was first introduced to "tagay" during a visit to Salaza
(Palauig, Zambales) in 1996. The practice is done at dusk, almost
daily, when the menfolk come home from the fields. I didn't quite
know how to act when I was invited to join a group of drinking
buddies in front of the barangay's main sari-sari store. While the
womenfolk gathered around the fish vendors across the main road,
the men gathered around a "dulang" that held a bottle of
gin. A single rock glass is filled the equivalent of a shot,
straight up (no ice cubes), and passed around the "dulang"
for each man to drink his turn. I half-expected someone to produce
a bottle of the familiar vermouth, some olives, onions, or lemon
twist to go with the gin. No such luck. In Western parlance, the
drink, straight from the unrefrigerated bottle, was gin martini,
straight up and very dry. To the seasoned natives, the drink is
considered macho because it lacked diluting elements and
garnishments. Screwdrivers (with orange juice), or salty dogs
(with grapefruit juice and salt around the glass rim) are for
sissies, if you hear these guys talk. A pitcher of water was
available as chaser, but I didn't see anyone use it.
sat down with these men and braced myself for a very long night,
not exactly knowing what I was getting into. I had first crack the
rotating drinking glass since I was "guest of honor." In
hindsight, I think I was given that honor in acknowledgement of an
unspoken agreement that I was also to be the host. Balikbayans can
appreciate what it means to be the host: you pay for everything,
including the pulutan.
the blink of an eye, I downed the first glass, then the second,
and the third, and the fourth and fifth. There were plates after
plates of "pusit" (canned squid) for hors d'oeuvres that
never tasted so good in all my life. By the sixth round, I was
looking at the grinning faces of 16 very macho men whom I
remembered to be no more than 8 when the drinking session began.
Where had the extra faces came from?
7 found me totally bombed. Head spinning, speech slurring, and
bladder almost bursting, I wanted to ask for a bottle of Perrier
or tonic water, but this was Salaza, not Alexandria, Virginia.
Besides, the grinning faces around me were watching me intently,
checking to see what I was made out of. Except for the occasional
trips against the boho fence and the trunk of the coconut tree, no
one appeared to call it a night. I was in for one of the longest
nights of my life against these guys. It was a mano-mano, arnis,
hapkido, taekwondo, and jeetkunedo rolled into one and far into
was then that I realized, that, in addition to the simple pleasure
of drinking and socializing that these Salaza salt of the earth
derived from this ritual, the "tagay" must also be a
kind of a contest that determined the men's man of the night. I
sensed that "tagay" for these men was not just a social
event. It meant for them upholding one's machismo and a
re-affirmation of their sense of manhood, not to mention the
oft-repeated Pinoy value known as "pakikisama".
the tenth round of gin straight up, I was prepared to ditch "pakikisama"
in favor of "walang-hiya". Even worse, to be called
"bakla" or "bina-bae" (effeminate). In the
condition that was in, I didn't care.
na" (come what may) won out that night, as I bade my friends
a very woozy good morning, all 16 images of them, and staggered
home. I woke up groaning on the bamboo floors of the "batalan"
to find Sonya (Mom's help) hovering over me, faithfully following
my mom's instructions to keep the guava leaves pressed to my face
until I came to.
un recuerdo mas de las Filipinas que llevo dentro de mi corazon. A
fond memory of the Philippines that I keep close to my