We Filipinos Are Mild Drinkers by Alejandro Roces

We Filipinos are mild drinkers. We drink for only three good reasons. We drink when we are very happy. We drink when we are very sad. And we drink for any other reason. When the Americans recaptured the Philippines, they built an air base a few miles from our barrio. Yankee soldiers became a very common sight. I met a lot of GIs and made many friends. I could not pronounce their names. I could not tell them apart. All Americans looked alike to me. They all looked white. One afternoon I was plowing our rice field with our carabao named Datu. I was barefooted and stripped to the waist. My pants that were made from abaca fibers and woven on homemade looms were rolled up to my knees. My bolo was at my side. An American soldier was walking on the highway. When he saw me, he headed toward me. I stopped plowing and waited for him. I noticed he was carrying a half-pint bottle of whiskey. Whiskey bottles seemed part of the American uniform. “Hello, my little brown brother,” he said, patting me on the head. “Hello, Joe,” I answered. All Americans are called Joe in the Philippines. “I am sorry, Jose,” I replied. “There are no bars in this barrio.” “Oh, hell! You know where I could buy more whiskey?” “Here, have a swig. You have been working hard,” he said, offering me his half-filled bottle.

Joe. “I said.” “Jungle juice. Don’t worry about that.” I replied. So let’s have some of that jungle juice. On my way here on a transport I got stoned on torpedo juice.” “I’ll like it all right. Joe. I have drunk everything —whiskey. vodka. “I not only drink a lot. sake. but I do not think you will like it. In New Guinea I got soused on Williams’ Shaving Lotion. but not whiskey. . champagne. rum. “It does half of my work. don’t you?” “I should.“No. I drank Chanel Number 5 when I was in France. I drink.” “You sure love that animal. but I drink anything. don’t you drink at all?” “Yes. When I was laid up in a hospital I pieeyed with medical alcohol. brandy.” “You know where I could buy some?” “I have some you can have. gin.” .” “Well. You ain’t kidding when you say I drink a lot. thank you.” I said.” “What the hell do you drink?” “I drink lambanog. eh?” “All right. .” He mentioned many more that I cannot spell. tequila. eh?” “I guess that is what the GIs call it. “We Filipinos are mild drinkers. “I will just take this carabao to the mud hole then we can go home and drink. .

” he replied. I unhitched Datu from the plow and led him to the mud hole. A carabao does not have any sweat glands except on the nose. Jose was cautiously looking around. I left Datu in the mud hole. I said. “Let us go.” . Joe was following me. “This place is full of coconut trees. Datu shook his head and his widespread horns scooped the muddy water on his back.” “What is it like?” “Oh. Datu lay in the mud and was going: Whooooosh! Whooooosh! Flies and other insects flew from his back and hovered in the air. it is tall and stately. It goes straight up to the sky like a skyscraper. A strange warm odor rose out of the muddle. It has to wallow in the mud or bathe in a river every three hours. He rolled over and was soon covered with slimy mud.“Why don’t you get two of them?” I didn’t answer. An expression of perfect contentment came into his eyes. Then he swished his tail and Joe and I had to move back from the mud hole to keep from getting splashed. “Don’t you have any coconut trees in America?” I asked.” And we proceeded toward my house. Otherwise it runs amok. It symbolizes America. “Back home we have the pine tree. “No. Then turning to Joe.” he said.

That is what the soldiers call it. looking around. “Philippine lemon. I took the bamboo ladder and leaned it against a tree.” I said. but then its leaves sway down the earth. took some rough salt and laid it on the foot high table. “Where?” he asked. chasers. as an insecticide and for . “Right there. “the coconut tree symbolizes the Philippines. It does not forget the soil that gave it life. Joe.” In a short while. Then I climbed the ladder and picked some calamansi.” “Oh. I went to the garden well and washed the mud from my legs. Then we went up a bamboo ladder to my hut. I unstrapped my bolo and hung it on the wall. as if remembering the land that gave it birth. “What’s that?” Joe asked. dipped a wick in the oil and lighted the wick. as counteractive for malaria chills.” I filled my pockets and then went down. “Please sit down. “We will need this for our drinks.” “That is right. pointing to the floor.” I answered.” I said. so I filled a coconut shell. Joe. It produced a flickering light. Joe sat down on the floor. I went to the kitchen and took the bamboo tube where I kept my lambanog.“Well. It has many uses. It starts up to the sky. We use it as a remedy for snake bites. It was getting dark. I sliced the calamansi in halves. we arrived in my nipa house.” I said. Lambanog is a drink extracted from the coconut tree with pulverized mangrove bark thrown in to prevent spontaneous combustion.

