Exploring Mintal: The Road to My Grade Five Classroom

Once in a while, I find myself looking back in the early years of my childhood. Perhaps, I was inspired by young children on their way to school and try to compare what I did when I was at their age. Or imagine the anxiety parents feel when their children are up for sleepless nights preparing for their assessments.

For a moment, I immerse myself in the lives of these young kids and daydream of being transported back in time. That time was in my early elementary school years and with memory recall greatly assisted by brother Erwin.

Mintal, a barangay in Davao City, is located approximately 20 kilometers from Davao City proper and about 25 kilometers from Davao International Airport. Barangays like Tugbok, Bago Oshiro, and Catalunan Pequeno surround it. Known as the “Little Tokyo” of the Philippines, Mintal has historical significance and serves as a gateway to the upland areas of Davao. It is a vibrant community with a mix of residential, agricultural, and commercial zones.

Although I am sometimes teased by college classmates feigning my response as Mental instead of Mintal, I am never associating it with any mental institution.

“Naa man sa Bajada ginadala ang mga buang.”

Home sweet home

The morning news that airs on our radio component wakes me up. I start my day listening to radio broadcasts featuring field reporters giving largely news about minor crimes while perched on the top deck of a bunk bed.

“Lalaki gidunggab, patay”
“Panimalay, gilungkab.. Kawatan nadakpan”

These are some of the types of news beat reporters share to the public on a daily basis.

While the family tunes in to the radio program Vigilantes by Freddie Vergara or Bombo News and Views Morning Edition by Rose Ramos and Noli Tecson, it’s a mental reminder of what needs to be done during which parts of the program. Breakfast must wrap up when the Bombo Radyo telecast features sports news by Dennis Lazo. Or packing up and leaving for school once Perspective by Reuben Canoy hits the radio waves.

The late lawyer prefaces his educational commentary with the lines “Ang lungsod nga nasayod mao’y naghatag kusog sa demokrasya. Apan ang lungsod nga mapasagaron mao’y makapukan sa atong kagawasan,” and serves as my daily dose of wisdom even at a tender age.

The rice breakfast is a staple at home. Bread and other pastries are seldom served in the morning. Instead, I loved the serving of fried fish or dried fish matched with rice soaked in hot chocolate.

As the clock strikes seven, I make my way out of the house and make the 10 minute walk to Mintal Elementary School via the Davao-Bukidnon Road. Along the way, I’ll pass by some notable landmarks in my neighborhood. So, as I walk around, please be my guest as I point you to the establishments and personalities behind them, and how I saw them from the lens of a young boy.

At stone’s throw away

The Recto Rice and Corn Mill, owned by the family of my friend and classmate Maritess, is right across the street. My sister and the Cristal sisters next door occasionally visit the other side of the road to play Chinese garter with them. Lazy afternoons often find me sitting by the window and watch vehicles pass by while the rythmic cadence of the machine husking and milling the rice serves as the background sound.

Besides the rice mill business, the store also sells pastry products, my favorite of which is the bagumbayan bread that is slightly sweet and often has a dense, chewy texture.

Grade 5 class photo at Mintal Elementary School under Ms Alejandro.

This rice mill landmark has since become a convenient reference for those who ask where I live.

“Atbang sa galingan.”

Busier weekends will see the frontage of the mill basking in activity. Farmers drop off sacks of unmilled rice for processing as workers with sack trolleys approach jeepneys filled with sacks of fresh harvest from the farmlands of Angalan, Biao, and nearby barangays. As farmers come away with well-milled rice or corn, the separated matter is then processed to become rice/corn bran or “tahop” fed to pigs.

Meling Duterte and Daday Paican sell these feeds by the kilo to backyard piggery owners, who mix these fiber-rich by-products with sliced tangkong (water spinach) for a hearty hog meal.

