We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers by Alejandro Roces

This is a short story written by Alejandro Roces during his freshman year in Arizona State University. He was well known for his humorous stories and whit in writing. “We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers” is dated back to the 1940s. The war had just ended in the Philippines and life was back to normal, except for a few new friends of course. This is one of my absolute favorites. I hope you guys like it.

ENJOY!


When the Americans recaptured the Philippines, they built an air base a few miles from our barrio. Yankee soldiers became a very common sight. I met a lot of GIs and made many friends. I could not pronounce their names. I could not tell them apart. All Americans looked alike to me. They all looked white.

One afternoon I was plowing our rice field with our carabao named datu. I was barefooted and stripped to the waist. My pants that were made from abaca fibers and woven on homemade looms were rolled to my knees. My bolo was at my side.

An American soldier was walking on the highway. When he saw me, he headed toward me. I stopped plowing and waited for him. I noticed he was carrying a half-pint bottle of whiskey. Whiskey bottles seemed part of the American uniform.

“Hello, my little brown brother,” he said, patting me on the head.

“Hello, Joe,” I answered. All Americans are called Joe in the Philippines.

“I am sorry, Jose,” I replied. “There are no bars in this barrio.”

“Oh, hell! You know where I could buy more whiskey?”

“Here, have a swig. You have been working hard,” he said, offering me his half-filled bottle.

“No, thank you, Joe,” I said. “We Filipinos are mild drinkers.”

“Well, don’t you drink at all?”

“Yes, Joe, I drink, but not whiskey.”

“What the hell do you drink”

“I drink lambanog”

“Jungle juice, eh?”

“I guess that is what the GIs call it.”

“You know where I could buy some?”

“I have some you can have, but i do not think you will like it.”

“I’ll like it alright. Don’t worry about that. I have drunk everything—whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila, gin, champagne, sake, vodka.  .  .  .” He mentioned many more that i cannot spell.

“I not only drink a lot, but i drink anything. I drank Chanel number 5 when I was in France. In New Guinea I got soused on Williams’ Shaving Lotion. When I was laid up in a hospital I pie-eyed with medical alcohol. On my way here on a transport I got stoned on torpedo juice. You ain’t kidding when you say I drink  a lot. So let’s have some of that jungle juice, eh?”

“All right,” I said. “I will just take this carabao to the mud hole then we can go home and drink.”

“You sure love that animal, don’t you?

“I should,” I replied. “It does half of my work.”

“Why don’t you get two of them?” I didn’t answer.

I unhitched datu from the plow and led him to the mud hole. Joe was following me. Datu lay in the mud and was going. Whooooosh! Whooooosh!

Flies and other insects flew from his back and hovered in the air. A strange warm odor rose out of the muddle. A carabao does not have any sweat glands except on the nose. It has to wallow in the mud or bathe in a river every three hours. Otherwise it runs amok.

Datu shook his head and his widespread horns scooped the muddy water on his back. He rolled over and was soon covered with slimy mud. An expression of perfect contentment came into his eyes. Then he swished his tail and Joe and I had to move back from the mud hole to keep from getting splashed. I left Datu in the mud hole. Then turning to Joe, I said.

“Let us go.”

And we proceeded toward my house. Jose was cautiously looking around. “This place is full of coconut trees,” he said.

“Don’t you have any coconut trees in America?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “Back home we have the pine tree.”

“What is it like?”

“Oh, it is tall and stately. It goes straight up to the sky like a skyscraper. It symbolizes America.”

“Well,” I said, “the coconut tree symbolizes the Philippines. It starts up to the sky, but then its leaves sway down the earth, as if remembering the land that gave it birth. It does not forget the soil that gave it life.”

In a short while, we arrived in my nipa house. I took the bamboo ladder and leaned it against a tree. Then I climbed the ladder and picked some calamansi.

“What’s that?” Joe asked.

“Philippine lemon,” I answered. “We will need this for our drinks.”

“Oh, chasers.”

