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Pinoy Kasi
‘Tiangge’

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:24:00 11/12/2010

Filed Under: Bazaars & Flea Markets

BACK IN 2004, I first wrote about a Sidcor Sunday market, and boldly predicted that it would be the ?tiangge of the future.?

Sidcor? I?m sure some of you have been to their tiangge without even knowing it is called Sidcor. In 2004, they were a voice in the wilderness. A Sunday market in Metro Manila seemed odd, especially given the way malls were mushrooming everywhere.

But Sidcor, which started with a few stalls on a vacant lot in Cubao, not only survived but expanded. Its stint in Cubao was short-lived because the lot was leased to a Makro supermarket, which has since closed shop.

Sidcor moved on to the Lung Center, the last place I thought would ever host a tiangge, but it flourished there, bringing in money as well to the Lung Center.

Then last weekend, Sidcor moved again, this time to Centris, the shopping complex next to the LRT station on the corner of Quezon Avenue and Edsa. I was feeling anxious about the move, worried I might lose contact with many vendors from the Lung Center, but within a few minutes after I arrived, I was able to locate them.

There are actually more stalls now, and the place is better protected from the elements. The stalls are on an empty lot next to Centris, with its own parking area (free for now, but it fills up quickly though you can also use Centris? underground parking).

Centris has very futuristic designs with metal ?mushrooms? rising into the air (I am told these are solar panels but have yet to confirm the information). Shortly after I arrived at the place, my 5-year-old son told me, with great excitement, that he had discovered ?a really, really swell place? on the grounds. That was when I realized the stalls were right next to, well, a ?swell? place with a very nature-friendly playground (wall climbing for toddlers!) and some restaurants. If you plan things right, you can have the kids play under the watchful eye of older siblings or adults while you shop.

Evolving

The fact that Sidcor is now next to a mall tells us how the tiangge has evolved and adapted. The term is itself borrowed from Minnan or Hokkien Chinese and probably dates back to the Spanish colonial times or maybe even earlier when Chinese merchants would come to the Philippines and put up makeshift stalls to trade with the indios.

But I?m going to be bolder and suggest that Sidcor and our other urban weekend markets have even older roots than the Chinese tiangge.

To explain, I have to go back to the 1970s when I began to work in rural areas. I was surprised to find that many rural communities had no regular market that is open daily. Instead, they had a market day?usually the weekend?when people would converge from all over the town with their goods. Farmers brought in their produce, while merchants from larger towns brought in clothes and household items.

For a city-bred kid like myself, it was all fascinating, a whole new world as I discovered all kinds of exotic foods (or at least they seemed exotic at that time), all kinds of rice varieties, for example, fruits from the forests, and an assortment of animals, from rats to snails and crickets.

I wasn?t an anthropologist yet in the 1970s, but a lot of my exposure to the fine crafts of indigenous communities came from those weekend markets, as the ?natives? came in with their mats, baskets and woven fabrics, often selling them at rock-bottom prices. They were good stuff, aesthetically and functionally, and durable, lasting till now.

Those rural weekend markets have been reincarnated in urban weekend markets. Since the tiangge is only for a day, the overhead cost is limited to that one day?s rent, opening new possibilities for smaller merchants or people who want to have a weekend business sideline.

Ligaya and Jane, who sell Japanese stuff, have their own professions during the week, but discovered the world of Japanese container shipments, whose contents were unknown until you opened it. Although most of their merchandise are household items, you just might end up going home with a bike, or a computer chair.

Sidcor and other tiangges have offered new business opportunities as well for merchants from outside Manila. I hear Ilokano among vendors selling vegetables from Baguio and longanisa from Vigan, and nearby you?ll hear the hard southern Tagalog accents from Aling Narsing of Batangas, with her sinaing fish products, black pepper and whatever fruits are in season.

Artisanal

The weekend markets actually remind me of farmers? markets in north America and Europe, which attract not just farmers with artisans. The farmers? markets in the West have in fact allowed for a new meaning to be attached to ?artisan.? Suddenly, everything?s being labeled ?organic? and ?artisanal? these days, organic as long as you didn?t use pesticides and fertilizers in your garden or farm, and ?artisanal? if it is produced at home, whether a common chopping board, hand-painted tiles or lampshades. These days, artisanal doesn?t just refer to jewelry and handcrafted products but is also used to describe coffee, cheese and other processed foods.

The possibilities for new businesses are limited only by your imagination, and the tiangges offer a wonderful opportunity for people to experiment. Reinvent yourself and learn to add value to a low-cost, plain product. The lowly tablea can suddenly become artisanal cocoa! Guinataang suso can become coco escargot.

I already see this happening in Sidcor and in the Legaspi Sunday Market in Makati, where you?ll find stalls that have reinvented so many local products, from lambanog to pulvoron with bold experiments in their formulations and packaging. Just one example: kiwi pulvoron!

I do worry about many tiangge tending to just offer clothes and products from China. Such products do have their place, but I?m hoping more tiangges can offer a wider variety of goods, including local ones.

That?s what I appreciate in Sidcor and Legaspi: many of their stalls are helping Filipinos to develop an appreciation of more things Filipino. Again, I see the rural weekend markets revitalized in our urban tiangge. At Sidcor, for example, there?s Marissa?s stall (reminder to Sidcor: we need larger names to identify the merchants!) offering fine tikog mats from Samar that would not shame an executive?s office, as well as assorted handicrafts that Marissa picks up from various suppliers.

So, we return to Sidcor in the 21st century. Its new location at Centris, with a futuristic theme, tells us the tiangge is here to stay, not so much competing with the mall as complementing it, catering to but also changing consumer tastes, and the way we shop.

* * *

Email: mtan@inquirer.com.ph



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