This is real, and it makes your heart cry and crave for more of the kangkong in the world.
In my exile in these parts, there have been only a few times that I have seen kangkong.
How do they call this green and leafy thing here?
Water cabbage patch, patch water cabbage, or water cabbage, I am not sure now.
But two nights ago when I came home from work, I wanted to grab some water from the fridge.
Dull work sometimes makes you so damn thirsty, with your throat parched and asking for a smooth liquid like water, cold and refreshing and reminding you of great summer joys after you were done with your summer games in the rice and corn and wild kangkong fields.
Yes, you had those wild kangkong, the Ilocano kangkong variety, in the fields during the summer months.
They just grew there, nature-given.
We would gather them day-in and day-out.
That was memory--and it is living, alive, kicking.
The waste bin was just close by, tall and immaculate in its plastic garb.
And then something caught my eye.
Kangkong, the remains of a bundle of kangkong.
Literally remains, leafless, and just the stalk, long and Melanie Marquez-like (pardon the innuendo here) but promising food and edibleness the way we perceive things in the Ilocos, hunger or no hunger.
I accosted the perpretrator of the crime, the one who got only the topmost portion and threw away the rest. You son of a kangkong, how dare you do that? The Ilocanos do not throw anything, mind you.
Any food is with grace, spirit, energy, blessing.
They call that the ugaw.
If you throw away food, the ugaw will run away.
And if the ugaw will not come back, then that is it: you will have to suffer the consequences: hunger, not-so-grace-filled life, and more hunger.
And that famous eerie sound of the stomach wishing for a morsel of bread.
Each time--and it will never go away, not any longer.
And so there is a threat in there.
Forget the ecologists and conservationists, courtesy of the consumerist society of the capitalist world where waste is a virtue.
We did it first, we earthy people in the North of the country, this conservation thing.
And the ugaw concept is one core of this native world view.
So if you grew up in the Ilocos, you get to be more careful with food, any food, cholesterol or no cholesterol.
The cholesterol thing is a wild invention of science, western and capitalist, pharmaceutically hostaged and drug addicted.
So no one cares about all these drug things for the cholesterol.
In fact, the Ilocanos are probably the most protein deprived Filipinos because they eat grass instead of meat.
The reason is simple: there is not much meat to go around with while there are wild plants in the rocky parts, in the small forests, in the meadows, in the prairies, in the savanas, in the deltas, in the mountain fastnesses, in the fields, in the rivers in the brooks, in the seas.
So there, that 'long-legged' kangkong came to view and seduced me.
Readily, summers in the Ilocos flashed in my mind.
The last time I went to visit the old country, I had been dreaming of adobong kangkong.
I never remembered to ask the missus to cook it.
I only asked the mongo soup with lots of ampalaya leaves we bought from the streets of Quiapo when we went to the famous church to pray.
The 'long-legged' kangkong was whispering to me--now I am schizophrenic about kangkong and I know it, I admit it!--Come on, come on, pick me up!
I grabbed the bundle right away, right from the waste bin, hoping that wala pang three minutes and that germs had not set in.
The retrieval process was not even a process, if you mean being time-bound, long and arduous and tedious in some sort of way.
Swift it was, and so swift it was over in one full sweep, as if I was the professional snatcher in Cubao or in Commonwealth or in Paris or in Rome.
I rushed to the sink.
I got a basin and put it on the sink.
I opened the water, the cold one, the blue one, the right faucet and allowed the Los Angeles waters from the mountains of Colorado to run through the 'long-legged' kangkong.
Thrice I had to change the water and repeat the water cleaning process.
So there, I have my culinary victim, this adobo.
I planned the cooking.
Tomorrow, I will have you.
And I went to sleep afterwards.
And dreamed about adobong kangkong.
In the morning, after I had lighted the vigil candle and offered a bowl of fresh water to the Lord of all that which is possible, I went to that greatest work I have ever done as an exile: to cook the adobong kangkong the old fashioned way, the way folks in the Ilocos had done, the way I remembered how, the way it smelled how.
And the kangkong was a killer of a delight with the toyo and the Ilocano garlic some friends from the Ilocos gave as a pasalubong.
I congratulated myself for having become the greatest kangkong killer expert in immigrant land.
I ate with delight, the newly cooked rice infront of me, the kangkong still kangkong but promising satiation.
I ate with my hands so I could touch the kangkong, feel each stalk, and feel the grains of the newly cooked rice.
There is life to be celebrated in a faraway land, I suppose.
A. S. Agcaoili
May 26, 2006