No matter how many times you come back to Binondo, there is always something different. Everyone can go on a food tour, but with the sheer number of places to eat along Ongpin and its side streets, each visit is always new.
Last Sunday, I joined my new friends Nalani, Jonats and Marjorie for a food exploration in Binondo. Costs were divided among the four of us and we added P5 each for tips.
Stop 1: Dong Bei
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Dong Bei’s one of my favorite places to go to when I’m in Binondo. It’s a small dumpling place off Ongpin. Here you can see the attendants make the dumplings and cook them in a pot of boiling water. You can be sure that what you are eating is freshly made. We shared a plate of the mixed dumplings, popped open a can of Wai Long Kat and got to know each other better.
Cost: PHP 65
Side trip: A bakery along Carvajal
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We were going to Quick Snack along Carvajal but it was closed (along with most of the establishment along the esquinita). We passed by this bakery where I bought some tikoy bread from during the Chinese New Year. I didn’t buy anything, but everyone else did. Everything was freshly baked, which added to its appeal.
Pictures to follow. Sorry! Photos added. Still a work in progress.
About two years ago, I went with Lornadahl for a Postal Heritage Tour around Manila. While it’s not an official tour of the Philippine Post Office, it was nevertheless an educational tour on the postal service and philately, as well as some places around Manila that isn’t covered by the usual Celdran tour. This tour is hosted by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club and guided by Lawrence Chan.
What makes this tour interesting is that you get a look into the very fascinating field of philately, as well as a glimpse inside the majestic yet sadly dilapidated Metropolitan Theater in Manila. The tour also stretches to include Intramuros but as the tour is flexible, it sometimes doesn’t even get that far. Still, it’s a trip that is worth the time and effort.
I joined Anne and her cousin for this tour. Rence said that it usually lasts until early evening, mostly because the participants are fascinated by exploring that it’s hard to stick to the time table. We met at Liwasang Bonifacio, the park in front of the Post Office that is more known as Plaza Lawton. The older generation would probably recognize it as Arroceros Park.
The fountain was being used for the Bourne Legacy shoot, and the crew had set up camp at the park itself. I tried to catch a glimpse of Edward Norton but I doubt that he was still around.
The Historical Post Office
We went inside the Post Office first. The Post Office is a small, self-sustaining compound. Because of the large fleet of vehicles it needed, they had their own gas station. There are also smaller buildings within the compound, but sad to say, more than half of them are in a bad state. One is the Post Office museum, but it’s currently closed. I had the chance to attend a philately lecture there during the last tour, but the building is off limits now because it’s structurally unsound.
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The Post Office building is an impressive structure. It is often used in many local productions as a setting for school graduations or law offices. Sad to say, there is news that the building will be sold in the near future as the postal company is losing more money than what they are earning. Fullerton Hotel is said to be interested in it.
Carlos Celdran shouldn’t be a stranger to any Filipino these days, thanks to his infamous protest at San Agustin Church a while back. It earned him the nickname “Damaso”, which people would shout to him when they seem him on the streets.
However, long before that, Carlos has gained a reputation for himself through his Old Manila Walk tours. A performer at heart, Carlos conducts walking tours around Intramuros, providing a crash course in Philippine history. His tours are among the first thing foreigners and balikbayans would go to upon arriving in Manila. His unique, no-holds-barred way of telling the story attracts people to listen, providing an insight to the often misunderstood Manila and its people.
I have long wanted to go on a Carlos Celdran tour (naks, parang brand name lang siya), but time and money constraints made it a little difficult. I was fortunate enough to be able to join a quick tour he hosted in part with Samsung. While interesting, it still didn’t have the full Carlos Celdran touch of theatrics and whimsey that I wanted to experience.
He occasionally throws out barter tours, where you can give anything you think is worth something in exchange. However, it is mostly held during the weekdays which automatically made it a no go for me. When he posted a call for another barter tour and I figured it was my chance.
A Crash Course in Philippine History
I expected the tour to be mostly barter attendees, but it turns out we were going with regular tourists as well. There were quite a number of Filipinos among the foreigners, many of whom were balikbayans on vacation. One was a man who thought it would be a nice way to pass time while waiting for his friends. Another was a group of women who had roots in Manila but hadn’t been back in decades.
