We go on a little trip to Manila Chinatown
When someone says they want to go on an adventure, most of the time it involves something generally outdoorsy. People camp out, people go off-road, people go to the beach; the usual stuff.
One needn't go far to find an adventure. There are adventures without even having to leave town. You just have to know where to look.
Take Binondo, for instance. Chinatown is a place we in the city all know too well. We may have visited here for business, though recently many have made pilgrimages for some really good dim sum. So that's what we did: pay it another visit. After all, we're hearing about a lot of positive changes happening in the area.
As we crossed the newly renovated Jones Bridge, we realized we were probably bringing the wrong car: it was the new BMW 520i. On any other day, this Bayern to Binondo adventure isn't something we would advise. Most of the time this place is the definition of busy with people scurrying to deliver, jockeying in line to buy, or impatiently waiting to park.
The day we went, it was far quieter. And that's because we opted to go on Good Friday. The stores were all shuttered.
This is the place where you go to literally buy anything you need. If you're in need of auto parts, you go to Masangkay or Benavidez streets; there are auto supply stores galore there. If you're in need of hardware, these shops are all over the place and usually clustered together.
This is also where a lot of the head offices of many businesses engaged in import, distribution, and retail are. Think of brands that you would find in a mall, a major home improvement center, or your local supermarket, and chances are the head office is here somewhere.
They just never bothered to move to prestigious business districts like Makati, Ortigas, or BGC. I mean why would they when the rent is ridiculous? It's just impractical, and the Chinese that settled here so many centuries ago is probably the definition of practical.
Sometimes even the house itself is converted into the head office, then gets renovated or rebuilt into a multi-level structure with the retail store at street level, the offices for the next two floors, and then the home of the owners on the top floors.
Since a lot of businesses are closed for the long holiday, that means parking this big, luxurious, and comfortable saloon is easy, and right at Ongpin Street in front of Eng Bee Tin. Try doing that on any normal day and you'd probably go crazy; not only is a spot difficult to find, and the sheer foot traffic would be heavy. Today, it's safe.
Ongpin is actually a good starting point for anyone who wants to go around Chinatown. You can start off with a bowl of awesome beef wonton noodle soup, and then walk it off. That was the plan.
We had a local with us: Jilbert. You know how it is when a homeowner takes you on a tour of their home, telling you stories of how it was built or where they got the furniture? That's kind of the vibe when someone like Jilbert takes you around Chinatown. It's his home. Many of the people we see are either aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Manila is trying to promote this as a good place to walk around, and I can see why. He told us stories of how things are starting to get cleaned up more regularly. He points out the many CCTV cameras and the police presence that gives a better feeling of security. You feel safe walking around; that's not something a visitor would generally feel in Binondo unless you grew up here.
There's a lot to see around here; many of the old buildings still exist like the Regina Building, the Calvo Building, the El Jogar, and the Juan Luna Building. Many of the buildings in Chinatown actually survived the war, unlike Intramuros. These walls could tell a lot of stories even though many of the classic architecture is being swallowed up by signages and A/C units poking out the windows.
We wanted to make another food stop at places we generally frequent like Wai Ying for their superb dim sum, but they were closed. A lot of the other places were closed, but that's alright. We can always come back.
For now, we'll bid Binondo farewell. I'm sure I'll see it again soon especially if I need to buy power tools. And then you cross the new bridge into Intramuros; a place that's a whole different adventure all its own.