While sitting in a Filipino mans scorching hot kitchen singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” on a karaoke machine underneath a ceiling made from an old Coca-Cola sign after being offered homemade pills, it dawned on me that I could not have scripted a more unique set of circumstances.
Let me explain how I got into this situation. Sonny is a Filipino man who I had met about an hour earlier through a common friend, Elmas. Sonny asked me and the other American with me, Kyle, to come to his house for coffee and stay about an hour. I do not drink coffee, but I know it is rude to turn down an offer so we accepted.
We walked through the front door and immediately were ushered into the kitchen. The ceiling was pieced together from bits of an old Coca-Cola sign and scrap lumber. About a half-dozen empty medicine bottles laid on their side and the centerpiece of the kitchen was the television/karaoke machine.
Before we could even sit down, Sonny had turned on the karaoke machine and handed me the book of songs to pick from. Now I enjoy singing, but usually within the confines of my truck as I am cruising down the highway. Turning down the offer would have insulted him, so I choose a song and began to sing.
Filipinos take their karaoke singing seriously. There are nationwide contests for the best karaoke singer. Since it was just a group of friends, I thought this would be more casual, so I sang like you would if you were goofing off with friends. In a matter of seconds, the Filipinos in the room were all laughing at me. Sonny’s 7 year old son gave me thumbs down as the song ended.
Next, it was Sonny’s turn. Before his song began, he took a special rag out of a protective case to place over the microphone. He wasn’t playing games. This was hardcore!
Let me pause for a minute. Filipinos love to sing karaoke. The problem is that they only like to sing one type of song. Want to take a guess at what that might be?
So in a room full of five men, the love ballads began. As Sonny sang his ballad, I noticed the background video of the television. For a love song you would expect ocean water or something soothing. Well what was playing was part of the ocean, but not what you would expect. It was a killer whale EATING a seal! What better way to tell someone you love them than by watching a killer whale eat supper? Not only was it eating one, it was throwing other seals in the air and then catching them in its mouth. And yes it showed every gruesome detail.
As that song concluded, Elmas eagerly awaited his turn to sing. What do you think his song choice was? Yes, another ballad. But this time the background video was painted bikini models lying in a field surrounded by sheep. Yes you read that correctly. Women with bikinis painted on them were lying in a grass field while sheep nibbled at them was the background video for this love ballad. No matter what I try to describe, there is no way to convey what all happened at this house.
Oh but it gets even better. After two hours of singing songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” while watching an NBA dunk contest as the background, Sonny pulls a bottle from a dark cabinet and offers us pills that he makes in his home. While I am normally leery about these kinds of things, I had started to trust Sonny. Just minutes earlier his wife had served us pancakes as a snack to munch on while singing. For those taking notes, pancakes equal trust.
We accepted the pills. Turns out they were some herbal supplement or so he said, but this was the first time and hopefully only time I will take homemade pills from a random man while singing karaoke in his kitchen.
Dinner time. By this point in the evening, they could have paraded a camel through the kitchen and it would not have phased me a bit.
The table had a laminate cover decorated with the most logical of designs: screen prints of bottles of Absolut Vodka.
As the main bowl was lowered to the table and I caught my first glance, I was relieved to see that it was only blood-red chicken wings. An additional plate full of small fish cooked whole with scales and all soon followed. My guess is they were anchovies, but I honestly don’t know nor did I eat them.
Time and experience have taught me to always be leery about food in other countries. If you get enough parasites and eat enough food that is smiling back at you, you would do the same. Regardless, I took a chance and bit into the chicken, luckily it was cooked and the red color was simply some sort of local flavoring.
After dinner, we returned to singing at even louder volumes that could have been heard back in Texas. Close to four hours after we had arrived, we said goodbye to Sonny, the seemingly endless supply of Coca-Cola, the bowl (yes bowl) of ice, and all the karaoke we wanted.