Sunday, November 07, 2004

chapter 2, part 2

"Pare, again you’ve given me a shitty disc that won’t run. Sometimes I wonder if you’re just stupid or you’re really trying to rip me off. Eto, gago, give me a new one!"

Fortunato grinned, and even the litany of abuse had been delivered with a mostly toothless smile by Jon-Jon, whom Rodrigo and the other vendors here called Piolo because of his uncanny resemblance to the actor, if the movie star had lost most of his pearly whites, had pockmarks and a nasty-looking scar on his left cheek.

At one time, Jon-Jon had actually professed to be the older brother of the actor, until a heated argument between him and one of the vendors had broken out while he was claiming this during a drinking session on the Feast of the Black Nazarene. He had lost several more teeth that night, and never spoke again about his blood ties to the Piolo who was famous. The vendor who had beaten him up, however, had fled Quiapo after realizing the following day that he had confessed that the actor was the love of his life and that no toothless moron was going to sully his name -- this delivered in a spittle-filled speech worthy of a Tagalog B movie after he had beaten the said toothless moron to a pulp.

While Fortunato knew the names of many of his suki, most of the people who bought the bootleg VCDs, DVDs, PC CD-ROMs, audio CDs and game console discs from him he knew by nicknames he and the other sellers had given them.

There was Prof, who loved the pornographic Japanese animation that aficionados called hentai ("Hentai nang hentai ‘yang si Prof, akala mo kagalang-galang, yun pala malibog. Sailor Moon pa ang kinalilibugan."). King Kong was a hairy bruiser who seemed to have been carved out of granite, whose barrel-chested body always reeked and who looked liked like he belonged in a professional wrestling ring, but who bought Disney DVDs and children’s movies by the dozen. Chinita was a porcelain doll who was always accompanied by her friend Pokpok the slutty girl.

Fortunato had lived all his life in Quiapo, which he saw as a magical place that sold everything under the sun and offered something for everyone with no questions asked, as long as the customer was willing to look for his or her heart’s desire and was willing to pay the price. Quiapo was the world’s bazaar crammed into the busy streets and narrow alleys of Old Manila, where the sacred and the profane sat side by side in happy fellowship, where the Old World met the New and the fake and the real merrily toasted each other’s health.

Fortunato’s stall was one hole in the wall among the many in this busy warren that featured four main halls, each pirate den filled with shelves and stacks of DVDs of practically every movie that had ever or will be shown. Here, Audrey Hepburn danced with Jennifer Grey and Britney Spears and learned English from Michael Caine. Michael Jordan relived his glory days with the Chicago Bulls, while the late Christopher Reeve still leapt tall buildings with a single bound while the disastrous "Superman" revival movie starring that no-name actor who had appeared in "Will and Grace" was snapped up only by the people who loved bad films or who loved collecting them, the same people who buy Kristy Swanson’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Dolph Lundgren’s "The Punisher."

Outside the warren are more stalls, with vendors selling thousands of pirated VCDs, including porn for every imaginable taste, from "Barely Legal" to "Girls Gone Wild" to "Dirty Debutantes" to the X-rated romps produced by Private ("Eto ser, maganda ito, Private. May istorya.") to lesbian, gay, anal, masturbation, gang-bang, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, blonde, brunette, dog, horse, sheep. Some stores displayed ancient Betamax and VHS tapes and players, while other offerings in other altars included vinyl records, cassette tapes, eight-tracks, laser discs, penny loafers (such as Sebago and Haruta, and the knock-off Hatura), bla-blas, Chuck Taylors, espadrilles, Sperry Topsiders, baston pants, stone washed, acid washed, tied-dyed.

Across Quezon Avenue was the place Fortunato loved the most, the Basilica Menor de Nazareno (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene), whose patron saint was not, as most people supposed, the miraculous Black Nazarene but the cousin of the Redeemer, St. John the Baptist, after whom the church was named. The edifice, however, was more popularly known simply as Quiapo Church, which if records were to be believed, was as old as the district itself, both being founded sometime in 1586 by Franciscan missionaries led by Pedro Bautista.

The original abode of San Juan Bautista in Quiapo was a humble building made of bamboo and nipa, but as the district prospered and became the emporium of the Spanish empire in these parts, the church became grander and grander, ultimately becoming a magnificent Mexican baroque structure where the shepherds and their flock had the privilege of worshipping and meeting God on earth. In 1606, the records say, the church’s most famous resident arrived in Manila, brought to this other port of the Galleon Trade by a priest who had bought the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene in Mexico. In 1787, the Black Nazarene came to reside in Quiapo Church, and there it would stay until today, even though the original Mexican baroque church had burned down in 1928, with the statue the only object to have survived the flames, or so the legends say.

