This year, around eight thousand people celebrated the Chinese New Year in Binondo, Manila – one of the biggest crowds the town ever had. The celebration, which was only limited to residents of the area before, has gotten bigger and bigger thanks to the power of photography, social media and heightened publicity that Chinatown has over the past few years. I’ve been to Binondo a few times, and I celebrated the Chinese New Year for the second time there this year.
We started by visiting the Sta. Cruz Church along Bustos. The Church’s Chinese New Year decor including red paper lanterns, images of horses and a big hand-painted banner that said “Kung Hei Fat Choi!”, reflected the marriage of influences from the Chinese and Spanish that create a distinct part of Filipino culture.
Right outside Sta. Cruz Church is Carriedo Fountain. Behind it is the Arch of Goodwill, which symbolizes the friendship between the Filipino and Chinese communities.
Our second stop was Escolta. On our way there, I could not help but think of the wonder that it was before. If you’re curious, here’s a photo of what Escolta used to look like.
Escolta isn’t the beautiful, bustling, sophisticated place it once was, but I just have to thank Chinatown’s old guard and their descendants for preserving buildings such as the first Bank of the Philippine Islands building, Regina Building and Natividad Building. The sophistication is gone, but the charm is still there. It helps that there are lot of offices and buildings in Escolta which keeps the place busy.
As faster modes of communication are increasing in number, the Post Office – with its grand architectural design – is now losing its significance to people. Thank goodness for institutions like Ateneo de Manila Grade School who take their students on annual field trips to the Post Office to send letters to their parents. I do hope more people see the value of handwritten letters and start writing again to their loved ones whether here or abroad. Sending handwritten letters to loved is a good, heartfelt investment.
There were newspapers from the 1800s and newspaper ads from the 1920s. Look – a Ford car used to just cost P795.00 or $18.00!
Wartime photos serve as a reminder of how much Manila went through in the hands of the Japanese and the Americans.
There’s an entrance fee of P50.00 (roughly $1.10). There is no guard or caretaker to pay to – there’s only a small box at the entrance where you drop your payment. Employing the honesty system is in itself, interesting.
Part of the “Binondo Experience” is to have lunch at one of their hole-in-wall restaurants which serve authentic Chinese cuisine – with no pretentions. Our food joint of choice for lunch was Ying Ying’s on Dasmariñas Street. It has been our choice for the past 3 years.
As you can see, there is no interior design nor plating for orders. There is no aesthetic nor concept of finesse. It is all about the food and its taste. We ordered fresh steamed shrimps (our favorite), soy chicken, beef, sweet and sour pork and Yang Chow fried rice. Their milk tea tasted slightly bitter and aromatic and better than the other milk tea types that people get from commercial milk tea stores.
That is the more quiet side of Binondo. After lunch, we headed on to Ongpin and Paredes area where all the action was.
On our way there, we saw Sincerity Chicken, one of the other well-loved restaurants of Binondo. We also saw a dragon dance group which was also on its way to Ongpin.
The first thing we saw on Ongpin Street was a lion dance performance in front of a small liquor store. In Chinese culture, lion and dragon dances are said to drive away evil spirits and invite good luck and prosperity. Part of the dance includes the lion standing up to eat the hong bao (red packet). I guess this is to bring more good luck?
From Ongpin Street, we headed to Quintin Paredes Street, which was the starting point of the Solidarity Grand Parade. The Solidarity Grand Parade is an annual event that includes Chinese schools, Chinese community groups and Chinese-owned businesses among the participants. Among the participants this year were the following: Philippine Tiong Se Academy, Lorenzo Ruiz Academy, Sun Yat Sen High School, Chiang Kai Shek College, Sun Life Financial, Manila Bulletin, and Universal Robina Corporation.
From Paredes, we walked back to Ongpin to buy hopia and tikoy from Eng Bee Tin. On our way we saw this drum group entertaining people. Drum groups accompanied firedancers who solicited money from onlookers using hong paos. The more money people gave, the longer the fire dance routine would be.
We stopped by a shrine to Sto. Cristos de Longos, a cross that is said to have miraculous powers. During the Spanish period, a deaf-mute Sangley discovered an effigy of the crucified Jesus inside a well where the original cross now stands. His senses of hearing and talking were restored immediately after his discovery. You can find the original story here.
The cross is adorned with sampaguita (Philippine jasmine) garlands and red ribbons. Devotees could offer prayers using long red wax candles or joss sticks, thus infusing Catholicism with a sense of Buddhist culture. The shrine is truly a religious cultural sight to behold and its image will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
Then we rested for a while and tried milk tea from a shop called The Tea at Mandarin Square. Unfortunately, their drinks tasted like they were made from three-day old ingredients. The only good thing about the store was its interior design which included this cute love notes wall. We consoled ourselves by buying Chinese cup noodles, bottled milk tea, fried rice crackers from the grocery which was also located in Mandarin Square.
From there, we joined the parade. It was really a memorable parade experience for us as we saw the town mayor and vice-mayor (Need I say who they are? NO.) and Ms. International 2013, Bea Rose Santiago, got goodies from URC and witnessed not just one, not two but three explosive street firework displays! Finally, we got to the end of Ongpin and walked to Carriedo Fountain which was near where we started, before heading home.
Here’s a simple compilation of the videos that I took during the celebration. Here you’ll see the lion dance, the crowd at Binondo and a lion and dragon dance with street fireworks.
So that would be it for my Binondo adventure! Thanks for reading my post.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! Kiong Hee Huat Tsai!