Ayala Alabang And the Myth of The Sari-Sari Store

When I first came to Ayala Alabang, I never thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle the constant barrage of menacing skyscrapers, the bourgeoisie-friendly streets, and the domination of consumerism lurking around the area. I was clutching my bag, heart pumping, and had this looming dread inside me. “I may choose to go back instead,” I said to myself. There’s too much to handle for a country boy like me — plunging headfirst into the busy atmosphere of NCR.

To cut it short, I was scared shitless. 2022 was young at that time, and I’m just kind of enjoying my ‘vacation’ and pondering what I have done wrong that year because 5 days into the year and I got fired — without any definite reason. I was a freelance writer for a real estate company that specialises in content targeted to the A and B crowd. We make a hodgepodge of content, ranging from tech to cooking ideas, seasonal decorative suggestions, health, and more. But all content after its main point is siphoned down to a single goal: to sell overpriced units located in ‘strategic’ areas around a city. How ironic for me to describe such features and perks of these condos while I didn’t even experience owning one.

I asked them while I was fired, I was pissed at them because they delayed my salary last December 2021 due to ‘reasons’. It was a mere two-thousand pesos, but they can’t give us our hard-earned money on time. The guy who was at the time managing us told me that I didn’t pass their test, and since they were a business, they had to let me go. “What bullshit,” I said to myself. But in the end, I still held up to my manners, I thanked them for the opportunity, and they gave me a soft copy of a ‘certificate of participation, which was for me a bit insulting. My last salary will be given one month late.

I was in a state of limbo after being fired. I browsed for possible jobs available, my brother-in-law even invited me to apply to this ‘high-end call center company’ which this boastful sari-sari store owner in our old residence recommended because her daughter supposedly worked there and her salary is around sixty-thousand pesos or something. But I don’t see myself working on that job. While my English is passable at best, I had this weird superstition that working in an extreme environment would kill me slowly, since I need a little chaos, a job that is treading between organised and unorthodox — something that will stimulate my creative senses

So then I browsed and applied to numerous freelance stints involving writing. Out of around seventy-five applications, one guy answered my resume: a guy named Erwin who at that time, was a social media manager. He said that his brain didn’t function well when it comes to the copywriting side of his work. So that’s my job. One hundred pesos per one-hundred words. Sounds fine. However, I realised that the job was only for pocket change or petty cash. I can’t fucking live with 300 pesos every week! And this Erwin guy, as the weeks progressed, became more picky and meticulous that I can’t even handle his unrealistic demands and at the same time, I’m getting tired of his antics and what worked and what didn’t. Seems like a lot of freelancers nowadays have this smug, girl boss, millionaire mindset, proactive-bullshit they all follow. They want to be the next Vaynerchuk or Musk or some pseudointellectual that got rich from scamming less than fortunate people their money via their MLM schemes.

I haven’t thrown away my dreams of working in a film, television, or any kind of production that involves shooting something. It has been my passion for so long since I was a kid. When I was only around seven years old, I repeatedly said that I wanted to be an accountant. That’s a lie, I knew even at a young age that I was lying. I want to be in films and shows, whatever role I might land, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is to be there at that moment. One day, a full week after I got fired, I saw a job posting involving a chance to work as a story producer/writer at an up-and-coming digital reality show based on Tiktok and Youtube. I applied, albeit jokingly since I felt that I didn’t have any chance at all against other applicants who flaunted their experiences and school degree. While myself, this dream only lives rent-free inside my mind. While I dabbled into a film and into being a pretentious hack and hanging out with ‘cultured’ people online. I did what many Filipino cineastes would do: Torrent.

I wrote my last deliverable as a writer for the real estate company that day, I even inserted shitposting elements and elements of satire. I included a variation of ‘gin bulag’ in a list of sought-after cocktails intended for rich, wealthy people. In a separate write-up about the top ten list of Pinoy movies to watch at the moment, I included a film from my friend and several of my short films. They didn’t detect any of those hilarious bits at all, so much for dropping me off.

That night, the director called me from the story producer/writer job, and guess what: they want me to go to the location tomorrow. I was shell shocked (Is that even the right term?) at how quickly things escalated. First, I was just chilling in my bed. An hour later, I saw myself giving my adieu to my family and packing my stuff into my mom’s baggage. Generously, the director handled my travel costs. They gave me one-thousand five-hundred pesos and said that I should get a Grab taxi and gave me directions on the address and what person to say to and what will I do there because it’s a very exclusive village with some of the richest people in that area living.

