Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The 'Tycooning' of the Magbobote (from tindero to taipan)

In Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila, in the time I was growing up, there was a ‘tindahan ng Intsik’ in every street corner, which co-existed with smaller Pinoy-owned shops we called ‘sari-sari’ stores.
Right opposite our house, on the corner of Pampanga and Angat Streets, was a tindahan ng Intsik owned by a man we fondly called Sin Teng. He was a smiling ebullient Chinaman with gold on his tooth and premature silver on his hair, who didn’t stop smiling and glowing even when young boys made fun of his accent and called him ‘Intsik beho, tulo laway.’ He made friends with his suki-housewives who would linger to small-talk him and steal glances at yet another new fair lady beside him – usually from the Chinese mainland who would be sure to speak no Tagalog -- and wait for Sin Teng to introduce her as his wife No. 2 or 3 or so on.
It was from Sin Teng we purchased our daily bread and the isa-singko Spam and Kraft (cheese) slices to eat it with. Same with the coffee and milk and Toddy (a popular chocolate drink) and Coke and Pepsi to chase the bread down with. Mongol pencils, intermediate pad paper, crayola, Manila paper, everything we needed for school – he had stocks of these which never seemed to run out. If someone was sick, we didn’t have to go to the drug store a ten-minute sprint away: we could get the most common medicines from Sin Teng -- Capi-aspirina, Mentholatum, Phillips Milk of Magnesia. Sin Teng runs his shop quite unlike the sari-sari store of Mang Iking and Aling Tonya which was right next door and thus should have been the more logical convenience store, but was almost always inconveniently out of every other thing we needed.
On hind sight, I realize I was witnessing then how the Chinese storekeepers drove their Pinoy competitors out of business; on hindsight too, I know I should have recognized it as a premonition of the future. They bought their stocks in volume so they seldom ran short of stuff and were able to sell cheaper. They mostly didn’t allow credit (or allowed it discriminately and sparingly). Sin Teng didn’t, which was one of few reasons we would sometimes run to Mang Iking and Aling Tonya – on whose wall was clipped several small sheets of paper each of which was labeled with a customer’s name, all caps, underlined. These were in essence yesterday’s credit cards – but for poor people only – for the rich dealt in cash.
Mang Iking would huff and bristle when he spotted one of us headed to his store rather than the Chinaman’s but would still take down the piece of paper with ‘Aling Celing’ written on it – that’s my mom’s name. He would hand us the toyo or suka we needed grudgingly, but not before adding yet another P.50 to Aling Celing’s already number-laden card and not before reminding us sternly to tell our mom that ‘mahaba na ang listahan ninyo.’
But Sin Teng's was the store of choice even if it allowed no credit and even if we had to cross a mean street to reach it. His store was big and wide (easily 5 times that of Mang Iking) and open and well-lighted and welcoming and you didn’t have to knock and shout ‘pabili po’ to be attended to. He sold cheaper than did the Filipino stores like Mang Iking’s. And he would sometimes give us small gifts – I remember ponkan in December and tikoy in February. I guess Mom was special among his customers because she was half Chinese and could strike up a conversation with his wives with a smattering of Mandarin.


Paul James said...

very well written, ma'am. I guess sitting on the sidelines just allows people to see things in much broader perspective.

Carmela said...

This is a very interesting piece on Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs. Enjoyed reading it too. :) May we have your permission to repost this on our website,


C Mendoza

Annamanila said...

Hi Carmela. Flattered. :) Will have to ask what its policy is. Will get back to you. Thanks.

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