I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing since February 2010 but have yet to participate in anything the local group would organize. With all this free time in my hands, I’m eager to join in activities that sound like fun and do not cost much. When an invitation to join the group in Binondo to celebrate the Chinese New Year appeared on my dashboard, well, I couldn’t pass it up. I dragged Anne, my usual partner-in-crime for such adventures and off we go.
Getting lost, sort of
I’ve been to Binondo many times, and I was confident that I knew how to get there. However, I would normally come from the Sta. Cruz church side and walk up to Ongpin. I forgot what jeep I should ride if I wanted to arrive in front of Binondo Church. In the end, I walked a long way just to get where I was supposed to meet Anne.
The Philippines has a long and rich history with the Chinese. Business relations had been on going long before the Spanish set foot in the country. The establishment of the Chinatown here was in the 1500s, making the the oldest recorded Chinatown in the world — outside of China, of course. An interesting read about Binondo can be found here.
Meeting the Couchsurfers
Anne and I have the shyness gene so it took us quite a bit before either one of us had the gumption to ask the group of mostly red-shirted people in front if they were the CS group. Thankfully, we got it right the first time and a flurry of introductions began.
The festivities had already started by the time our group of (my estimate) 40-plus people made our way through Ongpin. The street was clogged with people (tourists and locals alike) watching the dragon and lion dances. Hawkers lined the street selling lucky charms. Some shops were closed but many were open like a regular working day. It was easy to get separated from the rest of the group, which was what happened to me several times during the day.
After the fireworks and dance, the proprietors of a grocery store threw candy and other giveaways to the crowd. It was scary as people clamored to get something. To avoid getting crushed, I immediately left the area.
Nez and I have barely recovered from the Amazing Race we did the week prior when she invited me to go along with her for a weekend trip to Cagayan de Oro. It seems that it’s becoming a tradition for the two of us to have last minute trips. Because of the expense and other worries, I nearly passed the opportunity. Thank God I didn’t.
We left Manila on Saturday morning. Travel time is about an hour and twenty minutes. From the airport, we went straight to Cagayan de Oro river for our white water rafting adventure. Thanks to the awesome crew of Red Raft for arranging to pick us up and take us on.
Not Quite Like the ride in Enchanted Kingdom
In theory, I know how to swim. However, I am prone to panicking when the water closes in on me, hence my fear of falling into the water. More so if I’m unfamiliar with the water and if I cannot feel the ground beneath me. My worst fear for this trip was a capsized boat and being carried away by the current. I immediately told our guide, “Kuya, kung matangay ako, rescue mo ako ha?”
|From Cagayan de Oro – July 2011|
We suited up with personal floatation devices (PFDs, or life vests) and helmet, and grabbed our paddles. Nez, Char and I were the last of the group to arrive. Everyone else was already by the river and being briefed by Alan, one of the guides. We were also the only girls in the entire group. The Red Raft team had four rafts: Two with three people each, the other two with more than six (I didn’t take count). Because of this, we were dubbed the “Tres Marias”. Alan, however, called us “boys”.
After being briefed for water safety (I made sure to listen well), we were off. Each raft had one lead guide and an assistant guide. They’ll be the ones to tell you when to paddle and what sort of paddle you should do. There’s three basic paddles: the forward, the fast forward (I’m not sure if that’s the real name, but it’s similar to the first) and back paddle.
Cagayan de Oro’s rapids range from level 2 to level 4, so it shouldn’t be hard for a beginner. Nez decided to pick the advanced course, which had me in a panic. However, at the end of the course, I feel like an old hand. I do admit that there were times when I’d scramble to find a solid handhold if I feel the boat will tip or if our guide had this certain grin that indicates he was up to something.
|From Cagayan de Oro – July 2011|
|From Cagayan de Oro – July 2011|
In the end, he pulled Nez out of the raft and into the water. I have to give him props for taking my fear into consideration and did not try to tip the boat (well, he did try once). We easily exchanged jokes with them, although when they start talking in Bisaya I feel they’re making fun at our expense. No problems though.
The guides of the other rafts were also game to joke around with us. Most of the other riders were quiet, and my best friend was very chatty (she commented on their quietness and the guide said, “Ma’am, we’re on a spiritual river tour. Nagba-Bible study kami.”). When their rafts would float near us, they’d talk to her and joke around.
