Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mucking Around Manila

Jericho took me out one sunny Sunday, as we were both hankering for some vegetarian chow. I also sorely needed to get back to my Naturopathic doctor in Ongpin for a long overdue checkup as well, and he was curious about what the heck a naturopath was and how drinking all that disgusting tea has kept my hypothyroid at bay. He wanted to get checked up, too, so we decided to make a day of it.

After picking me up, we headed for the Manila Adventist's Medical Center for lunch. I know! How weird is it to choose to have lunch at a hospital? Known only to a few omnivores and popular among the local herbivores, the Manila Adventist's Medical Center (formerly Manila Sanitarium) has been home to one of the most affordable vegetarian restaurants around, Healthy Bites Vegetarian Restaurant.

More like a cross between a college lunch room and a hospital cafeteria, walking into the place always gets you a bit excited to see what marvelous things they've whipped up that day using veggie meat. Yes, veggie meat. The set meal of a cup of rice, a choice of vegetable entrée, and a Veggie Meat Meal (P75) is pretty affordable, and the place is also well stocked with Soy Milk (P20) and Jericho's favorite chilled Taho (P25).

I had veggie meat with peas and kare-kareng gulay with a bottle of soy milk and the chilled taho with lots of arnibal syrup for dessert.

Jericho had a veggie meat steak with what I think was chopsuey. I'm not sure, since it disappeared down his gullet pretty fast. That shiz was good!

Before leaving, I stocked up on Veggie Meat (P120 - P150 a tin) as well as Cheese Rolls (P25), which I ended up giving away to friends to try (and so they'd stop giving me that weird look for voluntarily eating at a hospital cafeteria). As for the rest of the cheese rolls, I think Jericho had his slyly squirreled away his own stash. Hmf.

Happily stuffed with soy, we headed for Ongpin to visit Dr. Tan Ci Shou, another Manila secret and one of the best Naturopathic doctors this side of the China Sea. Dr. Tan practices traditional Chinese medicine, which involves unorthodox methods to the Western eye - feeling your pulse, checking your tongue, and asking you a few questions during the examination whilst looking incredibly disinterested with your condition. Oh, he also has a thing about mobile phones. The only way I can best describe it is that he's trained to read your Kirlian aura, and the mobile signals seem to interfere with that, which pisses him off. Don't even pretend you didn't read all the signs that say, "Please turn off your cellphone" and leave it on silent mode 'coz he knows it's still on and he won't see a patient until the stubborn idiot who thinks he can get away with it learns to follow instructions. "Ay, nakalimutan ko! Naka-silent lang pala." ("Oh, I totally forgot I left my phone on silent mode.") Try pulling that shit on him and he, along with the horde of patients at the make-shift clinic, will unceremoniously escort you out by way of Tagalog and Cantonese cursing.

But if you want a second opinion, or have a disease that's taking too long to cure, or whose drugs are detrimental to your health, I strongly recommend him. He's the guy doctors at St. Lukes recommend when they don't know what to do with you anymore. He's the guy the owner of St. Lukes goes to, as well as Mayor Lim and a few other politicians and celebrities. In fact, I was recommended to him by a politician's daughter whose mom regularly goes there, too. I had a really bad hypothyroid  when I was constantly stressed working at Groupon Philippines (I think my neck ballooned to that of John Cena's at one point) and he made it behave in five days by making me drink disgusting tea. Disgusting, but super effective. What's that old Chinese proverb about yucky tea?

We parked near Binondo Church and walked to the Fu-Yong Mansion. I had warned J of turning his phone off beforehand, so he was set. The clinic wasn't as packed as it is during the rest of the week, as there were only a couple of people before us. Dr. Tan's son who also practices traditional Chinese medicine came in, and I ended up getting a consult from him. The last time I was there it was his sister who saw me (yes, they are all schooled in traditional Chinese medicine), and after handing him my old prescription of unintelligible Chinese characters, he proceeded to scribble down a new one for me which I think consists of all the same stinky herbs. He was pretty happy I take my medicine in tea form, because it goes straight to your bloodstream and does its magic right away.

