SOME people get their frissons forking over the big bucks for some exclusive bauble—a Patek Philippe watch, an Hermes Birkin bag—in that gilded temple of consumer capitalism, the mall.
But when I look back on the sum of my worldly goods, the objects that give me the greatest satisfaction aren’t the consumer durables I aspired to, dreamed of, and worked extra jobs in order to save up for.
My favorite things tend to be objects I stumbled upon while grubbing through piles of junk along with my fellow plebeians, stuff haggled down from their original bargain price to mere pittance.
They include: an original pressing of the 1968 psych-pop masterpiece “Present Tense” by Sagittarius (P30 in a grimy, nameless basement thrift shop in Quiapo), a Technics SP-10 Mark II turntable to play it on, complete with its original obsidian base, discrete power supply and an Audio Technica tonearm (P6,000 as-is in Bangkal), my 1970s Bridgestone touring bicycle (P2,500 sans wheels), and my Husker Du T-shirt (found in the P20 pile in some long-gone ukay-ukay store).
Obscure objects of desire, for sure, except to a retro-obsessive music geek like me. Friends roll their eyes in disbelief. “You paid six thousand bucks for that!” (Hey, check out how much it’s going for on eBay.)
But then, thrift shopping isn’t really about saving money per se. It’s also about constructing your own culture-of-one from artifacts excavated from the detritus of other cultures. It’s about finding alternatives to the soul-deadening sameness of mall culture. It’s about Third World style—anti-fashionista fashion.
At least, that’s what I tell myself while digging through piles of junk.
Following are some favored Metro Manila trawling spots:
<strong>Manila South Harbor a.k.a. Pier</strong>
Pier is now synonymous with surplus Japanese television sets, the main recourse for families who can’t afford first-hand appliance store prices. But the long line of shops that fill up most of what used to be the local Fleet Street also offer musical instruments, folding commuter bicycles, stereos, washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners—all used and mostly reconditioned items from Japan. (I still kick myself now and then for not picking up that Yamaha “SG” electric guitar—the same model that Carlos Santana used to endorse—for P4,000.)
This barangay at the western edge of Makati on the boundary with Pasay City has been thrift shop central since time immemorial. Apart from second-hand items from the US and Japan, which arrive in lots from container vans, there are also the remnants of estate sales and “foreigner leaving” buyouts. Which is why you can find literally anything here if you have the patience to look, and wait. Books, vinyl records, furniture, household items, electronics, clothes and artworks abound in the sprawl of shops that line three or four streets along Evangelista.
<strong> “Japan Surplus”</strong>
Blame it on the recession that has hit Japan since the economic bubble burst, but “Japan surplus” shops are sprouting throughout the city, enough to give the Apo Hiking Society pause to rethink the lyrics to “American Junk.” “Japan surplus” can mean anything from used chopsticks to vinyl toys to household furniture. The attraction here is the added exoticism of Japonoiserie: samurai dolls in full miniature armor in glass display cases, a wooden go board with a set of black and white stones in carved wooden bowls, glazed ceramic ware, lacquered bento boxes, a lot of golf clubs. Large Japan surplus outlets can be found on Rizal Avenue in Manila and Retiro St. in Quezon City.
Thanks to Cubao X, Cubao’s thrift stores have managed to survive the shopping district’s efforts at gentrification (although its seedier ukay-ukay outlets have not). It’s still worth a look for vinyl records, Filipiniana, movie memorabilia, “antiques,” books and periodicals.