This is a rambutan which I bought from the rambutan man, who, as you might expect, is a man who sells rambutans.
The rambutan is a ridiculous looking fruit. In Malaysia, they just call it “hairy.” It is a close relative of the lychee and when you peel back the skin, it’s fleshy, like an eyeball. It’s nearly identical to the lychee in texture and flavor.
The rambutan man rolls around town with a wheelbarrow full of rambutans. Sometimes he’s by my school. Yesterday he had parked at the central market where he was also selling houseplants. Here, people sell what they have. I recently saw a man yelling into people’s homes trying to unload two blenders.
Whenever I see the rambutan man, I start to sing “The Candy Man,” replacing “The Candy Man can” with “The Rambutan man.” I find it impossible to stop.
The rambutan man is not a fan of photos but here is his wheelbarrow.
You can buy a lot of things from the various “mans” here. There is a bread man (who I think is 16) who rides by my house nightly on a giant tricycle, honking a clown horn to announce he’s got bread. I’ve been told he has good baguettes.
In the morning there is the Gas Imperial man who sells kerosene. His truck plays an endless loop of the Gas Imperial jingle sung by high-pitched children, like a tweaked morning cable-show theme song.
(The driving around with music thing is a pretty standard way to promote. You will hear what you think is a party but it’s a slow-moving truck with a loudspeaker strapped to the top playing club music and has a billboard advertising dental work.)
I have no idea what this man was selling.
My favorite “man” is Ch’uhuk (pronounced approximately “choo-hook”). The first time I saw him, he terrified me. He is hulking with intense eyes and bikes around town barking “Chooo-HUK!” He sounds like a psychotic quarterback.
It turns out Ch’uhuk means “candy” in Maya. His nickname is Chu’uhuk. And according to my boss, his mom makes the ch’uhuk.
I’ve been tweeting on behalf of my school sharing various Maya words and traditions I learn about (@MayaFacts). As part of this I decided to get a video of Chu’uhuk.
Recently when I was on my bike I heard him and tried to surreptitiously track him down—which given how loud he is was harder than you’d think. The sound traveled and bounced, so I kept ending up near him but not at him.
But then suddenly we were face-to-face in the street, gliding by in slow motion, he on his bike, I on mine. He stared at me with his intense eyes and just as he passed yelled “Chooo-HUK!” Too stunned, I didn’t get a video.
The next morning I heard him outside of my apartment. I ran out to my kitchen patio to see if I could get an aerial shot. But by the time I got my camera he was turning a corner, gone again.
Then I realized he wasn’t in the street because he was now in my compound’s yard. I ran downstairs and found him talking to my landlord, Armando, and our handyman, Chucho.
I blurted out about the school and the Twitter thing, and asked him if he would say ch’uhuk for me on video and describe what he sold. And I watched his face morph from intense to extraordinarily proud and happy. That I would make this request clearly made him pleased as punch.
He showed me his candies made of coconut and honey. The best he said, was an hombre pobre (“poor man”), an eggy soaked bread, kind of like French toast.
I asked what a rich man was. He grinned and pointed at Armando.
My neighborhood in Brooklyn is largely Mexican and as such, has a lot of mans. I used to find their shouts and loudspeakers irritating. But I have a feeling, that when I go back, I will think of Ch’uhuk and won’t mind them so much anymore
Here is my video of Ch’uhuk: