An underground movement named thrifting is spreading slowly. Why is it underground and slow? Because most people here think thrifting is gross and can cause you health problems from wearing worn, unhygienic clothes. It is also considered plainly uncool because most thrifters here do what they do, not because they want to, but because their economy requires it.
Thrifting is like treasure hunting, people say. Here in Asia, this saying has more sense of reality. We don’t have those wide-spaced, well-ventilated and well-organized thrift stores. We don’t even have many thrift/bargain stores and the ones that do exist can be discouraging to many people. Take flea market in Jakarta, Indonesia, as an example. Two of the most famous flea markets there are Pasar Senen (with the hip-name of Monday market, as back in the old days, the market only opened on Monday) and Passer Baroe (means new market, although it has opened for hundreds of years).
The second one has more humane environment with barely-felt air conditioning and better lights, thus the higher prices. But if you have more guts with you, come to the first one (picture 1). Here you have to delve in cave-like, shabby places with poor light and bad ventilation (picture 2), cramped stalls, narrow alleyways (picture 3), overwhelming temperatures and smells, and bad people lurking from every corner.
Those two markets are well known places to get our supply of secondhand, vintage clothes in a very cheap price. You can find treasures for only 10 US pennies here. The goods are from first-world countries such as US, Japan and Korea. The sellers usually buy their goods by huge sacks; each can contain 700-1000 clothes. They sorted it out first to fix the price. The sorted ones are hung and the discarded ones are on sale on the table (picture 4). The sellers have different tastes than us, so sometimes they discard a very nice treasure into the cheapest pile. So, you really have to dig up.
If you go there, don’t be shocked by the loud shouts made by the sellers. They are not angrily shouting on you, but they’re actually loudly reciting rhymes and poems to attract customers. Some of them can be really creative and funny. Also, don’t judge them by their appearance. They may look harsh, but I found them quite friendly if you talk to them nicely. This area is well known for groups of hoodlums and pickpockets though, so you still need to keep your guards up.
Similar markets can be found throughout South East Asia. The Philippines and Thailand have the more traditional markets much like Indonesia while frugal fashionistas in Singapore and Malaysia are blessed with their local Salvation Army and other modern thrift stores. The Philippines have another name for thrifting, which is ukay-ukay, meaning to dig up. The name can’t be more appropriate because you have to dig up every pile of clothing to find the treasures.
So, for those of you who are adventurous enough to thrift Asia, here some tips for you:
Beware of pickpockets. Be careful with your valuables, don’t take it with you if you can and don’t wear shiny jewellery.
Wear extra-comfortable clothes. The heat can be very overwhelming. And there are definitely no changing rooms there.
Act tough. While modern thrift stores in the US and Europe have fixed on a price for clothes, here in these traditional flea markets, the price is still negotiable. This is where your bargaining skill really matters. Survey several stalls to gain knowledge of price. You can negotiate down to 50% of the offered price, especially for bags. Play the “take-it-or-I’ll-leave” game. Most often than not, the seller will reduce his price close to what you offer.
Speaking a national language is an advantage. If you can’t ask any local friends to come with you, learn some basic conversation, especially about numbers and currency. Because most of the sellers come from other localities, speaking their own local language can get you an amazing discount. But not even all Indonesians know all local languages since there are dozens.
Wash the clothes, really, really well. The clothes have come from far places, you don’t know what have happened to them, so wash them clean, everybody.
So, if I make thrifting in Asia sounded like a risky business, that’s because it is. Don’t get me wrong though, I love those flea markets. No pain no gain; it’s where I found all of my treasures.
Anyway, don’t all treasure hunters have to get down and dirty before they find their cherished treasures?