Friday ∗ 22 Oct 2010

no money, no Muji

or meeting my middle class self at the Muji Manila opening

There was much talk about a Muji Store opening in the Philippines, and it would only be a couple of days before opening day that it would be announced as a truth: it was here, the brandless brand from Japan, the one that will bring us the best of Japan’s home and office supplies. And I kid you not, I loved it. And yes it was more expensive, but that’s to be expected, and on this opening night it didn’t really seem like the rich of this country cared.

The middle class forewarned

My friend A warned me, that’s going to be filled with the rich, Ina, and of course I was prepared – or so I thought. Now the thing with events like openings and such, for arts and otherwise, is that I’m reminded of how middle class I am, and yes I am proof positive that the middle class exists. And I enumerate:

1. I have a car (broken as it was) to drive to Bonifacio High Street with (which is inaccessible via public transport unless it’s an expensive cab ride).

2. I knew of Muji before it arrived here, have been to Japan once in my life, when there was money to spare, when Papa said that I needed to see Japan, because he worked there when I was a little girl, it would be good for me to experience it.

3. I followed what the invite said: wear a touch of white. And yes that means I had options in my closet.

I mean I understand the argument that the middle class doesn’t exist, but really, let me be myself and insist that I am, just because I live it every day, much like the effect of skin whitening sold by women to women must be seen as mine to talk about (and you can’t convince me otherwise, kahit tunay na lalake ka pa). I was forewarned with the notion of the rich as well because my friend knows of my middle class self, and how I will see it and feel it, my difference from this rich. She had put me in my place without knowing it.

Exclusivity and yayas

So I enter and realize there’s a guest list, and remember that I invited my friend B to come follow me to the opening, there’d be free food and nerdy shopping for school and office supplies. I refuse to worry about it, wanting to get to the merchandise and see how cheap they were and what pens I could buy for Mama who had said she wanted Muji pens, without really knowing what they’re like.

But the store was being prepped for what was “the opening of doors” and we were all crammed and cramped outside the store with endless wine and champagne and vodka sprite and Japanese inspired finger food. I thought I was in heaven, social class notwithstanding. It’s so middle class of me. And I enumerate:

4. I sold this event to my friend in relation to free food. In relation to nerdy supplies, yes, but to the free food too (haha!) and it sure was good fancy Japanese food.

5. I thought the merchandise would be cheap, i.e., Japan cheap, where 1 yen stores exist, spaces that I thought were different versions of heaven. I also thought there would be some free stuff for the press/media, but then again, sometimes good food and drinks are enough. See number 4 above.

6. When I say social class notwithstanding, I don’t just mean me vis a vis the rich and the celebrity. I mean me and the number of yayas in uniform, feeding their alagas, who had obviously been brought by their parents for a Friday night out with family. And yes, some of those alagas were Japanese – how’s that for assimilating into our culture via household help. *hay*

No money, no Muji

And then the doors opened, and we all went up to the second floor of the GAP Store where Muji Store Manila now stands, and it was this peculiar kind of heaven that I love because it is monochromatic. I’m such a Capricorn, really, for being inspired by just blacks and whites, and wood and glass and navy blues. And I was in love with this store, thinking of pens for Christmas gifts, thinking of how cheap it would be when it went on sale, thinking of it as a cheaper (and better!) alternative to Banana Republic because it has nice cotton tops and dresses, with embroidery and ruffle details, and very simple beautiful merchandise. Thinking of bringing Mama the next time we have cash to spare for nice clothes.

But many things became clear to me after I filled a basket with supplies, and at some point I found I could let my basket go. Why let go of Muji products on Muji night? Because there was no discount for opening night, and it didn’t make sense to fall in that long line just to get the products ahead of everybody else, as my friend B agreed. At that point this opening night barely made sense to me, as everything else in that space began making sense. I enumerate my middle class thoughts:

7. This wasn’t for me, obviously, who had no money, therefore no Muji. I could’ve used my credit card, but that would mean this was an urgent and necessary expense. The latter is true for pens and their function in my life, but I wouldn’t be able to defend the former if my life depended on it.

8. This was for the rich who were there, the ones who could spend without thinking, the ones who knew of Muji elsewhere and thought it the best thing that it was now in the Philippines, and were ready to spend. They were in line and leaving the store with bags and boxes to prove it, too.

9. Muji was for me too, who looked at that merchandise and remembered too much of a visit to Japan three years ago, long enough to have forgotten, but easy enough to rewind and rewrite with proper erasures and revisions.

10. I become friends with the Kuya/Manong waiters in events like this so at some point they’ll bring me the dessert(s) that I want, or just keep giving me alcohol. I’ve never wondered why, I always thought it was because I’ve got my Papa’s rockstar blood in my veins: he who will talk to everyone, walang masamang tinapay. At this Muji Store opening, it was suddenly clear: no one ever made the waiters chika. No one.

There was a joy to Muji still, my lack of money notwithstanding. There was something special about looking at that merchandise and seeing so much of what I used to have, things I had given away, let go of, released to the world. There was a feeling of freedom here, the kind that allowed me to see these things and thank heavens that I could be there and have no memory at all of when it was it was that I first encountered Muji.

Instead I saw these: teeny tiny staplers and cutters, small sticks of glue and tape and scissors, the kinds that can fit in any kikay kit for fashion emergencies. I saw these for that supply kit that should always be in every person’s car. I saw the containers and thought of all the things I might need or have lost a container for: pills and tablets of all shapes and sizes, lipsticks and eye glasses, creams and soap and cologne. Many of these things are obviously for travel, but too, they are for the working girl Pinay, the ones who commute every day or live out of their cars like me.

And the pens – oh my heart! – I had filled my basket with every kind, choosing the colors very carefully just because I couldn’t afford all of it. This basket I had let go of, knowing I would just come back when it was time. Which is to say when there’s money, and middle class as I am that might not happen any time soon.  Oh heart, poor heart.

Posted in: bayan, kapitalista, produkto, radikalchick.lit, review, tindahan

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2 Comments/Pingbacks

  1. gian
    October 22, 2010 at 10:25 am

    i’m glad i saw you at the launch! nalasing ako sa muji. bottomless ang asti. hay.

    also, after my second trip there, i realized that the only perk of being there on opening night was getting to buy a pack of shrimp flavored toasted rice crackers. everything else is still very well stocked.

    funny, japan was the last happy time with my ex, and the couple we went with then has also broken up since. i may just go back there alone now, hahaha.

  2. ina
    October 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

    ako rin! that bottomless white wine was divine, and that spread, while not japanese anymore (ang tabang kaya ng pagkain sa japan) was wonderful. high point. wait, baka high point rin na nakita ko si Joji Lloren of Project Runway fame!

    hay Japan. i also dream of going back and doing the things i had wanted to do but wasn’t able to the first time. or just write about it differently.

    dali, let’s go back to japan alone. dali! :)

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