A Tale of Two Pigs

Lechon after 10 minutes
Lechon after 10 minutes

Last year after proposing to my now wife, Janet, I accompanied her to meet her parents in Alcoy, Cebu. Her family is sweet, provincial, huge, poor as to be expected, and welcomed me every time I have been there like I have rarely been welcomed in my life.

I sat down and explained that I wanted to marry their daughter. This was no surprise to them, as Janet had been keeping them up to date with our plans and our efforts to obtain a Visa, but I wanted to do the formality thing. Their only question was why did we have to marry in the U.S. I tried to explain the K-1 Visa process with Janet translating. Since I barely get the convoluted U.S. procedure myself, I’m not sure they understood but in the end gave their approval. Part of that approval was contingent on our returning the next year for “the party.” The wedding ceremony could be done elsewhere, but “the party” was a family necessity.

As we prepared for our spring return to Alcoy I asked Janet what she wanted for the wedding party. I proposed that we could have a nice event at the small resort, the Bodos Bamboo Bar, better known locally as the BBB. Janet passed the proposition to her mother. “No way” I was told. Mom insisted that they host the party. The main reason was that the party had to be for the entire neighborhood and most of the people from their barangay would feel uncomfortable with the luxury that was the BBB and would not attend.

I asked Janet to make a list of the foods she wanted and approximate costs and discuss it with her mom. Lechon was at the top of the list.

In the Philippines, pork is ubiquitous and lechon is king. Lechon is an entire roasted pig, similar to what I had seen at a Hawaiian luau. The crispiness of the skin is what Filipinos seem to love most. I’ve enjoyed it too but as a Jew, don’t have the feeling about the food that Janet and her fellow Filipinos have, and certainly would rest better if I didn’t have to see the pig snout snorting and eyes glaring at me as I gobbled its crispy skin.

In the Philippines, pork is ubiquitous and lechon is king.

In the Philippines, ceremonies are measured not by how many people will attend but by how many pigs you have. A “three pig” event means you are a big shot politico or a rich Kano. Since I am neither we budgeted for a two pig wedding party.

The first pig would be for the lechon as tradition requires and the second pig would be for what Janet described as “chop chop” which I gathered was anything else that required pork.

“So, they just go to the market before we arrive and get the cooked pigs?” I asked naively.

“Oh no. You can buy lechon but very expensive in the market by the kilo. Better to just buy the whole pig and feed him.”

“Feed him? The actual pig? Where?”

“They will bring them home and feed them for a few weeks. Pigs require lots of grain.”

“Of course, “ I agreed. “Because after all they’re – well – pigs. But really it’s an imposition. Your mom shouldn’t have to have pigs in her home.”

Janet laughed. “They won’t be in the home silly! They will be tied up in an open area.”

“Of course,” I again agreed. “That’d be the way to go. So, when the time comes, does your dad, you know,” I said hesitating and squirming, “slaughter the pig and cook the lechon.”

“Of course not. The guy is hired. It’s part of the deal when you buy the pig. He comes the morning of the party and…” She slowly performed the slitting the throat motion and I made a mental note not to ever piss her off too badly.

Her parents spent a couple weeks searching and couldn’t find two decent pigs. This seemed to me to be weird in the Philippines; like not being able to get beef in Texas, craft beer in Portland, or an Elvis impersonator in Vegas. But it was explained that it was fiesta time and summer in the Philippines and so pigs were at a premium. Nonetheless, two were eventually procured and brought to the family compound. We breathed a sigh of relief.

As a Jew, my notion of what’s involved in raising pigs is – well – limited. I figured it was just a matter of throwing feed and getting out of their way. Not quite. Janet explained that there were regular baths that had to be given, daily brushing, and of course clearing away the inevitable massive quantities of poop produced by the young lechons-to-be. Her mom and dad did most of the work, assisted under duress by a couple of the teenage kids. I knew by the time of the party that the effort of the family would be extensive and while Janet’s presence might be worth it, I doubted that mine would be.

But then disaster struck. About ten days before we were scheduled to leave for the Philippines, Janet started receiving reports that one of the pigs was ill – vomiting.

“I think they may have overfed him,” she speculated.

“Pigs are pretty used to gorging themselves. I think the pig should have been able to handle it.”

Despite my encouraging words Janet and the family were panicked. Her dad stayed home one day instead of attending the annual fiesta, where he was scheduled to have his prized rooster involved in the traditional cock fighting. At least the rooster benefited from the pig’s illness.

