode out the rapids. It gave me the worst charlie horse of my life, which is still a fairly minor injury, but the muscle became so tight I could hardly walk. To loosen it up, I bought some Omega, and within 30 seconds of slathering the chalky, lime green ooze on my upper leg, I understood the Omega dance on a deeper level. All that a-pumpin' and a-thrustin' he does could be more than just the standard wiggling. It could the napalm burn sensation of Omega on your flesh. Indeed, once it's on you, for 20 to 30 minutes you feel like moving exactly like the Omega mascot dances, like fire ants are devouring your skin and you will shake your skeleton out of its fleshy shell to get them off of you.

This is only a slight exaggeration. Omega burns way hotter than BenGay and Icy Hot. Let's hope that VP Dick Cheney never gets his hand on this stuff, because people will be getting Omegaboarded like it ain't no thing.

The kalat in my mind

Some scattered thoughts. Photos and perhaps videos will be added later.

1. Last night was an important first. Non-Filipinos tend to be endlessly amused by the local practice of buying soft drinks served in plastic bags with straws. It's pure pragmatism. The sari-sari store owners have to return the soda bottles to be refilled, so if you don't feel like standing around while you drink out of the bottle, you can have your drink poured into a plastic bag and take it to go. The novelty of plastic bag refreshments wore off on me years ago, but last night I saw something I thought impossible. A guy had two 500 mL bottles of Red Horse Extra Strong beer poured into separate plastic bags. Some people can't pour beer into a glass without having head overflowing all over the place. Imagine pouring it into a plastic bag. Usually, the people working the counter at a sari-sari store plod around grabbing cigarettes, cans of sardines and bags of chips in a state of semi-consciousness. Indeed, getting service often means hissing or making a loud kissing noise to wake up the shopkeeper behind the metal bars. Well, the guy working at the sari-sari last night achieved some kind of heightened level of awareness while pouring the volatile brew ever so slowly into the plastic bags. If you only saw the focus in his narrowed eyes, you'd think he was working with nitroglycerin. After his virtuoso pour, he handed the turgid, golden bags to the customer, who paid, hopped on his tricycle and motored off into the dark while sipping a liter of Red Horse from straws. The U.S. practice of brown-bagging beer bottles never seemed so emasculated.

2. I watched Game Six of the PBA Finals last night. Ginebra made it an even 3-3 in their series against Air21. The television cameramen did a nice job of panning the crowd during the timeouts and gave a sense of the atmosphere in the Araneta Coliseum, which reported record ticket sales of 2.5 million pesos for the do-or-die game. It was typical Ginebra insanity. My favorite moment was a zoom shot of five Ginebra fans proudly displaying a homemade banner that was in need of some editing: "See you on game 7!" The Gin-Kings won, so the fans got their wish. See you all Wednesday on Game 7.

This item would be funnier if I made no effort to explain a bit about Ginebra and translating Tagalog to English, but I think it would be unfair. There is really only one preposition in Tagalog: "sa." For native Tagalog speakers, this makes mastering the usage of English's myriad froms, tos, fors, ats and ons, difficult. Furthermore, Ginebra is the favorite team of the Philippine masses, the people least likely to have had the opportunity to perfect their English at schools like Assumption, Xavier, Ateneo, UP Diliman, La Salle, etc. It looks bad on a sign, but if you talked in English with Ginebra fans, many of them would be able to have a comfortable conversation.

3. Pinoy readers: Did anyone else notice Dwyane Wade's sidestep in the first half of the Greece-USA game last Thursday! I don't think he meant to do it, he was just trying to beat his man, but he definitely executed a sidestep. He was driving at an angle towards the basket on the break, and a Greek defender cut off his direct path to the hoop a step outside the key, so he planted on his left foot, sidestepped across his body and across the Greek player with his right foot, and finished the lay-up. When I saw it, I yelled at my TV: "Holy Shit! Wade just did a sidestep!"

I was excited because the sidestep is a one-on-one move indigenous to Philippine basketball. To American eyes, it looks awkward and defies description. ESPN's Chris Sheridan, in trying to explain Wade's move in his write-up of the game, called it a "right-to-left twist," which doesn't quite capture the move in words. I can't do much better, but I have the luxury of more space to work with. American players are taught to go hard to the basket and finish strong on fast breaks. Make a crossover or hesitation to get your defender off balance, then explode to the basket and finish at the rim. The sidestep, according to this philosophy, is a horrible move. The offensive player, instead of using his two steps after picking up his dribble to go straight for the hoop, uses one step to go forward and the next to hop horizontally to the side and flip up an off-balance lay-up. I have had players demonstrate to me how it is not a travel, but it still looks so weird that I want to scream "travelling" every time a player does it to me. The sidestep usually lets the offensive player get his body between the defender and the ball, so even though the sidestep usually leaves the ball handler too off-balance to jump high and finish hard, he can use his touch to loft a looping bank shot into the hoop at a trajectory out-of-reach for shot-blocking defenders.

Most people tend to agree that the sidestep's origins lie in the shortness of Filipino guards. For many of them, if they went straight to the basket and finished as high and as strong as they could, they'd probably still be running straight into a taller defender, waiting to smother the ball. The sidestep lets them get the shot off. The height factor plays a role in many of Philippine basketball's most thrilling innovations and quirks, like players' abilities to finish outrageous circus lay-ups, released from down below their waists and spun off the board with impeccable English, or pektos, as they call it.

Paeng Janjalani

I unearthed this lovely photo of myself en route to Camotes Islands from Danao, Cebu. There wasn't much to do but try not to be affected by the acrid fumes rising up from the floor of the boat, where it seemed like half of the passengers had yakked in a Goonies-style chain reaction. After I mastered my gut, it was time to play camera-whore, although I think that in the standard usage of the term, you take more flattering pictures than this one. For the uninitiated, Paeng is a Pinoy nickname for Raphael, and Janjalani is the name of a notorious Abu Sayyaf guerrilla who was killed in 2006. Basilan ain't ready for this.
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