I admit it made me slightly nervous: One week before our intended wedding, we didn’t have a wedding location and venue, we had not invited anyone yet, and we even didn’t have wedding rings. We knew the wedding city: Tacloban. From all cities in the Philippines probably the least practical one in terms of organizing a wedding. This is a city in recovery mode where the majority of the shops are still closed, where basic products and services are difficult to acquire and where brown-outs are as common as mosquito bites.
We didn’t expect the wedding rings to become a problem. In fact, far before the intended wedding date we more or less agreed about the design and the materials. But after facing long delivery times in Europe, and an unreliable jewelry manufacturer in Manila, we ended up here in Tacloban with no outlook on having wedding rings on our wedding. Unfortunately, since the two big malls in town were severely damaged during Yolanda, the only jewelry shops who could help us here were temporarily closed. When things get on the red line, you need a plan, and you need to be practical. And since we both prioritized the reconstruction of the parents house above the wedding rings, we came up with the idea to acquire simple rings here, even at a pawnshop, and buy the ones we really like later in Europe, after the wedding. It was a plan we both could live with, since we both knew that this wedding would require a modest approach anyway, considering what happened here in Tacloban. It was a plan which would be executed, if …..
Tuesday, 21 January 2014, location Tacloban.
Just checked construction material prices in Tacloban, now driving back to the GV hotel. Then, suddenly, between all the damaged advertisement signs here downtown, my attention is caught by a small store. It’s name: “IS MEYCAUAYAN Goldsmith”. This would be typically one of these many stores I always ignore when I am here in the Philippines. In fact, in most of the cases I wouldn’t even notice these stores. I would have ignored it also this time, but taken into account our wedding-ring problem, each store which carries the word “gold” in it’s title catches my attention.
My first thoughts though, from the motorbike: This store is doing something with gold, and this store might potentially use fake materials. I already feel being ripped off, without even entering the store, and after a short glimpse of the shabby interior inside, I decided to ignore the store, as if it doesn’t exist. This store is not going to bring me anything.
Wednesday, 22 January 2014, location Tacloban
I can’t get the goldsmith out of my mind. And thus, just after lunch, decide to go there again, but now with my girlfriend. Parked the motorbike across the street, and just watch the store from the outside for a couple of minutes, as if this superficial observation will bring us any new detail about the reliability of this store. Discuss shortly whether this is worth the try, and after 10 minutes we make the final decision: Let’s see what IS MEYCAUAYAN can do for us.
The inside looks shabby, dusty.
The tools used in this store to make and repair jewelry have seen better times, and I estimate the last Dutch store which used these tools in the Netherlands, have closed their doors far before the second world war. This is a goldsmith, where each product is completely man made, with prehistorical tools. This is a goldsmith where the quality of the product relies on the goldsmith itself. We meet Solomon, the owner of IS MEYCAUAYAN.
The guy is surprised seeing me, my first guess is that I am the first white guy ever entering his store. He might see dollar signs in his eyes right now, or he just might be a guy who always smiles, but after the first moments of surprise, he comes forward from the back of the store with a big smile and shakes hands with me.
A short conversation between my girlfriend and him learns us that he makes customized jewelries, and after showing him the desired designs of our wedding rings, he firmly confirms that he is able to make these. In fact, he can make these in three days, which is still in-time for the wedding. The ice is broken, we have a guy here who can deliver what we want, on time: The moment has started where I need to know more about his reliability. I still feel no confidence at all in him at this moment, and almost start counting my money to make sure he didn’t rip me off already.
Being Dutch, I use my typical direct approach to confront him with my wishes and worries: I want real gold, with real diamonds, no bullshit, no fake. Short terms, understandable for everyone, even for those with limited English knowledge. Solomon almost reacts furious: He points to a BIR registration on the wall, which learns us that this store indeed is registered as goldsmith, and that Solomon apparently pays his taxes.It doesn’t say anything yet about the quality of his products, but at least he knows what gold is. He points to another document on the wall, being a certificate, apparently demonstrating his skills. However, when taking a closer look to the certificate (I guess he didn’t expect me doing that), the certificate is on his wife’s name. When confronting him with that, and asking him for his certificate, he waves my worries away, telling me that he learned everything “by-doing”, from his wife. Being still in doubt, Solomon almost drags me to the back of this shop, and gives me a series of demonstrations proving that he only uses genuine materials: Acid tests, scratch tests, Solomon is doing everything to demonstrate the difference between real gold, real diamonds, and fake ones, assuming that I am able to interpret the results of the tests. In fact. I can’t but I just go with the flow confirming everything he confirms too. What else can I do?
