Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 3(a)

A Philippine Valet. The Three Days Chinese New Year. Marionettes and Minstrels at Manila. Yankee Skippers.

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Chapter 3

February 16th.

News to begin with. I have engaged a Philippine valet, price $4.50 per month; a man with a wife, two children, and a fighting-cock, who buys all his better half's pink calico gowns and all the food for the large party on this large salary. It is a wonder what revolutions have taken place in my wardrobe. My heavy clothes, already grown musty from disuse, have been taken out, sun-dried, and laid carefully away. I no longer have to decide what to wear each morning, for it is settled for me beforehand. Everything that my "boy" wishes me to don is laid out on a chair during my early pilgrimage to the bath, and all that is necessary to do on my return is to get into them. It is quite a luxury, and I shall certainly be inclined to bring this cheap gentleman back with me when I return to Boston. My neckties, which have hitherto snarled themselves up in the corner of a drawer, now are hanging from a neat clothes-line, side by side. My books and papers on the centre table are arranged with unnatural formality, and the smaller articles, such as lead-pencils, buttons, pin-cushions, are all adjusted in definite geometrical formation. At breakfast and dinner in the club-house I no longer have to whistle to be waited on, for my slave is always behind the chair, ready to spill the soup on my coat or pass the plum-pudding. These serving-boys all belong to the Tagalog race, which seems to include in its numbers most of the native inhabitants in Manila and the adjacent towns. They all have straight, thick black hair, speak their peculiar Tagalog language, and only pick up enough Spanish to carry them through the performance of their simple duties.

And still the holidays, more or less, continue About this time of year there is one a week, and just now the Chinese New Year occupies about three days. The business part of the town is quiet. All the Chinese merchants have driven off on a picnic, and it is impossible to hire carriages of any sort.

Manila, on the whole, is waking up , and besides the opera we now have the marionette troupe, something entirely new to the average citizen. It seems there are four sisters travelling around the world with their little collection of string-pulled puppets, giving exhibitions in all the larger centres. Their fame had preceded them, and so the other night when the doors of the Teatro Filipino were thrown open, a huge crowd assembled to see the performance. The stage was a fairly large one, but so arranged optically that it made the figures appear larger than they really were. The actors ( puppets) were remarkable for their lifelikeness, and if one had not sees the strings stretching upward he would have taken them to be animate beings. Their costumes were complete and elaborate in every particular. First came a tight-rope walker, then an acrobat balancing a pair of chairs and then Old Mother Hubbard, out of whose voluminous petticoats jumped half a dozen little men and women, all of whom danced and cut up as if they were really reasoning bipeds instead of material, loose-jointed, wax-faced dolls. Old Mamma was especially good, and as she stirred up her little children with a long staff, looked at first this one and then that, shook her head, pointed her fingers, and danced with the others, she brought down the house with applause.

Later on came a minstrel troupe, with two end-men, a leader who waved a baton, a harpist, and two other musicians. They all played, and the end-men cracked jokes. Next came a clog-dance between two darkies, and it was difficult to believe that they were not alive. Further on came a bulldog, which grabbed a policeman by the nether breeches and pulled a huge piece out of them; a bull, who chased a farmer and threw him over a rail fence( this took wonderfully well, for the Spaniards go crazy over anything with a bull in it); then a boarding-house scene, with a folding-bed that shut up its occupants inside; next, a balloon ascension, in which a man on the ground was suddenly caught up into the air by an anchor thrown out from the balloon; then the death of the two aeronauts, who fall from a dizzy height; next, a ride in a donkey-cart by two lovers, who find themselves run away with and get snarled up on a wagon, to be kicked black and blue by the donkey. Finally came a very complete little play of "Bluebeard," with complete scenery, costumes, and ballet. All of the scenery was of the lightning-change sort, and the Spaniards, mestizos, and natives in the audience sat and looked on with open-mouthed wonder, to astonished to laugh, too senseless to cry, and able but to clothe their faces with expressions of wonder.

To change the subject rather abruptly, the captain of the Esmeralda, the little steamer on which I came from Hong Kong, has been good enough to ask me on board his vessel to tiffin as often as she comes into port. As Captain Tayler's table is noted both for its excellence and profusion, the very few of us who comprise the American colony, as well as all the Englishmen in town, always covet an invitation to spend Sunday in his company and enjoy various dishes that are not to be procured in Manila markets.

Besides the several steamers that ply between ports on the neighboring coast, there is now a large fleet of American ships at anchor in the bay, and our office, which shelters the only American firm in the Philippines, is a great centre for the various Yankee. nasal-twanged skippers, who, dressed in hot looking, ready-made tweeds, come ashore without their collars to ask questions about home topics and read newspapers six weeks old. They delight to enjoy the sea breezes generated by our big punka, and only leave the office on matters of urgent necessity. Several of the captains have their whole families with them, and one, who is especially well-to-do, owns his own ship, caries along a bright tutor, who is preparing some of the skippers's sons for college, and has transformed the vessel into a veritable institution of learning. On nearly every evening the whole fleet in a body go to someone ship, sing songs and have refreshments, and the other night Governor Robie was the host. Being invited to partake of the activities, we two Yankees went off into the bay at about sunset, ate a regulation New England dinner, with rather too much weight to it for hot climates, and met all the belles of the fleet. The moon overhead was full, and with a good piano, violin, hand-organ, and a couple of acarinas, giving vent to sweet sounds, we had an impromptu dance on the quarter-deck. We stayed out on the ship of our host and hostess all night. They apologized because the bunks in the state-rooms assigned to us were so hard, little realizing that we couldn't sleep worth a continental on account of their being so ridiculously soft after our Philippine cane arrangements.

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