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.
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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.
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