It is the first moment though that I start to gain confidence in him, despite the shabby conditions in which the jewelries are made. We are almost 30 minutes in the shop and in this time-frame, we have received a fast-track course in identifying fake from genuine materials. As a further proof of his honesty, Solomon invites us to be present during the manufacturing process of the rings, once we place the order.
Being still careful, I probe Solomon to give me a price indication. It’s the moment where my confidence in him get’s a real boost: Within minutes, Solomon makes a complete break-down in costs: labor, gold, diamonds, preparation, in no-time I get an exact overview what the price will be, and how this price is built-up. Completely traceable (in fact, later that night I checked the gold-price part, and the guy is right!) I have never experienced a jewelry shop in my whole life, which made clear how prices are built-up. In all cases until now, there is an article, and there is a price, and you either take it or leave it. But my friend Solomon here is doing something what no jewelry shop ever had done before!! I really start to like the guy, and he has the same effect on my girlfriend. After another 5 minutes discussing we decide to take the challenge: It’s a final “everything or nothing” attempt: Either he delivers the rings as we requested before the wedding, or he totally screws up, ending with no rings at all. I look to Rinalyn, and she looks to me. I guess we both think the same now: We have faced so many challenges the last weeks in getting everything arranged, this challenge belongs in that same row. Let’s go for it!
Friday, 24 January 2014, location Tacloban
The manufacturing process has started, and we are here in his shop, to watch the first part: Melting the gold, stretching it to the right size, rounding it and finally make the bare rings.
For an hour I watch with him, and I am amazed how this guy, with all the ancient tools he has, can create such beautiful products. I enjoy every second, as do the dozens of mosquito’s here enjoying my presence. But I don’t feel them, I am almost obsessed in what Solomon is doing here. Every second I feel that the wedding-ring challenge will get a “happy ending”. Could I ever predict that our wedding rings finally would be made by this local goldsmith, with all his prehistorical equipment? If destiny exist, then there must have been a damn good reason why it brought us here …
Monday, 27 January 2014, location Tacloban
We just received a text message from Solomon, The rings are ready. We are excited, but also a bit nervous. Would he be able to make the designs as we wanted? When we enter the shop, Solomon directly approaches us: I feel a certain nervousness in him too. When Rinalyn sees the rings, she directly pinches me in my arm: The guy made an exact replica of the rings we wanted. It creates excitement in both of us, but an excitement we are able to hide. We still need to take a closer look to the rings.
When we take a closer look to both rings, we do notice a few imperfections. In first instance, we both get a bit disappointed when we see those: We both wanted perfect wedding rings, that’s what we paid for right? But the more I look to the imperfections, the more I realize that these imperfections are caused by the manual manufacturing process itself. These rings are not made by robots and machinery, these rings are made one-by-one, by a guy who gave his maximum effort to create the best quality rings. Each ring ever leaving this shop will be different, unique. I realize that the imperfections are a sign of craftsmanship, it indicates the uniqueness of the person who creates the rings. The more I think about it, the more I start appreciating the imperfections. These are rings where each rings has its own story. Maybe my ring was more difficult to melt, while Rinalyns ring gave issues with placing the diamonds. We don’t know, but I am sure that each ring required his specific expertise to make it.
In fact, at the moment I start discussing this with Rinalyn, I reach the level that I would be disappointed if these rings would be perfect. We talk softly to each other without giving a final statement whether we approve or disapprove the rings. It doesn’t take long before also Rinalyn starts appreciating the “hand-make signs”. Instantly, I consider myself lucky marrying a lady soon who also appreciates the true value of life. In the meantime I can see the tension on Solomons’ face. He is clearly nervous about our final verdict. Once I am sure that Rinalyn thinks the same as me, it’s time to release the guy from his prison: I congratulate him with the rings and praise him for his craftsmanship.
I think we all like to receive compliments, right? But experiencing what this compliment is doing to Solomon is a gift from him to me: Suddenly, all tension disappears, he comes up from his chair and start shaking hands. He is happy, almost in ecstasy, and calls his wife to celebrate our “verdict”. Instantly I realize that being probably his first white customer, he might have worked overtime in the weekend to make the rings. I am sure he saw the imperfections, as we see them, and maybe they were even larger then they are now. But I am sure he also did everything to minimize them and he might have worked the whole weekend long to do this. It feels so enormously good seeing him now happy! I realize we made his day, maybe his week, today, by complimenting him with his work.
The rings, and Solomon, also teaches me a lesson. A lesson in misconception, in prejudgment, a lesson in dignity, a lesson in trust. The story of the wedding rings is the story about stop chasing perfection: In fact the rings are perfectly imperfect!