Anybody who knew me in high school or college was likely well aware of my penchant for thrift-store shopping. My sizeable wardrobe consisted of literally hundreds of t-shirts, polo shirts, button-up shirts, jackets, and sweaters, a large portion of which were purchased cheaply at thrift stores. It’s where I got most of my vintage Husky clothes and the large majority of my ironic hipster t-shirts. I came by this thrifty habit honestly because for as long as I can remember, long family car trips always included a few stops at Goodwills, Value Villages, St. Vincent De Pauls, and more, while my dad stocked up on books for the store he would eventually open. From an early age, I took to browsing the clothes racks looking for sports jerseys, and never really stopped.
Sometimes people accused me of essentially stealing clothes that were intended for poor people. This isn’t true at all, because the point of thrift stores in the United States is not so much to clothe the less fortunate (although it does help serve that purpose) but more to make money for charitable organizations through profits generated from the stores. But did you ever wonder where all the clothes that never get sold end up? Shipped to places like the Philippines, which means that now I have a second chance on clothes I missed out on in the US. In this country, they end up at giant clothing bazaars reminiscent of a rummage sale, usually in piles, but occasionally on hangers. I have heard that the clothes that end up here are intended to be donated to victims of typhoons, floods, etc., but that there is some corruption at some higher level that redirects these donated clothes to sellers. I’m not sure how much truth there is in this – probably some, but I doubt that it applies to all the clothes here. (Here is a very interesting article from Pacific Northwest magazine that details what happens to used clothes once they leave the United States).
Here, these clothing bazaars are called ukay-ukays (ooh-kai ooh-kai). The act of picking or sorting through something is called ukay, so the name is derived from the way you have to sort through the mounds of clothing in order to see what’s for sale. There are some relatively permanent ukay-ukays, and some even have buildings they operate out of (these are fancier, so they are called “US Surplus” instead of “ukay-ukay”), but most have the goods spread out on tables and operate under large plastic tarps. In addition to the permanent outlets, there is a large group of sellers that roves around to wherever a fiesta is. So these past few days, out of nowhere on a quiet street, a giant market showed up with plenty of ukay-ukays and sellers of various other wares.
I spent some time sorting through a large pile of t-shirts and came up with some gems:
St. Patrick’s Day At The Milton Club- The classic fuzzy letter shirt in Cooper Black font. I’ll be sure to wear this on my birthday and probably a lot of other times as well.
Willard and Pauline 50 Years- A classic celebration of love. Anybody know them?
Dodgers- a good companion to my Dodgers #42 shirt (that’s Jackie Robinson, for suckers that don’t know) that Stacey is currently looking after for me. Plus, it was previously owned by a famous soda maker. Notice that it used to cost $0.25 in the US, but I bought it for 33.33 ̅ pesos (3 for 100, along with the above shirts), which is about $0.80. And if you factor in the relative purchasing power of the average Filipino to the average American, this means that the shirt cost probably about 30-40 times more here than it did in its US thrift store.
I also found this treasure trove of baseball and soccer jerseys from Japan. I wanted to buy them all and sell them at a huge profit to hipsters in the US (maybe through Red Light, or even just online) but it just didn’t seem practical. The soccer jerseys were all a little small but I did buy a couple baseball jerseys, one for myself and one for my friend Jon, who is also from Seattle and is a big baseball fan (during training, we often played stickball with whatever materials were available – bamboo/rocks, nipa/seeds, etc.). They are also completely impractical, made of thick flannel that is entirely inappropriate for this climate, and probably nobody here would appreciate my fantastic fashion sense and would instead just wonder why I’m wearing a dirty old baseball jersey. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy these because I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance again. Also, come to think of it, I don’t actually know that they are Japanese, I just assumed they were because I know it’s baseball-mad there, but I can’t read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean or even tell them apart in this case. So if anybody knows what these jerseys say, and in what language, please let me know.