Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 2 (Part 3)

Dateline : 3rd Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

After recovering from my surreal experience at Rizal Avenue and finishing our drinks, we walked on beyond the Carriedo LRT station before turning right at the end of the avenue. Walking down the road a bit we passed some markets selling daily sundries and fresh produce. I wanted to take a look through the market a bit but the others of the group was less enthusiastic than I was on the prospect of walking through a smelly wet market in the middle of a hot afternoon. Taking the cue from them, I continued on past multitude of vendors selling fresh local mangoes that seems to be everywhere. It was not far from the market that we finally found Ilalim ng Tulay Market.

(View of Ilalim ng Tulay Market)

Ilalim ng Tulay Market was a collection of shops selling locally made handicraft, trinkets and garments set underneath a busy dual carriage overhead pass. My guidebook highlighted this place as the location to go to for cheap souvenirs or pasalubong as they are known in the Philippines to bring back home. We were all on the hunt for these trinkets and especially for me, I was looking to find affordable barong Tagalog and handheld fans to bring back as mementos of my trip here. The variety of items for sale here was mind-boggling as well as the range of quality these items came in. Buyers would definitely have to pay a little bit more for the higher quality versions of the items on sale but even that was still quite reasonable on the wallet.

We spent quite some time browsing through the shops looking for the items that we wanted to buy. It was not surprising that the whole place reminded me of the Filipino market in Kota Kinabalu since they have almost the same items on sale but at a substantially cheaper price. Staying true to my standard operating procedure on shopping, I did not buy anything at that point. I was mostly going around comparing the prices and quality of the items that I was interested in from one shop to the other. We ended up in a shop near the end of the row which had the barong tagalog, fans and tablecloth sets that we were all looking for. To be honest the guys in my group choose to go to that shop because it was the only one there with pretty girls helping the customers who came there.

Part buying and part flirting, the group spent about a hour at that shop. Unlike the rest of the group, I had still not decided at the time if I wanted to buy my souvenirs there. Once the other guys completed their purchases, we decide to walk up to the other side of the market where I saw the Balikbayan Handicraft shop nearby. Like Tesoro’s that we went to the night before, Balikbayan specializes in handicraft products from the various provinces in the Philippines. The prices of the items at Balikbayan was about half of those found at Tesoro’s which made it a acceptable median if one was looking for something of higher quality that what was sold at Ilalim ng Tulay Market but couldn’t afford Tesoro’s prices. The only negative that I say about the place is that the service staff there was slightly less helpful that those at Tesoro’s. I guess that they got tired of having people come into their shop and not buy anything after comparing the prices of the items here relative to the cheaper versions just outside their doorstep.

After browsing at the Balikbayan shop, we decide to find someplace to have lunch at. From the map, we knew that the Globo de Oro Mosque should be somewhere nearby but we could not see any sign of a mosque dome from where we were standing. Once we walked up the road a bit towards the Pasig river, we finally found the dome that we were looking for and proceeded to walk in the general direction of the dome. As we came nearer, it was apparent to me that this was definitely where the less moneyed people lived. Most of the buildings here were dilapidated and there was mounds of rubbish all around the area. Unlike the clean neighborhood that I walk through earlier that morning, the area around Globo de Oro Mosque looked more like a dump then the surrounding area of a place for worship. It was sad to think that the people living in that area continue to dump their refuse just steps outside the mosque entrance that they themselves used as a place of worship.

(View of entrance and side door to Globo de Oro Mosque)

Zuhur prayers had already ended when we reach the mosque. Like most of old Manila, the mosque could definitely have used a through cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. It was built in the same style of mosques found in Malaysia with the addition of some simple local decorations what reminded me of stained glass windows. It was quite an eye-opening experience seeing that mosque’s conditions and comparing it to the much well cared examples in Malaysia. I don’t know why but I felt a wave of apathy from the surrounding area and the people there as if they have resigned themselves to the conditions that they were living in. I was trying my hardest to keep an open mind and positive outlook but it was hard considering that how poorly maintained the mosque and the surrounding areas was. It’s not the surrounding decay that got to me while I was there but the apathy of people who were living in the area for not taking care of the mosque better. I know that I have no right to assume that they didn’t care around the surrounding area since I don’t live the life they lived but it was frustrating to see it as it was that day.

