Tuesday, September 14, 2004

back from Vega$

Got back from Vegas last night. My body is wrecked from the 10 hours of driving, late nights, and sleeping on beds not my own. But, we had a good time, so it's a good tired.

Saturday we spent driving around Vegas with my mom. Visited my cousin's new baby. I've got over 30 cousins, so there's always a cousin's new baby. They live in the area known as North Las Vegas which is the old side of town with added new developments. The streets look like you're driving through parts of Los Angeles: various ethnic restaurants, Mexican bakeries, mom and pop shops, graffiti. This, however, is considered the "bad neighborhood" with lower property values and more crime, unlike the newer "nicer" neighborhoods with the generic strip malls or corporate franchised stores that are cookie cutters of each other. I feel more at home in the old neighborhoods. There are people walking around and interacting. There are interesting shops. I don't think I've ever seen these many people in the "nicer" neighborhoods. Yet statistically there is more crime. I wonder about how we lose a sense of "diversity" as we move to the 'burbs. Does "nicer" always mean less economic diversity and accessibility?

My mother has been trying to get her brother to move to a better neighborhood, where property values increase more, with less crime, but he doesn't want to move. Moving is hard and for an immigrant who managed to buy his first home on a janitor's salary, there's a lot of sentimental value in his home. Though Filipinos are a migrating people, there's something about "home" and "homestead" that we hold onto and cling to.

If you're looking for the Filipino restaurants, they're here. West on Charleston off the I-15. There's a Goldilocks, Epoy's restaurant, and a Tipanan, as well as LBC. Didn't get a chance to try any of them yet. The buffets basically serve the general American palette with some Chinese food on the side. The tastebuds wouldn't mind some bagoong and bansilog (bangus, fried rice, and egg) once in a while.

My cousin has a big baby boy and a rambunctious 2 year old who is showing off all her books and toys. She doesn't get too many visitors. Doesn't see dad too often because he's a bartender who works nights 16 hrs straight sometimes. But the tips are good. It's as if everyone here is on swing shift, except maybe those in retail. Her dad is sleeping in the 2nd bedroom.

Gamble at night, shop during the day. Las Vegas finds a way to take your money somehow. My parents were there a week with my grandmother. After a while, my mom wondered what else there was to do in Vegas after you've done most everything else. One can only shop and gamble so much unless you're an addict.

We say goodbye. Tell the 2-year old to be a good "Ate" to her baby brother (which sounds like buh-buh-buh coming from her mouth). There'll be a Christening some time in November.

Next stop is the indoor swap meet. We passed by one on the way to my cousin's house, but this other one my mom heard was even bigger and better. We finally found it after realizing that street numbers don't really go in sequential or logical order around here. It's a buck to enter this warehouse packed with rows of stalls named after various casino hotels: Grand, Hilton, Luxor. Oh, Veronica, I found out where everyone is buying their shawls and outfits for their night out on the Strip.

In the back is a large space full of replicated European stone statues and fountains. There are several "fake" florists specializing in faux flora. A couple of knife booths with cane knives and other weaponry. Jewelry booths with gold by the inch. My mother and I find a booth with various vases and decor. There are some interesting vases that my mother is eyeing for the house. The smaller vases are about $40. I watch my mother pick various designs, ask the price of each. Slowly calculate the total sum.

For these 4, how much? He calculates $200. There is no price tag on the vases, just a letter corresponding to a price sheet we are not allowed to look at. She tells him it's too much, $150. He says she's taking all his profit and the vases are handmade in Italy, which I doubt since you can see the lines of the wallpapered design. He says $180 is his best price. She says that's still too much as we start leaning out the booth, mingling at it's entrance to show we are still interested but don't mind walking away. She tells him that she'll tell all her friends to come here. He says he can go to $170. She says, no way, $160. He asks about the kind of payment. Cash, she replies, and he starts wrapping the vases. He tells her not to tell them the price she got. He can't give them away like that to everyone. She agrees and hands him the cash.

Walking the swap meet you can see the decor of most Las Vegas homes: faux European designs, fake plants and light up water scenes that look like the water is moving. It feels like the markets and tsanggi (small markets) in the Philippines, like Divasoria in Davao. Small cramped, sales people trying to lure you this way and that, an indoor maze where cash is king and the final price is never the final price. The products reflect the glitz and glamour and illusion of Vegas: shiny shoes, fake purses and lots and lots of kitch.

We buy a couple more things then head home. Oddly enough, the swap meet felt more "real" than just about any other place I've visited in Vegas thus far.

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