Sunday, October 9, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic: Old Ghosts, Great Bargains, and the Process of Embracing the True Self (Manila, Philippines)

Published by Pilmap, Travel and Leisure, 2007

(Watch out for my brands for less article in Lifestyle Asia - Travel where I will show you where to find designer trends for a steal. Photos by Cherie M. Del Rio)

Tries on a hundred pairs of shoes and ends up taking home a sheer black tunic. Guilty. Devotes one entire day for Christmas bazaar shopping  with quick breaks for meals only. Guilty. Gets lost in a trance inside a night market. Guilty. Considers shopping a sport. Guilty.

Caught in the act by Don Oco

My name is Ana; I am a recovering shopaholic, and this is my story. 

I haven’t bought a bag, a pair of pumps or a dress in 6 months, 14 days and 3 hours until that fateful day when I was introduced to Tutuban Mall. When the assignment of shopping in the Philippines was dangled in front of me like a carrot stick to rabbit, I didn’t bite. The first stop was at Tutuban Mall in Divisoria.  I’ve never been to Tutuban, and the idea of exploring a new place made my nose twitch. I got more interested when I found out that Tutuban sits in the middle of old Manila, a place steeped with history. Before my mind could wander on the delicious possibilities, I stopped myself. I would not open myself to temptation.  

Fabric shopping (by Don Oco)

But isn’t Tutuban famous for its wholesale market and dirt cheap prices? My mind anguished over the dilemma. The old shopper’s blood running through my veins started to stir, responding to the familiar calling: Bargain! Bargain!

I reasoned and argued. I’ve been working too hard these past few days. Retail therapy could do some good. I deserved a reward. I mulled over the pros and cons for a few more seconds. In the end, a shopper will always be a shopper at heart and breaking the last thread of resistance, I heeded the call of the mall. Wearing comfortable shoes and with just enough money in my pocket to get to the Mall and back, I braved the traffic of Taft Avenue and headed to Tutuban Mall, silently swearing that I would not buy anything. Not hail or sleet or 50% off would make me succumb to my weakness. 

From Tutuban to the streets of HK, you'll find me trying on clothes.
Image by Nana Arellano Aoyong.

Past and Present                   

Armed with a solemn pledge, I sought out history immersion instead. Located along C.M. Recto in Tondo, Tutuban Mall consists of three fully air conditioned buildings situated around a cobbled rotunda called the Loop Road. The Center Mall, named so because it is flanked by the Cluster Mall and the Prime Block, is hard to miss from the main road with its old architectural design. Its Spanish architecture hints of ghosts of calesas galloping lazily along the cobbled streets, Chinese merchants rushing to the market to trade their wares, and early risers shuffling in their tsinelas, bayong in hand. The building’s facade though can be very deceiving. Tutuban’s nostalgic exterior houses modern boutiques and stores, home to popular names and trendy brands.

A guerrilla shopper won't mind trying clothes on even on the streets,
as told by Nana Arellano Aoyong.

Beyond the bargain items, Tutuban Mall sets itself  apart from competition through its area of great historical significance, proving that a historical landmark doesn’t have to share the fate of hardly visited museums inhabited by floating motes of dust and restless spirits. On the contrary, Tutuban is a vibrant place of commerce, melding the old with the new.  Bustling businesses take place under the watchful but quiet eyes of old ghosts.   Gazing at the shoppers with their shopping bags in tow is Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan. His monument stands proud in the middle of the Loop Road where he was said to have been born.

I got my shopper's genes from my Nanay.
Woodbury Premium Outlet Mall, NY

In the 1800s, Tondo, where Tutuban was built, was considered the center of commerce. It was a short distance away from the piers and could be reached from almost every major district in Manila and other outlying towns and cities. In 1887, the former Manila Railroad Company was built, making nearby provinces and towns more accessible. The former  Manila Railroad Company, now called the  Philippine National Railways, still stands behind the mall. In fact, Tutuban was built right at the heart of the century-old Philippine National Railways building.
According to many, the name “Tutuban” originated from the sounds that came from the locomotives parked at the central station. Others say Tutuban was the center for the production of tuba, a local alcoholic drink made from coconut.

Caught in the act by Lisa Cruz

Today, Tutuban still remains to be at the hub of Manila’s trading and commerce, offering more than just the local alcoholic drink. Aside from the affordable wares, Tutuban claims to be a one stop shop housed in a place rich in history.

Restraint VS retail therapy

People go to Tutuban Mall with one purpose – to shop. If they wanted to relax or share intimate conversations over a warm cup of coffee, they would go to the quieter, posh malls in the city. At Tutuban, no one stands still. The aisles are packed with frenzied people on a mission – to look for great bargains.  

The best kind of therapy is the retail kind at the night market of Hua Hin, Thailand.

Pioneering the tiangge concept in the mall, Tutuban is the biggest wholesale & retail shopping complex in the country. It houses over 1,700 tenants  selling local goods and merchandize from all over the world. Anything from food, RTW, accessories, toys and house wares to handicrafts and souvenirs are available at any of the Tutuban Mall’s buildings.

Caught in the streets of Hanoi, spending some VND.

Since the Center Mall is home to the branded boutiques and stores found in almost every mall in the country, I decided to venture out to the Cluster Mall and the Prime Block.  I heard that’s where the wrangling and the quibbling happen, and I was out for some adventure.

Set much like a typical tiangge or bazaar, the cluster buildings are crowded with stalls, each one claiming to offer the best bargains. Tinderas cry out “pili na!” like vendors in a fish market.  

