THIS hawking singsong was heard aloud in the streets of Majayjay daily, except Sundays and Mondays. The hawking sound belonged to Ka Tinay, my fish vendor friend, when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s.
Ka Tinay was fond of me, and I felt very friendly toward her. Her family lived in the silong of our farmhouse. She called me bayagero (the Tagalog word for scrotum) as her term of endearment.
When I was born on the feast of Candelaria Mass in 1936, Ka Tinay did my first diaper change and saw that my scrotum was round and dark. Since then, she has called me “Bayagero.” She did the laundry for my diapers and baby clothes.
As a fish hawker, Ka Tinay played an iconic role for the townsfolk of Majayjay. She assured everyone of delicious viands fresh from the bounty of Laguna de Bay. With her big bilao perched on her head and carrying a pail, all filled with fish, she hawked the whole morning. “Ayyy! Kanduleee! Biyaaa! Dulooong!” was Ka Tinay’s trademark. It was the sound of food, a sound of life.
Ka Tinay died years ago, and her sound died with her. No one took her place. Fish vendors of Majayjay today don’t go around hawking anymore. They stay fixed in one corner of the street, and it’s the customers who must go to the fish vendor to buy their fish.
Ka Tinay’s “Ayyyy! Kanduleee!” hawking, no matter how laborious, was Ka Tinay’s personal service par excellence that vanished with the flow of modernity.
Another admirable individual was Ma Pinong, the bus conductor of LTB Bus Co. Ma Pinong’s daily route was the Majayjay-Manila trip via Sta. Cruz. Ma Pinong did a lot of favors for his town mates by acting as delivery man, mostly for money.
Nick of time
When my tuition at Ateneo High School was past due, Inay Aurea would ask Ma Pinong to bring the money, and I, in turn, would meet Ma Pinong at the LTB bus station in Divisoria to get my tuition in the nick of time.
Ma Pinong practically knew every person in Majayjay, by face and by name. As bus conductor, he had a photographic memory for all his passengers, and the manual dexterity to process bus tickets by punching in the distance traveled and fee for each of the passengers.
Short and stocky, he was strong and agile, able to hurdle back and forth the side steps of the bus, handing over fare tickets to all passengers. He also helped load and unload baggage.
All was done with kindness. A profuse “thank you” was enough reward for him.
Ma Pinong died years ago, after he retired from his job. The LTB Bus Co. died, too, because it lost its captive customers to the hundreds of jeepneys that obtained franchises from the local LTO offices.
Majayjay today is crowded with tricycles and jeeps that spoil the town’s cleanliness and serenity with engine noise and pollutants, like most towns in the Philippines today.
Another man who symbolized honesty and trust is a friend of the family. He is Ka Mauro, the coconut wholesale buyer of the Chinese capitalist named Po Wa, who operated in the nearby town of Magdalena.
Ka Mauro did his business the honor-system way. He operated based on the complete trust of his customers, the Chinese capitalist, the coconut farmers and the coconut plantation owner.
The volume of coconuts harvested and sold was entirely based by the plantation owner on the word of Ka Mauro, who supervised the loading and buying. His word was trusted by everyone. He issued the corresponding cash shares to farmers and the farm owner.
Ka Mauro was a man of few words, friendly and caring in a silent way.
Ka Mauro also functioned as a loan officer for farm owners who needed emergency cash advances, chargeable to future harvest. He didn’t charge interest on short-term loans. I knew Ka Mauro because I used to go to his house to get short-term cash advances arranged by Inay Aurea, mostly for my school expenses.
From Ma Pinong, the bus conductor, and Ka Mauro, the coconut wholesale buyer, I saw at a very young age the virtue of honesty at work, silently, impeccably. Both men could read and write, but never set foot in the corridors of a university for a college education.
Do good and avoid evil
Our town’s culture was fundamentally obedient to natural law, which simply ruled that people must do good and avoid evil. Both men know this by heart, and they lived respectable lives by rendering excellent service to their kababayans.
I relate my happy childhood moments with the sweetest taste of glutinous rice cakes made by two grandmotherly women: Na Emilia, the sinukmani or biko expert, and Na Lucina, the genius behind Majayjay’s bibingka galapong.
Na Emilia was the grandmother of my friend, Ben. Ben’s family earned its living by making and selling goodies to schoolchildren during recess time. Na Emilia also peddled sinukmani or biko around town.
Na Lucina was the master of bibingkang galapong baked in an earthen pan, “may apoy sa ilalim at may apoy sa ibabaw,” using bunot (coconut husk) embers that gave her bibingka that smoky flavor and meltingly soft moistness.
Na Lucina had her stove facing the street outside of her little house with its sooty walls, bibingka smoke hitting my nose, whetting my appetite whenever I passed by.
Na Emilia and Na Lucina stir clear pictures. Na Emilia was tall and thin. She was soft-spoken, walked with a gentle sway while selling her freshly cooked sinukmani in the bilao, perfectly balanced on her head.
Na Lucina was kayumanggi, a coarse and loud multitasking woman, always barking orders as she tended the bunot embers of her bibingka cooker.
Just the mention of Na Emilia and Na Lucina’s names makes my mouth water. Their glutinous rice cakes haunt my appetite still.
Last month, high school alumni of the mid ’60s held a class reunion in Majayjay. Many who migrated to the US, Canada and Australia came to relive their friendship and youthful frolics.
The most memorable ones were either the silly things they did or the dictatorship of their strict parents and teachers.
But most of all, they came to breathe Majayjay’s invigorating cool mountain air and to taste again the sweetness of glutinous rice cakes and guinataang laing.
Most importantly, they came to reminisce and admire old-fashioned virtues such as honesty, respect for elders, industriousness and helpfulness, which were personified by simple townsfolk like Ka Tinay, Ma Pinong, Ka Mauro, Na Emilia and Na Lucina.
Today, at the twilight of my life, when I go to the streets of Majayjay, I still hear Ka Tinay’s hawking in her distinctive singsong style: “Ayyy! Kanduleee! Biyaaa! Dulooong!”