The Philippines is home to four of the 11 largest malls in the world. Not only are they huge, they are also high-tech, gorgeous and filled with expensive shops. Tourists from developed countries wonder why this is so when the Philippines is supposed to be a third-world country. But locals know that most of the people visiting these huge malls go there for the A/C, to cool off from the hot, tropical weather, and to escape precisely that image of poverty which so often assaults their senses on the streets. Where Filipinos really shop are at cheap, crowded and simply-designed people’s malls such as Tutuban Mall/168 Shopping Center in Divisoria.
When Filipinos hear “Divisoria”, “Tutuban” or “168 Shopping center”, what comes to mind is a crowd of shoppers rushing and haggling to buy the cheapest commodities. It is only recently that malls in Divisoria have installed air-conditioning. Filipinos used to shop hot, sweaty and smelly in the row of open-air kiosks in Divisoria, Binondo, Manila.
Divisoria is the market district in the heart of Manila. Its name has become synonymous with “cheap bazaars”. Ask every Filipino where to buy the cheapest pieces of cloth or furniture, and 9 out of 10 will point you to Divisoria.
The area is filled with boutiques, shops and street kiosks. The three most modern malls in Divisoria are the 168 Shopping Center, Tutuban Mall and Divisoria Mall.
168 Shopping Center is the newest and probably the biggest, coolest and most convenient mall at the heart of Divisoria. The good news is that the items for sale are not as expensive as those sold in modern, high-tech malls elsewhere in the country. Located in the corner of Recto Avenue and Tutuban, the center has hundreds of bazaars that sell all kinds of items from bags, shoes, toys, hardware, RTW’s, household accessories, school supplies, novelty items, and much more.
Filipinos call bazaars “tiangge” and when you hear “tiangge”, it means don’t buy anything without haggling first. In most cases, vendors would first refuse to negotiate but as you begin to walk away, they will call you back and say something like, “Fine, fine, so how big a discount do you want?”
Haggling is also expected at the nearby Tutuban Mall, also known as Tutuban Center, or simply referred to as Tutuban. Shopping here is far from comfortable or trendy, but very practical since items are sold very cheap. Even high-fashion designers and dressmakers come here to buy inexpensive but good quality wardrobe staples.
There is no cartel here either. A stall may sell the same item from a nearby stall at a cheaper price. Some sell buy-one-take-one. Be patient in negotiating and you can save a good number of pesos. Vendors get their items direct from distributors in China, Hong Kong or Bangkok, and the local ones from around the Philippines, which is why they can sell them cheap.
Tutuban also sells cell phones, laptops, DVD players, computer accessories and other electronic gadgets at a much cheaper price than those sold at the big malls.
The only downside when shopping in Tutuban Mall/168 Shopping Center or anywhere in Divisoria is that it is so crowded that pickpockets thrive. This is especially true during Christmas Season and other holidays when the place is full to the brim. Be careful when pulling out money from your pocket, counting money in public and placing your bulging wallet inside your back pocket.
Pickpockets and petty thieves know Divisoria like the back of their hands. Otherwise, shopping in people’s malls is quite a thrilling experience.