By Mae Valdez
I have always been fascinated by old things. When I was a kid, I would rummage through my grandmother’s cabinet to look for old handbags, old pictures, and old dresses. Our bodega, which contains appliances and housewares that do not work anymore, was my favorite hiding place. I loved the way old things smelled and how my hands got dusty when I inspected them. As I grew up, I became a fan of ukay-ukay. Many times did I go home with huge plastic bags of used clothing from ukay shops in España and Cubao. I prefer buying ukay than tiangge clothes because the former promotes recycling, while the latter encourages people to buy cheap stuff they don’t really need. Some may perceive old things as scrap but for me they are gems. Because of this, one of my favorite places is Cubao Expo.
Cubao Expo or Cubao Ex is located near the Araneta Center beside Shopwise. It used to be the Marikina Shoe Expo, a place where local shoes from Marikina were sold. Although some of the shoe stores are still there, other novelty stores had sprung over the years. Boutiques, antique shops, and collector’s shops make up the compound. Attractive pieces of furniture, lamp shades, suitcases, paintings, and old CDs are displayed in the shops’ windows. My friend and I went to all the stores in Cubao Ex, losing count of the “wows” and “awwws” we mouthed for all the beauty that we saw.
I was surprised that there was an Italy in Cubao! Taking lunch at Bellini’s, an Italian restaurant which serves home-made pasta, I was impressed not by the food but by the interior of the place. The restaurant’s wall was painted with pictures of attractions that can be found in Italy such as Venice, La Fontaña, and the Coliseum. We were greeted by Roberto, the Italian restaurant owner who is married to a Filipina. My brother, who recommended the place, told me that Roberto was a member of the paparazzi that is why a quarter of Bellini’s is filled with photographs.
I liked the shop My Breathing Space. It sells cute things such as make up boxes with the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn and odd-shaped picture frames and mirrors designed with singing frogs. An autographed poster of Techie Agbayani’s Playboy stint from the 1980s hanging on the wall caught my eye, as well as the dozens of mugs hanging from the shop’s ceiling. The shopkeeper said that the owners used to collect mugs from their college days. Being a coffee drinker, I felt affinity for that place with all those coffee mugs dangling above me. I imagined them pouring vanilla coffee from heaven. My friend was overjoyed when she found a gem in Vinyl Dump Thrift Shop, a store that sells collector items from the US. She said to me, “I can’t believe I just bought a Christian Dior sunglasses for only 150!” as we stepped out of the shop.
Several shops had a “Picture-taking not allowed” sign posted on its wall. I asked permission from one antique shop owner and he told me I should pay a fee of PHP 3,000 for taking pictures. I said that the pictures would be for a website and that could be free publicity for them. He said that the shop had too much publicity already. I thought, “What a snob”.
The things they sold there were very much like what we had in our old house. Remembering those housewares we had for years; jars, lamp shades, eyeglasses, teapots, and figurines, I realized that they have become a part of my life, and my mother’s life, and my grandmother’s life. Antiques that are passed on from generation to generations are depreciation-proof because one cannot put a price on them. They are meticulously taken care of and sold not for the mere purpose of earning but sharing what had been a significant part of a person’s life.
In this age of consumerism, when people buy more and more things that they do not really need, the snobbish antique shop owner taught me a lesson: there are still novel things that cannot be commercialized.