Shopping, pre-mall era
- Tingting Cojuangco () - May 31, 2009 - 12:00am

Remember when? Remember when you needn’t go far on Sundays to buy toys? Outside the church’s gates in all directions were vendors calling out to worshippers to buy plastic birds attached to strings that you could swing around and up and down, making the bird shrilly sing. There was white, yellow, pink, orange and green popcorn sold at the karitons outside the church doors. The white variety appeared cleaner because the rest looked like they had gone through so many fingers mashing in the artificial coloring with gusto that even my 12-year-old mind questioned its cleanliness.

And then there was competition between the baritone church peals and the high-pitched bells of “dirty ice cream” vendors. Children would mill around his cart, choosing from mango, ube, cheese, langka and chocolate flavors. How yummy it seemed. Mom used to say, “Dirty ice cream. No, you can’t eat.” On my first child’s birthday I found a dirty ice cream vendor. Assured that he and his products were hygienic, I got my first taste of cheese-flavored ice cream without Mother beside me. Up until today, Mang Tirso remembers my children’s birthday and appears on that date, without our calling him, with his successor son Samuel. I take them out, whether we have a party or not; after all, he’s been with us on so many occasions for the past 40 years! My grandchildren still enjoy Mang Tirso’s kindness and invite Samuel to their children’s parties.

Our family traditionally went beyond church services on Sundays. We scheduled our weekly visits to our grandparents right after church for lunch — our regular lechon every Sunday. Eventually my grandfather suffered from high blood pressure. Nevertheless, he continued to eat the fat of our crispy-skinned lechon.

I do know Escolta was the shopping area during the pre-mall era. If someone said you’re “pang-Escolta,” it was meant as a compliment meaning you had good taste and could afford buying in the posh stores that lined its streets. Escolta was the most fashionable place of our elders’ time. There was Berg’s Department Store, Oceanic Commercial, Heacocks and Squires Bingham.

Berg’s had everything a regular department store sold: shoes, clothes, bags, accessories. My mother-in-law had a stake in its ownership and we’d walk there from the Philippine Bank of Commerce which the Cojuangcos owned and where she kept office.

Escolta also had one of my favorite stores — the huge La Estrella Del Norte, lined with showcases of gold and silverware. Oceanic was where my mother’s grandmother and I shopped for silverware. In the ‘60s Stella Araneta and I would drive to Escolta to see Ruby Gloor, the Swiss designer who set her emeralds and my two-karat diamond in the most modern designs. Ruby’s several designs for me were flat white gold squares with diamonds on top. His sets were ahead of his time.

Marquina Restaurant was a favorite for chicken rice. It no longer exists to serve camaron rebosado, pinsec frito and steamed crabs. At lunchtime the place was screaming with people; evenings too, with the hungry moviegoers.

You could hear ivory mahjong fitchas at Chinatown’s Ongpin Street before See-Kee restaurant that served only crabs. I would pick up Chinese herbs and tea leaves and hold them in my palms. The smell of incense was distinctive of Chinese Buddha worship.

Authentic dim-sum restaurants and hopia stores were on every other corner. Bee Tin! That was the best! There was lots of Chinese junk food sold like champoy, haw flakes, kiamoy. Then there was the President Restaurant — the best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. The esteros with cheaper eateries accommodated numerous clientele who endured the heat while watching their food cook beside the filthy waterway that led to the Manila Bay.

Another place in Manila that was a tempting shopping oasis was Quiapo by the church, especially on Fridays. My yayas said they sold potions there to bring back husbands. Just as famous as the church were the medicinal herbs, anting-antings and potions and my gu-gu shampoo for my hair. Friday was the same day the Black Nazarene was honored, lest we forget.

Last year, I passed by the Quinta Market below the Quiapo Bridge in the evening and, wow, it was bedlam with people walking fearlessly in the streets and vendors selling an assortment of fruits, vegetables, fresh meat and the catch of the day. Handicrafts, baskets, capiz-shell items, native bags, embroidery and wooden furniture in the middle of the road. “lls de tuls” — yes, “ilalim ng tulay,” that was the proper lingo for referring to the Bridge in Quiapo. Colegialas who didn’t want others to know they were interested in bargains there coined the term to “sophisticate” their buys.

It was Echague where Baby Magsaysay would go to Kim Chong Tin, the oldest hopia factory famous for their Excellente Cooked Ham which was worth the traffic-heavy, circuitous trip to Quiapo. The freshly baked bread in Vienna Bakery was her regular craving.

Carriedo Street was another landmark in Quiapo. It wasn’t the site of a small mall. It was simply a store that sold shoes. Imported shoes all in size 5 1/2, which was then my size; now I’m an 8, after five children.

Divisoria is always memorable because I believe my daughter Pin got her business acumen from my mother-in-law there. I remember that, as a pastime, my mother-in-law owned an accessory shop in the heart of Divisoria. The name of that shop escapes me at the moment, but I do remember Leoni, the store’s sales manager. Amidst the kalesas and jeepneys, I also remember going to that store with my mother-in-law in her Jaguar amidst that sea of humanity.

It was an ideal trade oasis for high-quality fabrics, cheaper than Makati. Tailoring needs like needles, threads, buttons, lace and beads all these colors were like shining jewels. A street called Ilaya had imported dry goods while Folgeras street had a bounty of fruits. Another street sold cooking needs from flour to baking items and decor while toys and cheap clothing abounded around Tabora Street. Dusters, blouses, pants — you name it, Tabora Street had it. It was sort of departmentalized, not going from floor to floor but crisscrossing streets. It was Atty. Louie Baltazar’s haven, where he would buy goodies for his year-round Christmas room. When you went to his six-story house any month of the year you could pick out a present to the tune Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

These were the times and places worth remembering from my youth. (Oops, I hope I haven’t given too many hints about my age!)

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