How to be a Suki
I have this saying - if it happens twice on the same occasion and without planning, it’s a tradition. New traditions emerge in our two-person family often. I think it’s because when we discover something we like, we want to do it again. No complexities. It’s a simple response to things we enjoy doing.
One recent tradition that emerged since I opened my pretend sari-sari store is a Friday visit to the Filipino market. Prior to that we only visited the store occasionally. By need basis. If I’m out of sitaw, long beans, we go to the Filipino store. Out of patis, fish sauce? Drive to the Filipino store. The day I shopped for my sari-sari ingredients was a Friday and it was the first Friday of the year. Welcome to 2021.
The following week after the sari-sari experience I found myself at the same Filipino market. It was a Friday and around the same time, 5:00 pm. Ahhh! A new tradition! I nudged and mentioned to Hiro as we were shopping.
“Can we come here next Friday too?” Hiro of course said yes. He likes coming to the Filipino market too.
When I moved to America in 2008, the American grocery stores were the shops that were most fascinating to me. I roamed up and down the aisles scanning through the variety of cookies, bagels, ice cream flavors, and frozen pizzas. It felt like a dream. They didn’t arrange grocery stores like this in the Philippines. The lighting was gravitating. The smell was different. People spoke English. Visiting the grocery was what made America feel real to me. The amount of Kellogs and Ocean Spray locked me in. I had no idea what to buy and eat. During those days my frequent purchase was a case of Starbucks mocha raspberry frappuccino bottle.
Returning to the Filipino market did not happen quickly for me. I went through a phase of discovering Trader Joes, the bodegas in San Francisco, Berkeley Bowl, Mexican markets, Whole Foods, farmers markets, and of course the Chinese grocery stores too. Those places were just as fascinating to me. They had food I wanted to try. They were part of my American experience.
The Filipino grocery store is a special place though. I never lived in Little Manila when it existed in Stockton years ago but I do understand now the feeling of entering into a space that warps you back to a place that feels like home. That to me, is the Filipino grocery store.
First of all the music they play inside is Filipino. They play OPM, Original Pilipino Music, and you know instantly that the songs they are playing are hits, not random music. You can rely that the store will have salted egg and kakanins, sticky rice treats. It doesn’t matter if you are Filipino or not — the store will have chips and beer that you will want to come back for. Best of all, it will include a baked goods section with treats you will want to add to the list of breads you know.
And this is where our Friday Filipino market tradition expands. After scanning the aisles, Hiro and I walked over to the Filipino bake shop hidden in the corner. On our first visit, I was jumping like a cartoon and pointed at everything I wanted to buy. I grabbed all the breads which I cradled in my arms and returned calmly back to the shelves because I picked far too many. We settled with two choices: a container of pimiento cheese spread and pande ube. The lady behind the counter was grumpy. I spoke in Tagalog to signal to her that I was her people. I told her I was happy to have bread.
The following Friday as Hiro and I approached the bake shop, we waved our hands vigorously to tell bakery lady that we were approaching. When it was time to charge us at the register I explained to her our over enthusiasm:
“You know, we come here every Friday now. We are your new Suki!”
Her eyes lit up. She knew what Suki meant.
“Where do you drive from?” She stopped being grumpy. She was smiling.
“Half Moon Bay. We like to drive here so we can get bread.” I was tapping on breads we chose on the counter. She said she remembered us from last week. She was happy we came back.
Suki in english can easily translate to a regular customer, but it’s more than that. To me, it translates to a long term and beloved customer. The kind of customer that returns over and over and tells everyone about you as a vendor. In Filipino market culture, in palengkes, the wet market, every vendor takes pride in having their own suki and every customer takes pride in being a suki. It’s a relationship that binds seller and customer into a real human relationship. The kind of relationship that births into a genuine lifeline of support for each other.
Suki, I should say, is not unique to Filipino culture. I don’t know what it translates to in other languages, but every place and culture once upon a time had this connection alive in the marketplace. Nowadays this bond is endangered. People shop from online spaces and stores they don’t make time to get to know. Everything is instant. Things get delivered. People forget that sellers are people making a livelihood too. The afterglow of boasting about your favorite vendor as your go-to place for ordinary things like bread is a thing of the past. Nowadays you just tap-click to make an order. Maybe we stand in line if we make it to the brick and mortar. The regularity of the visit is absent, maybe a tap-click. No more human visits. No conversations. No names exchanged. No one is seen.
“You drive so far. Thank you for coming all the way here.” She then gave us this very special Filipina gesture which is to show a slow blink with both eyes while giving a cheeky smile. A sign of affection. We exchanged names after we got our receipt. For this story, I will call her Cynthia (not her real name.) We said we will see each other again next week. A Friday. Our tradition continues and now Cynthia is part of it. We have a relationship.
When we got home that evening we noticed three extra cheese breads added to our purchase. Cynthia added an extra treat! A notable sign of her acknowledging us as her true suki.
Two nights ago we returned to the bake shop (yes, it was a Friday) and we came home finding four turons added to our bag. Think of turon as a sweet banana lumpia. Yum!
“We didn’t order that!” Hiro pointed out.
“We didn’t, but Cynthia gave it to us. We are her suki.”
And that, myfriends, is how to be a suki. Wherever you are, if you find a Filipino bakery or grocery store, go inside and explore the aisles. Discover our ice cream flavors and instead of bagels, visit the bakery. Tell the Filipina ladies behind the counter that you want to be their suki too. They will raise their eyebrows and if you are lucky, they will give you the slow blink with a cheeky smile I was telling you about. It will be infectious. Who knows, when you get home they might slip an extra treat for you too.
@kwentobynica has its own sukis too - Sneha, Teri, Alex, Tina, Josue, Kathryn, Jessica, and Joy. Thank you for purchasing what I make and being my suki! Through art and my love of writing, I will take care of you the same way you take care of me. Thank you.
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