Meet TUDING, one of the multitudes of street food vendors in Cebu City, Philippines.
(To better understand the following article, and for the uninitiated, uninformed, or plain curious, here are some words unique to Filipino culture:
Jeepney—a public means of transportation common in many places in the country.
It is an off-shoot of the very rugged diesel-engine army jeep of the Second World War, adapted and lavishly garnished by innovative Filipino entrepreneurs, and can seat passengers abreast, anywhere from twelve to maybe twenty-four or even more, depending on the length.
Balut—street food usually peddled by ambulant vendors. It is Mallard duck’s egg, interrupted in its gestation period, then cooked. It is considered not for the queasy-stomached because, after the delicious and somewhat salty amniotic fluid has been sipped off and the shell is broken, some of the still developing parts – wings, beak, and eyes – could be seen. Those that swear by its effects on increased strength and libido, even brag they do not have to eat it in the dark.
Penoy—street food that is similar to the balut, although obtained earlier in the embryonic stage, therefore more dry and ‘clean’. It is not as popular, though.)
Most of the things in this article, I gathered while riding in a ‘jeepney’, home from downtown Cebu City. I was the lone passenger for some time, when this woman boarded and sat beside me on my right. I felt sorry almost immediately for her – all haggard and sweaty and carrying obviously very heavy eggs on tray bundles with both hands. She soon transferred to the seat fronting me. Later, other passengers came in; among others were two matron-type ladies who occupied where she was before, on my right, and on my left, a young lady university student not in uniform, as it was the traditional “wash day” of schools.
(It is an attribute to the friendly character of the Cebuanos, especially the females of the specie, that anybody may talk openly about family, business, events, whatever—in this case, eggs—even to complete strangers. One needs only to have clean ears and an open heart, to discover gemstones of everyday life in the most familiar of settings.)
Quite expectedly, one of the matrons, her companion interspersing at times, asked about the eggs. The vendor dutifully replied to the questions, and an animated conversation developed naturally: the eggs were bought from Lapu-Lapu City, in Opon, Mactan, some twenty to twenty-five kilometers from Cebu City, because the price were 40 percent cheaper; she could bring only some ten kilograms herself, and her husband could carry twice as much, were he not presently contractually employed in a cottage furniture maker; the eggs were for the balut and penoy business they developed together to raise their 3 off-springs, now all young women, the eldest to graduate in two months and become an educator/teacher; it was them that do the cooking and other preparations of the eggs, to be sold on alternate turns by the father and mother, from 10:00 in the evening to two o’clock in the wee hours of the morning, where late-night crowds gather, most likely in Tisa or Punta Princesa , places close to their home.
When the matron-types unboarded in front of the Citilink Terminal for transportation to places much further south of the city, the lady-student picked up the conversation: the vendor and her husband both had very humble elementary school attainment; they had met when they both were under house employ of a kindly Filipino-Chinese family, sometimes engaged in running their businesses, receiving less than standard pay although with considerable non-wage benefits; they decided to quit and go on their own when they began their family.
Nearing the end of the trip, the lady-student had reached her place, and before I could clear my throat to talk to the vendor, so did she.
I made the effort to look again for the woman, knowing her place and time of business, firstly to ask questions of my own, and secondly to request permission to photograph her as standard practice for these write-ups. Unfortunately, her husband, who had at that time brought food and stock replenishment for her, was uncooperative and suspicious, almost belligerent, that I deemed it wise not to pursue. In fact, it was only when another vendor called the woman her name, that I learned it was TUDING.
Perhaps, there is no need for me to pry deeper into their private lives. Having met them, taking a glimpse of the past struggle they went through, and truly believing in their ultimate triumph over adversities, I feel already much blessed and thankful for the insight.