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I have read and am re-reading for the nth time Jeffrey Archer's "As The Crow Flies". It is the Reader's Digest condensed version and since I thoroughly enjoyed the story that's why I keep going back to it.
From it, I learned the word costermonger, which in the Victorian era, was one who sold fruits and vegetables using a barrow. And there's another word to add to my vocabulary.
A barrow is a rectangular cart on wheels that holds produce. (Think wheelbarrow but much bigger) Costermongers are traders. They buy fruits and vegetables in the market, then arrange these on a barrow, which are parked on streets or near establishments to sell. This way, people don't have to go to the market to shop for their needs.
Charlie Trumper, the story's main character, only had one dream - to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and be the best costermonger in town. As a young boy, he was more interested helping in the barrow than going to school. But his grandfather insisted on him getting an education, and only then could he help once classes were done for the day.
Like his grandfather, Charlie not only called out to customers but always offered them the best bargain. And accompanying the old man to the market when he bought produce, the young boy learned who were worthy merchants offering the best deals as well as excellent fruits and vegetables.
Since he was paid for helping out, it wasn't long before he saved enough and told his grandfather that he wanted to buy a barrow of his own. On his way back to show the old man his acquisition, he was met with a tragedy - his grandfather lay dead in front of his barrow.
The story is about how Charlie built an empire (equivalent to a mall today) because of his good reputation and innovation to corner the market. (He would offer to deliver the goods to customers' homes so they needn't go to his barrow.)
One of the things that struck me about how Grandpa maintained the quality of his produce was two rules that he taught the young Charlie: first, the hardier vegetables like potatoes should be in front, the greens were in the middle, and soft fruits were in the back; and second, never let customers touch fruits until they've paid for their purchase.
He explained that it was hard to bruise potatoes, but so much harder to sell a bunch of grapes once they've been handled and dropped several times.
Another trick of the trade Charlie picked up was not only buying from one supplier, but switching every once while. This way, merchants won't take him for granted if they know he only buys from them.
Such a wise man, Charlie's Grandpa was. And that's why they thrived even among a lot of competition.
Which brings me to my point... this is not actually a review of the story, but about vendors in my country.
There are variety of public markets here. There are small ones, where vendors set up tables for their produce, and some canvas overhead to protect them from the elements. Usually they're along a street, with busy foot traffic.
There are medium-sized markets that are housed in an enclosure about the size of a basketball court, and there are the big markets where all kinds of produce - fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, seafood - are sold.
And there are public markets that also serves as a drop-off point for farmers and traders and market vendors buy their produce there.
Pre-pandemic, I went to a nearby Sunday market. They sell everything in a space about the size of half a football field. I can buy all sorts of vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, rice, cheese, baked goods and even cooked food.
I like the set-up there because produce were usually stacked neatly, and vendors sorted out the bad ones from the good. Sometimes, I had to pay more compared to regular market prices, but it's the ability to choose unblemished produce or be given that which I appreciated.
Now, there's a huge "Bagsakan" (drop-off market) about 15 minutes drive from the house. Since the Sunday market is non-operational due to the pandemic, it's the public market for us. Cheaper goods is always favorable at this time.
But here's my beef: fruits and vegetables are just dumped on long tables or counters! And it's a dimly-lit place, so inspecting vegetables can be a challenge especially if you're already weighed down by so many purchases, and you're jostling with other customers.
I wouldn't mind getting some cucumber or eggplant with a dent or blemish, if the vendor tells me she's throwing it in for free, or I'd get a discount. But no, if they can foist the goods on unknowing customers, they will, and you end up baffled and annoyed when checking your purchases at home.
It's also quite frustrating because they don't get to know their produce, what it's good for, or even how to cook it. Like, I want to know if the potatoes are good for salad or mashed. To them, everything is the same.
It would be nice to see carrots lined up according to size, or even mustard greens or bok choy (pechay) because not everyone likes them huge or teeny-tiny.
And fishmongers are no better. If you don't watch them as they clean the ones you've picked out, you will end up with smaller fish, or not as fresh. And when you ask them to debone, mostly you end up with fish that's close to have been massacred!
Where is the respect both for produce and customers? I get that markets are so hot and uncomfortable. But if you picked that out as your occupation or job, at least serve buyers well. Don't cheat customers by switching products, or rigging weighing scales.
The probability that they can dispose of their wares is higher if they took care of them, instead of just dumping them all on a table or counter, and not fixing them after a customer has picked through them. And if they're looking to get rid of blemished produce, sell it at a discount. At least the customer is aware of what they're getting and not be hoodwinked into paying for something not worth the price.
I wish local vendors would have the integrity of Charlie Trumper, and take care of their customers so they leave happy and they keep coming back. That's how business ought to be done, especially at a time when most everyone is scaling down their budgets or trying hard to make ends meet.