Still trying to reconcile what I was feeling, we decided to get something to eat at the shops at the back of the mosque. These shops sold mostly food on the ground floor and had living quarters for the family at the second floor. Looking from the outside, one could be forgiven if one thought that it was a squatter’s shack which was honestly what it was. For lunch that afternoon, we had plain white rice with stir-fry vegetables, fried chicken and a fish dish very much similar to the “singgang” dish found in Kelantan. I’m horribly bad at trying to recognize cooked fish so I can't tell what type of fish was used but it had a slightly rubbery texture that reminded me of stingray flesh which I’m certain that it wasn’t. Like the other meals that we had thus far in Manila, the food was a bit on the bland side relative to the spicy fare that we had grown accustomed to in Malaysia. I then knew what people meant when they warned me to bring my own chilies when eating Philippine halal food before coming here. I guess that our Malaysian tongues have been too scorched by spices to really appreciated any taste subtleties in the local style of cooking.

(View at the back of Globo de Oro Mosque)

(The sadly neglected dome at Globo de Oro Mosque)

After lunch and combined Zuhur/Asar prayers, we sat for awhile in the mosque to rest before continuing on our journey. I took the time there to update my own travel journal notebook as well as doing rough calculations of how much I have to spend on my pasalubong purchases that I still yet to do. Once I was fairly sure that I have my shopping list completed, we walked back to the Ilalim ng Tulay Market to go to the shop that we went earlier. Along the way, we stopped at another shop to buy some locally crafted key chains and knick knacks. I usually buy key chains on all my trips to give to the people at my office so a stop at a shop like this was a must. I must have spent about 500 pesos on those key chains since I had a large group to buy for from my office. Once that was completed, we proceeded to the final stop of our shopping trip at the shop with the pretty girls when I shopped for all the barong tagalog and fans that I needed in my list while the other guys flirted with the shopkeepers. The asking price from the barongs there was about 900 pesos per piece but I managed to haggle them down to 700 pesos since I was buying them in bulk. I guess that I could have gone lower but I was never good at bargaining especially when I think that these people may not be making that much in terms of profit margins to begin with.

(The shop at Ilalim ng Tulay Market where we shopped for our pasalubong)

Considering the prices that I would have to pay to buy them from either Tesoro’s or the nearby Balikbayan, the barongs here was quite a steal even though the quality may not be as good as what was available in those two places. In the end, I bought 10 banana fiber barong tagalog for the guys on my shopping list and embroidered banana fiber hand fans for the ladies. I must have looked at all possible colors for the barong that they had in the shop before selecting my choices just because some people on my shopping list simply have strange color favorites when it comes to clothes. I did want to buy something more substantial for the ladies on my shopping list but I knew next to nothing about buying garments from women and definitely did not want to offend anyone on my list for buying the wrong size clothes for them. Especially when most on my shopping list were members of my family which meant that I would not hear the end of it if I came back with the wrong size clothes for them. In hindsight I could have gotten them the tablecloth sets or even the woven handbags they sold at that shop to add to the fans that I bought them but we were not the type of family that care much about having tablecloths on the dinning table and the handbags were too bulky for me to pack in the small bag that I brought with me on the trip. Looking back I wished that I had bought a few slightly better quality items from Tesoro’s when I was there especially for my mum and sisters.

(View of Quiapo Church)

Once we were all shopped out, we decided to get back to the hotel to rest before going out again later that night. From Ilalim ng Tulay Market, we only had a walk for a few minutes before reaching the area around the Quiapo Church. There were a lot of people there both just hanging out or selling trinkets from cartons placed on the ground in front of them. Feeling quite tired after the long day, we decide against walking around the area to see what was available but instead to take a jeepney from this area back to Mabini St. I guess that this was some sort of a major jeepney stopping point as there were jeepneys bound for a multitude of destinations there. Wise now to the ways of the jeepney, we quickly spotted one heading to Mabini St. and jump in with the locals. Since there were quite a few of the jeepneys heading to the same direction, we had our pick of which jeepney to get on so it was not very crowded. Learning our lesson from our earlier jeepney adventure, we specifically asked the driver to tell us when we reach Mabini St so we can get off at the correct place.

(Jeepney stop near Quiapo Church)

After reaching our hotel at about 3:30pm, we all went back to our respective rooms to rest before going out again that night. I promptly crashed out on the bed till sometime around 7pm when I woke up to get some dinner which was just the items that I brought with me from home. Next was to get ready for the group’s plan for the night which was to finally sample the nightlife that this part of Manila had to offer. While I was looking forward to go out during the night time in Manila, I was not so keen about the destination. Despite my misgivings, there was no way that I would have gave it a miss since a boring night out is much better than just spending that time in the hotel room.

Next installment : Visit to East Asia Club, Theatre & Restaurant

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