Our last day came on a rather somber tone, what with the events of last night hanging over our heads. Plans of heading to the Philippine embassy was scrapped due to the lateness of the day, so it was decided that Nez and Everlo would go to the Singapore Tourism Board while everyone can do some sightseeing.
I didn’t really have plans for the day, as I was quite hesitant to go about on my own. I still haven’t done some things on my list, namely: eat Hainanese chicken, go to Funan, find some Pinky St. toys and explore Kinokuniya. We headed off to Orchard Road.
Orchard reminded me of Ayala and Buendia Avenue. Only instead of offices, the street is lined with malls and shopping centers. Our first stop was the Louie Vuitton shop near ION, where we bought a bag for someone back home.
It’s my first time to enter an LV store. I’m not a fan of such designer labels, and I’m quite intimidated by them. A friend related a story of how her mother went to one LV store and the attendants looked down on her like she couldn’t afford to even buy the cheapest item (she can, and more). I was worried that we’d have the same treatment, especially since the attendants looked like they were earning more than I am.
However, we were warmly greeted as we entered the store, and someone immediately came up to us to ask what we wanted. She immediately showed us the bag, answered our questions and even helped facilitate a certain request. In less than thirty minutes we were done.
It was nearly noon. We just walked along the street looking at shops, stopping at a $1 ice cream stall. I spotted a Kinokuniya sign and told everyone that I needed to go there for a few minutes. Since there was a line for the ice cream, they let me go.
My kind of store
The building happened to be Takashimaya, a branch of a well-known Japanese department store. I made a beeline for the bookstore on the 3rd floor, and immediately went to look for Dianne Jacob’s “Will Write For Food”. As luck would have it, there was one copy left. I grabbed it, browsed a little more a wished desperately I had more than $50 left to spend. Kinokuniya is massive. While it’s not as big as the Fully Booked flagship in Bonifacio High Street, the selection here is massive. I found several books that I’ve been wanting to get but could never find in any of the bookstores here. However, due to budget constraints, I had to make do with this one book.
I decided to do a bit of exploring, so I headed up another floor. Here there were toy stores that had a lot of Japanese character products (no figures though, it was mostly plushies and cartoon characters). The best place on this floor was the massive art supply store called Art Friend. 10,000 square meters of art supplies. I wanted to genuflect and weep. Deovir had nothing on this place. The section near the entrance alone had me gaping in awe for a few minutes. Fabric paints of various sizes and brands had me imagining the projects I could do. Sadly, as I was pressed for both time and funds, I had to leave empty handed. I did promise to myself that I’ll come back and splurge heavily here.
Note: I wasn’t able to take any pictures because I didn’t know if it was allowed.
Lunch was at the Food Republic at Wisma Atria. I like how it looks like it’s all hawkers but it isn’t. The prices don’t seem very far from the ones you see in hawker places, so we settled on having lunch there. I ordered some roasted Hainanese chicken, and discovered that drinks really seem to be sold separately here.
Verdict on the chicken hasn’t changed. I still prefer tinola.
Continued from The Great Singapore Adventure Day 1.
The slight smell of curry wafted up my nose, making me think our room was near the kitchen. Being very tired the night before, I didn’t notice it, but now it somewhat bothered me. I got up, grabbed my camera and journal, and climbed back to my bunk bed.
I peered outside the cabin’s window. The sun was just rising, lighting up the sky. I estimated it to be around 6 AM or so. My bunkmates were still asleep, which gave me enough time to jot down my thoughts in my journal.
Soon, everyone was stirring. Someone was knocking on our door. It was Caryl, telling us that we should head down to the Mediterranean deck for breakfast. Right. We got ready, and I was surprised to see that it was already around 8. I had forgotten the difference of the sunrise and sunset.
Breakfast was buffet, and while I was admiring the pastries, one of the cooks greeted me “Magandang umaga.” I kid you not about the number of Pinoy crew on board Virgo. I think they outnumber the other nationalities combined. It’s easy to identify them though, not just by their looks, but also by their name tags. Aside from names that you can easily recognize, the word “Philippines” is written underneath it. In fact, the entire staff had their home countries written underneath their names. The staff is generally friendly and accommodating.
Members of our group slowly trickled in to have breakfast. We were discussing last night’s adventure, where one cousin was missing for a few hours (he fell asleep inside the movie house), and our plans for the day. Someone wanted to go around Malacca which was one of the ship’s stops, but it turns out that because we woke up late, we actually missed it. So plans for a quick stop at Kuala Lumpur was made.
