The Sounds of [Naga] Streets



It is not my waking hour but a voice wakes me up without fail at seven in the morning. It is the voice of the fish vendor – the pattern of announcing the merchandize unaltered. It is a recorded declaration of what he sells: Bangkulis (Skipjack tuna), Buraw (short mackerel). Within these enumerated names, some are dropped at times because of their unavailability. Always though this vendor never misses at the end of the short list his verbal coup de grace – “Tilapyang Buhi.”


To those in the know, in Bikol particularly, Tilapyang Buhi means the fish was raised in a pond contiguous to the lake or nurtured in Lake Buhi itself. This means that the tilapia is guaranteed to be succulent and sweet and not have the aftertaste of mud. That kind of tilapia must not come from other lakes or freshwater nearby that, for fear of a libel or being declared a persona non grata, will remain unidentified.


It is not only Tilapyang Buhi that benefits from a marvelous origin, there is also the “sinarapan” or “tabios,” the smallest edible fish in the world. When that fish was still in bountiful commercial supply, people with good, fastidious taste would only swear by the sinarapan from Buhi and Buhi alone. Any other body of water claiming they also had the fish suffered in dire comparison.


This Tilapyang Buhi is a phenomenon that should be commended. Think of clams from Maine, in the USA. The local government of Buhi should celebrate how its town has become a toponym, a label that when attached to a product endows the same with allure and power.


Tilapia (that is its original name) was developed from so-called artisanal fishing in Africa. But I doubt if any African state can ever lay their claim on Tilapyang Buhi, as it emanates from that recording every morning.


For all the variety of marine products in the country, we have not managed very well the positioning of our shrimps, lobsters or crabs. We used to produce the best shrimps until we began exporting them to Japan, or until Japan began buying all of them and selling them as their own. Lobsters, I found out, are still a hotly contested delicacy with the Australian saying the best is the Eastern Rock lobster. And there is Canada saying its waters produce the best-tasting kind.


Now, shouldn’t Sorsogon come forward with its claim that they have the best crabs?


Growing up in the 60s in this city, the most vociferous of itinerant vendors were those selling all kinds of breads. They were up early and they used their natural voice to shout “Napey.” No one sold “Tinapay” with all the three syllables articulated. The approach was to concentrate and create a mouth trumpet sound. Not from the guts for that would be too harsh. A high-pitched voice reached long distances; thus, the shortened “napey” or, with gusto, “napuey.” Not even the sleeping birds could ignore that early morning shrill.


There was no need for enumerating the kinds of bread being sold. The buyer, who was a “suki” would look into the box lined with manila paper and he knew what were there – pan de sal, and pan de coco. In the afternoon, other bread merchants would roam the streets of the city and they would sell “chakoy.” I found out that where I reside at present, the “chakoy” lives on and, like the fish, is now broadcast through recorded voice. The simple “chakoy” has also evolved into multiple flavors – cheese, chocolate and godknowswhat!


The man who buys your empty bottles is presently the only one whose voice is not mediated by technologies. He remains the real thing, a remnant of those days when a scream or shout was certain to have been produced by a human being. Even the garbage collectors and the trucks they drive have been won over by technology: their arrival is preceded by loud music, a sign that in our cultures, noises that insist into our existence are the most powerful harbingers of reality. These are sounds that require no permission and are not ruled over by any kind of law.


In the greatly industrial society like that of Japan, one of the most wonderful and mysterious songs that greeted me the first time I was there as a student in the late 70s was an old man selling kamote (In Tokyo, there is kamote?) This was the old vendor’s song:


yaki-imo, yaki-imo

Yakitate no atsu atsu

Sweet potatoes, baked potatoes

Freshly baked and piping hot


Believe me, I am not complaining of these sounds. I am only amused by them as they guide me in the movement of hours in a day. These vibrations in the air are heavenly until the cacophony blaring out names of political candidates begins to fill up, pollute, and damage our air not with their loudness but with their inveterate lies.