I started writing this post originally on March 18, 2012
It was a real adventure for me as I returned to a familiar place which is now so different and still the same. I decided to take the jeepney like I used to, hailing one right at the corner of our street. I was the only passenger at the beginning of the ride. I didn’t know how much the fare was so I handed the driver a P50.00 bill and he returned a change of P30 something. P14 apparently. I had brought my old camera and snapped a few pics for the length of the trip covering San Juan, as I thought it was more prudent to keep it in my tote the rest of the ride.
The day was pleasantly warm and traffic was still good as I left the house early enough in the morning. I couldn’t help but remember someone promising to drive me, but that was a while back. I sat at the end of the row, by the “estribo”. It has been ages since I rode the jeepney for any length of time. If my brother os some other friend wasn’t driving me, I always took the cab.
It felt liberating and good and it made me feel nostalgic, bringing me home as in “home”. I had taken this route many times almost 27 years ago when I had gone back and forth and up and down the streets of Tabora and Ylaya way back when I had gone into crafting hand-made ribbon hair accessories. I did the jeepney route both ways back then.
Today was a lot different in that the landscape in that part of Manila has changed drastically. You now have Tutuban Mall (which used to be a major train station) and 168. I knew what I needed so I headed straight in.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that I can walk blindfolded into Divisoria and find my way out. Through the years, I’ve gone in through Abad Santos at the back by car, via jeep, via taxi and pedicab. I know the way the streets were mapped so well that I could determine which side I was on just by seeing which street came before which. I know where to find the tapioca (sago) and the spices and condiments, as well as the towels and white sandos we used to wear under our Paulinian uniforms.
Divisoria is like any wet market in any town — the streets are grimy and slippery, stagnant mud in the street smell, and you see the different wares spread out in the streets. People sleep and live where they do their business. I would have loved to have taken out my camera, but I felt that would’ve been intrusive. To just snap away would have meant invading their home, their world. So I went about my business instead and left the cam in the tote.
I try to dress as nondescriptly although it is sometimes difficult to stay inconspicuous despite the t-shirt and cropped pants and lipstick only get up. I don’t even wear any jewelry or accessories. I somehow feel like I stick out like a sore thumb in the crowd but I try to blend in as best as I can. So I walked towards Tabora where the main wares sold were notions. Wellmanson’s was closed but Morning Glory was open. I walked in and loved that the airconditioner was on full blast. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything interesting to buy. I looked for a building with a clearly lit alleyway and walked in.
Most of the stalls between Ilaya and Tabora sell textiles and ready made formal wear. I chanced upon a roll of canvas and picked up two meters. The sales clerk asked me if I painted — I told him I was going to use it for jet ink printing. (Yet another experiment.) You have to be patient and navigate the alleys indoors, keeping in mind that most of the alleys are constructed in grids, and if you keep your head about you, you can head forward and find yourself out in the succeeding street. So out I went into Ilaya. I came out through the alley leading to the cotton textiles and saw some Angry Birds which I thought would make great pillowcases for Angelo. Two yards each please.
Deep into Ilaya is a native supplies alley where I pick up wooden beads and assorted paper and handicraft supplies. I wasn’t too keen about buying beads here, reserving my budget for that for when I hit Quiapo, so I simply picked up some round, oval and square coconut discs I am hoping to use polymer clay on. On the way back, I found a notions store and bought two metal crochet hooks, not really planning on buying any thread at this point.
I lugged my loot down to the nearest Chow King where I had a breakfast of buchi (sesame balls) which continues to appall me for being so outrageously expensive but which I just truly love! The sesame balls here at my New York Mart, one of the bigger Asian groceries in my area are twice as large yet cost as much but don’t taste quite as good. After breakfast, I walked back to the main street where a jeep for Quiapo happened to be slowly cruising by picking up passengers, and I jumped on as it was slowly moving forward. (Yes, I can still do that despite my age and girth and the plastic bags with loot in tow.)
Next stop was Quiapo. The jeep turned around two blocks from Quiapo Church. The last time I was here two trips back, Abril had driven me over and we parked in Isetann then we took a pedicab to Church. This time, I walked. I stopped by the church first to pray. I am not a Nazarene devotee like Abril and how Papa was when he was still alive, but I have always been moved by the faith of the people who worship here. And any church of Christ is a place of prayer for me where I can just stand in one corner, close my eyes and just be.
I didn’t stay long. I walked out to Villalobos street and headed for my two favorite stores: Pot of Gold on the left and Wellmanson’s on the right. There are a smattering of other stores in the area that I visited but which I wasn’t able to note the names of, but there is now more variety in this row of streets with a more diverse offering of gemstones and findings.
Pricing and product offerings can be confusing to the uninitiated, so it pays to know what you need and want when you walk into the stores, otherwise you will get overwhelmed. Overwhelmed can mean grabbing more things than what you actually need which translates to going over budget, or just being paralyzed into not grabbing anything at all. I knew what I needed — just a few findings from Wellmanson’s, some pliers, and their handy bead organizer. I was going to help Ces make a full length rosary, so I picked up a suitable crucific and center joiner, but their silver plated headpins were not shiny enough. I decided to pick the headpins from the store across the street. I walked over to Pot of Gold where I got the right sized glass crystals and some dyed agate beads. I went to two more stores on this side and picked up more beads and findings before deciding I was done.
I wasn’t able to head to either Divisoria nor Quiapo last December for lack of the opportunity to go there — since the family stayed in Pasay at one of the hotels there. Besides, Christmas would’ve been a crazy time to brave the crowds doing their own holiday shopping. I had made up my mind I would make sure to stop by this time around. You just can’t beat the prices here — and while my crafting has been put on hold since I got back from Manila over the holidays, I had to take something home. So when my brother Abril couldn’t take me, I vowed I would go on my own before the weekend was over.
I wasn’t about to take another jeepney ride with everything I was lugging, so I hailed a cab and took the easier way home. When I got inside the house with everything I was holding, my siblings and my mom were aghast to find out I had gone to Divisoria and Quiapo unaccompanied. (I told you they think I’m a walking target for every snatcher and other thug in those parts.) But I managed to accomplish what I had set out to do in record time and all in one morning. We had lunch and I retreated back upstairs.
I was exhausted by the time I brought everything up to the room. Jetlag eventually caught up with me. I skipped dinner and by the time I woke up, it was midnight. Time to get ready for the sojourn North to a place I had visited many times through the years — where I prayed and my prayers were answered.