“That is right, Joe. That is what the soldiers call it.”

I filled my pockets and then went down. I went to the garden well and washed the mud from my legs. Then we went up a bamboo ladder to my hut. It was getting dark, so I filled a coconut shell, dipped a wick in the oil and lighted the wick. It produced a flickering light. I unstrapped my bolo and hung it on the wall.

“Please sit down, Joe,” I said.

“Where?” he asked, looking around.

“Right there,” I said, pointing to the floor.

Joe sat down on the floor. I sliced the calamansi in halves, took some rough salt and laid it on the foot high table. I went to the kitchen and took the bamboo tube where I kept my lambanog.

Lambanog is a drink extracted from the coconut tree with pulverized mangrove bark thrown in to prevent spontaneous combustion. It has many uses. We use it as a remedy for snake bites, as counteractive for malaria chills, as an insecticide and for tanning carabao hide.

I poured some lambanog on two polished coconut shells and gave one of the shells to Joe. I diluted my drink with some of Joe’s whiskey. It became milky. We were both seated on the floor. I poured some of my drink on the bamboo floor; it went through the slits to the ground below.

“Hey, what are you doing,” said Joe, “throwing good liquor away?”

“No, Joe,” I said. “It is the custom here always to give back to the earth a little of what we have taken from the earth.”

“Well,” he said, raising his shell. “Here’s to the end of the war!”

“Here is to the end of the war!” I said, also lifting my shell. I gulped my drink down. I followed it with a slice of calamansi dipped in rough salt. Joe took his drink but reacted in a peculiar way.

His eyes popped out like a frog’s and his hand clutched his throat. He looked as if he had swallowed a centipede. “Quick, a chaser!” he said.

I gave him a slice of calamansi dipped in unrefined salt. He squirted it in his mouth. But it was too late. Nothing could chase her. The calamansi did not help him. I don’t think even a coconut would have helped him.

“What is wrong, Joe?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “The first drink always affects me this way.”

He was panting hard and tears were rolling down his cheeks.

“Well, the first drink always acts like a minesweeper,” I said, “but this second one will be smooth.”

I filled his shell for the second time. Again I diluted my drink with Joe’s whiskey. I gave his shell. I noticed that he was beaded with perspiration. He had unbuttoned his collar and loosened his tie. Joe took his shell but he did not seem very anxious. I lifted my shell and said: “Here is to America!”

I was trying to be a good host.

“Here’s to America!” Joe said.

We both killed our drinks. Joe again reacted in a funny way. His neck stretched out like a turtle’s. And now he was panting like a carabao gone berserk. He was panting like a carabao gone amok. He was grasping his tie with one hand.

Then he looked down on his tie, threw it to one side, and said: “Oh, Christ, for a while I thought it was my tongue.”

After this he started to tinker with his teeth.

“What is wrong, Joe?” I asked, still trying to be a perfect host.

“Plenty, this damned drink has loosened my bridgework.”

As Joe exhaled, a moth flying around the flickering flame fell dead. He stared at the dead moth and said: “And they talk of DDT.”

“Well, how about another drink?” I asked. “It is what we came here for.”

“No, thanks,” he said. “I’m through.”

“OK. Just one more.”

I poured the juice in the shells and again diluted mine with whiskey. I handed Joe his drink. “Here’s to the Philippines,” he said.

“Here’s to the Philippines,” I said.

Joe took some of his drink. I could not see very clearly in the flickering light, but I could have sworn I saw smoke coming out of his ears.

“This stuff must be radioactive,” he said. He threw the remains of his drink on the nipa wall and yelled: “Blaze, goddamn you, blaze!”

Just as I was getting in the mood to drink, Joe passed out. He lay on the floor flat as a starfish. He was in a class all by himself. I knew that the soldiers had to be back in their barracks at a certain time. So I decided to take Joe back. I tried to lift him. It was like lifting a carabao. I had to call four of my neighbors to help me carry Joe. We slung him on top of my carabao. I took my bolo from the house and strapped it on my waist. Then I proceeded to take him back. The whole barrio was wondering what had happened to the big Amerikano.

