Pre-Chinese New Year at Ongpin Street

Last Saturday, we went to Manila for my mom’s checkup in Manila. This was her first post-checkup after completing all 8 Chemo sessions and lab tests. We travelled as early as 5am for the 12noon checkup. We need to be there early to get the first couple of slots.

While waiting for the doctor, I asked my folks to drop me off at Chinatown. I told them I will be staying there for a while before we return to the hospital. They went to the nearest shopping centre after they dropped me off.

I have 2 hours to roam around this familiar face. I used to go here every year to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I stopped when I realised that I am not Chinese and going there during that holiday does me no good. Haha! I usually go there during lean seasons for food trips. Vegetarian places are famous in the area. This place is magical without the crowds.

My main reason why I asked them to drop me off Chinatown is to look for Tibetan Singing Bowls. I planned to add sound therapy before or after my daily meditation sessions. Unfortunately, they were expensive. So, I decided to treat this as a short, unexpected pilgrimage. Cheap thrills? Why not?

Next week, the Filipino Chinese community will be celebrating the Lunar New Year. The place is already busy. Merchandise, fruits and plants from God knows where are now being delivered in Ongpin street, the most famous street in Binondo, Manila. Travellers are rare now, but you can still see some groups carrying with them large cameras. In the next few days, before the New Year, foot traffic here will be terrible. It’s been around 5 years since the Philippine government added the Lunar New Year as one of the major holidays in the country.

I started the pilgrimage at Binondo Church. This church was built by the Dominican Priest for the Chinese converts in the area. That is why masses are held in 4 languages to accommodate the Fil-Chinese community in Binondo and nearby towns. The major part of Ongpin street is influenced by Buddhism, but I find it cool that the residents there were able to integrate 2 major religions. I don’t mind religious integrations. Why not quote the Buddha during the homily, right?

While in Binondo Church, I lighted a candle for my mom and prayed for a positive post-chemo check-up.

Because that was a bit early, some shops are still closed. But the trinkets, Feng Shui and lucky charm stores are already luring the tourists. Pig figurines of all sizes dominated their storefronts. It’s obviously the year of the Pig, a so-so year for ‘Snakes’ like me. Some stalls are already assembling their dragons and lions for the New Year dances. People are shouting either in Cantonese or broken Filipino. Like any melting pot, contrasts are everywhere. My favourite was the shrine with a golden cross in the middle of Ongpin. There’s a Catholic cross, incense on jars, jasmine flowers and Buddhist books in Chinese characters. Generally, I still consider Binondo an eye candy in the middle of Manila.

While walking, I remember some stories about my late maternal grandfather having business affairs in the area. According to my aunts, Binondo is one of his favourite places. I wonder how this place looked like during his days.

Food stalls are everywhere along Ongpin street. Google the word Binondo, and you will get plenty of food walk articles. I admit that I could never be a good food blogger because of my dietary restrictions. Although, like what I have said earlier, Vegetarian diners are booming here. The Buddhist philosophy of Ahimsa or non-violence is being practised here.

Accidental Wong Kar Wai-ish shot.

I ended my impromptu pilgrimage at Sta. Cruz Church, where I lighted a candle for my dad. I prayed for his health, too. He takes care of my mom. This entire situation could be stressful for him not just physically but also mentally.

After Sta. Cruz Church, I went all the way back to Binondo Church where my folks picked me up.

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