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

Cigars and Cheroots. Servants. Cool Mountain Breezes. House Snakes. Cost of Living. Holy Week.

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Manila's best cigar, made of a special, selected tobacco, wrapped in the neatest of silver foil and packed in rosewood boxes tied with Spanish ribbon, cost about five cents and is considered a rare delicacy One scarcely ever sees these cigars, the "Incomparables," outside the city itself, and the brand is so choice that but few smokers are acquainted with it. The foreigner in Manila thinks he is paying dear for his weed at $20 per thousand, and some of our professional smokers limit themselves to those favorite "bouquets" which correspond to our "two-for-a-quarter" variety but seel here for $1.80 a hundred. Below this upper grades come a various assortment of cheaper varieties, including the cheroots, big at one end and small at the other, and the $3-a -thousand cigars which are made of the first thing that comes handy, to be sold to the crews of deep-water merchantmen. A native of the Philippines wants his cigarette, and gets it. Packages of thirty are sold on almost every corner for a couple of coppers, and to my mind the Manila cigarette is far superior to the variety found in Cuba. Smoking is, of course, encouraged by prices such as these, and one finds it perfectly good form to borrow a cigarette, as well as light, from his neighbor in the tram-car or on the plaza. Even on the toll-bridge which spans the Pasig you pay your copper for crossing, and get in charge a box of matches; and if you are queer enough not to want the matches, the man will give you instead a ticket that avails for the return trip.

Sunday I left my room at the club and moved into our new house out in the suburb of Santa Mesa. It is just a week now since the Chinese cook came and began to christen the pots and saucepans, whose Spanish names I shall never get to remember. He began by rendering me a small account of the "extras" provided for our table, and I was floored the first thing on an item of five cents put down as "Hongos." I asked him what that was . He spluttered around in Spanish and looked about the room to see if he couldn't find a few growing in one of our pictures of still life on the walls. At length, being struck with an inspiration, he seized a small fan, excitedly struck it into one of our flower-pots, balanced on top of it an inverted ash-tray, and danced around, pointing first to the item on the bill and then to the peculiar growth in the flower-pot. I confess I didn't follow his reasoning, till suddenly it struck me that for our first dinner in the new house we had partaken of mushrooms. Not far off from an ash-tray balanced on a Japanese fan growing out of a flower-pot--are they? The style of decoration in our house is especially Japanese, and, needless to say, artistic, since there are large Japanese and Indian shops in Manila, where one can get all sorts of gimcracks at low prices. Our servants number seven, a small quota for two of us. Although their wages are small, amounting, as a rule, to $4 apiece per month, yet it is necessary to have plenty of them, in order that a certain few shall be awake when wanted.

The fresh breeze, which in the evenings and early mornings blows down direct from the lofty mountains, is so cool that often several blankets have been necessary in the sleeping contrivance. Mosquitoes are still conspicuous by their absence, but the rats up in the roof sound tremendously numerous. All night they seem to be pulling boxes to and fro, taking up boards and nailing them down, and having a general all-hands-round sort of a dance.

Nearly all of the older bungalows in Manila possess what are called house-snakes; huge reptiles generally about twelve or fourteen feet long and as thick as a fire-engine hose, that permanently reside up in the roof and live on rats. These big creatures are harmless, and rarely, if ever, leave their abodes. Judging from the noise over my cloth ceiling, a pair of this pets find pasturage up above, and I can hear them whacking around about once a week in their chase after rats. They are good though noisy rat-catchers, but since they must needs eat all they can catch, their efficiency appears to be limited to their length of stomach, and one night of energetic campaign is generally followed by several days of rest, during which the snake sees if he has bitten off more than he can chew. If the Philippine cats were more noble specimens of the quadruped, I should try to place half a dozen up in this midnight concert-hall, but they are so feeble that I fear their lives would be in danger. It is hardly to be wondered at that these native cats are modestly retiring, when you wake at night to hear your shoes being dragged off across the floor by some huge rice-fed rodent, and I don't blame them at all for having right angles at the end of their tails.

The only way to get rid of the rats is to buy more snakes, and this is simple enough, for you often see the natives hawking them around in town, the boas curled up around bamboo poles, to which their heads are tied.

Some of our other domestic pets are lizards, supposed to be about four feet long, who sing every evening at 8.30 p.m., from somewhere off down in the shrubbery; several roving turkeys and pigs that belong to the boys that serve us, a cluster of fighting cocks, and a family of puppies. It is easy to be seen that our establishment is thus somewhat of a tropical menagerie, and a performance is almost always going on in some quarter or other.

I have just completed the purchase of a horse and carriage complete, including the coachman, for $100, and on the first trial we passed everything on the road. The pony is a high-stepper, and rattled along over the ground at a terrific speed, as a good Philippine animal should. The coachman seems to know how to drive, which is rare attainment among the natives and so far, though he has run over two boys, he has not taken off any wheels in the car-tracks.

They say it cost a good deal to live well out this way, but that is a mistake, and if one lived at home in the same style the bills would be at least ten times as large. To be sure, it would be possible to come to Manila, board with a Spanish family in the old city, avoid joining the club, and live almost for nothing. However, this is a custom not much encouraged in the Orient, and one cannot properly take his place among the colony of English and other Europeans without spending a certain reasonable amount.

Business is done more on a social scale than at home, and lowest English clerk in the large houses feels that he must enter into the free and easy expenditure of his better-paid chief. After office hours are over everyone stands on the same social plane, and all business talk is tabooed. The office-boy often calls his lord and master "Bill," and frequently has a better-looking horse and carriage.

The U.S.S. Concord has just come into the bay and been saluted by the fort. Some of her officers will probably come ashore to breakfast at the club, and it will probably devolve on the four Americans in the city to do what is needful in the way of courtesy to our fellow-countrymen.

Today is the beginning of Easter Week, nearly all of whose days are holidays or holy days. This is one of the closest-observed seasons of the year, and on next Thursday and Friday, if you will believe it , no carriages are allowed to appear in the streets either of Manila or of the cities. The tram-cars, to be sure, have of late years been allowed to run, and the doctor's carriage and the ice-carts can obtain permits. Beyond them, however, everybody has to stay at home or walk; and in former times tram-cars were forbidden and no one was allowed to carry an open umbrella. It seems the proper thing to do to make arrangements with some of the English colony to take a trip off into the mountains, and my chum and I expect to start off by launch on Wednesday afternoon. Our party will consist of five not including half a dozen servants, who are to make arrangements for bringing the provisions and bedding.

On my return I hope to have some fodder for my pen and relate some of our experiences in the up-country districts.

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