If you saw Rosa Linda’s face as I did the first time—clenched as tight as a clam at high tide—you’d know I didn’t find out her name because she welcomed us or introduced herself as we entered the Ice Castle Restaurant. In fact, her initial coolness made her seem unapproachable.
Why was I particularly intrigued by her? Was I having some FOB-ish (Fresh-Off-the-Boat) expectation that Rosa Linda was a rare specimen among the stereotypically friendly Filipino people in the Land of Smiles? And where, then, did I fit in this picture, I with the Filipino-face-lovely-smile-and-cute-little-flat-nose; I the petite-brown-woman-from-Amerika? As I write this, the answer to my own question remains incomplete.
She wore brown trousers and a marigold polo shirt lined with a red collar and piping at the end of the short sleeves, with “Ice Castle” embroidered on the left. Her name badge, scraped on one edge next to her name “Rosa Linda,” hung crookedly. We came in only for something sweet, but the glossy white walls of the Ice Castle were plastered with dog-eared food posters offering other treats as well: Steam (no “ed”) Rice; Hungarian Sausage; Ice Tea (no “ed”); Chicken Feet; Siomai, each shown with a scoop of diced mixed vegetables. There were no pictures of ice cream, only a sheet of white paper taped to the wall on which “Halo-Halo” was hand printed in black sharpie pen. I had heard that the ice cream was especially delicious in Cebu, and the special Philippine dessert called Halo-Halo, which means “mixed together,” was all I had been craving.
Earlier in the week, while checking my e-mails in an Internet café, a message from my cousin back in California had come in: “Be sure you eat ice cream when you’re in Cebu. P.S. We’re famous for lechon, too!” Her saying “we” reinforced the lovely feeling of finding a belonging for myself in the Philippines—not my native country, but my cousin’s, yes.
So Rosa Linda came to the table, unsmiling, pencil to pad, not looking up at any of us.
I said, “I’ll have the halo-halo.”
“What ice cream you want?” she frowned.
“No! Have the strawberry,” she commanded, tapping the end of her pencil on her order pad.
“Okay, strawberry.” I smiled, compliant, cautious.
“Halo-halo. Strawberry.” She pressed the words hard into her pad.
Rosa Linda took the rest of the orders, turned, started to stomp away, but in afterthought, pivoted around. Part of me hoped she’d reconsidered and was coming back to say, “Have the vanilla if you like; we have it too.”
Instead she grabbed the menus, then disappeared into the kitchen. More by way of comforting myself for feeling thrown off by her seeming unfriendliness, I quietly joked to the others, “She loves her job.”
Here’s what my halo-halo looked like, from bottom layer to top:
Shave ice; a little condensed milk; dollop of sweet red bean; strands of buko (baby coconut); jelly cubes; red Jello; green Jello; a few morsels of corn; a few pieces of jackfruit; strawberry ice cream; corn flakes sprinkled on top.
It was perfect.
Rosa Linda set it down reciting, “Halo-halo with strawberry ice cream,” as if I had demanded that flavor. I didn’t dare smile again for she was scowling, her mouth like a slice of dried mango pasted where her lips should be.
We were to leave Cebu the next day, and I didn’t know whether we’d ever return here. This being a trip of many firsts and possible lasts, I gathered my courage and asked to take a photo of her – “for remembrance.”
“Okay!” she said, suddenly brightening. Rosa Linda straightened her Ice Castle baseball cap, smoothed out her yellow Ice Castle shirt and smiled the sweetest smile right into the camera.
GodDAMMIT Rosa-Linda-Who-Loves-Her-Job! Your sincere scowl and beautiful smile have left me a little mixed up.
Lisa Suguitan Melnick is a professor at College of San Mateo, in Northern California. Currently both hands are on keyboard writing more pieces for her memoir vignettes grouping, Four Flip-Flops and the House that Fried Chicken Built. Please visit her blog: http://alyssumblog.blogspot.com
More articles by Lisa Suguitan Melnick:
Eat All You Can
November 6, 2012
First-time visitor Lisa Suguitan Melnick discovers the quirks of Filipino life.
Vangie Looks Back
February 6, 2013
Vangie Canonizado Buell, descendant of a Buffalo Soldier who was stationed in the Philippines, is a beloved figure in the San Francisco Bay Area Filipino American community.
Book Review: A Big Hearted Book On Little Manila
September 11, 2013
Author Dawn Mabalon digs up the past and brings Stockton, California’s pioneer Filipino community back to life.
October 17, 2013
Filipinos who own property in California owe a lot to pioneer Celestino T. Alfafara.
November 2, 2013
A first-time visitor to Manila, the grandniece of a late missionary nun, navigates its traffic maze to find the missing piece that will fill the longing in her heart.