Guest Author - Rachel Meneses-Ponce
Divisoria still holds its crown as the marketplace for frugal shoppers in this part of the world despite the rise of other shopping places like the Greenhills Shopping Malls. It is like a woman that has not aged – only improved - as if time has been suspended since the beginning of its existence at the height of Spanish power in the Philippines. Divisoria became the enclave of Chinese merchants when they were forbidden by the Spanish authorities to enter, live and trade within the walled city of Intramuros, an exclusive place for the Spanish and rich Catholic Filipinos.
From flea-style stalls, and vendors plying their wares at sidewalks, Divisoria now boasts of air-conditioned multi-storey malls that house thousands of wholesalers and retailers. Food courts and fast food restaurants have also set up business in these malls to cater to buyers seeking respite from the frenzy of shopping.
Divisoria has long been known as the marketplace to go to when you want to stretch the buying power of the Philippine Peso. Everything imaginable can be found here. Textiles of all kind, school and office supplies, fashion accessories, yarns, complete wedding ensembles, clothes, cleaning items, kitchen wares, gift wrappers, bakery equipment, baking and cooking ingredients, vegetables, imported fruits, grains, shoes, flowers, bags, toys, blankets, curtains, candles, costumes, jewelleries, tents, machinery parts, electronics, and the list can go on and on.
Divisoria which is located in the city of Manila is very accessible. You can use the public transportation system, such as the ubiquitous dyip (jeep). Taking the light/metro rail systems (LRT/MRT) is cheaper and faster. Get off at the Claro M. Recto station and from there, you can take a dyip with the signboard of Divisoria or 168 (refers to one of the malls).
Busiest days are Saturdays since there are no classes and most offices are close. Sundays are quieter on regular periods; however, most stores are close or are open only until twelve noon. Catholic Filipinos observe Sundays as days of worship and family time hence, also are rest days. Periods before opening of classes and observance of the holy week among Catholics (April-May), days before All Souls Day (November) which then stretches until Christmas and after New Year. (November until first week of January of incoming year) are times when Divisoria teem with throngs of shoppers and sellers. It is best to go there in the morning, ideally by seven. At this time, vehicular and pedestrian traffic are lighter; if you go by car, you can still get a parking slot for a minimal fee within mall buildings. Definitely these parking areas are preferable and safer than parking at roadsides or side streets.
Haggling is an art you may want to learn when shopping at Divisoria. It is the norm here, almost a ritual each (buyer and seller) must perform. In spite of the low price, bargain hunters still resort to haggling to get the best price.
The Philippines’ climate being hot and humid, it is prudent to wear light clothing, but refrain wearing clothes that show too much skin as you do not want to bring attention to yourself. Bring a bottle of water with you. You could get thirsty while in the labyrinth of rows and rows of stores, and towelette for a quick clean up. A hat can also protect you from heat. Apply sunscreen if you want. Wear comfortable shoes, as most likely you will be do a lot of walking as you comb the area for the bargain you are looking for. Divisoria is not the place to bring children for obvious reasons – the heat and the crowded place.
As with crowded, public marketplaces, Divisoria also have its share of pickpockets, snatchers and unscrupulous sidewalk vendors. Bring small bills – peso coins, twenty, fifty, hundred denomination. This way you don’t have to spend time counting your change or experience a vendor running away with your money in the pretext of having it changed into smaller bills, while you are literally left with an empty bag. Secure your money; keep it close to your body. Avoid wearing jewellery, expensive or not, and wristwatch. If you must bring a cellular phone, make sure it is not visible. Be prudent and be safe.
Many things – good and not so good - were said about Divisoria. Still, wise and frugal shoppers flock to it because nothing beats it when it comes to rock bottom price and wide array of merchandise. Ask a friend, someone familiar with Divisoria, if it is your first time to explore it. Enjoy your finds, the bonding time and the experience; and you may end up hooked with Divisoria as well.