            Got lost in Hanoi looking for the Old Quarter. I found this ao dai instead.
                                               Photo by Winston Baltasar.                                      

 Going through the rows upon rows of Victorian inspired blouses, psychedelic printed 60s Mod dresses, and dainty ballet flats, my self control was continuously tested.  

Takashimaya in Singapore is one of the largest in the region.

I found a pair of tailored short-shorts in beige sold at P100 a pair. How could I let that pass? I questioned my  pesky conscience. Conscience could never be the best shopping partner. Brushing the nagging voice away, I reasoned. Surely, it would be a wise investment?  A peek in my wallet told me that I still had more than enough money to get me home after the purchase. Besides, several ATMs nearby were blinking their approval. A few stores later, I felt my resolution dissolve some more. I got to the point of no return when I saw a Victorian inspired blouse on a rack. It had a baby doll collar, puffy sleeves, and delicate buttons nestled on lacy frills.  “P150,” the sign screamed in bold fonts and a bright yellow background. Who could resist that? As soon as my find was stuffed in a plastic bag, I knew I was back in business, and after being just opened, so was the stall. “Buena mano,” said the saleslady. “Our first sale of the day” And with that, all 6 months of temperance went down the drain.

The great Singapore shopping swing. These girls can shop from sun up to sun down.

Beaded tops from Thailand were a bit expensive starting at P400, but the apparel for men was surprisingly cheap. We came upon a store that sold vintage inspired T-shirts and linen collared shirts for men. The linen shirt would look great with khakis or a pair of jeans even on these dreary wet days, and at P250, it would bring a lot of sunshine. But still, I haggled just for the fun of it and didn’t expect the store attendant to give it at P150. It was almost too good to be true. Apparently, haggling was a staple at Tutuban, and if you have the patience, persistence, and the confidence to bargain, you could get a really good deal. If you’re buying in bulk or whole sale (which usually starts at half a dozen), you can get up to 30% off on your purchase.

Best buy of the day: Audrey Hepburn-esque coat from Mango at almost half off.
Bargain bridals

One of my best friends got married several weeks ago.  As one of the bridesmaids, I wasn’t too happy with the gown that was tailor made for me at P7,500. Little did I know that for the same amount at Tutuban’s Cluster Mall, we could have gotten gowns for the bride and the entourage plus all the accessories and a little change for the bridal shower’s sexy dancer perhaps.   Of course, these gowns are far from couture. If Vera Wang or Monique Lhuillier’s presence is not important in your wedding, then  the bargain dresses at the Cluster Mall will make you a blushing bride out of the money you will be saving.

Starting at P1,500, the wedding gown comes complete with the pieces of accessories -  the cord, gloves, headdress, 2 pillows, garter, 1st veil, 2nd veil, petticoat and bouquet base. At that amount, don’t expect luxurious fabrics of silk and lace.  The floor length bridal satin dresses are simply embellished in inexpensive beads. The more elaborate gowns made of Taiwan georgette  and Japanese beads are tagged a bit higher from 6,000 pesos. Made to order dresses will cost as low as P1,500 as long as the design is chosen from the store’s catalogue.  

Known as the Paris of the Pacific, Guam is a tax free port. Do I hear "cha-ching!"?

Flower girl dresses start at P300 with an additional P30 per size increment. Bridesmaid dresses, prom gowns and debutante’s gowns start from P1,400. Taffeta cocktail dresses are a steal at P900 a piece. I made sure I got the dressmaker’s business card who enthusiastically informed me that made to order pieces can be picked up two weeks after placing the order.

Curtains and colorful banderitas

After the wedding, comes the home building. Tutuban stays true to its claim of being a one stop shop. Appliances, home furnishings and accessories are available at the Prime Mall. The curtain shops in particular caught my attention. Luxurious swags with crystals, valance window treatments and elaborate curtain sets are sold at a bargain. I was told that five star hotels and prominent political figures get their curtains and window treatments here.

Warming up at the Duty Free shop in Guam.

After the home furnishings and interiors have been put into place, it’s time to make some additions to the family. If kids are part of your family planning, Tutuban Mall keeps the tiny customers in mind. Toy stores are a brim with bargain toys mostly made in China. For children’s parties, the selection of party favours, decor and giveaways are delightful. It almost made me want to throw a party. This freedom from restraint, from months of temperance, is more than enough reason to celebrate. 

Watch out for my brands for less shopping article in Lifestyle Asia - Travel soon.

I went through the rows of cheap plastic toys with the heart of a child and marvelled at the colourful banderitas that go from P10 to 50 at 3 meters. Paper roundabout decors floated overhead, a joy not only for kids but for grownups too. They come in colourful designs that would look great hanging from the ceiling in any room. It’s a quirky alternative to the old and boring Japanese lanterns and at P35 to P66 a piece, I figured it wouldn’t hurt my pocket. Besides, with all my finds, the only things that hurt were my legs. As I exited the doors of the Prime Block,   both hands full of stuffed plastic bags, Bonifacio greeted me with what seemed like an approving smile. With my heart and my wallet lighter, my feet a little bit sore, I thought this was the best place to welcome back and embrace my truest self.

My name is Ana, and yes, I am a shopaholic.


Omg lovely place for shoping wish to go dere looks like you peaple have so much fun :)
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♥ SadeeStyle ♥

Thanks for shopping with me, Sadee! If you enjoy shopping, drop by again at soon as I'll be posting about shopping in Hong Kong and the USA!

also, you might want to visit It's a great fashion and beauty site!

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