I was never a "home" person. Perhaps the worst days of my life was during Holy Week, when the only option I had was to stay at home and there wasn't even anything good on television. I'm often struck with wanderlust. I need to travel or a change of scenery, even if it's just a place nearby. Since I was once a student, one conclusion some people might think is that my alma matter was my second home. It would probably be right, if it weren't for the fact that I wasn't really accepted by my classmates and batchmates, at least during my grade school and high school years. No, solace was found somewhere else. I may wander around malls and buildings, but in the end, I was grounded to a certain shop.
In my last two years of high school, the place where I could be me and no one would judge me was one shop alone: Comic Alley. Sure, I'd wander around Virra Mall looking for places to go to and sights to see, but in the end, I always went back to Comic Alley. I'd meet up with people there, make new friends, and play a game of Magic: The Gathering. The salesladies were kind to me and I got to know the owners. One of my earliest mentors was probably Teddy Sy, an avid Magic player and anime fan. He took me in, despite my far-from-pleasant personality (at the time of course). Even if I refused to smile to customers, he still hired me. And of course, I got to mix the best of both worlds. Not only was I pursuing my passion in Collectible Card Games (CCGs), but I was also fueling the flames of my love for anime. I got assigned to the anime portion of the shop, and it was there that I learned more about myself as well as providing me with the opportunity to make new friends (although admittedly for less than altruistic reasons). Even when I wasn't working for them anymore, I was nonetheless welcome in their shop, and there were times when I'd sit there for hours doing nothing (and someone who dislikes me even named me "Gargoyle" for doing just that that).
Unfortunately, in 2001, everything changed. Not only did Magic: The Gathering wane in popularity, but Virra Mall itself was changing. Vendors would harass everyone coming into the mall by asking them if they wanted to purchase pornographic videos. Suddenly, traveling to my second home was far from comfortable. And if you thought lightning doesn't strike twice, well, Virra Mall got burned for the second time. And Comic Alley was one of its casualties.
Strangely enough, my second home got reincarnated ten months later. On February of 2002, a new shop was set up opposite of the college I was studying in. It also had the word "comic" on its name. The owners called it CCHQ, an acronym for Central Comic Headquarters, or our in-joke, Cheng Chua headquarters. They sold comics, both Western (including the ever-elusive indie comics) and Japanese (authentic manga!). Perhaps what impressed me the most was the fact that I could go in there and leave without purchasing anything, yet come out a better person. The owners talked to you even if you were just curious and didn't have plans of buying anything from the store. You were accepted for who you are. If I stayed there unnecessarily (i.e. bum around), they never complained. Relatively cheap prices and good products didn't hurt either. But make no mistake, CCHQ was my second home not because of its merchandise or location, but because of the owners who were running it and the people that were attracted to it as well. Some of CCHQ's customers were like me: wandering aimlessly in life, yet the place provided a home for us. A passion for comics or manga might be popular now, but it wasn't always so back then. And perhaps the best thing about CCHQ was the fact that I could be me. I mean even in Comic Alley, I refrained from mentioning other stores, especially when it came to comparing the prices of other shops (on a side note, Comic Alley does have good prices for their merchandise... sometimes it's not always the cheapest place to purchase items, but they were fair prices). That wasn't the case with CCHQ. The owners themselves would recommend customers going to Powerbooks or some other shop if that place had a cheaper price compared to theirs. I immediately knew CCHQ would be a success.
Nearly three years later, CCHQ will now close its doors. I've graduated from Ateneo, but I still visit the place. And I still receive the same amount of warmth, even if there's one less person running it, or if there's fewer people passing by the shop. I did one smart thing in 2002. I befriended the owners. What also makes me happy is that I wrote an interview article about them back then. It's not my best-written work (and all I really did was transcribe their words). But perhaps what makes that interview great was the fact that I didn't have to embellish anything. Sometimes, mentioning something as it is is brilliant. Some of the best advice I've heard in my lifetime came from interviews. One mentioned that failing is not a hindrance but something to learn from; the guy I interviewed told me that he felt more reassured hiring someone who tried and failed rather than someone who has always been successful, because the former learned something from his experience. The other heartfelt advice upon retrospect came from Khristine and Katya, who offered me this during the interview: "Hold on to your dreams. Never give up because there will be times that you will be disheartened and discouraged and the only thing that will sustain you through the bad times would be how deep your dedication is to the things that you love. That's the only thing."
I'm actually surprised when people mourn the loss of CCHQ and tell me "poor them". Yes, the loss of CCHQ is something to lament, but the owners are not to be pitied or somebody to feel sorry for. They succeeded in what they wanted to do. They've satisfied many people along the way and made new friends. True success, after all, isn't about winning or failing. I was listening to this tape a few weeks ago and the speaker's beliefs echoes mine: "I'd rather fail in a business with good people, rather than succeed with bad people." And CCHQ has one of the best people that I personally know. As for their business, it was time to move on. They're not bankrupt (although it would be nice if you patronized their shop one last time before it closes for Christmas) and they owners are actually well off. They have their lives ahead of them. Maybe their dreams have been satisfied. Or it's taken on a new form. Or it'll be emerge again later on. I don't know the future. I can only be sure of what I feel. And it's that I was touched and changed by the quaint shop called CCHQ. It was my second home.
In certain ways, I've moved on. My current haunt is the Comic Quest branch in Mega Mall (and hopefully my curse doesn't cause the shop to collapse by some unforeseen circumstances, hehehe) where I'm with good friends and mentors like Dean and Vin. But CCHQ has been an integral part of my life, and I'm glad I'm immortalizing it in my writing. I'm not as lost as I once was. This time, I'm taking steps to fulfill my dreams. And other people's dreams as well. It's one of the things CCHQ has taught me.