Snapshots: Binondo, Lunar New Year

Lucky Chinatown Plaza

I have no Chinese heritage, but like most Filipinos, my family and I enjoy celebrating the Lunar New Year. Because hey, if you get a second chance to eat great food, drive away “bad spirits,” and look forward to the next 11-12 months, why not, right? 🙂

Also, I love tikoy (no joke).

So this year, we had this crazy idea to hit Binondo on this fortuitous day. I had just mentioned it during dinner in passing a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t a serious plan or anything because Manila’s Chinatown is notorious for being overcrowded during LNY, obviously. As it happened, Ate Bheck was so keen on actually doing it, so we sort of had no choice (she was like, “Ranie, kapag di mo tinuloy, hindi ka na puwedeng pumunta dito sa bahay” hahahahahaha).

This is Ate Bheck!
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The Binondo Gang (L-R): Ate Bheck, Sanji, Paolo, me, and Ranie

I figured we might as well do it, since my writers all filed leaves to go to wonderful places like Boracay and Hong Kong whilst my greatest achievement was finishing my revised thesis outline and sleeping in the entire Saturday 😒 (but seriously, I was so happy that I got to sleep in. I could never do that. I consider people who could sleep in at will uber-talented. Srs). Ate Bheck’s also never been to Binondo, so we thought a day filled with dragon dances, colorful decor, and street rituals would be the best way to acquaint her with this historical district!

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Delicious Beef Mami with hand-pulled noodles at Masuki (P180)

Binondo is one of my favorite food trip destinations so we were more or less aware of how to go around: for example, the only way to get a table in the well-loved places like Wai Ying and Don Bei are to eat before 11am. That’s exactly what we did this AM, filling up with mami from Masuki before we hit the streets.

And if you’ve never been to Binondo on a Lunar New Year’s Day, then let me show you what it looks like:


People, people, PEOPLE!

On the streets, in all the restaurants, inside the church, on the sidewalks, on top of firetrucks, everywhere!

There were funny kids who were doing an “improvised” lion dance for coins. But the actual dragons and lions stood no chance. Which was fine, anyway, as more people were interested in taking selfies with them than watching them dance the bad spirits away.

As expected, the streets looked festive, delicious scents wafted down from every other tea house, hawkers were selling all kinds of beribboned “lucky” fruits to take photos of. Tikoy was 3 for 100! But you’d hardly notice, because everywhere you looked, it was people.

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Caught this kid playing in the fountain in front of Binondo Church

OK, so we kind of knew this was coming. We have actually been warned! But Ate Bheck’s threat of not ever letting Ranie set foot in the house again was too scary 😭. So we just made the most of it… which wasn’t that hard really, after all.

My brother and his girlfriend
Wishing tiles
Fresh sugarcane juice <3. So sarap.
The ‘controversial’ gate (read the article about it here)

At the end of the day, even though I was so exhausted (not from walking, but from the stress of wading through a sea of strangers all day), we still managed to have fun. It’s quite an adventure!

Just some last notes before I hit publish (I had strong coffee and am not feeling quite sleepy yet):

  • I (wrongly) assumed that Chinese Filipinos would be all over Binondo today. But it was mostly tourists like us milling around. I guess those who truly observe Lunar New Year would be doing it properly i.e. celebrating with their families. Or the actual festivities happened yesterday. Next year, I hope my Chinese friends / officemates invite me over instead hehe *hint hint hint*
  • I would see young people light up incense sticks to “pray,” and then just as easily prop up one of those “special favors” candle inside the church (or vice versa). We respect other cultures really well, some would say. We take a bit of this, become a fan of that, make our own version of it all and I guess this whole mishmash is what makes our culture unique and really our own. Sometimes I think it’s cool. Sometimes I wonder if appropriation without context is really respect, or just… appropriation. It confounds me!
  • I’ve been to Binondo so many times already and yet there are still things that I haven’t explored! For example, I’ve never been to Toho Food Center in Pin Pin, the oldest still-standing restaurant that opened way back in 1886! It’s said that even Rizal used to eat there all the time. It’s supposedly the oldest Chinatown in the world, but based on my meager exposure to other Chinatowns we are not necessarily the most revered and well-maintained. Binondo has so much to offer in terms of heritage and I wish its local government (along with our national cultural commission) could work together to preserve and maintain that properly. Thanks to its still-thriving businesses it hasn’t quite decayed as much as Avenida or Recto, but it could be better off.


One last shout out to this patient guy, who is better than any ang bao or lucky charm, all year round 😍 (PS he took some of the photos in this post, I just mooched them off his Facebook).

Here’s to a prosperous, happy, crazy 2016 to all of us!

All photos (except last two) taken with a Samsung Note 5 and post-processed with the VSCO app


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