Jericho was next, and since it was his first time there and his comprehension for Chinese Tagalog wasn't so good, one of the interpreters had to help him translate the good doctor's Tagalog into real Tagalog. Haha! The younger Dr. Tan proceeded to feel J's pulse, asking him his usual questions, "Ilang taon na ikaw? Ikaw ba ay malakas inom alak? Patingin ng dila mo. Ano pakilamdam mo?" (How old are you? Do you drink a lot of alcohol? Let me see your tongue. What are you feeling?) He had been suffering from an annoying cough and a case of the sniffles, both obstinate to go away after a round of Solmux and her American counterpart, Mucinex. Turns out he has a weak liver, which he should be wary of, as well as weak lungs, which are connected to his sinus, which explains the cough-and-cold double team... or something to that extent. "Ikaw pili tableta o laga?" J chose taking tablets. He knew what he'd be in for if he'd chosen the tea.

The younger Dr. Tan scribbled down his prescription in unintelligible Cantonese and handed J a few pieces of paper on food he can't eat. After saying thank you and paying the P400 consultation fee, we made our way to Ching Tay Chinese Drugstore, the Hogwarts' potion class supplier around the corner. The little Chinese "pharmacy" is a hodge-podge of dried roots, flowers, stems, mushrooms, bark and what have you, all stuffed away in dusty little boxes and glass shelves. I showed J the fierce little Chinese grandma that runs the place, kicking it old school with her abacus and shouting orders at her staff. My prescription was its usual P500 for a five-day supply of tea taken twice a day. Not bad, especially if you think of the more costly alternative. And with this being all tea, the only side effect I have to worry about is going to the bathroom a lot. J's 4-day supply of tablets were a mere P300, and his coughing and sniffling went away soon after.

We finished at around 4pm, and even though we were still pretty stuffed from the vegetarian lunch, J had wanted to try Manila's secret No. 3: Tasty Dumplings. Popular for their fried pork chops and noodles, Tasty Dumplings has always been one of my favorite places to go to when I find myself in Ongpin.

We ordered Silver Roll Bread (P48), a cua pao loaf fried to a golden brown on the outside whilst remaining white and soft on the inside, and split an order of Pork Chop with Noodles (105) - a thin pork chop the size of your plate, coated in breadcrumbs and fried a crispy gold - perfect for dipping in their special patis.

The noodles I always find to be great for sharing, as the bowls are so big, I could never finish it off on my own no matter how hard I try. J washed his gluttony down with a Winter Melon Juice (P45), which was too sweet for my taste, so I had my usual order of Dalanghita Juice (P45).

Before leaving, we snuck into the neighboring Eng Bee Tin and took home assorted flavors of hopia, almond cakes and my favorite sesame covered logs of air called ampao. Going around Man-illa, the ramshackle cityscape aside, I love how the old city retains its old charms. Walking around and discovering all these special little holes-in-the-wall makes places like Makati and Bonifacio Global City sound so droll (although staying in Makati or BGC is probably a lot safer).

Manila has damn character! She's that painted whore you partied and snorted coke with back in the 70s, whose beauty - although a bit worse for wear - is still rather beautiful. She isn't pretentious, quite rough around the edges, and at times rather dangerous, which is part of her appeal when this little voice in your head whispers, "You can change her." I think we'll turn these little excursions into a monthly trip. Going to see Dr. Tan is a great excuse to see more of the city, as well eat and drink more of my love for Man-illa.

Healthy Bites
Inside Manila Adventists Medical Center,
45 Donada St, 1st floor, Pasay City

Dr. Tan Ci Shou
2nd Floor 912 Fu-Yong Mansion,
Ongpin St., Binondo Manila

Tasty Dumplings
620 Ongpin St.,
Binondo, Manila