After two hours I arrived at the airfield. I found out which barracks he belonged to and took him there. His friends helped me to take him to his cot. They were glad to see him back. Everybody thanked me for taking him home. As I was leaving the barracks to go home, one of his buddies called me and said:

“Hey, you! How about a can of beer before you go?” 

“No, thanks,” I said. “We Filipinos are mild drinkers.”


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137 thoughts on “We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers by Alejandro Roces

  1. sentimentalfreak

    Reblogged this on sentimentalfreak and commented:
    This story is one of my favorites since highschool 🙂 We Filipinos are mild drinkers by Alejandro Roces.
    WE Filipinos are mild drinkers.We drink for only three good reasons. We drink when we are very happy. We drink when we are very sad. And we drink for any other reason.

    Enjoy! 😀

    Like

  2. czuukwaterson

    My Lola was in the Philippians during the occupation. At first they ran from their house into the hills for a while. The Japanese took their house as some kind of HQ.

    Eventually they had to come back to find food. She said they lived in a bomb hole for a couple days. And that she lost a brother to a direct bomb hit. They were finally wrangled up and marched.

    Like

    • Lago

      That’s very unfortunate. This is exactly why I love the country so much, the people are very passionate and happy even after going through wars and dictatorships. Thank you for sharing your story and your passion for Alejandro. It definitely makes my blog a lot more special.

      Like

  3. shofar

    Hope it’s okay with you that I Facebooked this story to all my Filipino friends in the PI! They will enjoy it as much as I did reading it again today!

    Like

  4. AJ's Mom

    Hi there! Thank you for stopping by my blog. This post reminds of my late Tatay who loved tuba (I am not sure if this Bisaya for lambanog) – but it reminded me so much of my childhood I spent with him back in Philippines. He was one of the ‘mild drinkers’ but one thing for sure was, he never caused any ruckus once he had one too many. He would just come home (or my Nanay would tell me to pick him up) and would get ready to bed. Thank you, for bringing me back to the good ol’ times. Just followed you. 🙂

    AJ’s Mom

    Like

    • Lago

      Thank you! I’m absolutely ecstatic that it brought you back to your childhood. I bet he’s happy up there, drinking his tuba. Salamat for sharing your story and following!

      Like

      • AJ's Mom

        Walang anuman. I am sure he is. And it’s such a pleasure to be able to follow an excellent blogger like yourself. Keep blogging and keep smiling! 🙂
        AJ’s Mom

        Like

  5. Jilanne Hoffmann

    Love the story. Sounds like grappa, a drink I had once (and only once) in Italy. I don’t think all of the methanol had been distilled out of it. I vaguely recall dancing on the top of a narrow wall with a 30 foot drop on one side. Couldn’t get out of bed for three days.

    Like

  6. rhemadojo2000

    Wow! Alejandro Roces is one of the best Pinoy writers…his works are considered classic. I never grow tired reading old short stories like this. I’m proud of Mr. Roces as I’m Filipino, too. Thank you for posting this. I’ve enjoyed reading one of his works again. Thanks 🙂

    Like

  7. claced

    Hi, I like the story, it is quite true that Lambanog is a very strong drink that few people were able to stand it..but to our locals this is one of their favorite drink after a hard days work, whenever there is a celebration or just to end the day and relax…It was nice meeting you…

    Like

  8. msjccoleman

    I thoroughly loved this! Just simple and sublime writing! Have you been to Jottify.com – a writers site – think you would be very welcome there!

    Like

    • Lagos

      Hahaha! I’ve never had tuba but I heard it was like their version of moonshine. I mean experience life dude, I’m all for it!

      Like

  9. Shofar

    Loved the story! Learned some things about the carabao. We see a lot of them on our mission trips there! I plan to post about our experiences in Philippines on heulu.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Lagos

      Thank you for advertising. That will be one cent please. Just kidding. I don’t know that much about mission trips but I do know you help allot so thank you.

