Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Pseudo Anthropology in the Grocery pt. 3

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

While back in Manila, I decided to look into my childhood grocery store, Unimart, to apply the same anthropological lens I used in two previous posts (which you can read here and here). While I had previously explored a Korean grocery and more all-encompassing Asian store, perusing Unimart meant the extra challenge of looking at a familiar place through new eyes. It helped that I hadn't been back in a while. But it only took a few minutes for everything to come crashing back.

Inside the grocery, the small that was part fresh fruit, part preserved meat, part dank rainwater invaded my nostrils. Everything showed the wear and tear of time. Grocery carts were a little lopsided, store displays had telltale old sticker marks, but like a well-worn home, nothing was offensive, everything was comfortable.

At Unimart, I could always find everything I needed, even though the wayfinding system wasn't the easiest to navigate. I found all sorts of Pringles flavors (imported items were a big sell in the store) alongside local cheese wrapped in banana leaves (that's new!).

Instead of boxed coconuts, I found a whole load of them just underneath the fruit section, as if they were no big deal. Meanwhile, the U.S. was going crazy for coconut water. Mangos, dragonfruit, rambutan were all piled together, reminding me I was back on tropical territory.

But I had almost forgotten the lines.

If you ever find yourself in Manila, don't shop at peak hours, or else be prepared with a plan to get through the long lines. One man had an empty shopping cart in line; he was just waiting for his companion to return with the items. By the time his friend came back, he would probably be right near the cashier. If not, he could always let the person behind him ahead.

Other patrons aren't quite as devious. Instead, they scan the cashier checkouts searching for the shortest line. Or else, they quietly pick their stand and find something else to occupy their attention (like their cellphones).

I suppose this aspect of Unimart shopping really hasn't changed. Here's a great shot circa 1960s from Correos Filipinas. Different clothes, slightly different interiors, but the same long lines. I wonder if that will change once Unimart moves across the street to a new venue.

A previous look at Unimart in the 1960s via Correos Filipinas.


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