Made in Cebu
Althea Lauren Ricardo writes about discovering her Cebuano roots through that venerable Pinoy pastime--shopping.
Years ago, I returned to Cebu alone and as member of the gainfully employed for the first time. Being that it was my first time in my parents' hometown, I was eager to discover in the country's oldest city whatever there was to discover about myself, my upbringing, and my family.
This eagerness also had me buying every little piece of Cebu I could get my hands on: soft red candles bought from the dancing women at the Santo Niño Church; a black Santo Niño figurine small enough to fit my wallet; bags of 7D Mangorind, which, back then, was taking its own sweet time reaching the SM Supermarkets of Manila, unlike its pure-mango cousins; and other edible treats, like Carcar chicharon (bought in Carcar itself!) and danggit (not a rarity in our household, but this was premium dried fish, carefully chosen and lovingly purchased at the Tabo-an Market). And even though it was last on my itinerary, in my mind, I had already bought CnT Lechon and King's Longganisa for pasalubong. Goodies in the bag, I thought my shopping was done. Was I wrong!
When I met up with my Cebuana friend Nathalie, she took me around the city, first to the usual stops, then to some places only locals frequented. We made a quick detour leading to a small and busy street near the Santo Niño Church. "For shopping," Nathalie said. I looked around and saw only a street sticky with black mud from the nearby port and tarpaulins thick with dust. But I followed her to the kiosks, anyway, and suddenly I understood how Ali Baba must have felt after he first said, "Open Sesame!"
The street was lined with stalls, much like the stalls lining a side of Santo Niño Church, but selling beautiful native trinkets, like intricately-designed coral necklaces, coconut wood bangles, and shell-decorated cocktail rings. Most of them were export overruns, fashion jewelry using indigenous materials and showcasing the best of Filipino craftsmanship. Most of them weren't made for sale in the country, but for shipping directly to clients abroad.
Mind you, this was way before Tina Maristela-Ocampo's Celestina wowed the world. Maristela-Ocampo, incidentally, sources a lot of her raw materials for her minaudieres and jewelry, like shells and mother of pearl, from Cebu.
I was a young twenty-something writer, and my fashion sense still gravitated towards ukay chic, so I only bought items that matched my casual style and nothing I could wear in a corporate setting, even if there were plenty of them on sale. It's still one of the biggest shopping regrets of my life, because the next time I returned to that shopping-heaven-of-a-street, the stalls were gone.
Years later, I found myself in Cebu again, this time with my family. We headed to Carcar for the old houses and the chicharon, and curiosity had us stopping by a giant leather shoe along the road to my mother's hometown Barili. While we knew Carcar best for the chicharon, we were reminded of its alternative identity, that of being The Shoe Capital of Cebu.
A row of stalls displayed colorful slippers and sandals of all styles and sizes on their walls. There were leather shoes and leather boots as well. My sister, who had been disappointed to discover the street I had told her stories about was gone, unleashed her retail frustration on the shoes. I made a lovely purchase myself: red wedge sandals with a daintily hand-painted hibiscus flower on the heels.
My next big purchase in Cebu was made during a recent trip, this time for a family friend's wedding. The wedding was a big event, with relatives from all over the world flying in, and the newlywed's auntie hired a small coaster to take us on a tour. On Mactan Island, we made a stop at the Alegre Guitar Factory.
I remembered my mother used to play the guitar. In fact, she was probably the first person to tell me the story that all Cebuanos were good singers and guitar-players. All, but me.
But I ended up buying a small guitar anyway, for my mother and for my four-year-old niece, who is, by blood, three-fourths Cebuana and can already sing the songs of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
Recently, I got in touch with my old friend Nathalie. I asked her about that street she took me to, and she confirmed that it was gone, that it hadn't moved, and added, "Actually, we buy our accessories at SM now."
Too bad. But no matter; there's still much to look forward to in terms of shopping in Cebu. I haven't even gotten around to checking out the furniture industry yet. For one thing, I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with the awesome talent of world-renowned furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. But that's another story.
Cebu, much like every province in this beautiful country, has a host of unique shopping finds, especially if one has the perseverance to search for them. That's why Basta Pinas, Laag Na!
Althea Lauren Ricardo is a Palanca Award-winning freelance features writer and a regular columnist for The Freeman, a Cebu daily newspaper. She is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University while working full-time at an English training company.