My Binondo Friends

Binondo is a restless city, stuck in reverse, and set in motion by a flurry of color, noise and feet. It blisters from the friction of heat and skin.

Decades have gone by since 1584 when it was created for the Sangleys, or Chinese Immigrants, yet the past still swelters in the air. A nagging reminder of a Manila that could have been. A Manila that I had yet to see, even if a has-been is the only thing left for me to appreciate.

China Town, Binondo, Divisoria… different names for an enclave people don’t often get excited to see. At the time I didn’t have enough funds for the beach, but I think there are other ways to discover the Philippines.

So, my Binondo Friends, namely Jen, Kevin and myself — we set out to explore the city of half-baked buildings eternally under construction.

The first thing I told Jen and Kevin when we met up at the Ayala MRT Station was “Hassle ng jeans!!!” (It’s a hassle to wear jeans!) It’s too hot to wear jeans, but for girls in Divisoria it’s even hotter to wear shorts in the eyes of the locals. Nonetheless I tried to dress comfortably, with a baggy shirt, and a big bag for water, money and shopping.

From Ayala we took the train to Recto where we found a jeep to take us to Divisoria.  None of us have taken this route before, but we eventually made our way along the wearisome one hour ride.

First stop was Divisoria, the market district, similar to the Park Square of Makati or Green Hills of the North. Commerce is what Binondo is known for, in the past as a business hub, in the present as the place for cheap buys.

It was a jungle outside and inside Mall 168.

But we are warriors.

And we (fine, I was) ready to make a killing.

According to the Chinese, “168” is a lucky number, and it roughly translates to “road to success,” which probably explains the loot I brought home that day.

Back outside, the sexy shorts were waiting for me.

I didn’t need umbrellas but I thought they were pretty. A rainbow for the rain.

My parents warned me that I’ll meet all kinds of characters in Binondo, hidden in the stalls of the vendors. Luckily, I spotted some of them first.

Binondo is always on-the-go, with tricycles zooming by, or men with carpets on their shoulders, maneuvering their way through the crowd. I can still hear the buzz amplified by karaoke songs being blasted through the shopkeeper’s speakers.

It’s hard to absorb and capture quirks with one panoramic view. So you focus on the details.

Until you understand that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Pop cola, chillin’ together  on a hot summer’s day.  Very Pinoy.

Kevin, tunay na lalaki (real man.)

While making our way to China Town, I saw a horse drawn carriage pass by. “Why don’t we take a calesa,”I suggested,  and we did, which was cooler than taking a trike like originally planned.

Jen: “You’re in China Town when the signs are accompanied with a Chinese translation.

Even in China town, it’s never just chinese, like the rest of the polylingual Philippines.

Finally, authentic Chinese food at Wai Ying Fast Food restaurant, which brought back fond memories of a date I once went on. Here, authenticity is cheap. Even if no roasted duck was available, any kind of mami is a good way to cap off a long and fun day.

Or some macca ice cream.

Perhaps old Manila is a has been,  but our attempt to discover it should never be.

*Note: This entry was originally posted on April, 2012. I wanted to re-post it since it’s Chinese New Year. Binondo, Philippines, which is the oldest China Town in the world, is so different compared to clean-cut Singapore. Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone! 

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