I’m sure that the recipients of this year’s Gusi Peace Prize – the greatest by-god WHOO holy freaking awesome award for peace on the face of this planet – deserve it, but the unheralded champion of peace and harmony has always been the neighborhood panciteria.
On those nights where I go home very late from work, I head off to the panciteria for a very late dinner. There’s always the sight of the hurried, harrassed-looking man with his shirt collars up trying to hide a hickie, almost always with the same order. “Miss, pabili pancit. Paki-balot na lang.” Pancit has saved the Filipino family yet again from the ravages brought about by cheating husbands everywhere: failed marriages, crying children, and the possibility of institutionalizing divorce in this predominantly Catholic country populated by Sunday Christians and lovers on Simbang Gabi.
The family, that basic unit of society that it is, is saved by a literal thread of pancit.
A few nights ago I was back at the panciteria having some noodles when I saw a few men buying pancit, with their shirts disheveled and their thinning hair messed up. I became witness to perhaps the most awesome peace process ever.
The brown paper bag of pancit has awesome powers of healing, transformation, and new politics all rolled into one. It is diplomacy in practice. No expression of remorse – no matter how temporary it is – is more sincere than a bag full of stir-fried noodles and vegetables bought for a song at the panciteria. It’s the telling reminder of a man still fulfilling his obligations as a breadwinner, and the woman to clear her head with something spruced up with MSG and soy sauce mixed with cornstarch. So powerful it conceals the smell of perfume and sex. Not completely cooked, like an act of hasty love. Not completely saturated, just some parts not swathed in the special sauce of solicitude.
(“Swathed in the special sauce of solicitude.” I die now.)
I would never contemplate cheating on my wife or my girlfriend (I don’t have one yet), but men of weaker constitutions and shriveled-up testicles have turned to the panciteria to save their failing marriages. The choice has always been pancit canton or pancit guisado, if only because the aroma is more powerful than, say, bihon or miki. Indeed, the scent of pancit is more powerful than a garden of roses and more sincere than a thousand Valentine cards at the Hallmark greeting card section. Never mind that it’s never eaten or fed to the kids the next day. “Di kita nakalimutan. Siguro nagkamali ako, nanghina ako. Patawarin mo na ako, pinagbilhan pa kita ng pancit.” If that’s not remorse, if that’s not love, then this entry is written in disgust and disdain for every cheating man on God’s green earth that I glorify the noodle dish more than the act of indiscretion.
“For richer for poorer, in sickness or in health, ’till death do us part.” The vows never speak of the hot secretary, the prostituted woman, the querida. Yet hell hath no fury like a wife scorned. While guys my age would probably get away with it by writing odes of reconciliation on Facebook, there’s no peacemaker like pancit.
It averts all away. When the cheating husband provides the pancit to an irate wife, everything calms down. The storm falls into silence, tears, and kisses as the man gives his wife the paper bag on bending (arthritic, sex-fatigued) knee. The luggage bags are put back into the dresser, the walis tingting set aside. The husband becomes Romeo, the wife becomes Juliet, the night sky becomes awash with noodles and sweet love.
Yes, noodles and sweet love. Barry Gusi, the panciteria deserves your peace prize.