7 Strips of Bacon
We immigrated to the United States in December 1999, a few weeks before the New Year. Superstitious Filipino news reporters made semi-serious predictions about the world ending once the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000. My 7-year old self was relieved to know that we were flying away from Doomsday.
Back then, my family only consisted of my dad, mom, Claudine (my younger sister), and me. When we landed at San Francisco Airport, we were warmly greeted by Auntie Edith and Uncle Tom. Auntie Edith is my grandma's older sister, who was born in the Philippines. Uncle Tom was her husband, born in the U.S. of A. They met in a San Francisco bus while Auntie Edith was an accounting temp on a working visa, and they've been inseparable ever since.
I found out shortly that we were going to stay with them for a few months in Daly City, California. They brought us to their home and introduced us to their sons, Uncle James (~12 years old) and Uncle Tommy (~14-15 years old). Our new buddies had two Playstations, Play-Dohs, and LEGOs; this place couldn't get any better. There was only one problem...
My little tropical body couldn't stand the mid-December Daly City weather, and neither could the rest of my family. The four of us were huddled together, shivering from the cold despite being covered by five blankets. None of us wanted to be the first to get out of bed, but a delicious smell wafted into the room. [Ask my boyfriend now, not even a blizzard could stop me from getting my breakfast.]
We jumped out of bed and scrambled up to the dining room, eager to discover the source. As we passed through the living room, my groggy eyes recognized that my favorite TV show was on: Bananas in Pajamas!
My initial excitement quickly turned to confusion when I realized that they were speaking gibberish. How come I couldn't understand anything the bananas were saying? They were perfectly fine last week. My hunger overpowered my care for the Bananas in Pajamas, so I ignored it and headed for the dining room table.
There were plates filled with freshly cooked piles of sunny-side up eggs, white rice, and squiggly brown strips that I assumed were meat. The eight of us gathered around the table to serve ourselves. I gave myself one egg, a generous serving of rice, and one of the meat strips.
I went for the meat strip first. I took a bite, and felt the satisfying crunch against my teeth. The salty flavor filled my mouth, prompting me to follow the bite with a large scoop of steamed rice. It was my first taste of America's most beloved breakfast staple: BACON.
I wasn't bothered by the salty taste. Our breakfasts in the Philippines were pretty similar: garlic fried rice (sinangag) and sunny-side up eggs were paired with something along the lines of tuyo (salted dried herring), longganisa (sweet pork sausage), or tocino (sweet pork slices). As long as it was extremely salty or extremely sweet, I was all for it.
I was really loving this initial experience with bacon. I enjoyed it so much that after the rest of my family left the table, I was still munching on my fourth strip with spoonfuls of rice. I was a slow eater, and always have been.
The only people left on the table were Uncle Tom, Auntie Edith, and me. Uncle Tom was ecstatic to see that I was enjoying the bacon. As I reached for my fifth bacon, he was motioning for me to finish the rest (our early conversations were reliant on hand gestures, since I knew zero English). There were two left on the plate, plus the fifth one I was currently holding.
I was prepared to stop at bacon strip #5. However, I didn't want to be rude to our generous hosts. At that point, I would've eaten a whole jar of mayonnaise to show my gratitude, if they really wanted me to. This was bacon, so it shouldn't have been a problem!
As I was munching on the final remnants of bacon #5, I realized that there was no more rice on my plate. Everything on the table had been cleared off except for the two strips of bacon. No rice, no eggs, and no family to save me.
My mouth was drowning with the overwhelming taste of salt. I reached for bacon #6, and started munching. That gagging feeling you get when you've eaten way too much of one thing started to kick in, HARD.
I chewed quickly, and swallowed the bacon pieces as soon as they were small enough for me not to choke on. This was starting to feel like torture for my twiglet appetite. Bacon strip #6 seemed like it was a a hundred feet long -- but to be fair, the bacon was from Costco!
Uncle Tom's innocent joy morphed itself into a villainous smirk in my eyes.
What was probably going through his head: 'I am filled with so much happiness to see this child enjoy the bacon so much, that she's practically wolfing it down.'
In my head, I imagined he was saying, "Ha ha ha YES! Explode, little girl!"
I couldn't stop now...there was only one strip left. Both Uncle Tom and Auntie Edith had smiles across their faces, eager to see me finish this last yardstick of a bacon that I loved oh-so-much. I was in full focus mode.
All I could remember was seeing was my small hand, lifting up the last piece of bacon from the lard-soaked paper towels on the serving plate. I was no longer breathing at this point. My parents taught me to hold my breath when drinking bitter medicine to better tolerate it, and I was determined to get through the bacon without throwing up all my hard work.
I wasn't chewing anymore either; I was gnawing off large chunks and desperately trying to stomach each additional bite. I felt like I was prepared to barf at any moment. Within what seemed to be a matter of months, I finally finished the bacon. Uncle Tom patted me on the back, and said something along the lines of: "Attagirl. That's how you eat!"
While Uncle Tom washed dishes, Auntie Edith was rummaging around the kitchen. She walked back into the dining room with slices of apple pie, one huge hunk for each of us. There was no escape.
Welcome to "The States".