For the UP community, the word shopping is not a verb but a noun with a capital S for Shopping. It is our beloved Shopping Center that we also call SC. But the tongue-in-cheek culture of UP Diliman campus prefers “Shopping.” Let me tell you why.
When I was a teenager and new to the campus, someone broached the idea of Shopping for lunch (“Shopping tayo”) I was initially bewildered: to eat or to shop? What a delightful dilemma!
In our culture, we don’t “shop” for food. We shop for shoes, clothes, bags, blings, etc. It’s one of those rare moments to get fancy. And we would do it either alone or with our best friend because it is an activity that we would never want to be caught doing. The worst nightmare of a UP professor is to be seen in a mall by his/her students. At least that’s how it was when I used to hang with Arnold, Ginny, Jasmine, Melvin, MelBai, Joseph, Johnatan, Cora, Siao, Omeng, etc from the very late 90s to until about the middle of 2000.
The first shock of my UP student life was to witness for myself what “shopping” in UP culture looks like. It is a single-storey building located between the UP Infirmary and the UP Coop. It has two entrances, and from each point, the other end looks like the light at the end of the tunnel. That gives you some idea on Shopping’s lighting design. For me and my queer crew, walking end to end on Shopping’s concrete floor, the kind that has no finishing whatsoever, feels like training in an underground catwalk for aspiring drag queens.
The catwalk is between the shops. From the side of the now-defunct UP Coop and to your left is the fresh fruits shop. It is also a nut, vegetable, junk food, and frozen meat shop. But most of all, it is where you go for fruit shakes. I personally call it the longevity shop because of the two tarpaulins that feature fruit combos for the war on disease. There are unique fruit combos for our respective battles against cancer and hypertension. Yet another for anti-diabetes and a few more for heart health, smooth, ageless and vibrant skin (kiwi, papaya!). Name your wish and match it with the two large tarpaulins on the wall! I don’t subscribe to any of the suggested concoctions for I have my very own: Green mango and cheese shake. They can add milk and a little bit of sugar to it upon request. One of my friends was freaked out by this formula:”WTF, yuck, just for what is that combo?!” It makes me live forever.
The food shops are great. They offer delicious, sanitary, and cheap foods. They really take good care of us. I live in a faculty dormitory and we are not allowed to cook. Most people I know find this rule shocking. I don’t. And it is not because I don’t cook. I love and know how to cook. But with all the nice food hubs at Shopping and others within the UP Community, why would I cook the same food that others can do better and for which they earn a living?
Shopping also provides services for computer and mobile phone repairs. It has at least three shops dedicated to Rush IDs, image printing, and so on. There are two great souvenir shops where people get their UP Pride items— from shirts to shoes, watches to umbrellas, caps to lanyards, from mugs to sablays!
I love Shopping for all its photocopying shops. It is the cheapest deal in the world. We leave all of our readings for the semester in any of our suki and all that students need to do is to pick up their copies of these reading materials. Growing up in UP, Bogart and I would call this practice of coming to the “xerox centers” our key to beauty.
We would borrow books and journals from the library and friends. We then come to Shopping to xerox these materials. It was a beauty regiment that was relatively affordable. Once we get our copies of books by our “patron saints”—authors we love for guiding our way to the correct path thereby making us feel “the beautiful ones”— we know that it’s time to shine. It is the height of gayness, diligence and some good amount of subversion. Here, the lyrics of the song “Beautiful Ones” is key to understanding this enjoyment of beauty, copies, and reading: “Here they come, the beautiful ones…and if your baby is going crazy that’s how you made me.” These xerox shops made it possible for us to create reading communities. Sharing resources with students and colleagues is a thing in UP Diliman because Shopping makes it feel like it is our duty and pleasure. These xerox shops are also key to the success of our economic and political campaigns. Shopping is where we go to reproduce our statements, posters, and flyers. They also do “rush xerox” for urgent campaigns and last-minute preparations.
The barbershop and the beauty salons are legendary for their cheap price and great folksy encounters with artisanal style gurus who will tell you all of the interesting stories about famous or near-famous UP people. I don’t frequent these shops though. I recall coming to the beauty salon maybe five times in my lifetime. But these visits were crucial in that I learned how to cut hair and do manicure and pedicure. There are no glossy and up-to-date women’s magazines to distract me away from talking to service workers who love to talk about their craft. They have made me self-reliant. At one point, I even came back to show off my homemade pedicure and hair trim. They fixed my nail polish and adored my precision haircut. One of the beauty salons also houses the watch repair shop where we can avail of efficient but cheap services such as battery change, strap replacement and mechanical watch overhaul.
The dress shop is the go-to shop for broken zippers, torn hems, armholes, and crotch point, missing buttons, and most fabulous of all, the alter-to-fit service. The repair shop for shoes, bags, and umbrellas where people also go for key duplication is one of the busiest. I have gone there countless times for all the services it offers. Having been to different regions in the world and currently living so far away from UP, I can safely conclude that it is only at Shopping where anyone can find these two shops, which offer great and affordable service, under one roof.
The Shopping Center is all gone now. It was gutted by fire yesterday. The last time I had a conversation with some of the shop owners at Shopping was at the Union office housed in Vinzons Hall. They are seeking support for an issue that they are facing: higher rent. They are worried about the sustainability of their small business and how this rent hike inevitably affects their customers. They are especially worried about higher prices for UP students. I did not stay long enough to see this issue through. And just when I am only counting a couple of months to get back to “normal programming,” it’s all burned down.
It pains me to think about how the very people who in many ways shaped the way I am with objects and people —things don���t have to be expensive to be useful, resources and know-how must be shared—found their last days at Shopping very challenging. I wish they were more comfortable. I wish they were treated with more kindness and consideration because they offered the same every day for as long as the UP Shopping Center was there.
In UP, too, we have the Multi-Sectoral Alliance (MSA) that convenes itself on a regular basis and especially where there are issues to be resolved in the campus and beyond. I am confident that the MSA, which works closely and productively with the current UP Diliman Administration will immediately find adequate support for the service workers who, with this tragedy, have lost so much more than any other sector in the UP Community.
Sarah Raymundo teaches at the University of the Philippine Diliman-Center for International Studies. She is the Chairperson of the Philippines-Venezuela Bolivarian Friendship Association. She also chairs the International Committee of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She is also the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS) and a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.
Featured photo of the UP Shopping Center by Mon Ramirez back in 2016.