Thursday, September 30, 2010

METRO MANILA: The Shopping Mecca of the Philippines

I always look forward when summer vacation is almost over.  Weird, right?  I mean, most kids would have loved to extend the summer for another month of beach frolicking and lazing around.  But, hey, this is just me.  It’s not that I love school so much that I’d like to spend my entire year in it.  What I love about this time is we could finally take our family vacation.  While everyone else were nursing hangovers from their summer vacation, my family are still packing to take our own vacation.  Another thing that makes me so excited aside from flying off to somewhere is the moment when we are going to buy school supplies.  Geeky thing, but truly one of my favorite moments way back, this is because I get to buy my school stuff away from my hometown which again, makes all my stuff more special than the rest of my would be classmates, or so I think.

Back in the mid-1980’s  my hometown is not that blessed yet with malls equipped with a wide variety of school supplies.  So for those who want to stand out among the crowd in owning the only Princess Jasmin pencil case, you have to buy your stuff somewhere else.  And I’m lucky enough to have that opportunity.  And yes, I was the only one with a Princess Jasmin pencil case back then.  So where do we usually buy our “special” school supplies?  Where else? But Metro Manila.

Even after all these years of flying to and from Manila.  I’ll never understand the maze of cities it covers.  I absolutely have no idea where the first city ends and where another city starts.  So let’s just zoom in to one particular city where you can do shopping without breaking a sweat.  Welcome to Makati city.

This city is considered the central business district of Metro Manila.  Aside from the prestigious companies taking offices in the high rise buildings of this city, malls are everywhere.  The Shoe Mart (SM), Rustan’s, Glorietta and Landmark.  The Greenbelt, though not really a mall but sort of a bridge that connects Ayala area to Landmark it also holds few shops like my favorite bookstore .  This bookshop can offer hundreds of books from around the world.  Though a bit pricey, the book is worth its value.  This is because, some of this books are not available in other bookstores.  Another plus factor of Powerbooks is if in case payday is still far from being reality, you can read your fresh from the press books for free.  Find a nook or a comfortable corner within the shop and have a go with the book. 

The Landmark is a shopper’s ideal place for bargain hunting.  Landmark is more like SM it has a wide range of shoes to choose from.  And a very friendly price to go with it.  Landmark also sells plenty of bric-a-brac items perfect for gifts of different occasions.  Connected to this quaint but buzzing mall is the ShoeMart or commonly known as SM. 

SM have been the go-to mall since I could remember.  This is where we buy our special school supplies.  The good thing about SM products, they repackaged or they sell products labeled BONUS as a generic item but with a lower price.  Shoes are also aplenty in this mall from the name itself, the mall started out as a shoe seller and just grew over the years.  SM malls are scattered everywhere in the country.  Only a few cities in the Philippines are yet to be touched by the SM fever.  The SM malls also cater to label brands if you have extra budget for such.  The mother of all SM malls in Manila is the Mall of Asia, which is considered as the biggest mall in the country.

If you belong to the elite group of shoppers, you can shop at Glorietta and Rustan’s.  Still these malls are connected with SM and Landmark.  So you don’t really have to change parking lots just to check another mall.  Rustan’s sells label brands of the highest quality.  So make sure to bring your credit cards when you enter their chic mall.

However, for those budget conscious shoppers who would do anything to get a good buy, you should try and visit and Divisoria.  Inside the air-conditioned establishment, Greenhills gives the ambiance of shabby chic marketplace.  Most stalls sell knock-off shoes of different varieties.  I must say, its looks incredibly genuine. Like the FitFlop slippers, no obvious hints that it is a counterfeit.  But once you wear it.  That’s how you would know.  But who cares?  Shirts and other clothing materials are also sold in this place.  The central stalls specializes in selling Filipino made product.  Though a bit pricey, make sure to haggle.  Even if it is inside an air-conditioned building, you can still get a good price for these items.

For those who would really go further down the budget line, you should venture the wild world of Divisoria.  If you are going to Divisoria from say Makati, you can take the taxi cab and contract the driver.  Usually they would settle for a fixed price of Php 200.00 or if you are good with financial negotiations you can reach Divisoria at a lesser cost.  But if you prefer riding the FX as they call it which looks like an old model for SUV’s, you can ride them in Buendia near the Chowking Fast food in Pasay City.  Drop off is exactly within Divisoria.

