Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tempura evening with three young extortionists

I took an after-dinner stroll at the boulevard to take in some fresh sea air. It was threatening to rain and so there weren't too many people around. Nevertheless, three young kids, all under seven years, popped by my side and started singing. It was all nonsense, in a seven-year old kind of way, but amusing enough. I told them I had no change on me.

"We've already sung for you!" the young girl reminded me.

"But I have no change on me," I said.

"You can buy us tempura."

I considered briefly. Tempura was cheap. I shrugged and told them we could head over to the end of the boardwalk where the tempura-and-tocino stalls congregated.

Bolstered by their success, the trio upped the ante: "How about balut instead?"

"How much does balut cost?"

"Ten pesos," said one young urchin.

"No, dummy, it's twelve pesos." And a noisy argument ensued. I started chuckling.

"It's ten pesos where it's nearer, and twelve pesos where it's further," they finally agreed.

"Look, it's a bit expensive," I said. "Can I just buy one balut for all three of you?"

"Ay! Ma-ot man." I don't think I need to translate.

So I vacillated between spending P36 as the price for my amusement and not spending on anything at all. We were about to approach a nearby itenerant balut vendor when I finally decided:

"Let's just get tempura instead. It's cheaper."

Yes, I know I am a regular Uncle Scrooge.

The girl and the younger boy eyed me reproachfully, disappointment etched in their faces. The other boy knew, though, that he would lose the deal completely if stood by balut.

"Sige, uncle, tempura na lang. It's cheaper."

So I started walking back to the tempura vendors, the boy following a few steps behind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other two were holding fast and did not follow. Not for a while anyway. They magically reappeared when I was already at the first tempura stall.

"Three tempuras," I told the cook, and pointed to the three urchins. Disappointment was still all over two faces. I'm a bit ashamed to say it, but it only added to my bemusement. It didn't help at all that their faces were covered in white powder and they were wearing cardboard hats, making them look like some modern-day manic goblins.

The cook handed over the tempuras to the kids.

"Aren't you going to say 'thank you?'" the cook's wife asked the kids.

Small heads with glum faces and downturned mouths shook no.

"They're upset because they wanted balut," I explained. And the woman and I had a good laugh together.

Just another evening on the boulevard.