I found out later that Janet’s mom had told Janet, “Don’t tell Dave,” assuming that I would blame the family for their care of the pig.

“I would never blame them!” I told Janet.

Actually, Janet was the one who was into the blame game, still assuming that they overfed the pig.

“I am sure the pig will be fine. Just a touch of the swine flu maybe,” I said, suppressing a giggle, while my Filipina wife stared glacially.

There was no consoling Janet who called home multiple times that day to get an update on the pig’s condition and prognosis.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked soothingly. “There’s still another pig.”

“We need two for the party!” she insisted. In America, brides fill small claims courts swearing that the catererer or the baker or the dressmaker ruined a wedding. I guess it’s the same the world over; in the Philippines the pig broker can ruin the wedding.

The next day I received the tragic news that we’d been dreading; the pig died. Janet’s father actually took the pig to the lechon guy to have an autopsy performed. They take their pigs pretty seriously in The Philippines. They discovered an enlarged heart causing heart failure. “I’d have a heart attack too if I knew I was gonna be cut up in a week,” I offered.

Janet and her mother cried over Skype. I tried to be supportive and reminded myself repeatedly to be somber and not crack up.

“Sweetie, it’s OK,” I assured her.

“The party will be ruined! We will have to get another pig. I told my mother to find a small pig and not to overfeed the one that is alive.”

“How will they buy the replacement pig?” I asked, always the pragmatist.

“My mother said that the family will manage.”

“No way,” I proclaimed. “I’m not having your poor parents go broke buying another pig.”

“Why not – the first one was their fault,” she proclaimed.

“It was not their fault!” I said, exasperated. “Animals die. People die. Someday I will die.”

“I won’t overfeed you,” she assured me.

So 4,000 pesos was sent and another, smaller pig was obtained. The disaster was averted. Ten days later we arrived in Alcoy to prepare for the celebration. Janet went to the family home the day before to help with the preparations and perform the ceremonial singing videoke till 3:00 AM ritual.

She returned the next morning and proclaimed, “The pig is small.”

“You told them to get a small pig,” I reminded her.

“No, the one for the lechon – it’s too small.”

“But you told them not to feed it much.”

“It’s too small.”

Fortunately, the wedding party went off without a hitch; the food and games were a big hit. The next day I posted pics on Facebook as I routinely do.

Chasing Candy
Chasing Candy at our Wedding Party

Janet received a note from one of her best friends back in the US. “Hope you had a great party. I’m sure it was fine – but the lechon looked a little bit small.”

Almost Newlyweds

I am a newlywed – for the 3rd time. My wife Janet is on her first. It occurred to me that it might be fun if I documented some of our adventures. I’m American; born and raised in Philly; living in Portland, Oregon for the past forty years. Janet has no conception of what forty years is. She’s from Alcoy, Cebu in the Philippines. Spent the last five years working and going to college in Maasin City, Leyte. She graduated – I didn’t. There’s one stereotype busted!

My friends in Fil-Am marriages talk about the differences in culture, language, religion, and just life view. But talk is cheap and conclusions are tough to come by. But the stories are funny as hell.

So let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, shall we. I’m 61 and Janet is 26. So add age difference to the culture, language, religion, and life view differences. Also, she’s pretty hot; I’m pretty much not; so add that to the mix.

I’m a writer and sometimes funny. If you’re David Sedaris they call you a humorist; me they call a wiseass. So that’ll be my view in this blog. Sure I’ll be informative from time to time; but mostly entertaining. Join in!

“My Nose is Bleeding”

When Janet and I were engaged and spending hours daily chatting online or video camming, she would periodically express exhaustion and blurt out, “my nose is bleeding.” As a protective, soon-to-be husband I advised her get a wet wash cloth, lean her head back, and apply pressure. After all I had two kids and despite general parental incompetence did know what to do when a child had a nose bleed.

She’d look at me like I was nuts. She’d say her nose was fine and not literally bleeding, but her “nose was bleeding.” I didn’t get it but then again I didn’t understand lots of aspects of Filipino culture, such as why my lovely wife-to-be would be caught dead with a mope like me. I tried to keep such thoughts to myself.

She’d say her nose was fine and not literally bleeding, but her “nose was bleeding.” I didn’t get it but then again I didn’t understand lots of aspects of Filipino culture, such as why my lovely wife-to-be would be caught dead with a mope like me. I tried to keep such thoughts to myself.

