“Preowned, Preloved” is a short essay I wrote profiling the wagwagan (also known as the night market) in Baguio. This was written back when I was in university and is slightly edited for this post.
Note: I plan to write a longer version as soon as I have the time, so this essay is open to constructive criticism! 🙂
When the clock strikes 9 in the evening, the side of the Harrison Road adjacent to the Melvin Jones Grandstand in Baguio City bars itself from streaming traffic. Shortly thereafter, small stalls sprout like mushrooms along the road, flaunting an array of things for sale: rugged coats, nautical watches, and snatched cellphones among them. This phenomenon is dubbed as the “night market” simply because it happens every night, but locals have a more specific term for it that tourists have picked up: “wagwagan.”
Sometimes the last syllable is dropped, so it’s shortened to “wagwag.” History behind the term goes, wagwag—which sounds like the more familiar Tagalog word to me, “pagpag”—is a term used by the Cordillera natives to refer to the act of dusting or shaking off. In Visayas, it’s known as “ukay-ukay,” which means, “to dig up.”
The first time I went to the night market, I hadn’t a single clue of Baguio’s wagwagan culture. I was eager to go because I was fascinated with the idea of shopping in a market that was open until the wee hours of the morning. Moreover, I wanted to find an interesting keepsake to take home with me.
My eyes darted in every direction upon arriving at the place. It pulsated with nightlife. People flocked from everywhere, and there were all sorts of them–locals, tourists, and residing non-natives. We all navigated the two main pathways in between the cluster of shops that stretched along the length of Harrison Road. The structure of the shops varied, too: some had their items spread on pieces of cardboard on the ground. Others had the goods stacked on tables. Others had racks filled with so many pieces of apparel, they looked like they were ready to spill over to the ground.
The night market sold everything from secondhand to second class. But the main show, of course, was the former: the preowned, pre-loved clothing.
I’d only ever gone to ukay-ukay houses in Manila on a number of times I could count on one hand. It’s not a lot of ukay-ukay experience, but I remarkably enjoyed myself in the night market in Baguio more than I did in Manila. Maybe it’s a matter of what comprises the collection: most wagwagan pieces feature cold weather essentials for a very obvious reason, and I tend to gravitate towards sweaters and outerwear. Or maybe it’s the festive atmosphere that hung in the air—the chill of the highlands fusing with the hot excitement of scouting around wagwagan for a beautiful, secondhand piece.
It’s a real bang for the buck when one finds a high-fashion discard. Once, I prodded a friend—the same friend who brought me to wagwagan—about a pinstripe button-down she was wearing that I had never seen her wear before. She had a hint of smugness in her tone when she responded, “Marks and Spencer yan.”
I raised my eyebrows, surprised at the fact that she would shop at Marks and Spencer. She was rich enough to, but she simply wasn’t the type to spend money on branded items. So she chuckled. “Sa ukay ko nakuha yan.”
I know people who have taken delight in finding pieces from fabled designers–like BCBG Max Azria or Alexander McQueen–in ukay-ukay or wagwagan establishments. And why not? Why not, when you find high-end clothing at rock-bottom prices?
My sister, who is away in Baguio for college, is a wagwag patron. She used to shop a lot for boots and sweaters in her first year there. It’s funny when, upon coming back for the summer holidays, she spread out the contents of her suitcase across the room, and I could fish out which of them were the clothes from wagwagan. Suffice it to say that, despite the clothes originally coming from different brands, wagwagan has become a brand of its own.