Fighting mall culture pt. 2 – Quiapo

Adventure number 2: Quiapo.

I regret not bringing a camera because, at the time we went, there weren’t thaaat many people. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. What I do have is the experiential article I wrote for my application to the Features staff of The GUIDON (I was accepted! The effort to not add about ten more exclamation points is ridiculous).

Quiapo: A Mallternative

It’s no secret that most Filipinos have a shameless fascination with luxury, and there’s no better evidence of this fact than the many shopping malls that litter our metropolis.

Their pervading presence and grandeur are impossible to ignore; With an SM at every turn and Greenbelt playing host to extravagant stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, it’s easy to forget that there is more to the urban experience than the mallrat concern for name brands, opulence, and air-conditioning. Surely there’s no reason any sane person would venture out into a place like Quiapo.

Obscure appeal
Isn’t Quiapo polluted, packed, and riddled with thieves and beggars? Can anything even be gained from a day spent drenched in sweat that might not even be your own, considering the crowds?

During my visit, I found that the answer to both questions is yes.

Yes, Quiapo is dirty. Spitting anywhere that men with overzealous salivary glands see fit is commonplace, and I passed a considerable number of couples taking turns perusing their partners’ scalps for lice. Yes, it can get congested, and one would be wise to be wary of pickpockets. The unsavory aside, however, my friends and I found that there was much to benefit from steering our way through narrow eskinitas and getting lost in Quiapo’s unpredictability.

“I’ll admit [going to Quiapo] is out of my comfort zone,” said Camille Jurilla, a junior at the University of Santo Tomas and one of my companions on the trip. “Crowded, less than clean spaces, and there are random people everywhere. But it’s like an add-on to the experience.”

Before and after.

United in diversity
The description most befitting of Quiapo is perhaps that it’s a cultural melting pot: Upon alighting the train at Carriedo station, my friends and I heard English, Chinese, and Filipino words darting through the lively streets; not too far from Quiapo Church, home of the revered Black Nazarene, is the Golden Mosque, the place of worship of Quiapo’s sizeable Muslim population.

Nowhere is Quiapo’s multicultural propensity more apparent, however, than in Plaza Miranda, which abuts the church. Sardonicism is thick on the fringes of this quad, where paraphernalia of folk magic and Christianity are placed side by side.

This plaza is where rosaries and plastic-wrapped icons of the Sto. Nino, Virgin Mary, and Black Nazarene are sold alongside anting-anting (talismans) that are said to have supernatural powers, herbal medicines that can allegedly cure any malady, colored candles lit for divine intervention, and, though we didn’t see any, furtively-sold pampa-regla (abortifacients); a legion of manghuhula (fortune tellers) is also parked here, calling on believers and nonbelievers alike to have their palms read or their futures revealed with decks of worn Tarot cards.

A second look
Moving away from the plaza, we walked through the streets where once-illustrious Ilustrado homes have given way to food stalls, ukay-ukay- (second hand clothing stores), and optical shops.
At first glance, the streets took on a chaotic and surreal quality. Sunglasses were sold on the same table as rubber dildos; a cat slept snuggly on a tray of gold watches; on 10 pieces of jewelry, I spent what I would have on just one of the same quality in an upscale mall; vintage Rolleiflexes and the latest SLRs could be purchased at prices untainted by the rental rates of mall space.

All that jewelry (and the pieces I’ve already given away) for P400. For someone as cheap as me, this is like a dream come true.

Upon closer inspection, however, there is a certain, albeit obscure, magic to seeing Manila stripped of the constructed glamour and forced order that characterize our shopping malls and their surrounding areas.

“There’s a different aura in Quiapo,” said Carmela Bangsal, a student of the University of the Philippines Diliman and an occasional visitor of the area. She added, “It’s a given fact that most of the country’s population falls under the lower class brackets, so as the masses, they are what govern our media and culture. Quiapo definitely isn’t a middle class place. Given that, it’s where our culture thrives.”

Vintage high-wasted shorts for P50

Like any worthwhile adventure, the trip is not an easy one. It’s a far cry from comfortable, but its constant change and bustling disorder are the very things that drive its allure and make you slaves to its appeal. Embracing its uncertainties guarantees an unforgettable experience, and it takes no more than a visit to know it is not a place you can resist returning to for long. A place best visited with a mind open to opportunity and surprise, Quiapo has a pull to it that shopping malls have no choice but to yield to.

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