Divisoria is not for the fainthearted.  Honestly, it is dirty, noisy and scary but this is where everything cost so cheap and where the pick-pockets flock.  Friendly tip though, if you would like to check Divisoria you can go here around 7:30 am when all shops and vendors are just opening.  You can haggle even to the lowest price and they would accept that this is because of a Filipino belief that it is for <em>bueno mano</em> a good luck for the entire day.  So Divisoria, sells all kinds of stuff you need and you think you need.  Just because it is so cheap you might think you need it so you buy it.  Divisoria is home of cheapest school supplies, school uniforms, Christmas decorations, stuff toys, clothes, bags, hardware stuff, candies, craft materials and almost everything you need in a home.  Aside from that, one street in particular Yllaya St. where an old building stands and houses rolls of beautiful and cheap linens.  If you are a bride on a tight budget, this is definitely the place to buy the cloth/linen for the entire entourage.  This is where I bought everything I need for my wedding gown and for the rest of my entourage.  Vendors can offer good prices and you can even haggle for a lower one if you feel like doing so.  Check every stalls for their prices, most of them compete for a lower price so make sure to round the whole building.

If you are one of those fashionistas on a budget, you can check the latest fashion craze and accessories at the 168 building.  Still within the Divisoria compound, this air conditioned building will give you a respite from the chaos outside.  Still haggling is being practiced here.  Wholesale prices are also offered if you would be buying a minimum of 3 items.   A food court is available at the top of this building where you can rest your feet and pamper your stomach.  A day at Divisoria is not enough.  And because you have discovered the power of haggling, struggling with the crowd and surviving the chaos, you would still want to come back to Divisoria.

Manila, sad to say is more known for the shopping experience that its tourist attractions.  If you are the kind of tourist who would like a picture taken with old churches and parks.  You should try to check out the outer provinces of Metro Manila.  But for now, your shopping experience in the Philippines will just have to take a rest for a while and talk more for another day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My First Take-Off

I was 7 years old when I had my first airplane ride.  We were on our way to visit our cousins in Silay City, Negros Occidental, Philippines - the city of smiles.

All of us kids, were ecstatic to be going somewhere far and riding the airplane.  We were composed of 3 families with 5 adults and 6 kids.  Imagine the headache we were causing our parents when we decided to 'bond' during the flight.  Our first stop was Cebu City.

Cebu City is famous for being the city discovered by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and the Sinulog Festival.  In his search for the Spice Islands now known as Indonesia, his ship accidentally veered further west thus landed him in Homonhon Island in the Philippines.  This started the colorful history of Spain in the Philippines which lasted for 300 years.

Since Cebu city is a city that holds quite a number of historical landmarks, we did what most tourists do.  Paid it a visit to the nearest ones and had our go with the picture taking activities.  Actually, the cross displayed is just the wooden casing of the original cross.  This cross is not where Magellan met his demise, but, this is the cross that symbolizes Spain's biggest contribution to the Philippines - Christianity. 

The cross is located inside a small building near the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino.  Back then, we were not really that interested of these things.  We ran around the cobbled path of the area from the chapel to the main Sto. Nino Church.

And that's all I can remember about Cebu on my first trip.

My second visit in Cebu was already 18 years later.  And I went to visit the same tourist attraction which by the way haven't change a bit.  Although, the Sto. Nino Church is more beautiful than ever.  The old Baroque church still evokes the ambiance of being a holy ground housing a very old religious artifact.  What I missed in checking out was what Cebu was really all about aside from its rich history.

Cebu city is known for its very tasty lechon.  Lechon is a suckling pig roasted over charcoal for hours.  The crispy skin is just the appetizer of the whole meat adventure.  I don't know what is it with Lechon Cebu that separates it from the rest of the lechons in the entire Philippines.  They just have their distinct juicy taste that lingers in your tongue.

Another must try delicacy of Cebu is their dried mangoes.  If you are one with the sweet tooth, this is definitely the perfect quick snack.  You can nibble on it for hours.  A little reminder though, drink loads and loads of water after, sore throat would definitely be next in your Cebu experience. 

Often heard on the streets of Cebu is the vendors selling.  Danggit is a dried fish, often fried for breakfast.  It goes well with fried rice and fried egg.  This dried fish is salt marinated, thus paired with vinegar to neutralize the taste.

If you are not a food hunter, then relaxing in the white sand beaches of Cebu should also be in your list to visit.  The Sumilon Island boasts the kind of relaxation one can only achieve when taking a sabbatical leave.  This island is blessed with white sand beaches and a resort that could cater to all your needs while being away from the city bustle.

These are just a few of what I have missed experiencing in Cebu.  Maybe next time, when my plane lands again in this history rich city, I'd grab a friend who lives here and make her my instant tourist guide and make sure I will experience everything Cebu has to offer for somebody who likes to wander off.