Sunday, May 13, 2012

*293. A Trip To Bountiful: AT THE SARI-SARI STORE

WHAT'S IN STORE? A typical Filipino roadside sari-sari store sold basic items needed for daily living--canned goods, eggs, candies, cookies,lard,  vegetables, condiments, cigarettes and candles--in individual pieces ("tingi"), making everything easy on the budget. Ca. 1910-1915.

It’s a convenience store, a meeting place, and to a small child growing up, an accessible wonderland where candies, comics, toys and dreams could be had for a few centavos. Such is the attraction of the corner tindahan—the local sari-sari store where everything has a place, and there’s a place for everything—goods and supplies for hearth and home available cheaply, easily. Sari-sari stores began as just simple provision windows operated from thatched huts.

Soon, they became extensions of the home. Every village had not just one, but two or more stores, run by Filipino and Chinese entrepreneurs. By 1938, Filipino owned sari-sari stores outnumbered those of the Chinese, 7 to 1, but the latter’s businesses reaped more profits owing to the bigger capital they plowed into their business, which was three times more than the locals.

Just like the average Filipino store in the 60s, our neighborhood sari-sari store was a modest one--no signboard, no number—but everyone knew where it was, and called it by the owner’s name, “Mang Saning”. It is located almost at the end of our street in Sta. Ines, close to the rickety Morales Bridge, just a short walk away from our place. As kids, our daily duties consisted of running errands for Mother, which meant making short trips to Saning’s whenever she ran out of posporu (matches), sabun intsik (Chinese soap), de lata, or when she needed softdrinks to refresh visiting guests.

Upon reaching the store which was sometimes left unattended, I would tap the metal cover of the garapons (glass jars) with my peso coin and holler, “Salwan na pooooo!!” (I’m buying!) to announce my presence. I would then rattle off whatever items my Mother wanted me to buy—a can of pork and beans, gulaman bars, starch, salt, a block of Purico—and then run back home.

For dutifully answering my Mother’s “tubud” (errands), I would be rewarded with tips—ten, fifteen, twenty five centavos—which would send me back running to Saning’s. I would normally ignore the canned goods arrange in pyramids on the shelves, but would scan the jars of candies, biscuits and sweets, all lined up temptingly on the front ledge of the store. For one centavo, you can buy one Texas bubble gum, a Lemon Drop candy, or a Marca SeƱorita taffy. After all, sari-sari store sales are based on the concept of “tingi”—selling in pieces and parts, as opposed to wholesale, which is about the only way a daily wage earner can buy his supplies. Hence, one could buy a stick of cigarette, a “takal” of sugar or cooking oil, a stick of gum and tingting palis.

 But in the 60s, every centavo had real value. I could buy a sipa made of papel de japon and a folded paper balloon. When I went hungry, I could munch on a crispy kropek, and for a few centavos more, enjoy a belekoy (Chinese hardened jelly laced with anise seeds) and finish a stick of chewy tira-tira. I could also opt for tsampuy, Orange-Kist, Bingo, Beatles and Marie biscuits. There were also other unbranded pastries that were just as tasty—pilipit, kamatsili and nameless pink colored cookies dusted with shredded coconut.

Of course, Mother impressed upon me not to waste my money by taking chances on the “bagutan” board, where, for 5 centavos, you can pick a rolled up paper which, when opened, contained a number corresponding to a prize displayed on the board—a big balloon, a celluloid doll, a plastic gun or a brand-new peso bill wrapped in cellophane. I’m afraid I did not always listen to her, but my efforts paid off at least in one instance; I remember winning the top item on the prize board once---a large, yellow balloon as big as my head—which I carried home proudly for my siblings to show.

My siblings too made trips to Saning’s, for different reasons. My eldest sister for instance, often went there to check the komiks for “arkila” (comic books for rent) that hung from a line across the small store and secured with clothespins. She avidly followed the story series featured in such komiks as Hiwaga, Tin-Edyer Song and Shows, Aliwan, Lagim and Tagalog Klasiks. You could read the komiks right there and then—on the bangku (wooden benches) in front of the store or you could bring the komiks home for a few centavos more. My brothers brought teks (trade cards), rubber bands, cardboard masks and perminante (gunpowder sheets) for their play guns. Mang Saning was also kind enough to let us collect for free, used cigarette wrappers which we folded into paper chains, tansans and (metal soda crowns) and cartons which which came in handy for our school arts projects.

The expansion of a Chinese-owned general merchandise store near the town market stole the thunder from Saning’s, and I must admit that at one point, I patronized that store too, what with the variety of goods and assortment of choices. But service there was always impersonal—I was either ignored or made to wait for minutes. So that’s how I went back to Saning’s.

Last time I went back to the old place in Mabalacat, Mang Saning’s store is still there—in fact, it’s even undergoing a facelift. In this age of malls, the tiny store still holds fort and continues to serve the homes and residents of our once-quiet Sta. Ines street—selling practically the same basic, bountiful stuff—from cooking oil and candles, condiments and candies, beer and soda, eggs and dried fish to scrubs, brooms, headache and cold tablets. Only now, the store also sells cell phone call cards and loads, in keeping with the high-tech times. I am glad that More than just a corner stall, the sari-sari store is a monument to the plucky entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos that has helped him to survive through good times and bad.

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