“I am sorry, darling. I don’t understand.”

“I am exhausted from speaking English,” she responded.

“I see. And that gives you a nose bleed. Sometimes nose bleeds are stress related,” I assured her, again drawing from my vast parental expertise.

Again she looked at me like the idiot kano she knew me to be. “My nose is fine. My nose is bleeding is what we say in Visayan.”

“You mean it’s an expression?” She nodded. “Where does the expression come from?”

“I don’t know – it’s just what we say.”

“Does it have anything to do with nose size?” I had already noticed that Filipinas are obsessed with nose size and shape. They consider their noses, which tend toward the short and flat to be unattractive, whereas they believe that Western “long” noses are superior and coveted. I have never had anyone compliment me on what I view as my too Jewish of a nose but even before I met Janet I’d received numerous compliments from Filipinas regarding my long nose. It was months before I understood what they were talking about, assuming at first the interest in my long nose to be tied into the Western stereotype of the size of the nose equating to the size of another part of the anatomy. I would just thank them for the compliment and agree that it was “pretty damn long indeed.”

It took many conversations but finally I pieced together the idea that the girls generally hated their noses and loved our noses and it had nothing to do with the Jewishness of my nose, nor the size of that other anatomy part. I was a bit disappointed yet excited that one of the things I had always disliked about myself seemed so attractive to Filipinas. For that matter their short noses were very cute as far as I was concerned. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The same can be said of skin color. Mine’s white (very white) and pasty. To quote the old Woody Allen line, “I don’t tan – I stroke.” This made me as a teen decidedly conscious of roaming the beach where I reflected light like a bright white beacon.

Conversely, I discovered that Filipinas generally hated darker skin, especially if it’s on them. This leads to a booming industry in the Philippines designed to sell every Filipina umbrellas, sun screen and skin whitening products. Many Pinays carry umbrellas on the most beautiful and sunny days and they all use some whitening product apparently designed to turn them into pasty white Jews. The products don’t work and I have had many discussions bordering on arguments, trying to convince Janet that I love her dark skin and to please don’t think it ought to be lighter. My arguments make no sense to her since “everyone knows that white skin is better!”

And in the Philippines she is right. Actresses and models all look nearly Caucasian, billboards are Photoshopped to remove any melanin from the color of the billboardee. Many of the girls I spoke to online were unabashed in expressing their excitement at the prospect of having a long-nosed, white, blue eyed baby – and apparently having it with me.

“I can provide the ultra white skin and long nose, but forget the blue eyes,” I told Janet. “Just because Paul Newman had them doesn’t mean the rest of us do.”

I’d see Janet staring incredulously through the screen. “Who?”

The point of all this is that just as we Americans are delighted yet mystified by Filipino culture, they are equally mystified by ours. Janet’s English is excellent but American conversational English is a different matter. She’s much too nice or at least too embarrassed to admit she doesn’t understand something.

“It’s dollars for donuts,” I told her recently.

“Are you going around the corner to get donuts?” she asked.

“No baby – not what I meant.”

“How many dollars for the donuts?”

“No, no. It’s just an expression.”

“Oh, I see. What does it mean?”

I hesitated and finally said, “I have no idea.”

“Well, the next time you go around the corner, I want one of the ones with cream inside.”

“Will do.”

Katy Perry Don’t Play Cribbage

Janet wants to learn an American card game and I am teaching her Cribbage. OK, Cribbage is English but we’re basically all Kanos.

We’re sitting at the coffee table in our living room. “Music,” she commands. I fire up the Apple TV which streams my iTunes library. I select Shuffle Mode. Now, I have about 6,000 songs in my library: 90% jazz and 10% old rock and pop from my misspent youth. I also have about 20 songs I downloaded for Janet. What are the odds that the first song that plays over the TV and music system is by Katy Perry?

At that moment my 18-year old son walks in, looks at his 61-year old father playing cards with his 26-year old wife, listening to Katy Perry. He musters all the cynicism his 18-year old psyche can generate, says, “Really?” and walks off.

Clearly I need to have a conversation with my son about what men will do for women.


Images from Bohol including Alona Beach, Chocolate Hills, the Bamboo Bridge, and Virgin Island.

Humorous, irreverent, occasionally informative look at a newly wedded Fil-Am couple

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