I’m starting my 2011 travel posts with the Chinese New Year. I’m thinking since I really didn’t have a New Year post, I’d just time it with the Chinese’s since it would be later than the traditional new year, it being celebrated at February. But uhmm, it still took me almost two months before I can post this, so pardon the lateness as I’m terribly backlogged hehe.
Coming out from a whole night’s work, I started out of the office by six in the morning and headed straight to Binondo. I haven’t attended a Chinese New Year before and all I know about it is the little I’ve seen in the news during previous celebrations.
The sun was still hiding below the horizon as I ventured through Ongpin’s arch. The streets were empty and most stores were still closed. Fortunately, there were a few cafeterias open and since I haven’t had breakfast yet, it was a perfect opportunity to have one while waiting for the celebration to commence.
Established in 1594, Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world. Originally a place where Spaniards allowed Chinese mestizos to reside, it has now become a business hub for the Filipino Chinese. A mix of stores selling jewelries, Chinese herbal medicines, charms and restaurants line its main street. Exploring its sidestreets, I found an even more assortment of Chinese related stores.
After some minutes of walking, the banging of drums snagged my attention; the party seemed to be starting up.
A flurry of street performers was parading down the streets breathing fire and dancing to the drumbeats. Not soon after, the dragon dances started, attracting multitudes with their hypnotic and colorful swirls. Fascinating really, especially for someone who’s witnessing this for the first time.
The dance is supposed to bring good luck to the stores it performs in. The dance starts as the dragon chooses an establishment, performing in an undulating rhythm and seemingly swimming on air outside the street. It then enters the chosen store and is given food for consumption, and before exiting, the dragon is given a red envelope containing money. Right after, fireworks are lit outside and the dragon again dances through and around it.
This is repeated by different dragon groups through Chinatown and one can just wonder how they manage to all fit inside the narrow alleys of Binondo.
As the day wore on, the empty streets I saw earlier that morning was now nowhere to be found. Crowds of people throng through Binondo and it was a struggle to simply move from one place to the next.
I let the crowd be and made way for Wai Ying, the nearest restaurant I could find. Time to try out Binondo’s legendary Chinese dishes.