“Nung ako’y 13, mukha ‘kong 30 — nangangarap lang akong tumira sa gilid ng estero sa Ayala Alabang…” that’s from a parody of “Baby” by Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris that were played by my colleague/roommate. Based on the lyrics, the singer is rather content to live in the gutters of the said exclusive village. When he was 13, he looked like 30. It may seem like a humorous line, but if you read it closely, it resembled poverty. How young people are getting thrust into harsh living conditions that they start to work at a very young age and suffer things like back pain from lifting heavy cargo? So much so that they become very mature-minded even though they are at an age that they rather are in a school or enjoying their lives as children.

During the first two days I spent at the place, I was introduced to some of the talents and was given a taste of what it felt like to be a part of a production. It was exciting and overwhelming at the same time. After the shoot, the directors gave me an allowance of two-thousand pesos. The first thing that hit my mind was for me to look for a sari-sari store, to fund my newfound vice: smoking cigarettes. I was trying to be hip, to be cool, and to be ‘belonged’, even though I didn’t suck any of the smoke coming from lighting one, it was all suck and blow. Hithit-buga. I was wasting precious money. I need to end it, the only way is to spend it on food. But my favorite sari-sari store is non-existent in this exclusive village. The closest thing next to one is a convenience store, strategically placed inside a village.

I enjoyed the novelty for quite some time until I got tired of it. Then I found the real next best thing to a sari-sari store: a cooperative general merchandise store. It has stuff, yes. But far from the actual thing. For starters, you can’t retail buy most items. You can’t buy two or three sticks of cigarettes, you have to buy the entire pack. So I did, but I got sick of the stuff, huffing and puffing for a minute then it’s gone. So I resorted to vaping, it’s cheaper, reusable, and comes with a lot of flavors.

But it didn’t cut it as well, I crave the feeling of buying what you only need, having some random chit-chat with the storekeeper, spending my spare change on something. This set-up in the village made me spend more because we only go out once in a while, so when we arrived at the convenience store, we needed to buy everything we will need for around a week or so. And it always didn’t end up well. We either bought too much or too little because of the limited amount of selection. Then go the long way home: 20 minutes if you walked enthusiastically. 30 to 45 minutes if you prefer the scenic walk. It was an exercise for sure, but we’re just humoring ourselves at the massive inconvenience this village has upon us. In this place, only the rich and powerful can only enjoy the luxury of convenience.

I can’t even go out freely without a security guard tailing me around asking me why I am wandering in the middle of the afternoon like it’s a sin when you don’t have a car. If you have a motorcycle, you’ll experience some kind of discrimination as well. When you have a car, you can pass by the main village gate in a breeze, while if you have a motorcycle or riding one, you have to go to the farthest entrance, GTFO out your ride, fall in line with fellow riders and spend around an hour or two (on a busy day) before you can state your reason in entering the village premises, surrender your I.D., (maybe even a possible phone call at the location if they think that you look shady) and then you can drive off. Simply put, the city is not commuter-friendly.

While I was writing this, I experienced a mishap that afternoon. The motorcycle taxi I rode didn’t want to go the motorcycle way and dropped me at the car entrance route. When I tried to reason, he quickly sped off and left me there. I spent a whole hour trying to contact anyone but then my phone died suddenly even though it had a 71% battery in it. An hour later, and sweating in my green coverall (It’s kinda my aesthetic for now since it’s functional and I received laughs and mockery from some colleagues and influencers but I don’t care because I dress for myself — then now, they started to offer cash for these things because it’s hard to come by, even if you look at any Dickies store in the country), my colleague arrived to fetch me. Life goes on.

I visited Festival Mall for one thing: french fries. I’m craving one. And it’s my way of thanking myself for the grueling two weeks I spent on the production. Now I’m ready to delve deep into the wonders of making a story for the show I am working on together with my colleagues. I miss those moments when I can go outside and order a serving of french fries, cheese sticks, and many more street food options.

On the hopeful side, I still wander the streets of Ayala Alabang at times, in the hopes of finding a hidden sari-sari store, just waiting to be found. Maybe I’ll discover one, who knows. It’s not a non-existent issue that I made up, I bet that if you ever visited this place, you’ll know what I feel. Unless you’re not the kind of person who digs the simplistic, homey appeal of the sari-sari store. Or maybe you’re just a rich person.

Dan Manjares

Kayang magsulat ni Dan Manjares ng kahit anong kuwento na parang nagsasalita lang siya. Sa edad na 23 taong gulang, isa rin siyang music producer at tatay ng anim na pusa. Galit sa mga corporate na galawan, walang takot sa mga nakakataas kung nasa katwiran.

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