Manila's Neverchanging Everwhere of Everything
It is the same place as before. Never changes. Everything you need to find is still cheap and everywhere, in Quiapo. Everything is there too. Fresh produce and any-brand electronics. Handicrafts and cheap SLR Cameras. Entertainment. Portable solar panels and compact solar batteries. PISO-net cabinets or karaoke ones, Soldier uniforms and arnis-eskrima sticks. Chinese drugstores and custom jewelry shops.
The thing about Quiapo is
that we take the place for granted. We know that every first week of
January, there is the Feast of the Black Nazarene. With all the
nearby modern malls around Manila, we have forgotten that the
cheapest electronics can be bought in Raon Street, which by the way
has everything you can find in whatever posh mall, but you get more value for money in Downtown Manila! Even repair
services for obsolete mobile phones, casings, and boom box set ups
like no other—all for cheap!
If you are looking for cheap produce, a short trip to Quiapo can get you a bayong of goodies for your tight budget. At an unfortunate time when hoarders sell garlic at P50 for 4 heads of garlic, in supermarkets in the Metro, in Quiapo they still go for P5 each in the streets near the Quinta Market.
If you are of little faith, and want someone to tell you what you want to hear about your future, you can have your fortunes told in the square next to the Church. At Plaza Miranda, where tarot card readers abound: some shamans, others just hacks looking for a quick buck for telling people they'll meet Prince Charming or become rich in 5-years time.
At the stalls
under the bridge going into deepr Manila, there are various Filipiniana
handicrafts for Lola's house or pasalubong gifts for balikbayan friends.
One interesting pasalubong idea will be assorted anting-anting (talismans) medallions, handkerchiefs inscribed with Latin prayers, and even some bronze medallions of Saint Benedict, supposedly a ward against malevolent spirits and used in exorcism and divine healing--all sold by spiritistas as well as by enterprising Pinoys who know that superstition is a very lucrative business.
We really don’t think that Quiapo has more to offer than crowded shopping, chicanery, and generic Chinese brands. But Quiapo holds more secret finds that you may not know or may want to know but no one shows you where or how to find.Franciscani Sanctuary and Islamic Refuge
Like China Mieville's The City and the City, Quezon Avenue is a grey line of the cross-hatch between a Muslim enclave and the Christian-Chinese Quarter of Quiapo. The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or
Quiapo Church seems like a place for the cult devotees of the Image
of the Black Nazarene, but it is a Franciscan-managed Catholic church. People who truly have faith still get their miracles, no matter what other pundits tell you. And they simply bear witness to the Lord's power and glory when they celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene every January.
The Moslems, on the other side of the road, also have their amazing Mosque, and if you want to learn or live a deeper understanding of faith than most lazy and pretentious Catholics claim and profess, you may convert to Islam, study the amazing teachings of the Angel Gabriel about the Lord, as handed down to the prophet Mohammed, and worship with some of the best people the Lord has gifted with true faith.
It is in the Christian quarter surrounding the Basilica that most of the merchant
community of both Chinese-Pinoys and local Filipinos ply their trade in goods,
both retail and wholesale. If Japan has Akihabara as its posh
shopping area for electronics everything and cultural treasures, same
with Quiapo in our country, except for the time capsule environment
of the place: same crowded third-world streets from 3 decades ago.
Same risky buys and product choices (used computer parts for a song), with
only the merchandise (there are now dozens of portable solar panel
and solar battery sellers) offered being the latest tech and gadget stuff: all
according to what people need in the outside world—there is a
separate urban reality outside of Quiapo if you notice.
On our next visit we'll try to provide you a street by street guide where to buy what you need.
Our parents may have taught us one secret or two about Quiapo: Come
Christmas time, Excelente Cooked Ham is the best you can buy anywhere.
The best thing about dealing with a Moslem merchant and his wares is that the people are fair and honest despite racial and religious stereotyping. You do get what you pay for, from good RTW buys and affordable exotic textiles, to special handicrafts, to fresh and cheap produce for halal diets, to all the watchful things (think men carrying a painting and the title of the RUSH rock album with that image ) you might need or thought you'd never find, but there it all is. Where you need it. When you need it. Nuff said.
Not far from Bautista St. is another place that is well hidden from everyone called the Ocampo Pagoda and compund: a large mansion, with crumbling concrete statues of saints and the foreboding statue of the Virgin of Mount Carmel, all of it almost hidden from the public.
An old world, old rich landmark that was once a part of the
large garden of the estate of lawyer-realtor Don Jose Mariano Ocampo. The place looks like some haunted mausoleum from a Clive Barker or Stephen King
horror movie but it is just an empty building of some rich man's
folly and vanity, now housing some transient seamen waiting for their next port of call.
Quiapo is a very different place from the rest of urban Manila. It is still beautiful, strange, spooky. It is a very moving picture of what a community becomes when everything that is holy and good become a place to go, to get away from the rest of the posh and eye candy cane parts of our urban metro.
Would you really trade a
trip to QUIAPO over a trip to your local mall?