Enter the Dragon

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.

Filipino-Chinese Friendship arch

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.

Street Party
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.

The colorful crowd scene

It’s all about the food
Of course, when you are in Binondo, the first order of the day was all about food. First stop, Quan Yin Chay Vegetarian Food Garden. At the time we arrived, there were not much people in yet so we were able to grab the tables and order our food. It was a good time as any to get to know the folks we were traveling with. What better way than to bond over food?

Outside, the celebrations continue. There were some groups with drums and dancers, asking for handouts. Half of the time we’d avoid them, but truthfully, they make interesting if a bit scary photography subjects.

Kiddie dragon dancer

Crowd spotting
It was easy enough to spot some celebrities in the crowd. Lourd De Veyra and his crew were there, and a lot of the CS went over to have their photos taken with him. Ricky Lee was there too, fighting the crowd to get to somewhere much like we were.

The Long Walk
We headed out to Bahay Tsinoy in Intramuros. Long city walks? More fun in the Philippines, I tell you.

Kahit long walks, we still take pictures.

Wall climbing: More fun in the Philippines

We walked across the walls of Intramuros, passed by the San Agustin church and took a peek at Carlos Celdran’s shop, La Monja Loca. When we got to Bahay Tsinoy, we paid the P23 entrance fee (which was normally P100) and went around exploring the history of the Chinese in the Philippines. It’s interesting to note how they played such a role in the building of the country, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like if they were not here.

At the end of the tour, we were given an ampao and chocolate. Since we didn’t finish our tour all at the same time, some rested for a bit while waiting for the others. The fun part of it was some of the CS folks joined a lantern making contest. We left Bahay Tsinoy a little later than we expected, and headed back to Binondo.

Lantern making

No one wanted to walk back. We hailed a jeepney and fit the twenty-something of us in it. It was the best ride ever.

Back in Binondo, we ended up at Quick Snack for merienda. After a little pasalubong shopping, we headed off to the Seng Guan Temple where we offered prayers of thanksgiving. I’ve been to a few Chinese temples before, particularly the ones in Baguio, but this was the first I saw here in Manila and I was very impressed by it. The second floor houses three rooms, the last with a really big altar. It seemed disrespectful at first to take out my camera and snap a picture, but after a while I decided, what the heck. Turn off the flash first though.

Heading home
The remaining CS folks decided on a final trip to Tondo to have dinner at a small carinderia that serves authentic Japanese food. Anne and I trooped on home, where I promptly collapsed on the bed. However, I couldn’t sleep so I was able to edit and upload pictures. Karir kung karir.

I don’t need to tell you how awesome it was to be able to experience Chinese New Year in Binondo. It was also great to meet these awesome people (so awesome that may part 2 pa yan haha). Thank you to Marvin, Christian, Archie and all those who made this possible.

Here’s the Couchsurfing article about how CS folks celebrated Chinese New Year all over the world. Two of my photos are featured.


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