For someone who grew up going to a palengke, clean and hygienic modern markets are all too strange. Ours are a kind of community that adapted to the hustle and bustle of Filipino life. They’re unique in the sense that they are messy, chaotic, colorful, wild and dangerous – but fun. Sure, its not easy to move around but it feels good (at least for my family and a lot of people I personally know). If you’re referred to as a palengkera your someone noisy or a troublemaker. The reputation came from the disorder of things around our markets. Palengke was derived from the Spanish word palenque which means “wooden”. A former European colleague finds it “unhygienic and not safe”. I’m sure going to the palengke is perhaps one of the most intense experience that guy ever had. But for us, especially our grandparents and parents – nothing could be more natural.
In our markets we have the “suki” we trust for their honesty. If you want to get good supplies, you’ve got to build good relationships with these folks. A modern market, with all its conveniences, wouldn’t have these people. The next generation of Filipinos might no longer hang on to the inconveniences of the old palengke. The era of modern style market will soon take over. One day we’ll all go to clean, quite and safe markets where everything is in shelves, refs and racks all lit with white fluorescent lights with only stock men, sekyu and cajeras manning the store. I can’t imagine not hearing “bile na suki”, or, “tawad na” in the future. That’s going to be a sad day for sure. Estante, tiendas, tawaran, puesto, tinderas, all of these would one day come to past.
I grew up going to Pasay (Libertad) market. If you have any idea how untidy and disorganized that place was once, you wouldn’t know the meaning of a Filipino “Palengke” in and around Manila. All the noise, clutter and bustle is there for you to experience. Things can be developed. Sure. But you get used to the old experiences that there’s no joy, no fun going to a market so organized. Call this clinging onto old fashioned concepts but you always go back to what connects you to memories and what to me is seemingly the Filipino life. Those SM hypermarkets are nice but they lack the character of the palengke.
When you’re away from home you realize how unique our culture and identity is compared to our neighbors. Even their version of wet markets are so different from ours. A new colleague (a Chinese who speaks fluent Japanese), find our country “interesting”, sees us very much “like Latin Americans”. “Aside from physical features, Philippine don’t seem to be very Asian”, he points out. He also points to similarities between the banana republics of Latin America to ours. Truth hurts. One of my staffer from my previous employment who was sent to Mexico told me that our markets resembles that of Mexico more than any Asian traditional market. We no longer see these edges.
Last night, while I was with colleagues (I was attending a despedida for a German colleague), the Mexican chef, came over and gave everyone complimentary “Mexican candies” (for those who knows it, its tamarindo, for us Filipinos its simply sampaloc). This variety was closer to our version in terms of taste except that it has no seeds and is slightly hot. Everybody found the candy strange except me. They gave it a quick taste test and threw it away. What’s foreign to them is familiar to me. And this must mean something more than just food – we identify ourselves with culture – candy, food and markets are culture. I guess that’s all what I’m trying to say here. Random observations of a man far away and missing home.