Consider this scene gentle reader. You have arrived for the first time in a foreign land, negotiated the vagaries of the taxi system through a blur of strange sights and smells and have finally found succor in your hotel. After an interesting meal of strange but tasty delights, you are resting from the day’s excursion when the plaintive cry of “balut” drifts up from the street below.
Who or what is a balut? Investigation reveals balut to be a local delicacy, which you are informed with a sly grin you cannot have said to have truly visited the Philippines without partaking of the wondrous properties of chicken embryo in the shell. And, if you’re quick you can catch the street seller before he rounds the corner.
Opportunities to shop come to you in the Pearl of the Orient, even at 9 o’clock in the evening. At any time of day itinerant street vendors will pass your door offering a wide assortment of wares designed to part you with your pesos. Rugs, bamboo blinds, foods of all descriptions. As write this I can hear the oft repeated 6 bars of the ice cream seller as he peddles down our street.
As you venture out and about, street vendors populate the street corners on the major thoroughfares selling all manner of goods from fruit and veg to personal electronics. In the popular shopping strips the stores themselves spill out onto the sidewalk and mingle with the street vendors. Where the stores stop and the street vendors begin is often a matter for conjecture.
As you enter or exit the train stations vendors are there. They catch a short ride on your bus to offer you and your fellow passengers’ snacks, drinks and trinkets. Your taxi or jeepney stops at traffic lights and street vendors walk down the aisles between the cars with chocolate, lollies, cigarettes and flowers.
As you approach a market, your anticipation of the bargains that await is titillated by an ever increasing number of side walk sellers. Those who cannot afford or missed out on market space set up on the streets surrounding them. The closer you get the less the chance of walking on the side walk, to proceed you must get out there with the wheeled traffic. It is wise to remember that the first price asked is an opening gambit, especially if you are a Kano.
Churches, cemeteries, political demonstrations, any place where two or three are likely to gather there will be street vendors. It might be very serious business that the crowd is intent upon, but they still have to eat. If they can afford to take off time from work there is a good chance they can afford a trinket or two.
Did I catch that balut seller on my first day here? I didn’t even try. Although I did hear about a Korean gentleman who ate a balut for a bet, he did insist on being blind folded before doing so.