When I was a little girl, I looked forward to my hometown Cavite City’s annual fiesta held every second Sunday of November. I could tell that the celebrations were looming as soon as banderitas (flag decorations) started draping our streets and the perya (carnival) was being set up near the market.
My first Disneyland experience was at age 5 when my parents first took my sister and me to California, but there’s something about the rustic Filipino perya that I keep coming back to. Last weekend my friend Jeff and I reminisced what life was like for ’80s and ’90s kids by visiting the Cavite City perya. We compared how it has changed since our childhood.
Then: Freak Shows
I remember spending my money on shows like Babaeng Gagamba (Lady Spider). A painted signage of a horrific monster with a spider’s body and a hideous woman’s head scared children like myself. Curious, I paid for the entrance fee, climbed the stairs to look down at the makeshift lair to see… a human-sized paper-mâché spider. A female adult was wearing the disheveled costume with her head poking out. She didn’t even try to act menacing. It’s as if she was dying for her work shift to end.
Through the years I learned that freak shows were simply an exploitation of disfigured or handicapped people. The Mermaid was a young girl wearing a cheap mermaid costume. Penguin Boy was a disfigured little person who waddled when he tried to walk. His owner, screaming into the microphone to a confused audience, nudged Penguin Boy to dance or perform tricks like shooting balls into a hoop.
Now: Politically Correct Amusement
Now that human rights has more or less evolved in Philippine waters, perya freak shows no longer exist (as far as I know). I visit peryas regularly and have not seen a freak show since the ’90s.
Then: 25-Centavo Coin Toss Games
My bronze 25-centavo coins took me far when I was little. All I had to do was toss one into a checkered table in hopes of landing in the middle of a square. Each square could win you at least one peso. Sometimes I’d win a higher denomination or better yet, prizes such as candy, junk food, ceramic cups, and toys.
Now: 1-Peso Coin Toss
Winning at the checkered table isn’t as easy as it used to be. The margins are wider and one-peso coins are needed instead of 25-centavo coins.
Then: More Choices
“Is it just me or are peryas smaller now?” I asked Jeff. I thought that as a child, things simply looked grander in my eyes. “No,” Jeff replied. “It’s not as big as it used to be.” There was a bigger selection of rides, treats, and games.
Now: Fewer Choices
I no longer see glass mazes, where you’re fooled into thinking that you’ll spend hours getting lost, only to realize that even the rats could easily find their way out. I remember seeing a bathing suit-clad girl sitting on a makeshift diving board, and for every ball you purchase, you have chance of hitting the bull’s eye that shoves her into the pool. A lot of games and rides no longer exist in today’s perya.
Some Things Remain The Same
The horror train looked just like it did in the ’80s. People in black sheets and poorly-made monster masks lurked inside. Grownups took over the gambling booths, while kids preferred the carousel, giant slides, and other classic rides with questionable safety standards.