A marketplace of memories

This is the native, handwoven shopping bag used for the palengke.

Coconut-themed entrance to the BBB market. I took this when I was already on board the tricycle on the way home. If you don't like eyesores, then this is not the place for you. I don't like them, too, but the richness of my memories far outweighs the uninspiring ambiance.

(I wanted to take photos inside, too -- but security-wise, it is not a very good idea.)

The palengke (wet market) is very much a part of my childhood. I am reminded of this every time I tell the children than going to the grocery, which is the most ordinary thing in our routines now, used to be a big deal to me -- because we only did so for Christmas, fiesta, or a big birthday celebration.

(In fact, the story goes that I got so excited pushing a cart around that I rammed into a bottle of fish sauce, or patis, for which my irate mother had to pay at the counter.)

So in the absence of supermarket trips, we got by going to the wet market for our daily needs in the kitchen.

In my part of town, THE palengke is the one in BBB, a 5-minute tricycle ride from where we lived. It is the same now as it was while I was growing up: the areas for meat, vegetables, seafood, the carinderia. The fruit stands at the fringes. The filth, the mud, the noise, the body heat of each individual you come into contact with, and the constant danger posed by pickpockets.

When I was a kid, my grandmother would take me to the market and leave me to eat pansit palabok or halo-halo at the carinderia. This, while she shopped inside. By the time I finished eating, she would also be done shopping at the wet section. We would then be ready to buy fruits and then head home.

I sometimes go to that same carinderia now. The palabok tastes exactly the same.

At the dry goods section, one can find shirts, slippers, hair accessories and even household ornaments like curtains and bed sheets. I remember my Lola buying a red jumper and a matching red-and-white shirt for my tenth birthday. I did not like it much, but I wore it anyway.

I proved that my Lola had started thinking of me as a big girl when she started sending me to the palengke on my own. Those days, being able to travel alone, anywhere, was a validation that I was indeed growing up. I became especially high when I was taught how to spot fresh fish by looking at the color of its eyes -- and warned to bring back only those.

I wonder: if Lola were alive (she died in 04), she'd probably be proud of how I am running my household. See her fear was that I would grow up to be a bookish fellow, far removed from the mundanities of daily life.

So this morning I decided I would spend my day-off cooking for the children using palengke-bought ingredients. Our helper Cathy was on day off (on weekdays, I do send her to the market -- a smaller one near the house). I picked up my bayong and went on a nostalgic trip, which by the way enabled me to whip up a well-received tandem of chicken curry and pancit canton/ chop suey, as well as use the day's budget for two and a half days' worth of food.

I think I will be back next week.