Let’s go to the market

San Fernando Public Market

San Fernando Public Market

Halika sa palengke: Let’s go to the market!

I love markets, and in the Philippines they have rather more local colour (and, it has to be said, smell) than the sometimes homogenous and sterile shopping malls. So today Mary Ann and I went off to the public market in San Fernando. We had a couple of specific objectives in mind: get some jewellery fixed and buy a barong (traditional dress) for a friend.

Typically old markets such as the one in San Fernando are sprawling mazes of little alleyways. Different parts of the market are dedicated to particular types of goods: rice here, vegetables there, dry goods behind, wet goods (meat and fish) next door. As we walked around I realised the amount of industry going on in dress shops and jewellery workshops.

Edgar the jewellery repair man

Edgar the jewellery repair man

We found Edgar, the jewellery repair man recommended to us, by simply asking around for him; the traders obviously know each other very well. I wanted him to widen my wedding ring; in the 22 years I’ve been married my ring finger has got so fat – along with the rest of me – that I was starting to lose feeling. Just round the corner was a whole passageway of dress shops selling and hiring wedding dresses and ballgowns in every conceivable colour combination – and some quite inconceivable. One shop had a display of dresses made from traditional pina cloth, so we went in there. This gave Mary Ann an opportunity to use her haggling skills – bartering is a must in the market – and she managed to get the price down from 2,000 pesos (about £30) to 1,300 pesos (about £20). Satisfied, we spent another half hour exploring the various stalls, but the only other thing we bought was some smelly smoked fish. As it was getting late, we retired to Jollibee for merienda (snacks).

Dresses guaranteed to brighten any occasion

Dresses guaranteed to brighten any occasion

Talking about markets, according to the Lonely Planet guide, the word palengke has an interesting origin:

The word palengke may seem familiar to visitors who have travelled in Mexico, where it is spelled palenque and means ‘cockfighting ring’. Originally a Maya word meaning ‘gathering place’. Its near-identical Filipino equivalent means ‘market’. It’s likely that the Spanish in colonial Mexico borrowed the word from the Maya to describe any gathering of indios (as the Spanish called both the Filipinos and the Native Americans of the New World), and then introduced the word to the Philippines during the 250-year galleon trade between Mexico and the Philippines.

A few photos of the market (and malls) of San Fernando can be seen here.

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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