by Douglas Candano
Whatever the case may have been, it is known that upon his graduation in June of 1974, Ericsson Chua left Samantha and the twins behind to return to Manila. His parents had asked that he help in the operations of the panciteria. Since his parents were traditional Chinese, Ericsson apparently kept his relations with Samantha and his fatherhood from them, choosing instead to leave his quasi-family behind in Indiana, although from later events, it is apparent that some kind of correspondence was maintained after he left.
The Panciteria Valhalla that Ericsson Chua returned to had expanded during Ericsson’s years in Indiana. The Martial Law years had proved to be profitable for the Chua family. As the president’s favorite eatery, the panciteria now occupied a three-story building, and had played host to a number of visiting dignitaries such as Ugandan President Idi Amin, then American Vice President Gerald Ford, and Persia’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Its menu had expanded to include dishes with ingredients such as truffles and Kobe beef. Additionally, the panciteria also employed the services of Chua Yun Ting, a blind Chinese noodle master from the mainland, who was said to be a distant cousin of Ericsson’s mother.
Despite his blindness, it is said that the noodles of Chua Yun Ting were the finest anywhere, even in China. Blinded in his forties by an accident, Chua Yun Ting could still prepare and slice noodle dough with precision while creating dishes that never failed to amaze. Ranging from soft clay-roasted duck on a bed of noodles to his version of birthday noodles with prawns and abalone, Chua Yun Ting’s cooking skills, coupled with his gentle nature, made him the most loved among the Panciteria Valhalla staff.
The Panciteria Valhalla’s success ensured that when Ericsson Chua arrived from Indiana to work as the panciteria’s assistant manager, he had no difficulty reestablishing contact with the other members of the group, who had remained loyal patrons during his absence. By this time, most of his friends were executives in their family corporations.
And so, when Ericsson Chua came back to Manila on June 20, 1974, he found himself in very good company. Aside from his friends from the group, his job as the panciteria’sassistant manager brought him in contact with a variety of famous personalities. Ericsson was often the one who entertained high-level politicians and movie stars after the Chua couple first welcomed them. This was mostly due to practical reasons — Ericsson’s command of both English and Tagalog was impeccable, and he was knowledgeable about a variety of topics that would make for interesting conversations. While this resulted in many invitations to social events, Ericsson would always beg off for one reason or another. The reasons for this have never been established.
Aside from entertaining the panciteria’s guests, Ericsson’s duties also involved marketing. However, since the Panciteria Valhalla was already well established, Ericsson’s fulfillment of his marketing duties mainly consisted of buying ad space in Manila guidebooks, and occasionally inviting food critics from the country’s different broad sheets.
However, on August 20, 1979, life changed for Ericsson. His father suddenly died of a stroke. Given the prominence of the Panciteria Valhalla, it should hardly be surprising that the wake and funeral were grand. Although the president was only at the wake for a few minutes, he did give a huge funeral wreath in addition to sending a personal representative to the funeral.
Understandably, things changed after the death of Ericsson’s father. His mother was now the sole proprietor and manager of the Panciteria Valhalla, and Ericsson Chua’s duties were expanded to include operations. This marked the beginning of several changes in the panciteria.
One of the first changes that Ericsson Chua instituted was to keep the panciteria open for twenty-four hours. The Panciteria Valhalla’s prominence had made demand for its food unusually high. Customers were known to queue outside the panciteria until closing time approached. Ericsson’s move made certain that the appetites of the panciteria’s customers would always be satisfied. Ericsson also tried to accommodate the panciteria’s customers by adding two additional floors to serve as dining rooms, in addition to purchasing an empty lot along Katapatan Road that was to be the site of the second Panciteria Valhalla branch.
Ericsson also expanded the panciteria’s products. Working with Chua Yun Ting, he added several dishes to the menu such as baked quail on thin cellophane noodles, flame roasted mutton on a spit, and liquidless turtle soup, which instantly became a best seller, as much as a novelty. Ericsson also added alcoholic beverages, stocking wines, liquors and beers from around the world. More importantly, in December of 1979, the panciteria became the first establishment in the Philippines to offer mead.
Much has been said about the mead served in the Panciteria Valhalla — a golden concoction that amazed even those from Poland and the Scandinavian countries. It is said that a sip would bring solace to the broke, comfort to the stressed, and laughter to the heartbroken. However not everyone was impressed by the new drink. There were rumors that Valhalla’s mead was nothing more than adulterated beer laced with endorphins, while some said that the mead was manufactured in a dirty, old warehouse by scruffy men who would occasionally spit into the brew to add foam. Whatever the case, Valhalla’s mead was ordered with most meals in the panciteria.
