Text and photos by Joseph Bautista
Whenever I travel around the Philippines, there is one thing that always put a smile on my face–the sight of a local ‘perya’ or small town carnival.
Even if I just catch a glimpse of the perya from my bus window, the sight evokes happy memories of life several decades back when things were simple and uncomplicated. When I was still young, my friends and I would spend many summer nights enjoying the rides, games and food at a perya.
I will never forget the first time I rode a Ferris Wheel. I will also never forget the first time I won in a game. It was called ‘Karera sa Daga’ where you have to guess which box the white mice or ‘dagang costa’ would enter. I bet my 25-centavo on number 26 (my birthday), and the white mice chose my number. I won a dessert bowl which I proudly brought home (I still have it!). It was also my first time to see the ‘Spider Lady’, which did not look anything like the girl with several legs advertised on their billboard and I remember being disappointed; it was only a girl with an extra limb hanging on a rope fashioned to look like cobwebs.
The perya always comes to our town in Cavite every Holy Week. It was supposed to be a time to be quiet, to go on retreat, to reflect on the sufferings of Christ and to go on fasting and abstinence, but our townsfolk have a different idea of how do things. They made the perya a sideshow to the yearly ‘cenaculo’, thereby attracting a young crowd, otherwise, only a handful of old people would be interested to watch the passion play. The only condition for the perya to exist side-by-side is that no loud music must be played.
The cenaculo and perya are held in the dry rice field. As soon as we arrive at the venue, we would watch the cenaculo for a few minutes so that I would have something to tell my folks about the stage, the costumes, etc. After I made mental notes of what I saw, I would rush immediately to the adjacent perya.
At the perya, we would spend the money we saved from school sampling the rides, playing games, feasting on popcorn, cotton candies and ice cream. It was a simple pleasure, of doing something prohibited, of being young and carefree. But as I look back now, I realized that this experience taught me to take life as it is, to enjoy the moment, to see life as one continuous adventure.
Pula or Puti?
There are three reasons why the Filipinos love the perya–the rides, the games and the food.
No perya is complete without the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel is the reason why every kid should come to the perya. No matter how nervous or uneasy you are, you have to take on the Ferris Wheel challenge to prove to your playmates that you are not a ‘duwag’ or coward. It is one’s life coming of age stage: you leave your first Ferris Wheel ride feeling more secured about yourself and more confident to take on life’s challenges.
After the Ferris Wheel, you are now ready to try the Octopus and the Roller Coaster. Under no circumstances you should be seen riding the Merry-Go-Round, the Carousel or the Flying Elephants, as these are for kids below seven.
Should you wish to bring home something, there are many game booths around, with some already bordering on gambling. My favorites are the Shooting Gallery, the Throw the Ring and the Throw the Dart, where for six ‘tries’ for 10-peso, you get a chance to win a bag of chips or a stuffed toy. There is also the Spin-the-Wheel where you bet on a number and wait for it to light up, and the winner gets to bring home a dining set for a P10 bet. There is also the Bingo Game, where the number announcer also doubles as comedian to entertain the playing crowd.
There are also games that can already considered as gambling: the Pula-Puti, the Throw the Coin, the Card Games and the Color Combination Game. I’ve seen serious bettors who actually put in hundreds of pesos hoping to win the pot money that sometimes goes up to thousands.
But the one thing I like most in the ‘perya’ are the food–they are always affordable. Forget your parent’s warning about how unsanitary these food are prepared–there is always an insane pleasure of taking something forbidden. Top of my list is the dirty ice cream sandwich: chocolate, ube and cheese flavored ice cream stuffed in a bun.
In our world of hi-speed Internet, Facebook and 3D television, the perya represents a bygone era. Seeing a perya allows us to remember those happy moments when we were young, when we had to prove that we are not afraid to take on life’s challenges.
The perya is slowly dying, and the rising cost of operating, the dwindling number of attendees, and the serious concern about the safety of the rides are not helping much to revive interest on them. It has evolved into something uniquely Filipino, and it saddens me that the day will come that we will no longer have the perya to remind us of life’s simple pleasures.