Speaking of childhood background noise, the Vosotros family owns a metal workshop, or “pandayan” that produces lagaraw (scythe), sundang (dagger), and sanggot (grass hook). The constant pounding of hot iron by a tandem of skilled blacksmiths to produce such household and agricultural tools can be a nuisance. When our next door bungalow neighbor was razed to the ground when I was in second grade, the sound barrier that shielded us from the noise of the metal shop disappeared, and we could hear the louder noise ever since.

But it’s just part of the neighborhood that everyone has put up with, similar to the noise of unfed pigs wailing, mothers calling out their children to return home for meals, or shouts of derby participants resonating from Mintal Galleria a few dozens of meters away.

Next to our “346” compound is the clinic of Dr Guillermo Layug, one of the renowned family doctors in the community. It’s where my mother brings me and my siblings when we are down with fever, influenza, or in the case of my brother, dog bite. Our family has known Dr. Layug for a long time. He is frank in his advice and creative in his own medications, which he puts in white plastic bottles. These dosages are strong and provide a useful cure for our ailments.

In many cases, our physician will issue a prescription to be bought at a local pharmacy just across the street from his clinic. Nang Delia, the friendly pharmacist behind the counter, often makes medicine recommendations for any random ailment, like toothache or canker sore.

Next to Dr. Layug’s clinic is his mansion, which sits next to the Epibon Store and a talisay tree with a makeshift jeepney terminal for passengers bound for Tagakpan. Next to it is the Filipino Bakery, our go-to pastry shop. My brother and I make a quick trip here on Saturday mornings to pick up pan de coco or any similar bread before starting our Saturday morning cartoon TV binge.

The economic heartland

The next block along the way is the commercial section of the village. It’s where the Mintal Public Market and larger commercial establishments can be found. A quick tour of the public market will show Ebing’s Sari-Sari Store, a general merchandiser and a go-to dealer for rice and dried fish.

Next  to it is Titay’s Store, where you can find everyday household necessities such as soy sauce, canned goods, cooking oil, milk, eggs, etc. In front of their stall is the tandem of Angeling and Felix fishmongers, whose location can be a source of envy for other fish dealers. It is prominently located at the de facto entrance of the market and close to the main road, making it the first stop for everyday grocers.

My father owns a small store that sells various dry goods, from nail cutters to needles and scissors to safety pins. Using a custom-built shelf system that he carries from our basement and assembles every day, his makeshift shop is subject to the availability of the space where he sets up his merchandise.

Thankfully, I do not remember any instances where someone else took his spot. The flimsy cover from the elements makes his store at the mercy of a downpour; there were a few instances where his goods were soaked in the rain. Again, thankfully, he’s selling non-perishable items.

I sometimes take my turn looking after my father’s shop during lunch hours while he takes lunch at home. The most exciting part of my time there was reading the news at Tempo, a daily tabloid my father buys, and eventually uses as a wrapper for his merchandise. I also happen to know the son of the refreshment seller, Nene Eco, next to my father’s store. They sell pineapple juice and hotcakes. Their son, Romualdo, was a classmate in Grade 4 under Ma’am Cadigal, but I seldom see him taking his turn.

Exploring deeper in the market is a favorite hangout for early birds, like Ejok Maturan’s puto maya and hot chocolate shop. Early customers occupy a few seats before heading to work. There are also carinderias that specialize in short orders like caldereta, dinuguan, tinola, and other Filipino staples, including Poping Compendio, a well-known carinderia landmark in the area.

Just divided by the entrance to the Mintal Galleria is the small stall of Ikoy Carnecer that sells coconut products such as tuba and coconut charcoal used to fuel manual flat iron press or cook fish or meat through broiling. Departing punters from the cockpit may indulge in a gallon’s serving of tuba before heading back home.

These eateries sit nicely next to the aforementioned Mintal Galleria, a cockpit that I haven’t been to, but presumably serviceable despite being in a massive state of disrepair. After Sunday derbies, participants are a decent source of business among market stalls that serve food and drinks, but they could also cause occasional chaos when drunk punters fight or disputes arise with certain merchants.