      Like

  10. ea25id

    I was cracking up Lagos. I’m a mild drinker too but some of my haole (yankee/white) buddies get so ripped and wild. Aloha from HAWAII!

    Like

  11. jackcurtis

    Good short stories are hard to write; we seem to see fewer of them than were common some decades back; maybe due to the disappearance of the weekly and monthly magazines in which they appeared. Enjoyed this one.

    Like

  12. jonahlalog

    What a great read! I have never read this story, and I was born and raised in the Philippines! I guess that’s because I almost never paid attention to the Filipino class (except to pass).
    Thanks for liking my blog.

    Like

  13. Tony

    Like the story.. It seems to point out how innocent how some folk can be !! NIce Blog – super pictures..Thank you for your kind comments on my blog.

    Like

  14. heartpeace

    Thank you for visiting my blog, Lagos ❤ hope you will visit again. I enjoyed the coconut tree symbolism 😉 Also love your dolphin gravitar 🙂 friendly, peaceful creatures!

    Like

  15. silverlining09

    … now there’s a whole line of beverages along with “lambanog.” I’m not talking about “basi,” “tuba,” and the likes. There’s “gin-pom” long before some alcoholic beverages with fruity flavors exist. There’s also “kulafu” et.al…. I hope Joe would come across some “baranggays” here to join men drinking gin with beers as their chasers… >;] … but of course, Filipinos are mild drinkers… cheers to that!

    Like

  16. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Suuuuuure you are. 😀 If an American GI calls anything “jungle juice”, that should be a sure tip-off to just about anyone from anywhere that you might be better off drinking pure cobra venom. 😉

    Ever hear of the fictional Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (from THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY)? This real-life drink of yours is second only to that fictional drink in its apparent effects on the unaccustomed. 😀

    P.S.: Thanks for stopping by my blog (below) and liking my latest entry. And here’s to the Philippines and all the fine Filipinos I have known. 🙂

    http://portaloflight.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/to-be-a-starbard-01/

    Like

      • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

        Indeed there was a compliment. The story was funny, very true-to-life humanly and very plausible in terms of what I know of food and drink in the Far East. Thank you for presenting it.

        Like

  17. elmer

    Yes, we Filipinos are mild drinkers. Well this school director in Beijing, Mr. Pan, he was bragging about their fifty-five-percent alcohol leveled “BAIJOU”. China’s version of lambanog. And so obviously he has no idea about rice wines in some other places, for example here in the Philippines which can go as high as 75% alcohol. To the amazement of my Palestinian, Zimbawe, Tanzanian, Jordanian and Pakistani buddies, we went to the nearest supermarket to try one as soon as we landed in Shanxi. And when we went back to the hotel, fixed the table, glasses, everything –nobody wants a drop of it. Of course, modesty aside, I showed them that this baijou is nothing. I have the baijous while they settled for the beers. And I have never been so amazed by the amazement of an Afro-Asian drinking table! And everybody was shouting FILIPINO! FILIPINO! So, these internationl buddies, after a couple of beers, soon became brave enough to tangle with the baiju.

    And since then, for every drinking nights, we have switched from Tsingtao to baijou. And from then on they no longer call me Elmer, but “Filipino”.

    Like

    • Lagos

      I was supposed to post the whole thing but I was really thinking that the readers might think its too long. Still very funny though and I really wanted to showcase his work. Thank you for visiting Lagos!

      Like

  18. island traveler

    A powerful story that moves the heart. Particularly a heart of another Filipino. My grandparents witnessed the war and my dad lost his father just after the American war. It holds a lot of joyful and sad memories. As for drinking. we know what happens late afternoon in most towns everywhere. It’s a great way to socialize though and forget life’s worries. Great post!

    Like

    • Lagos

      I know! My grandfather also went to war and when I read this story a long time ago I was imagining how right after the war there would be humongous parties thrown all over the Philippines. It puts a different perspective to war.

      Like

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