It was on most Sundays when, as a child, I learned many of the basic lessons in life. And I learned them not in the classrooms but in the ladlaran, the flea market in Kidapawan that opened only during Sundays and, at that time, occupied the streets of J. Abad Santos, Perez, Labastida and Dayao.
I would always enjoy accompanying my mother in the market despite having to bear long walks and to help carry the basket because I relished my honorary task as “taste tester” of fruits and freshly-baked kakanin. Being one of the very few kids tucked by parents in the marketplace was an honor. I had always believed that it was a dignified duty for a child to have his opinion solicited, to be consulted on very crucial matters such as whether to buy palitaw or not.
During those Sundays, the streets occupied by the vendors were inaccessible to vehicles, hence the market-goers had to stroll along the ladlaran. And so it was never practical to bring a child along. But I was insistent every time. This prompted my mother to set some rules for me to observe.
Rule #1: Have extra patience and endurance.
My mother used to have the habit of going around the market, comparing prices before finally deciding to buy. For example, if she wanted to buy tomatoes, she’d survey all the stalls that sell tomatoes before she’d make a choice. That was what exhausted me the most. Oftentimes, I would want to complain but mom was always quick to interrupt to remind me that it was my choice to come along.
From then, I learned that in a marketplace, not all tomatoes are priced the same. Mother would tell me that the tomatoes could have come from a single supplier. However, those in the prime spots of the market could have the unwritten privilege of selling the tomatoes at a higher price, while those retailers in the remote spots would have to struggle for their commodities to be noticed and sold, hence they would normally sell at a cheaper price. And mom would prefer the cheaper yet equally fresh ones so we would have to hunt them in the peripheries of the ladlaran.
I had a hard time rationalizing why tomatoes with similar quality, with practically the same “use value”, would have different “exchange values”. Only later did I realize that on those occasions, I was implicitly learning Marxist political economy. And what better place is there that can offer me these realities but the market!
Rule #2: Learn to bargain.
In a farmer’s market, you can bargain for a cheaper price or for more freebies. And this works well if you buy from a suki. There is surely nothing like this in a supermarket where everything is fixed up to the last centavo. There is more human interaction and more humanity in the ladlaran.
One time lately, I came across a post in Facebook urging people not to bargain with small vendors because they need the money more. But my experience in the ladlaran taught me that these small vendors value friendship and loyalty more than the money. They would give extra even if you do not ask for it. They would offer it to you with a smile or a gentle tap on your arm, and would even win your heart with the words “balik-balik ha!”.
There were also times when I would use the skill of bargaining when I think I could no longer hold on to Rule #1. When I got too tired of walking around, I would present to my mom what for me was a win-win deal. Almost always, I would have her agree to leave me with our basket in a small space beside a kakanin stall along Labastida Street. In that way, she could move around faster because she would not have to carry with her the basket. I would convince her that a pack of bingka and bitsobitso would be enough for me to munch while waiting. With that, I knew I have helped solve our respective problems. I learned that for you to be given something, you have to bravely ask for it.
There are, however, various arts of bargaining. Such a situation showed how a careful mastery of Rule #2 could bend Rule #1. There are always exceptions especially to the rules made by a mother for her child.
Rule #3: Be streetwise.
In the ladlaran, like in most public places, you get to meet all sorts of people. It was there where I had my first encounter with several of the public figures in the city, most of them politicians. I would know because mom would tell me about them. But I was more inspired with awe meeting radio broadcasters in the ladlaran. There were times when I would peek at their baskets. And to my astonishment, the radio personalities I so dearly admire also eat tinangkong!
On the same streets strolled by the city’s political leaders and media personalities, there were also children selling plastic bags, repacked condiments and other small stuffs. There were porters “selling” only their service, their sheer force. There were beggars who have nothing to sell. And there was also this iconic young man with a cleft palate who, perhaps, was the only person recognized by every vendor for his role as the market tax collector. Whoever chose him for that task certainly knew how to play with human emotions because before the vendors could finish whining about the community taxes, they would feel sympathetic for the man’s predicament.
Because of this diversity in the market, mom would always remind me to be vigilant, to be mindful of our belongings. Just as you could find a number of saintly personalities, there would as well be a great risk of meeting fallen angels. The problem however is that you would not know who’s who until you’ve fallen prey. So, in whatever transactions in the market, it always pays to think twice of the consequences.
I got used to this Sunday routine even until high school. In the later years, my sister Dyan would occasionally join us in the ladlaran. At home, waiting for us would be my father who’s a very good cook. He would always be assigned to prepare the dish out of the fresh produce we just bought. He would have the hot beverages ready upon our return from the market and we would eat the kakanin. I don’t know, but the bingka and bitsobitso are sweeter the second time around, at home!
Sundays had always been very warm for the heart until I left home for college. When I came home in 2012, I learned that there was much tension between the Local Government Unit (LGU) and the ladlaran vendors. The LGU wanted to relocate them somewhere else. The year after, they were relocated along Baluyot and Lapulapu Streets. And this was a great favor because we live in Baluyot Street! The ladlaran, which I held so dear in my heart, was now just a few yards away from home. But it did not last long. Although the LGU allocated a piece of lot in Barangay Magsaysay, the vendors reportedly argued that the place is not easily accessible to marketgoers. Such a circumstance caused the vendors to disperse.
Today, the ladlaran no longer exists. It is sad that it had to succumb to the condescension of “progress”, of urbanization. But my memories of it, how it taught me important life skills and lessons, and how it established a niche in the culture of Kidapawenos, will forever be cherished.
Paul Randy Gumanao hails from Kidapawan City and teaches Chemistry at Philippine Science High School-SoCCSKSARGEN Campus. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2010 Iyas National Creative Writing Workshop.