Sunday, May 2, 2010

In full battle gear...

...a well-worn shirt, comfortable jeans and flip-flops, my hair pulled back in a ponytail, armed with a small towel, bottled water and some cash.

It's barely 9 a.m. but it feels like noon. The sun is bright and burns my skin. The crowd is thick and the streets are busy with vendors hawking their wares. I hear the sound of phlegm being coughed up and spat onto the ground with an expert flick of a tongue.

Along Ylaya, Lady Gaga's Paparazzi blasts from an unseen radio. It is drowned out only by motorcycles that sound strangely like they're powered by lawnmowers, and I imagine them to have outriggers instead of a sidecar. Half-sputtering and half-choking, they weave their way among pedestrians.

Deep into the buildings of Tabora where the stalls stand cheek to jowl, the air is oppressive with the smell of wood, sweat and day-old cheap perfume. There are no friendly smiles to be seen. It's all business and transactions are quick and methodical, like a tiresome dance. The haggling is choreography--- the seller gives a price, the buyer negotiates and names his, the seller pegs it at a little less than his original quote, the buyer raises his bid a bit while pointing out an inconsequential flaw in the item being discussed, and the seller eventually gives in as long as the buyer takes more than one item. There are slight variations to this pas de deux, but the basic steps remain the same.

Though still early by other establishments' standards, activity is feverish from Tutuban to Juan Luna. There is no clear strategical planning as to where goods are sold; each street contains much of what one can find in the next. Even within certain stalls, order is a thing of fiction. Toys are in constant disarray in boxes on the floor. Bolts of fabric are stacked high one on top of the other; a precarious mountain abloom with multicolored flowers. Clothes, in an attempt to affect a measure of order in the display, hang from flimsy plastic hangers and are packed so tightly together on the racks.

Surprisingly, customers do not seem to mind. They dive into the meaningless heaps on the floor, wrestle their way through the racks, and come up for air clutching a find, wary of other bargain-hunters who might snatch the treasure out of their hands.

Five hours later--- sweaty, sticky, disheveled, and shoulders burdened by bags bursting at the seams with clothes, yards of sinamay, rolls of abaca twine and silk ribbons, an assortment of beads, chains, leather cords and findings, peanut and mung bean cakes and kuchay--- I head for home with a spring in my cramped-legged-step. Divisoria is my happy place.


Peter S. said...

Ajie, we should go to Divisoria as a group! Do you also go there to get school supplies for your kids?

blooey said...

Super like!!! Next time sama ako!

mental wayfarer said...

Peter: Poch's school gives out list of school supplies the day before, so it's more convenient to get them from NBS. But we should go!

Blooey: Oooh, I'll show you my happy places. Wellmanson, Times Trading, Quik Snack, George Trading, Divine...