Death by Otap

One morning while I was puttering around the house, cooking rice and sweeping up dog poop in the yard, I heard a feeble “Tao po?” (Is anybody there?) emanating from my front yard. I ambled outside to discover a fresh-faced young man with a hopeful expression on his face, standing outside my gate.

“Good morning, sir. I am a working student from Biñan, Laguna…” he began. Inevitably, anytime someone in the Philippines tells you that they are a working student, they are about to try and sell you something. I have almost never heard anyone here describe themselves as a working student for any other reason.

I was about to brush him off, when suddenly he raised two packages of biscuits into the air. He now had my full attention! I asked him what he was selling. “Biscocho and broas,” he answered.

Biscocho? Since it’s kinda like Italian biscotti but not nearly as good, maybe not.

Broas (pronounced “Bro-ass” – well, OK, actually “bro-as”)? Although I am a total bro, I’ll pass.

“Do you have otap?” I asked, hopefully.

To my delight, he quickly produced a package of otap, one of my favourite Filipino snack foods, from his bag of treasures. Why didn’t he mention it in the first place? I can never resist the flaky, buttery goodness of good otap from the Visayas. In fact, I melt before it just as quickly as it melts in my mouth.

Happy to have the chance to help a working student – arguably the hardest-working type of student – while also helping myself become grotesquely fat, I purchased one package and began to munch away. And as I snacked, I got to thinking: That would be a great way to murder someone (not, I must hasten to say, that I would ever want to do such a thing myself)!

Think about it. In the Philippines, at least, door-to-door vendors are not uncommon. All you would have to do to dispose of your enemy would be to send an innocent-looking young man to their door selling packages of poisoned biscocho, poisoned broas, and, if the victim actually has good taste in snack food, poisoned otap.

Still life with otap, shopping bags, pot-holder, envelope from electric bill, bananas and scissors. Not shown: Poisonousness.

After a day of sporadic otap-snacking, I still feel fine; I guess the otap really was just a way for a dedicated young man to make a bit of extra tuition money, rather than a nefarious criminal ploy. If there’s any lesson here, I suppose it’s that we constantly put our lives and personal safety in the hands of others, and even with all the dangers in the world today, it’s a miracle that our tattered social contract continues to hold up as well as it does. OK, I’m probably overreaching now – I think I’ll just shut up and eat some more otap.


Note: My macabre train of thought may have been unconsciously inspired by the pretty terrible story of the milk tea poisoning deaths that recently occurred in Manila. It’s really a horrible tragedy, and my heart genuinely goes out to the victims and their families. I don’t want my readers to think that I really find humour in the idea of a real human being actually dying from poisoned food – except, of course, for myself!

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