As Chinese New Year approaches, many Filipinos are looking forward to receiving boxes of tikoy, watching Dragon and Lion Dances, or eating at their favorite Chinese restaurants. The presence of Chinese culture in our country is very apparent during this time of the year! But for those of us who do not have Chinese blood, wouldn't it be great to know a little more about the celebration and culture that this holiday brings? If you're up for an educational road trip, here are different places within Luzon that you can visit to learn a little more about Chinese-Filipino culture.
Binondo is known as the world's oldest Chinatown, established centuries ago by Chinese settlers during the Spanish era. With its location in Manila, it's very accessible to people living in the metro. This "Little China" is a very popular foodie destination, boasting of authentic and affordable Chinese food. For the Binondo newbie, the vast array of restaurants and shops may be overwhelming, but whichever one you choose, you're sure to find the right treat for you. If dumplings are your thing, Dong Bei Dumpling and Wai Ying are must-tries. Fans of noodle soup should check out Lan Zhou La Mien's hand-pulled noodles, and Masuki's Chicken and Beef Mami.
Bahay Tsinoy, Intramuros
Bahay Tsinoy is a museum of the Chinese in the Philippines, telling the story of the Chinese-Filipinos or "Tsinoys." The museum is filled with historical information that pre-dates even Magellan's arrival in the Philippines, all the way until the contemporary period. These periods are brought to life by dioramas enjoyed by children and adults alike. Aside from the exhibits on history and culture, Bahay Tsinoy also has special displays from time to time, like Chinese Painting exhibits and an annual free book fair. If you do decide to pay a visit, take note of their PHP100 entrance fee (PHP60 for students). History geeks will enjoy Bahay Tsinoy for an in-depth account of Chinese-Filipino culture and how we still see its manifestations today.
Taoist Bell Church, Baguio
Baguio isn't just great for the cool weather, fresh strawberries, and thrift stores – it's a great place to visit historical sites, too. At the border of Baguio and La Trinidad, Benguet is the Taoist Bell Church, which was founded in 1960 and served as a place of worship for Chinese immigrants. The Bell Church is reminiscent of Chinese temples with its intricate structure and details of red and gold. There is much to see around the compound, like a lush garden, pagodas, and statues and dragons made with detail. The church itself is just as beautiful and very well-guarded – caretakers are always on the lookout to make sure guests observe proper silence and behavior. Don't worry about visiting fees, because entrance is free. Make your road trip a cultural one and add this to your itinerary the next time you head up to Baguio!
Ma-Cho Temple, San Fernando, La Union
Another place up north that carries some Chinese history: La Union! That's right, this surfing haven and popular road trip destination are also home to a large temple in San Fernando. The Ma-Cho Temple was established in 1977 and stands a 7-story high. It was built by Filipino-Chinese devotees for Chinese sea goddess Mazu, and they worship a number of other Buddhist gods as well. Ma-Cho Temple is welcome to worshippers and non-worshippers – in fact, they encourage visitors of different religions and do not collect an entrance fee.
Manila Chinese Cemetery, Santa Cruz
Who would've thought that a place for burial would be a grand cultural destination? The Manila Chinese Cemetery is one of Manila's oldest cemeteries, dating back to the Spanish colonial period. During this time, the Chinese were not allowed burials at Catholic cemeteries. Instead, they built this place for the Chinese to rest, and over the centuries has been filled with grand mausoleums and landmarks like the Chong Hock Tong Temple and the Ruby Tower Memorial. Many Chinese-Filipinos come here to visit their relatives who have passed, and plenty of Chinese Christians are now buried here as well.