But first, we make use of the ship’s ammenities. We went exploring first, checking out the various places, restaurants and services the ship had. There was a library (which I ironically wasn’t able to visit!), a spa and beauty wellness center, a gym and a dance hall/bar. Of course, there’s an onboard casino which Resort’s World is known for.
Everyone wanted to try the pool and the slide. As I didn’t really like swimming with a lot of people around, I said I’ll just go for the slide. It shouldn’t be scarier than the one in Fontana, but there was a part that was hanging over the boat. Not only that, you’d be sliding through clear glass. If you were going slow you’d be able to enjoy the view of the sea twelve stories below, but generally, you’d be going too fast to appreciate it.
I went for two rounds on the slide before I decided I was good.
We decided to skip the tour the ship was offering. At SGD 77 per person, we would rather explore on our own and use the money to buy souvenirs. We docked at Port Klang and from there, took a cab to Kuala Lumpur. The trip took one hour, sort of like from San Pedro to Manila.
Mga Kasabwat: 16 people, ages ranging from 14 to 90.
The Challenge: To survive in a six day trip to Singapore, including a three day cruise on board the Star Virgo and a jaunt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Early this year, I was toying with the idea of going somewhere abroad. I figured it was about time I step out of the country, even for a bit. Someone offered me free tickets to any Asian destination, and, I told my best friend Carmenez. She invited me to join her family on their planned trip to Singapore.
I never got the free airplane ticket, but I got something else. I spent the rest of the months between February and June saving up all that I can for the trip. Then Nez said we’re changing our departure to earlier dates because we were going on a cruise.
How’s that for someone who has never stepped out of the country? My first trip abroad comes with a sea cruise. It was hard not to be excited, but with a tinge of apprehension. Just days before I was to leave, friends told me stories of how some people were denied at immigration. Then there’s the recent incident of two Pinays who went through bad treatment in Bali, Indonesia. I was assured that I shouldn’t worry, but I couldn’t help it.
Finally, the day arrived. I packed my bags as best as I could (I seriously had no idea what to pack) and rushed to my best friend’s house. The scene was quite like that of Home Alone I, where the entire family was scrambling to get ready for a trip and not leave anyone behind. It took us about thirty minutes to get checked in at the airport, and immigration couldn’t seem to believe that all of us were going. Think of it as Amazing Race, only instead of competing in teams of two, we were all working together as one big team. Chaos, I tell you.
Worst Seat Ever
It’s a common knowledge that the worst seat you can get is near the wing, if you wanted a good view. I still think that our row had the worst seats in the history of modern aviation: last row, with no window at all. Therefore, no admiring of the Manila and Singapore skyline for me.
My excitement of my first trip abroad was dimmed by exhaustion. We arrived at 1:55 AM, and had until 6 AM til we can check in our bags at the cruise center. Most of us had been awake since 6 AM Tuesday. We made the best of our situation by finding the best positions for sleep. It wasn’t an easy thing since the airport seats were hard and not really meant for lying down. I don’t know how I did it, but I got an hour or so’s sleep.
Summer was still in full swing when Ryan broached the idea of having a picnic-slash-toy shoot at UP Diliman. Unfortunately, our schedules were full that it wasn’t until last Sunday were we able to finally get together. It had rained the days before so we were worried that it might rain on that weekend. Thankfully, the sun was bright and shining, so our picnic plans pushed through.
Joiz, Ryan, Drew and I agreed to meet around 11:30 at Quezon Hall, Oblation. Unfortunately, we all had a mishap or two so we all met up around 1 PM. Joiz brought sandwiches, Ryan had brownies, I got Ilocos Empanada and Drew took care of the drinks. We made our way from Quezon Hall up to the Sunken Garden. Despite the shade of the trees, it was still warm. Later, I learned that June 4 was recorded to be the second hottest day in Manila this 2011. No wonder we were sweating.
So the afternoon was spent eating, drinking (softdrinks and water lang hehe), talking and taking pictures of our toys. Yes, that was a must. We watched a friendly soccer game between folks of two different nationalities, and pretty much just lazed the day away. When the day was ending, we went back to Quezon Hall to take pictures of Oblation, then headed to SM North to cool off.
Last hurrah before the rainy season hits, and how wonderfully timed it was.