The Fishball Vendor (#25)

(Inspired by a kid the author met in the Singalong market in Manila.)

London-based journalist Sean is in Manila on assignment to write about “The Essential Filipino”. Surprisingly, Joey, an eight-year-old sidewalk vendor is his source of wisdom.

eastwind journals

‘True Tales’ Series – Volume 25

Updated May 21, 2023 – Archives tr201
By Bernie V. Lopez,

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Sean is not worried as he knows the assignment is peanuts. First, he goes to Makati, the business district. Nothing there but cold faces. He goes to Intramuros, the old Spanish city. Nothing there but history. After a few days, he is frantic. On the fourth day, his London editor calls him, saying he cannot dilly dally and has only one more day before returning to London.

Sean goes on panic mode. He takes a wild stab at marketplaces. By late afternoon, in Singalong, in the heart of Manila, he sits on the curb, exhausted and desperate. He realizes his mistake. “The Essential Filipino” is a person, not a place. How stupid can a senior journalist be? He begins looking at faces frantically as he walks about aimlessly.

Enter barefoot Joey, pushing an improvised rolling cart. He has a torn shirt with the words “I (heart) New York”. He is selling ‘fishballs’ on bamboo sticks, cheap deep-fried flour balls graced with remnants of ground fish. Sean goes wide-eyed, instinctively spotting his story.

Joey is wearing wireless Bluetooth earphones, mimicking Michael Jackson’s famous gyrations, complete with a straw hat, ignoring the crowd now gathering around him. The crowd gives a hearty applause. Joey bows and the crowd vanish. Sean approaches him. 

SEAN: Hey, what are you doing? (Joey cannot hear him because of the loud music in his earphones. Sean screams near his ear.) Hey.

JOEY: (Removing his earphones.) Hello. I’m Joey. Fishballs, sir, wanna buy?

SEAN: Nice earphones, huh?

Joey gives the earphones to Sean who puts them on, and instantly jerks it away, stunned by the deafening Michael Jackson music. Joey put his earphones back on.

SEAN: (Screaming once more.) Hey, wait, I’m talking to you. (Joey removes the earphones once more.) Where did you get the earphones? Expensive stuff. It doesn’t go with your shirt. Did you steal these?

JOEY: No, not steal. I saved fishball income for one year.

SEAN: Where is your music player?

JOEY: I have no player. You see that old man over there? (Pointing and waving. The old man waves back). I use his player, good for 30 meters. In return, I fill his mini-SD card with Brazilian music aside from my Michael Jackson music. I download it from a friend’s laptop.

SEAN: Wow. Hi-tech poverty. Awesome. Why don’t you buy a new shirt?

JOEY: What for? Waste of money. Clothes don’t make me happy, only music.

SEAN: You kill yourself selling fishballs for a year just to buy wireless earphones?

JOEY: Why not? What would you buy? For me, it is a dream come true. I don’t need shirts and shoes, just Michael’s music. You, what is your dream?

SEAN: I have no time for dreams. All I do is write stories to survive. Oh yes, maybe I have a dream, but I don’t know what it is yet.

JOEY: At your age? Boy, you must be very sad. You must have a dream, something you really really like.

SEAN: I never really thought about it. My life is work, work, work.

JOEY: But I also work, work, work.

Sean takes out his notebook and frantically scribbles – “The essential Filipino is a free spirit, ‘poor and happy,’ as Ernest Hemingway puts it in his book Fiesta. In his poverty, this kid rejects the materialism that is destroying affluent Western society, driven by a spiritual dream. Perhaps it comes from his distant past, his devil-may-care Austronesian ancestry of nomads in tiny boats roaming the vast Pacific. This is a powerful message to the Western world.”

JOEY: (Grabbing Sean’s notebook) Give me that. (Reading aloud) Free spirit… poor and happy… Hemingway… spiritual dream… nomads in tiny boats… Aha, I know this is your dream. You just don’t know it.

SEAN: (Surprised at the boy’s perception.) I… I guess so.

JOEY: It is not a guess. You have found your dream. Once you find your dream, you must live it, or else you die inside and commit suicide.

SEAN – (Hit by a lightning bolt.) Thank you for telling me my dream. (Almost in tears, Sean hugs Joey and gives him 200 pesos.) Hemingway committed suicide when he realized he could no longer write. Me? Never.

JOEY – See. I told you. (returning the money) 200 is too much.

SEAN: No, it’s too little. You help me find my dream that was right in front of my nose all the while. That’s worth a million pesos. For 30 years, I went around as a journalist like a robot without feelings.

JOEY: You see with your heart, not your eyes. You can’t see things that are too near your nose. You have to move back to see.

SEAN: Keep the 200. Go, buy yourself more music.

JOEY: No. I buy food for my mom. She told me to stay at home because of the Covid virus. No more selling fishballs. But we have nothing to eat. So, I sneak out.

SEAN: How can you be so hungry and still dance away?

JOEY: Music is food for my soul. Without it, I die. You are a gift from heaven. The Lord is kind to me. Now, I can buy food. Thanks.

SEAN: Thanks also for telling me my dream. Yes, the Lord is kind to both of us.

It took 30 minutes for Sean to write his story at the hotel lobby in tears. In a few milliseconds, the story is at the editor’s desk in London. The title reads, “The Wisdom of the Poor.” After his story went viral, Sean is assigned back to Manila for three long months. He eventually writes a bestseller “The Essential Filipino”, based on interviews of vendors, fishermen, farmers, jeepney drivers. He gives 200 pesos to each interviewee.

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FOR THOSE WHO NEED HEALING, spiritual or physical (depression, anxiety, loneliness, terminal cancer, covid, diabetes, etc.) – say an online healing prayer with one or both healers below. Terminal patients have been healed in cyberspace. All you need is to have faith and to ask the Lord –

1) Father Fernando Suarez –
2) Sr. Raquel Reodica, RVM –

Download free e-book ‘Healing Stories of Sr. Raquel’ at

Author’s book. At age 26, the author (eastwind) drifted through Europe, hitchhiking 25,000 kilometers for three straight years. He wrote a book on his adventures, Wings and Wanderlust. He learned deep insights that radically changed his view of life, which he wants to share with readers looking for themselves or wanting to catch the wind. More about the book (get a copy) =

Author’s Credentials. Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo University) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN, ex-TVS Tokyo) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.


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