Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saying "I love you!" with colorful Dangwa flowers on Valentine’s Day

Note:  This story appears as "In Manila, Dangwa flowers say 'I love you' in full color" in the 14-20 Feb 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star published in the Bay Area, CA.  This blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent-Philippines of the paper.

When people say that they’re going to Dangwa to buy flowers, they’re actually referring to the Dangwa flower market, aka the Bulaklakan ng Maynila, where colorful fresh flowers are sold, that section of Sampaloc, Manila bounded by Laong Laan, Dos Castillas and Dimasalang streets, and a block away from the University of Santo Tomas.

The Dangwa bus terminal is located right there, and that’s where boxes of cut flower varieties grown in La Trinidad up in the Cordilleras are unloaded for the picking of stall owners in the market.  According to them, the floral supplies arrive almost every five hours from Baguio during peak seasons just like the week approaching Valentine’s Day.

This floral market has also become the hub of floral supplies being flown in from Cebu, Davao and even South America (they sell Ecuadorian roses!).

During Holy Week, the market teems with Malaysian mums, chrysanthemums and dendrobium orchids of various colors.  At Yuletide, it’s the red of potted poinsettias that dominates among the many hues of the usual arrays of cut flowers.   

For Valentine’s Day, the Dangwa flowers are predominantly red, orange, yellow and white roses, although the stalls offer a variety of choices, depending on one’s pocket, like stems of stargazer lilies, cut or potted sunflowers, carnations, and cuttings of the usual mums and alstroemeria or princess lilies.

Ready-to-go bouquets are expensive, the pre-Valentine price ranging from Php400 to 600 ($10-15) depending on the number of roses and other companion flowers that make them up.  The “I love you” trio of rose buds cost around Php200 ($5).   One can imagine how much a stem of red rose will cost on Valentine’s Day itself.  The bagsak presyo (big price drop), vendors say, would come after three days yet since there are late buying Valentinos.

According to those who know the flower trade, the best option is to buy roses by the bundle (24 stems), better if newly arrived, which could be just about half the price of a bouquet. The only additional expense would be for sprigs of white baby’s breath flowers (optional), the Japanese paper sheath, ribbons, and the token fee for the flower arranger, and there are plenty of them in the vicinity. 

If not Dangwa flowers, there are also small teddy bears arranged like floral bouquets in the market.  For those who can only afford a token symbol of affection, there’s a balloon man roaming around with red heart shaped balloons printed with “I love you.”

Dangwa calls to mind that the (St.) Valentine’s Day trappings came with the Americans almost a century ago, probably by the late 1920s or early 1930s.  This can be gleaned from the advertisement for valentines (valentine cards) in the Philippine Magazine of February 1935, which described them to have gained “increasing popularity ... during the past few years,” and thus a “big stock and an extensive variety” were needed before February 14 that year.

During those years, the senders of valentines could select the message they want to convey:  “real, sentimental, or burlesque,” according to the ad. The last one is supposed to elicit laughter from the recipient, the “LOL” in today’s tweeted, texted, or chatted messages.

It appears that this romanticized culture was fostered among boys and girls of the generations before the Second World War.  They were taught to make cards to send to their choice of valentines: “your mother, your teacher, your classmate, your friend, anybody whom you care for,” as one children’s magazine of 1939 vintage put it.

The 1970’s young generation chose from racks of valentines at the bookstores to send via snail mail, but they had the Valentine’s telegram as an alternative to ensure that the love message was read no later than February the fourteenth.  There was a choice of the message code, which the receiving telegraph machine would type out in full on paper with pre-selected romantic design, usually roses or two superimposed hearts pierced by Cupid’s arrow.

According to reports, the market for flowers around the Dangwa bus terminal also started to develop in the mid-1970’s, and becoming the hub it is today in the 1980's.

Red, red roses then from Dangwa to say,”Be My Valentine!”  this Friday.

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