Speedy, Sam and Alex all love shrimp crackers. Being allergic to shrimps, including shrimp extracts, I stick with the occasional potato and tortilla chips. Speedy often buys the brand of shrimp crackers that you see in the photo. In the supermarket, a bag costs 13 pesos and a few centavos.
One time, we were on our way home from somewhere — I think we were along Kalayaan Avenue in Makati driving towards the intersection to turn left at C5 — when I saw several hawkers, you know the ones who play patintero with vehicles, selling the very same shrimp crackers.
Someone, Alex I think, started whining for shrimp crackers and Speedy automatically said he would buy later at the supermarket because these hawkers pad the price by so much. I was curious about the difference in prices and was about to roll up my window to call one of the hawkers just to ask. I changed my mind, started rolling down the window, when Sam exclaimed from the back seat, “Go ask, that’s bloggable!”
Bloggable, alright. The shrimp crackers were being sold at 35 pesos per bag, or three bags for a hundred pesos. Speedy said that wasn’t unusual because these hawkers put a hefty price on their labor — they sell on their feet, carrying their ware, under the hot sun and even when it rains. I can understand that, sure, but it occurred to me that while we tend to pat the backs of those who opt to perform such a hard job rather than become beggars and mendicants, it is also true that the exploitative aspect of selling — this tendency to raise the price as high as possible — is not something peculiar to big companies (oil! oil!) but it is true even for the simple man like these ambulant peddlers.
Now, consider the tax implications.
No receipts are issued with these sales. I doubt if these peddlers pay income taxes from what they earn selling. If big companies cook their books to lower their tax liabilities, these peddlers don’t even keep books that they have to cook.
Then, consider what kind of traffic hazards they pose. These peddlers don’t exactly wait until the light is red. They don’t approach drivers only after the vehicles have come to a full stop. They run towards the still-moving vehicles and they run after vehicles that have started to move after the light has turned green.
Of course, these were all passing thoughts as we drove home. And I remembered a peddler of hand puppets near the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue from years ago when I was still working and driving through the area was a five-days-a-week routine.
Late one night, I wanted to bring home some pasalubong for the kids and there was this guy selling hand puppets. When the puppet’s mouth was pressed from the inside, it stuck its tongue out. Cute, I thought. I called the guy over and asked how much for the puppets. He said 250 pesos each. I pursed my lips and told him that was too much. All through the red light, I haggled. Before the light turned green, the price was down to 50 pesos. I bought two — one for Sam and one for Alex. I felt so happy and proud that I got the puppets for what I considered a fair price.
A few weeks later, I was at the Antipolo Cathedral with Alex for a school affair. There was this peddler selling the very same puppets that I bought from the Makati hawker. I don’t remember why but I stopped to ask the man how much he was selling the puppets for. He said 20 pesos each. In this country, the first price that is quoted is never the real price. Haggling is the rule and I bet I could have bought his puppets for 10 pesos each.