12 January 2012

Credit Cards and the Sinaing na Tulingan

When I visited the United States early in the previous decade, I hoped to be able to take as many pictures as I could. It was, after all, my first – and so far my only – visit State-side. I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of pictures to show friends and family when I got back home.

There was a bit of a problem, though. I did not have a camera. Since I was going to the States, anyway, it made sense to purchase a camera there. Taxes do rather tend to inflate prices this side of the Pacific.

What I really wanted to get my hands on was a digital camera. These were just starting to appear in the local market and were prohibitively expensive for a school employee like I was.

We had one in the office: a 1.2 megapixel Kodak point-and-shoot that was state-of-the art then but is a certifiable dinosaur these days. I mean, even my cell phone camera now is 8 megapixels.

I was certain when I flew off to the States that I would be able to buy probably a lower class camera which – I was sure – would also probably be reasonably cheaper than the models available here in the country. How was I to know, though, that the place where I was to stay was right out there in the boondocks?

I landed in San Francisco but had to drive out to this suburban residential community called Moraga that was picturesque enough; only their malls were nothing like ours and even their stores were friendly little community shops that did not sell unheard of things like digital cameras.

So, I had to settle for what was then still very much the conventional camera.

I found a small and handy Nikon to my liking with a 6x zoom capability and took it to the cashier. Being a right proper tourist, I had several hundred dollar bills in my wallet. I can’t recall the exact price. What I do remember is that I handed the cashier two or three hundred dollar bills.

To my utter surprise, her eyes widened and she whistled under her breath. At that time, whilst I noted her reaction, I didn’t really understand what could have been so extraordinary about seeing hundred dollar notes.

Later, when I walked out the store with my companion, he explained to me that according to one of our hosts, the usual way Americans did transactions was by plastic; i.e. credit card. In fact, he went on, most Americans – or, at least, those in the area – went around with small denominations in their wallets for buying things that were too petty to buy with their cards.

My companion went on to explain that that was how average Americans went on with their lives. They purchased things with their cards and then worked their buns off to be able to pay their bills on time and maintain good credit ratings with the card companies. It was all about paying on time.

Those days, though, I didn’t have a credit card. I was very much a citizen of the cash society; and I preferred to maintain my personal discipline and be able to manage my own monies.

I did eventually get myself a card; albeit I pay cash as much as I can. I only ever use my card for emergencies – such as when I really need to get something but I don’t have enough cash with me – or for buying things like appliances. While I like paying in cash, I personally don’t carry a lot of it in my person. You just never know in the society that we live in.

Lately, though, the supermarkets have started to make debit card charging available for customers; and yes, even here in Lipa. For groceries, I rather prefer the debit system since I don’t have to pay interests.

At any rate, whether debit or credit, I have started to appreciate – albeit belatedly – the plastic society that the Americans subscribed to when I went over there to visit. It’s convenient, for starters; and probably safer as well.

All this reminiscing was triggered by a totally unplanned trip to the public market early this morning. I hadn’t been there for the longest time!

For some reason I can’t myself explain, I have been craving for some sinaing na tulingan. You know, the sort flattened and then boiled for hours on end in a large palayok. Excellent with fried rice and eggs sunny-side-up; or even fried again in the manner of the classic pinarusahang isdâ. You don’t get this in the supermarket.

I was already in the wet market asking where I could find the maglalakô – and each person I asked gave different directions – when I decided to check my wallet for how much cash I carried with me. I had cash but these were thousand peso bills from the ATM. It would have been embarrassing to pay the nanay who sold the sinaing with a thousand peso bill.

If I am in the supermarket, even if I don’t have any cash with me, the only thing I only ever need to worry about is if my banks are online. I didn’t think the magtutulingan would find it funny if I tried to pay with a credit card.

In the end, the dilemma resolved itself. When it was evident that I was going around in circles, and that everyone who I asked directions from was as clueless as I was, I turned to one grey-haired and wrinkled nanay to ask. When all else fails, ask the nanay.

“Naku,” nanay began. “The woman who sells those can be found in the night market; but she only arrives in the afternoon.” So, that explained it. Small wonder I couldn’t find her. In the old days, to buy the sinaing, I had to be in the market before 10 in the morning because these sold like pancakes.

I ended up at the supermarket, after all; and there, I could naturally use my cards. Except that I am still craving for the sinaing na tulingan

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