Thursday, August 15, 2002

The Day I Was Popular

Nowadays, I'm not anyone remarkable. Unique, yes, but I don't really stand out in a crowd, unless you're really looking for a skinny guy with glasses. Once, though, people envied me. They'd know who I was, what I did, and how they wanted to fill my shoes.

The year was 1999. At the time, Voltes V and Yu Yu Hakusho were being aired on GMA 7. If you wanted to watch an anime screening, you went to Melchor Hall in U.P. once a month. Filbars didn't stock anime VCDs back then. CATS was known for selling anime videos as well as English-translated manga (Japanese comics). Comic Alley was half known for Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and the other half for anime and manga. Anima Anime peddled anime videos more than anything and didn't have a permanent physical shop. Only Pinoy Otaku had an anime-related web ring, mailing list, and chatroom. Questor was nonexistent. The only convention fans were aware of was the Collectibles Convention.

I also had the ideal job for an anime fan: I was working in Comic Alley.

Third year high school had just ended and I opted to stay in the Philippines during the summer break. I desperately wanted a job since time not spent on playing video games in the arcade was time spent saving money. I was too shy to apply at the summer jobs program at school so I had to resort to my own means to look for a part time job. I didn't want to leech on my parents so I didn't ask them about it. The only possible place I knew was the place I hung out at whenever I was at Virramall: Comic Alley.

Being a CCG fan, I played Magic: The Gathering at the tables in Comic Alley. That's where I got to make a lot of friends, one of them the owner of the shop. His name was Teddy and he was actually the half-brother of one of my batchmates. I played against him once during a tournament and we've been testing our decks against each other from time to time. I also buy the items he sells, from Magic cards to anime soundtracks. Thus one day, I asked him if I could work for him.

I don't know why he accepted me. Perhaps it's because I knew his brother from school. Maybe it's just my charisma (yeah right). The fact that we were both Chinese probably plays a role. He might have pitied me. He also might have seen himself when he was my age. Maybe it's because I asked his lovely wife and store manager, Carol, to take me in. They might have been extremely shorthanded. What's most probable though is that I'm an anime fan so I know the merchandise I'm going to sell more than the salesladies, and I'm quite familiar with the anime soundtracks (which are in Japanese, so no one really knows what the tracks contain, except me, who's bought them).

I started out as part time. From Thursdays to Mondays, I was there at the shop. The weekends were days I was needed most since that's when the customers all came in. I worked half-day, after lunch to six in the evening. I got to know the salesladies at the shops and the codes of the items that were sold. And then I had two days of vacation each week. It wasn't bad, except that I usually spent my free days at the shop, lingering for I didn't have much else to do.

Eventually, I asked to be established as a full time employee for the summer. I was working from eleven to seven, Monday to Saturday, and from one to five on Sundays, since I had to go to church. My face was seen every single day in the shop, and I was sometimes working with Teddy's younger brother, Andrew.

My coworkers were great company. They were friendly and quite helpful. Of course, they also complained that I didn't eat. I told them that I already ate at home, which is true, since I didn't want to spend money on buying lunch at the mall. Teddy and Carol were also kind. They'd drop by the shop when they could and entertained the customers. They'd also treat their employees to dinner from time to time and Teddy would show me the latest stuff he'd acquire, from Transformer toys to the latest videos.

I also got to know a lot of the customers. They came from various places and with different backgrounds. There was no limit as people from age seven to thirty seven dropped by, each buying something different: a poster, a wall scroll, a CD, a comic, a card, a toy, a model kit, a figurine, etc.... Since Xavier was an all-boys school, this was also the only time I got to interact with the opposite gender. I saw stunning girls and not-so-stunning ones, mothers as well as daughters, students and employed ones. Some of them came to me since I knew the manga as well as the soundtracks. I could point out where the TV show left off in the manga and what CD contained the opening theme for that series.

At first, I was shy and seldom smiled when I talked to the customers. Carol told me to try to be friendlier. Since she was my boss, I tried. Sometimes though, my zeal gets the better of me. I'd talk to the customers about the anime they like, the characters they have crushes on, and what they wished they had. If I feel quite confident, I'd talk to them about the mailing list I was in and invite them to join. Thus I contributed to Pinoy Otaku's roster and soon, stories of my "dream job" were spread.

I also got to meet a lot of people in the anime industry. Anima Anime, for one, who were then just starting out and did drop by Comic Alley from time to time. Another was Smarty Toys, the supplier of Bandai toys in the Philippines.

A lot of anime fans I met began to envy me. They said that they wish they had my job. As grateful as I am for my employment, it's not as idyllic as it seems.

For one thing, I don't get to read or open the merchandise. They're sealed and the only time I get to touch them is when I'm selling it to the customer or checking inventory. Yes, I don't get to browse through the manga or listen to the various CDs available. If I want them, I have to buy them, same as everyone else. For another, you have to have a lot of patience when it comes to being a salesperson. On the weekends, customers flood in. On other days though, it involves hours of waiting and you're finally rewarded when a customer comes in. He or she might browse around and they might hang around there for several minutes, not buying a single thing. There's also the fact that you have to put up with different kinds of people. I mean right now in the anime industry, there are a lot of annoying people who stalk and pester anime fans. While working in Comic Alley, I have to talk to them whether I want it or not. The best I could do is to pray that they go away, soon. Lastly, there's the occasional person who asks if Comic Alley sells Playstation games or Mobile phone accessories.

I have a lot to be grateful for, considering I got to work in Comic Alley again the year after that. The salary I earned there isn't as valuable as the people I befriended during the entire time I was working there. I still don't smile, but I now interact better with the opposite gender.

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