He looked as if he had swallowed a centipede. Nothing could chase her. Joe took his drink but reacted in a peculiar way. “Here’s to the end of the war!” “Here is to the end of the war!” I said. I don’t think even a coconut would have helped him.” He was panting hard and tears were rolling down his cheeks. what are you doing. “The first drink always affects me this way.” I said. He squirted it in his mouth. “throwing good liquor away?” “No. raising his shell. it went through the slits to the ground below. The calamansi did not help him. also lifting my shell.” “Well. His eyes popped out like a frog’s and his hand clutched his throat. “What is wrong. It became milky. Joe. Joe?” I asked. We were both seated on the floor.tanning carabao hide. . I poured some of my drink on the bamboo floor. I gulped my drink down.” he said. I gave him a slice of calamansi dipped in unrefined salt. But it was too late. “Nothing. I followed it with a slice of calamansi dipped in rough salt. I poured some lambanog on two polished coconut shells and gave one of the shells to Joe. I diluted my drink with some of Joe’s whiskey. “Hey.” he said. a chaser!” he said. “It is the custom here always to give back to the earth a little of what we have taken from the earth.” said Joe. “Quick.

I lifted my shell and said: “Here is to America!” I was trying to be a good host. Again I diluted my drink with Joe’s whiskey. “but this second one will be smooth. Then he looked down on his tie. He stared at the dead moth and said: “And they talk of DDT. His neck stretched out like a turtle’s. “I’m through.” he said. Joe?” I asked.” “No. He had unbuttoned his collar and loosened his tie. I gave his shell. this damned drink has loosened my bridgework. thanks. and said: “Oh. “Plenty.” I filled his shell for the second time.” .“Well. “Here’s to America!” Joe said.” As Joe exhaled. “It is what we came here for. threw it to one side. a moth flying around the flickering flame fell dead. Christ. And now he was panting like a carabao gone berserk. We both killed our drinks. for a while I thought it was my tongue. Joe again reacted in a funny way. “What is wrong. how about another drink?” I asked. the first drink always acts like a minesweeper. still trying to be a perfect host. He was grasping his tie with one hand.” I said. Joe took his shell but he did not seem very anxious.” After this he started to tinker with his teeth.” “Well. He was panting like a carabao gone amok. I noticed that he was beaded with perspiration.

I knew that the soldiers had to be back in their barracks at a certain time. goddam you.” I said.” I poured the juice in the shells and again diluted mine with whiskey. He lay on the floor flat as a starfish. So I decided to take Joe back. Just one more. He was in a class all by himself. Joe passed out. I could not see very clearly in the flickering light. They were glad to see him back. you! How about a can of beer before you go?” . He threw the remains of his drink on the nipa wall and yelled: “Blaze. I took my bolo from the house and strapped it on my waist. but I could have sworn I saw smoke coming out of his ears. I handed Joe his drink. We slung him on top of my carabao. His friends helped me to take him to his cot.” he said. “This stuff must be radioactive. Joe took some of his drink. The whole barrio was wondering what had happened to the big Amerikano.“OK. Everybody thanked me for taking him home. I tried to lift him. “Here’s to the Philippines. one of his buddies called me and said: “Hey. Then I proceeded to take him back. As I was leaving the barracks to go home. Here’s to the Philippines. I had to call four of my neighbors to help me carry Joe. After two hours I arrived at the airfield. I found out which barracks he belonged to and took him there. blaze!” Just as I was getting in the mood to drink. It was like lifting a carabao.” he said.

“I said.” .“No. thanks. “We Filipinos are mild drinkers.