Divisoria: If you can shop here, you can shop anywhere
Either we are knee-deep in Capitalism with a capital C, or we Filipinos really are addicted to shopping. Three of our malls—all of which are SM malls—are among the 10 biggest shopping malls in the world. But for every well-lit, climate-controlled mall popping up in cities across the country, there remains Divisoria, the congested shopping district in the heart of Manila.
Dating back to the Spanish period, Divisoria was, and still is, an important player in local commercial trade. Located near the North and South Harbor and the Tutuban Railway Station, Divisoria started out as a commercial hub operated by non-Christian Chinese merchants.
Now, Divisoria is still filled with the noise of money being made and money being spent. In case you have never set foot in Divisoria, dirty and “dangerous” as it is, here are some points to consider on why you should shop at Divisoria at least once in your life.
1| What’s cheap can get cheaper.
The second-best things in life are cheap. Made-in-China knockoffs abound on the streets of Divisoria. It doesn’t really take a discerning eye to figure out that their Jansport bags and Nike sneakers are fake. But you’d be surprised, not to mention dismayed, to discover that some of the things you buy at the mall are sold in Divisoria for a third of their retail price.
Roll your eyes in disbelief, but quality items are sold in Divisoria, too. Plus, what’s cheap can get even cheaper. Remember, all you need to say to get your peso’s worth is: “Pwede bang tumawad?”
2| Everything you need is there.
Kitchenware, puppies, school supplies, fish, DVD box sets of Game of Thrones, rabbits, statement Tshirts, loom band kits. You name it, it’s there.
Each street in Divisoria specializes in particular merchandise: Yllaya for clothes and fabrics, Tabora for costumes and hipster finds, Sto. Cristo for snacks and candy, and so on.
3| Everything you don’t need (i.e. novelty items) is there.
Is there really a demand for Justin Bieber dolls, toy toilets (toy-lets?), cheetah-print briefs, and giant posters of Avril Lavigne circa 2002?
But then, seeing these things is definitely entertaining.
4| You meet interesting people.
For Php 100, Madam Loren will tell you how many kids you are going to have in the future, or why your crush hasn’t texted you back. You can even ask her the exact time of your death, just for kicks.
Bring a camera. Smiles will come your way. People will call you and ask you to take their photo.
5| Free taste!
It’s not only in the aisles of SnR where you can shamelessly line up for free food. Divisoria is stocked with dried goods and fresh produce. For instance, if you’re craving lanzones, but aren’t sure if it’s sweet enough for your liking, you can ask the vendor to give you a free taste. Chances are, they would agree.
Some vendors even place signs next to their products, so you no longer have to ask them.
6| If you look hard enough, there are merchandise and services that can certainly not be found at the mall.
I’m talking about the infamous forgers of Recto, who carry signs advertising sketchy services. Need a passport? Term paper due next week? Thesis waiting to be written? There are folks in Divi who will do the job for a paltry price. I’m talking about sex toys displayed in bilaos, next to illegally shipped and stolen smartphones. I’m talking about bongs, made of glass, fully functional, the real deal. I’m talking about bottles of pamparegla and abortion pills sold in front of Quiapo Church. People who sell these stuff sprout like mushrooms, so if you see them, you’re lucky.
7| Shopping is an adventure.
Malls, with their air-conditioning, spotless floors, and pop-music radio, are built for comfortable shopping, but they take the thrill out of scoring great finds. While digging through heaps of bargain books and CDs can be fun, it’s nothing compared to jostling your way through crowds of sweaty people and getting lost in a maze of cool merchandise.
Because shopping in Divisoria is a Crusade, a quest for the Holy Grail of cheapskate heaven.
So once in a while, test your street smarts: haul your sheltered butt out of Greenbelt, take the LRT, and explore Divisoria. Sure, there are risks. You can be victimized by snatchers. You can get scammed by evil vendors. You can choke on a cloud of black jeepney smoke, collapse on the floor, and die. I’m not exaggerating; I’m simply laying out the possibilities. But taking risks is always part of any adventure, and believe me, if you can survive one whole day in Divisoria, you can say you’ve conquered big, bad, dirty Manila.
Well, a part of it, at least.