On the other side of the block are larger establishments of Rebosura and Pana that are well-known for a wider variety of comics, sandals, and slippers. Once I enter the shop, the unmistakable smell of rubber fills the shop, dimmed by the presence of slippers hanged and arranged according to foot sizes. Pio Conti is also a well-known fixture in the general merchandise business. Subsequently, I discovered that they are the kin of my Batangas-born buddy Karen in Hong Kong.

The majority of the meat markets are more established, where Pacita Avenido and Ronjo and Boy Soylon, are household names as pork and beef retailers. I also see Fe and Odet look after their business occasionally on off-school days.

Also nearby is Nesan’s Pharmacy, which was run by the family of Joanne Vilchez, our class valedictorian.

A Sunday visit to the market is more exciting as Sunday merchants that sell goods such as flowers, pails of shrimp paste, lato and lukot, or cartoon comics occupy the frontage of rice dealers, making a trip more worthwhile. But, it’s also more packed, and the offensive stench isn’t for the faint of heart.

The Villamor family owned the only gas station in Mintal, which was outside of the public market. While it’s small and only has one or two pumps, it’s location is very central and unmissable. Occasionally, a fire truck from Mintal Fire Station with plate number SCS188 (government vehicles are prefixed in S) is parked nearby. Such imposing fire truck inspired me to want to become a fireman when I grow up.

Let me entertain you

At the center of Mintal are the park grounds, locally known as “parke.” It’s a town square with grassy space wide enough for children to play, a stage with concrete grounds where cultural shows usually organized by local schools take place, and events like parochial fiesta where visiting carnivals erect ferris wheel ride, funfair games such as tossing rings, hitting targets, and color wheels that offer prizes.

Our kindergarten graduation photos as well as commencement exercises in grade school were mainly held here, so looking at our old photos reminds me of what it looked like and how different it was to its current appearance.

As we come closer to school, there are few other establishments that are worth mentioning. Lec-lec Kitchenette has established itself as a loudspeaker and music influencer. At lunch time, when I go for my midday break at home, Lec-lec’s juke box plays classics from Nazareth, Joe Lamont, and Atlantic Starr, long before I understood the term Last Song Syndrome. Later on, I’d sneak up and try the new gaming technology called family computer and would pay 30-minute slots to play Sky Destroyer with grade school pals.

Two auto repair shops, Layague Motors and Jaime Welding Shop (the latter owned by the family of my classmate Alan dela Rama), are located in front of the ‘parke’. They are the go-to mechanics for passenger jeepneys in need of overhauling, oil changes, and other engine problems due to their closeness to the main highway. But it’s also not surprising to see their garages as temporary resting places for jeepneys involved in highway accidents. While walking by, my curiosity about peering through the broken chassis was satisfied by the unpleasant sight of fresh blood, likely from unlucky passengers involved in the road crash.

There is an electrical shop on the right shoulder of the Davao-Bukidnon Road where Gali, a technician, fixes electrical and electronic devices like color televisions and electric fans. I’d seen him as a hero, as through his skilled hands, our TV set was brought back to life, and we resumed watching our favorite cartoon shows.

Ma’am may I go out?

Soon I’ll arrive in school, which is a famous site for Japanese relics in the pre-war era. But before that, I pass by a government complex composed of the Mintal Public Library, whose librarian is the mother of my classmate, Felicisimo Celebrar Jr. Once in a while, on the other side of this two-story wooden structure is the Mintal Post Office, where we drop off letters sent to cousins in Cagayan de Oro and receive deliveries for my grandma’s US veteran checks from our trustworthy mailman, Nong Pael.

School children are busy flocking like bees at stores selling sweets just outside the school’s main entrance. Nita’s puto kutsinta, Mimay’s calamay, and Lagadlad’s crackers and plastic balloons. They better hurry up, or else face the wrath of school teachers, notably Ma’am Florita Papin at second grade.

But now I am in fifth grade under Ma’am Alejandro. And we’re told we will have our class photo with our subject teachers and our principal, Mr Atilano Bompat.

That’s quite a journey so far, but I haven’t reached the other fringes of the barangay, so I’ll dedicate another post on that.

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