One of the delightful features of the Chinese street market, not only for its communal and celebrative atmosphere (like the Garapan street market spectacle), is the abundance of fruits and vegetables at very reasonable prices.
In this teeming city of more than 4 million people (12 million in the county, and the city aiming to have 20 million 20 years hence), I was short of a few coins the last time I was out shopping on the street and the seller looked at me and said, "I see you around enough, you can give me the difference next time." Of course, I had to grab a student to translate the exchange, but I realized quickly I had joined and been accepted in the communal noosphere.
I am partial to vegetables and fruits, having grown up in the northern part of the Philippines where the backyard pork was reserved for the fiesta, the chicken in the yard for guests (children get the head, neck, gizzards, along with the rest of the innards), goat in the pen for the beerfest following a family celebration, and beef (carne norte) rarely appearing and vaguely remembered when they did. So green beans and yellow squash were the mainstay of the dining table, along with the bitter melon, petchay (Chines bok choi), and the ubiquitous saluyot.
The slimy saluyot is often identified with the okra for the similarity of taste, but it is actually an herb often dried to make tea. Known as malukhiyah in the Arab world, it is often identified as the Egyptian national dish, having been a favorite of the pharaohs.
It is actually a member of the jute family used as rope fiber, but the Yoruba, Hausa, and Fula of Nigeria (I picked up my malaria in a Lagos lagoon 30 years ago but now I am neighbor to Nigerian students at SAU) use it for stew and soup, or mixed with groundnut to make the kulikuli cake. I often wondered where we got the geographical name Kuli-Kuli, a notorious red district in Metro Manila that Ilocanos headed to when inebriated, and then I came upon the scientific name of the slimy saluyot, C. Olitorius. That figures!
This vegetable grows in Africa, the Arab world, India, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the Pacific islands, including the Marianas. Along with the amargozo/ampalaya, a vine on Saipan, they are abundant in the land. I had fun pointing out to my Chamorro friends of the rich vitamin and mineral nutritional virtues of both saluyot and ampalaya (bitter melon). SoCal Southeast Asian immigrants reportedly have a lower incidence of leukemia than the general population, attributable to these vegetables in their diet.
We have not exactly gone vegetarian but the price of meat in China is high, and the offerings that reaches the hoi polloi is hardly premium quality. If one dines at the five-star hotels, the blood that oozes off one’s rare beef steak might be fresh, but that is hardly a come-on to the likes of our Jamaican-in-Chinatown colleague hanging out in New York! Neither does it appeal to our taste, nor does it do any good to the size of our girth.
The plentiful fish and the shellfish in the area provide us our required protein, but the proximity to the Fukushima waters and the massive chemical effluents into the nearshore and river deltas make this option hardly to be excited about.
However, our physical health is not the point of this reflection. While local production, consumption, and supply of fruits and vegetables are important, the choices we make about our lives are eminently more critical.
In 2008, we were diagnosed with spondylosis, a cervical bone disorder, and after seeking and acquiring our own therapeutic relief other than going under the scalpel prescribed, we prepared to fade into a friend’s 10-acre farm on Saipan. We were to build a hut from proceeds of my Retirement Fund withdrawal to protect us from the weather; we bought a few handy aids like a bush cutter and power saw to trim the wild vines and trees. The tools flown in from NYC were quickly burglarized before they came out of their boxes.
Then we discovered a plot of cannabis growing in the yard. Meant to cover for the poor farmer’s uninsured baby delivery, it was understandable, but our public profile was not consistent with identifying with the produce. So we never got around to practice our permaculture (term for the grab bag mixture of disciplines including organic farming, agroforestry, integrated farming, sustainable development, and applied ecology) that we learned long ago in our quixotic efforts among the watersheds of the Visayas.
It is just as well. The dream farm not realizable and the refusal of PSS to take me back as a Social Studies teacher (eminently qualified to teach K-12, a sensible colleague candidly said, "We can get two entry level persons for what we have to pay you.") I chose to live the struggle of instructing Zhongguo students in the second language of their choice to maneuver in today’s global society.
This is where our signature slogan we expanded from Dag Hammarskjold Markings comes in. Comprehensive and profound as context: For yesterday, Thanks; for tomorrow, Yes; for today, Let it be!
Veggies and fruits are abundant in the CNMI, economically advantageous if we make it so. But we have to decide. That, and the quality of our inner and outer existence.