Ericsson Chua’s changes were approved by his mother, who delighted in the revenue increases that these brought. However, on November 4, 1982, Ericsson proposed and pushed for an idea that would affect the relationship between mother and son.
Shortly after a trip to Olongapo, Ericsson Chua suggested to his mother that the panciteriastaff be replaced by scantily clad waitresses. He pointed out that this would add to the panciteria’s ability to attract customers. Such a move would give the panciteria a fresh new look, especially since it would be hard to argue with the selling power of sex. Ericsson’s suggestion was immediately rejected by his mother, who was appalled at the thought of replacing the staff — some of whom had been working in the Panciteria Valhalla since the mid-1950s. Moreover, she also thought that Ericsson’s suggestion would destroy the image that the panciteria had spent close to 30 years building. Ericsson’s suggestion led to a heated argument. By the end of the month, Ericsson Chua was effectively pushed aside when his mother told him to stop interfering with the panciteria’s operations and instead concentrate on the construction of the new Panciteria Valhalla branch on Katapatan Road. They never spoke to each other again.
At this time, work on the Katapatan Road lot had not yet begun. Spanning a couple thousand square meters, the lot was enclosed by thick walls with graffiti sprayed on them. Inside, rubbish lay littered in the areas close to the walls, while a few Baletetrees were clustered together in the middle of the lot. After his argument with his mother, Ericsson Chua made himself scarce. There were rumors that he had left the country to go back to the United States, while some said that he had begun to work in a siopao factory in Malabon, where he butchered stray cats for the factory’s special bola-bola pao. Whatever the case, Ericsson Chua disappeared, only reappearing after the death of his mother on her birthday, April 10, 1983.
Ericsson’s mother was poisoned at her birthday party. In a departure from traditional Chinese practice, she had eaten a bowl of birthday noodles, first and alone. To the horror of her guests, moments later, she fell face-first into the dining table, turning purple while frothing at the mouth. Analysis later revealed that she had been poisoned by the birthday noodles, which had been laced with a complex toxic substance. Consequently, the blind noodle master Chua Yun Ting was arrested and charged with the murder of his employer and distant cousin.
During the trial of Chua Yun Ting, prosecutors found it hard to establish a motive. Ericsson’s mother was loved and respected by the panciteria staff, and Chua Yun Ting was no exception. In fact, the relationship between the blind noodle master and his deceased employer appeared to be very close. However, during the trial, Chua Yun Ting admitted to preparing the fatal noodles, which had been requested by the birthday celebrant for her banquet. He denied poisoning his distant cousin though, maintaining that he had prepared the noodles to give the birthday celebrant a delight that was by no means meant to be fatal. Interestingly enough, those present during the trial say that Chua Yun Ting had claimed that Ericsson Chua had assisted by handing him the spices used to flavor the fatal dish. Given the old noodle master’s blindness and the fact that nobody had seen Ericsson in almost a year, Chua Yun Ting’s statements were not taken seriously, and he was sentenced to death, dying on the electric chair on June 12, 1984. It is of note, however, that the name of Ericsson Chua does not appear in any of the trial’s official proceedings.
Following the death of Ericsson Chua’s mother, the Panciteria Valhalla closed for the first time in years. Ericsson Chua, who for years had been expected to continue his parents’ legacy, was nowhere to be found. It was only on December 15, 1984 that Ericsson resurfaced and the Panciteria Valhalla reopened.
The Panciteria Valhalla reopened with only mediocre success. Since it had been closed for more than a year, a lot of the panciteria’s former patrons had found other places to eat. Additionally, most of the eatery’s old staff had found other jobs, or refused to work for Ericsson Chua out of loyalty to his mother. The panciteria itself was beginning to deteriorate as the floors and tables — untouched since Ericsson arrived from Indiana a decade before, began to creak and groan. As such, customers were greeted by creaky old furniture, bad service, and bland food. It was clear that the Panciteria Valhalla would gradually slip into obscurity if nothing were done.
Nothing was done by Ericsson to save the Panciteria Valhalla, which, after whetting the appetites of presidents, foreign dignitaries and ordinary people for more than 30 years, quietly closed on April 6, 1985. The Panciteria Valhalla’s gradual decline and eventual closure did not mean that Ericsson Chua was idle since his reappearance. On the contrary, it appeared that he was busy developing the Katapatan Road lot that was originally envisioned to be the second branch of the panciteria.
