6 Aug

(Originally posted on March 23, 2010)

It’s February once again and aside from it being the love month, Filipinos also anticipate the famous festival of the Chinese New Year. All of a sudden, the media starts showing feature stories for this event. People see them on television, read them in the newspapers and hear them on the radios. Almost everyone, even those who don’t belong to the Chinese community seem to be so engrossed with the occasion and buy items that are known to cause prosperity, good luck and more love. Some people even go the extra mile and set off to that one place in the country where everything Chinese can be found –Binondo.
Binondo is situated just across the Pasig river from the walled city Intramuros and very accessible to tourists.
To get there via LRT 1, one just has to stop at Carriedo station and head north to Sta. Cruz church. Mode of transportation can be jeepneys or taxis. If on the MRT, one has to ride all the way to EDSA station, pass through the Metro point Mall that leads to the LRT 1 station. If already in Taft Avenue of Ma. Orosa Street in Manila, one can just easily hail a jeepney bound for Divisoria. These jeepneys go straight to Binondo and one can just get off right in front of the church and start the tour.

Touring the area can best be done by foot but calesas (horse drawn carriages) and pedicabs (bicycle cabs) may be available as soon as walking becomes very tiring.


Ongpin: Manila’s Chinatown
Ongpin is a narrow and noisy street that showcases everything Chinese.

Here authentic Chinese food like siopao (steamed buns), dumplings, hopia (moon cake), tikoy (sweet and sticky Chinese pudding), dim sum (a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea), glutinous balls (Chinese dessert) can be found almost in every corner of the street.

Ongpin is also famous for its jewellery and accessory stores, but it would be best to bring an expert for assurance and for better deals.

Drug stores also have several Chinese herbs and remedies like ginseng, shark fin cartilage, dried snake, bird’s nest, animal testicles and many more. Tourists can simply tell the vendors their health symptoms and they will immediately be provided remedies found in the store.
Other shops also have Chinese CDs, VCDs and DVDs. It would be best to have a Chinese companion when going to these stores because most of them only speak Fukien, Cantonese or Mandarin.

Purple Fire trucks can also be a sight when passing through Binondo Church. The engines are purple because of its major sponsor, Mr. Gerry Chua, the president of Eng Bee Tin, famous for its Ube Hopia (purple yam).

Binondo Church
Based on Philippine history, the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, known to many as Binondo church has been built in 1596, making it one of the oldest catholic churches in the country.
This church also houses the 18-inch black wooden crucifix credited to have miraculous healing.
It has long aisle which makes it a top choice for traditional wedding ceremonies.

Seng Guan Temple

Seng guan temple is situated in Narra Street. It is a two-storey building with many altars of Buddha. This is open to the public and they even allow cameras to be brought. It smells of incense used by believers who come here to offer prayers.
The right side of the entrance has a room with many Chinese papers. According to the people inside, these are their ancestors that were buried somewhere else.
Also noticeable in this temple are the intricate designs of the ceilings that have been carved to perfection to depict the Buddhist culture.
Getting there is easy through a pedicab that will cost 60 pesos one-way. For those on a budget, travelling with friends can make the fare cheaper. The ride can be satisfying as travellers can also get a chance to tour the other streets. Asking the pedicabs driver to wait outside the temple is best for a better deal transportation fare. This will be very helpful especially because there are no pedicabs terminals available outside the temple.

Jones Bridge
Before getting inside the Chinatown proper, this historical landmark will be passed that can surely attract attention in spite of its old structure. This bridge can be a very good scene at night especially after spending the day touring Chinatown.

On Coming Back
Once you’ve visited Binondo, you couldn’t help but come back just like Aling Melda, a 55-year old resident of Malate who has already made it a ritual to go here yearly with her friends.
When asked what keeps her coming back, she just shares that she has been coming here since grade school because of the energy and the happiness that she feels especially during Chinese New year. Her favorite Chinese delicacy is tikoy.

Foreigners also enjoy coming back to Chinatown every once in a while. Valerie and Frederick who are both from France shares that it’s their first time to be here. They spent their Valentine’s date here for a change and to witness the celebration of the New Year. They said they enjoyed the place and would definitely want to come back.
Leo, a 25-year old Chinese residing at the heart of Chinatown says he loves staying in Chinatown in the Philippines primarily because of the Filipino culture. To him, this makes his life easy because of the courtesy and helpfulness of the Filipinos. He has been a resident for two years now and enjoys his work in a clothing shop in Chinatown.


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