Part Two of our marathon party shop last week was to buy party decorations and other supplies from Divisoria, a sprawling street market, where you can buy anything and everything in different colours, shapes and sizes at vastly lower prices than anywhere else in Manila. I’ve lived here for almost two years and yet last week was my first visit. I’ve wanted to go for a while, but I knew it was best to tackle it with an experienced person (at least at first) as I don’t exactly blend in around there. Pickpockets abound, not all vendors are honest, and its a real labyrinth if you don’t know your way around.
Its an assault on the senses in every possible way. We visited after the heavy rain, so were lucky to find the streets unflooded, just really muddy. Garbage is piled high in the middle of the streets, making the center traffic islands smelly and slippery. Careful crossing the street! Drains are clearly blocked by the debris, dramatically compounding the flooding problems.
Street with garbage-strewn centre island
Fortunately, the market wasn’t too busy. At 10am it was still fairly civilized. We picked our way through the narrow streets past distinct groups of different vendors: car parts, fruit sellers, shoes, you name it. It was hard to stay focused and move purposefully ahead with all the shiny objects beckoning in your peripheral vision, but we were on a mission looking for arts and crafts supplies, cheap toys for race prizes, and fruits and vegetables for the community dinner.
Meanwhile, my inner child is streaming my brain with dialogue like: Oh look at those shiny beads. Why didn’t I realise before that I need shiny beads in fourty five different colours? Wow, they’re so pretty. I want to touch them. What can I make with all those beads? I should learn to make jewelry…Oh look at those feathers… forty five different kinds of feathers…. But the first rule of shopping in places like this is to stay focused and look purposeful, so inner child suppressed, we headed in a small covered mall that sold crafts and toys. I squeezed down the narrow rows between the warren of stalls and we found everything we were looking for within a few feet of each other. Goodness know how far back the labyrinth went, we never went the full distance in. Instead we doubled back and headed to the fruits and vegetables. The difference in quality between what I find in the grocery store and here was astounding. The produce didn’t have the fresh dew still dripping from the stalk like in Greece, but I’m guessing most stuff was picked yesterday, not last week, unlike the unhappy looking veggies we so often see in S&R. The prices were dramatically different too: seedless grapes in Divisoria 120 pesos/kilo, in S&R about 300/kilo. Carrots here, 30 pesos/kilos in S&R, 110 pesos/kilo. Everything was considerably fresher and at least half the price.
Unfortunately, like the meat market earlier that day, going to Divisoria is a production and you need a crew to help. So its not a weekly option for me. However, I will certainly return before we leave, perhaps to look again at some of those shiny beads and heaven knows what else!