During the time of the panciteria’s decline, a flurry of activity could be seen at the lot. A portion of the wall had been torn down, and several guards were posted at the newly made entrance. Everyday, workmen and their heavy machines could be seen entering and leaving the lot. Some of the Baletetrees at the middle of the lot were also transferred near the wall. As the months passed, the wall was eventually torn down, revealing a huge whitewashed concrete building with rainbow trimmings and mirrored doors, beside which was the bronze Valhalla Club sign.
And so, on January 5, 1986, nine months after the Panciteria Valhalla closed, the Valhalla Club opened. Many famous personalities graced the club’s opening, among them General Fidel Ramos, Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, General Fabian Ver and Bongbong Marcos. It would be the last time these personalities partied together before Ramos and Enrile broke ties with the government. Foreign dignitaries and Ericsson Chua’s friends from the group — who by now had begun running their respective family corporations were also present at the event, where they were all named einheriar for the first time by the beautiful, blue eyed valkyries.
The opening of the Valhalla Club also earned it enemies that pushed for its closure on moral grounds. Letters were published in newspapers that hit the nightclub as symptomatic of the decay of the Filipino people, while priests warned their congregation never to set foot in that house of sin.
The outbreak of the Edsa Revolution on February 22, 1986 drew attention away from the Valhalla Club, although there were those who, upon the inauguration of Corazon Aquino as the country’s 11th president, thought that the club would be closed because of its links to the Marcos regime. Needless to say, no such closure happened and despite the political changes, nothing at the Valhalla Club changed. Every night, its mirrored doors would bring its high-profile guests in to be welcomed and entertained by the lovely, mysterious and eternally virginal blue-eyed valkyries.
There is a lot of debate about where Ericsson Chua got the valkyries. Some whispered that he had shady partners in the USSR who would supply women from such places as Kiev, Leningrad and Moscow. Others even said that the valkyries were aetas that took an entirely different form inside the club because of drugs or witchcraft. The more paranoid even said that Ericsson Chua had a two-decade old agreement with some American soldiers stationed at Clark and Subic to spread their blond and blue-eyed genes among the locals to create illegitimate children who would go on to work at the Valhalla Club.
Whatever the case, the Valhalla Club’s valkyries were seemingly infinite. No valkyrie was ever seen in the club more than once, although the names of Brunhild, Hildr, and Sigrun were always present, albeit belonging to different faces. The einheriar seemed not to really mind this, as each sultry valkyrie seemed to know each customer’s deepest desires. It fact, it would seem that conversations with valkyries were carried over from one visit to the next, as each new valkyrie seemed to know everything about their einheriar, who also found solace in the seemingly limitless mead and boar dishes offered at the Valhalla Club.
Although it seemed that the mead served at the Valhalla Club was a carryover from the panciteria days, those who had tried both swore that they were different. While the panciteria’s mead relaxed and consoled, it is said that the mead served at the Valhalla Club blocked all thoughts of the outside world. Wives, children, meetings, and court cases were all forgotten with a sip, allowing each einherito concentrate on Valhalla’s delights. The never-ending variety of boar dishes, too, were said to possess the power to open senses that went beyond tasting, touching, seeing, hearing, and smelling. For the Club’s Muslim einheriarsuch as Arab dignitaries, halal mutton was used instead, although those who had tried both said that dishes prepared with boar seemed to unlock more hidden senses.
While the einheriar lost themselves in the company of the valkyries, Ericsson Chua was usually in his office. Those who entered the office often described it as nothing really remarkable save for it sometimes smelling like a dead snake and muriatic acid-burned flesh, and that there was sometimes a viscous dog at the corner of the room.
As the years passed, it seemed that the Valhalla Club remained oddly constant. This is interesting since aside from the nightly valkyrie changes, the arrangement of the hall also seemed to change every night. Though the long tables would always look different, as would the different decorations on the stone walls, these changes always seemed to be variations of the same services that the einheriar could undoubtedly count on, even amidst the chaos of the RAM coup attempts of the late 1980s.
However, on the evening of June 1 and the early hours of June 2, 1992, everything came to an end at the Valhalla Club. Those present during that night said that even before entering the club, something seemed wrong. The huge Baletetrees at the corner of the club’s lot — placed there since the Valhalla Club’s construction, had been cut, leaving behind their withered roots. The rainbow trimmings of the building’s facade also appeared dull and cracked. Inside, it was chillier than usual. Nonetheless, the Valhalla Club’s einheriar — politicians, diplomats, and the taipans who were members of Ericsson’s group, were present, entertained by the valkyries, whose charms they could not resist despite noticing that all their fingernails seemed to be gone.