The present Quiapo Church, cream-colored and a far cry from the massive baroque framework of the old structure, was not much to look at, as Fortunato and any devotee would readily admit, but beauty, as they say, is not skin-deep, and the spirit of the great church had survived up to these modern times. Inside and outside the minor basilica, the people prayed and plied their trade. After all, the emporium also sold blessings and curses, and could even buy the devotee a ticket to heaven or a glimpse of the future. The grounds outside the church were filled with vendors of all imaginable goods, from toothless crones and young girls selling sampaguita to sellers of different kinds of pamparegla, various concoctions to induce abortion among women whose periods had been delayed. Vendors offered people-shaped candles and anting-antings, rosaries and missalets, abanico fans and wooden puppet snakes, prayer beads and gayuma, good luck charms, hexes and sundry spells.

Fortune tellers of every shape could read the future in your palms, a crystal ball or tarot cards. They had signs proclaiming the extent of the mystical services they offered: "Kapalaran ay alamin: American card; tarot card; palmreading; panaginip; psychic powers; telepathy; ESP; mind reading; punsoy; lucky charm; malas, tinatanggal; nawawala, naibabalik; nakukulam, napapagaling; gayuma; negosyo; pag-aaral; trabaho; mapapangasawa; nagkahiwalay, magkakabalikan."

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4 Comments:

Blogger Tina said...

I like the way you described Quiapo. :)

Good luck to your novel!

- tina (another NaNoWrimo participant, :D)

2:41 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

Mahusay!!! :D

11:25 PM  
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8:05 PM  
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Computer News
In search of the best


Ask.com, Answers.com outperform more popular Web engines

Even as they become more savvy, the Internet's leading search engines still sometimes bog down in befuddlement when a specific kernel of knowledge is sought.

Hoping to fill the gap, Answers.com (from GuruNet Corp.) and Ask.com (from Ask Jeeves Inc.) have pledged to provide more adept responses to vexing but straightforward questions about history, science, geography, pop culture and sports.


Both search engines aim to provide a correct answer explicitly at the top of a search's first results page -- or with a highly placed link to a Web page that contains the information.

Their mission raises a question: Just how knowledgeable are these search engines?

To find out, I staged a very unscientific test consisting of questions culled from a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit.

My mock game pitted the avowed prowess of Answers.com and Ask.com against the Internet's most widely used search engines -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.

The findings: Answers.com and Ask.com appear to be a small step ahead of Google and noticeably smarter than Yahoo and MSN when dealing with such esoteric questions as "What glass beads are created when a meteorite strikes the Earth's surface?"

Both Answers.com and Ask.com guided me to the correct answer (tektites) with the first link on the results page -- an aptitude that both sites displayed with 10 of the 20 questions posed in the theoretical game. When they didn't get the answer with the very first link in response to some questions, both search engines generally came through within the next two links.

Although they performed similarly in our game,-Answers.com and Ask.com rely on different formulas.

Answers.com relies on a combination of Google's search engine and human editors who have stoked its database with answers to frequently asked questions that they've obtained by poring through reference materials.

Ask.com, part of a Web family about to be acquired by e-commerce conglomerate InterActiveCorp for $2 billion, has devised a fully automated approach that fishes through the Internet's sea of information.

Although they are superior to the other search engines at this task, Answers.com and Ask.com rarely realized their ultimate goal -- making things as clear-cut as possible by summarizing the correct response at the very top of the results page so it wouldn't be necessary to click on a link and peruse another Web site.

Ask.com spit out a concise "Web answer" in just two of the 20 questions, while the only time that Answers.com delivered was when I sought the definition of "googol." (It's the number one followed by 100 zeros.)

Google, which drew its name from that mathematical term, fared reasonably well in the competition. The Internet's most popular search engine came up with the correct answer on the first link in eight of the 20 questions (including the one about tektites). That's something Yahoo did just five times and MSN only twice.

None of the sites was omniscient. Answers.com, Ask.com and Google each drew blanks on three questions (I considered it a miss if a link to the correct answer didn't appear within the first three pages of results). Yahoo and MSN each whiffed on six questions.

There was only one question that baffled all the search engines, "Who was the first Cuban defector to play in Major League Baseball?" Although they all contained references to him in their indexes, none of the search engines could figure out it was Rene Arocha, a pitcher who first signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.


Though it lagged behind the other search engines in this competition, MSN looked brilliant on one question that stumped all the other search engines: What company was acquired in the biggest leveraged buy-out deal of all time? The first link on MSN's results page took me to a site that correctly listed RJR Nabisco.

The test also revealed the disadvantage of depending on search engines -- they sometimes point to sites with conflicting answers.

This occurred most frequently when I asked how many viewers watched the series finale of the TV show M*A*S*H. The search engines pointed to Web sites that variously listed the audience at anywhere from 105.9 million to nearly 125 million. Trivial Pursuit lists the answer as 121.6 million.

To paraphrase M*A*S*H's theme song, searching for online answers still isn't painless.


About the Author: Michael Liedtke


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8:42 PM  

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