My mum once told me a saying, “Where water flows, there will be Chinese people.”

As a fourth generation Overseas Chinese, I couldn’t agree more. We’re everywhere on the planet. My ancestors were poor people, and they left China on boats in search of a better life – as many others did to countries as far away as Haiti and Iceland. Our culture and values, which place a big importance on ‘wealth and prosperity’, also meant that many Chinese became traders and businessmen.

Binondo, or Manila’s Chinatown, is the oldest in the world: established in 1594 by the Spaniards as a way to keep an eye on their ‘immigrant’ population’ (lol ironic seeing that the Spaniards are immigrants themselves – but hey, the winner writes the history book, right?). Over hundreds of years, these original settlers have intermarried with the locals, creating a lineage called Chinese mestizo.

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This place has seen much grief – in the 1600s, a revolt was put down by the Spanish and subsequently, more than 20,000 of the colony were killed. It was also ransacked during the British invasion of Manila, and hundreds of innocent civilians died. In later years, it became an important banking and financial hub just before World War II, so much so that the area around it was called the Wall Street of the Philippines. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Manila, housing various souvenir shops, food stalls and historical buildings.

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We arrived on a rainy morning, so the roads were slick and wet with mud. It was the third day of Chinese New Year so festivities had winded down, but the streets were still lined with various CNY paraphernalia and food stuff. The overall layout reminded me of Hong Kong (never been to China *gasp* so I couldn’t tell you) – tall, narrow buildings fitted very closely together, narrow walkways, a jumble of signages.

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We asked around for the temple and was directed to one on the third floor of a building. This was peculiar to me because our Chinese temples in Malaysia are always a solitary building. The inside didn’t look much different though. The temple caretakers looked Chinese and spoke in a dialect I didn’t understand (possibly Hokkien).

The Chinoys (Chinese Filipinos) are well integrated into Filipino society, adopting the names, cultures and customs of the locals – even those with pure ancestry. This is quite different from Malaysia. When Malaysia declared independence, the Chinese and Indians (two other major race groups in our country) were allowed to have their own schools, systems and to keep our languages/names. It has resulted in a unique blend of cultures which still retains most of their respective customs/languages without being assimilated. There are pros and cons to this, but more on that in another post.

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The main street in Binondo is a long one, so expect to do some legwork. There was a bridge from the North to South part of Chinatown.

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The river running through town was filthy. ._.

We didn’t get to go to many places other than the church because of the infernal rain, but there are historical buildings around that you can visit, such as the First United Building, Regina Building, Burke Building and Natividad Building. Mostly, come to Chinatown to experience the Chinoy culture and load up on food, street snacks and souvenirs (talisman, charms) to take home. You can even find exotic items like ginseng and shark’s fin in Chinese herbal shops here.

Getting There 

Take the LRT from Baclaran station to Carriedo (we stopped at Rekto and walked from Quiapo to Santa Cruz to Chinatown, which was quite a long walk lol).