By ten in the evening, everything seemed normal. Families and the intrigues of the business and political worlds were forgotten, the einheriar were drinking mead and eating boar, and quite a few were leading their valkyries into the private corner rooms. At around ten thirty, Ericsson Chua made an uncharacteristic appearance outside his office, followed by a young man and a young woman.
People were disturbed and appalled by the appearance of Ericsson’s companions. Towering at around eight feet, the young man was thin and had a distinctly serpentine face. His shifty eyes seemed to look in different directions and he had rows of pointed teeth that were all fang-like. For her part, the young woman was short and had a grayish complexion. Her face was fixed in a sorrowful grimace. Ericsson Chua and his two companions sat at the end of a sparsely occupied long table. Some said that Ericsson’s shoes appeared to have been made of fingernails. Asked about the identity of Ericsson’s two companions, the Valhalla Club staff replied that they had heard that these were Ericsson’s children that he had not seen for the past two decades. This was apparently their first time in Manila, and as such, Ericsson had much to talk about with them. However vague, this answer appeared to have satisfied the einheriar in their detached state, and nobody paid much attention to Ericsson Chua and his ugly children for most of the night.
Shortly after midnight, a series of strange and horrifying events began to take place in the Valhalla Club.
Although several contradictory details have been noticed in the accounts of survivors, it should be pointed out that the basic sequence of events appears to be generally consistent in the testimonies. At around one or one thirty in the morning, the main lights of the Valhalla Club dimmed then suddenly turned off. Already unusually cold that night, the temperature inside the club became freezing, and the einheriar could only snuggle against the valkyriesfor warmth.
The usually smooth skin of the valkyries seemed to feel a little damp and irregular, and as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, the einheriar saw that they were actually embracing corpses with their skins peeled off. Understandably, each customer recoiled in horror, especially those who were in the process of enjoying the services of the valkyries in the private rooms. Needless to say, at this point the desire to leave was great, and each warrior began running towards the exit.
The next few moments have been described as chaotic and surreal. As the customers tried to make their way towards the exit, Ericsson Chua remained seated. His two companions, however, could be seen in the middle of the pack of bodies rushing towards the club’s doors. The tall young man began swallowing people. Survivors said that the young man’s belly had expanded to unbelievable proportions after he had eaten a few people, while the young woman watched passively. The door of Ericsson Chua’s office then burst open as a huge, wolf-like dog ran towards the customers, foaming at the mouth. As Ericsson’s dog tore off hands and feet, the Valhalla Club suddenly caught fire all around. Nobody really knows where the fire came from, but it quickly consumed everything in its path while thick smoke filled the smoldering hall.
According to all accounts, the smoke caused not only customers, but also Ericsson’s dog and young companions, to choke and collapse. The young man in particular was frightening, as it coughed out body parts on the floor before it finally stopped breathing. Interestingly enough, the accounts differ on what happened to Ericsson Chua. Some survivors said that he was swallowed by the young man who was reportedly his son. Others said that he was buried alive as the burning roof beams collapsed. It has also been said that Ericsson Chua melted into a liquid mass as he was consumed by flames.
Whatever happened to Ericsson Chua, it is certain that he disappeared, and the morning of June 2, 1992 saw a lot of missing public officials, diplomats, and businessmen. The identities of all the fatalities have to this day not yet been established, as it is said that well-disguised actors assumed some identities and positions. What is certain, however, is on that morning, the Valhalla Club which, like its owner, had its roots in the small Panciteria Valhalla at the heart of Binondo, ceased to exist, and on its ruins was built the Church of the Nativity a few years later.
“Dreaming Valhalla was first printed in Story Philippines Volume 1, 2007 and was later reprinted in Heights Volume LV, Issue 1 (2007) and Literatura 13. Douglas Candano graduated in 2005 from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he was awarded the Development Studies Departmental Award and the Loyola Schools Awards for the Arts for Fiction. A former Associate Editor of Heights, the Ateneo’s official literary publication and organization, he has received a Philippines Free Press Literary Award and a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short stories, and has been awarded fellowships to the 8th Ateneo Heights, 4th Ateneo National, 7th IYAS, 14th Iligan (Jimmy Y. Balacuit Award for English Fiction) and 45th Dumaguete National Writers Workshops. His stories have appeared in Heights, the Philippines Free Press, Story Philippines, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, the 2007 Philippine PEN Anthology of Contemporary Filipino Fiction, and the Likhaan Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature. He is currently a graduate student at McGill University’s School of Urban Planning.