We weaved through Manila’s sidestreets after sidestreets due to the rerouting done to compensate for the heavy pedestrian traffic along Rizal Avenue. Our jeepney was trying to get past through the annual onslaught of people during the 1st of November to the cemeteries. Some blocks away from the R.Papa LRT station, we finally boarded down and had no choice but walk all the way to the North Entrance of the Manila Chinese Cemetery.
According to Wikipedia, the Manila Chinese Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in the region; its virtual neighbor, the La Loma Cemetery, snagging the top honors. A quick search through Google reveals its founding date at 1879, while La Loma at 1884. If my math lessons served me right, 1879 is older than 1884; hmmm there must be something I’m missing here.
We arrived quite late; the sun was already on its slow way down the horizon as we entered its gates.
I was surprised to see the place deserted, well not really deserted but there were hardly any visitors inside. Where are the mobs of people that I usually see at our local cemetery? Apparently our Chinese brothers have a different way of celebrating All Saints’ Day.
This was actually the second time I’ve visited this cemetery which used to be the interment grounds for Chinese immigrants in the country who were denied burial in Catholic cemeteries during the Spanish regimen. On my first visit, I arrived at the place in time with its gate opening and saw the cemetery’s streets to be almost busy with people. It seems visitors peak at around noontime and start to swell down in the afternoons.
The grand mausoleums lining its wide avenues were now deserted in the warm afternoon light, colorful papers stuck on tombs were whispering with the wind and fragrant incense sticks have now turned to ashes. A few people were walking the desolate alleys and there were hardly any street vendors nor children collecting wax from weeping candles.
This is definitely not the typical All Saints’ Day madness that I’ve been used to. I split up with my companion and continued walking, letting my feet guide me into alleys both wide and narrow; passing colorful pagodas, intricate Chinese dragons, modern and traditional mausoleums, dilapidated angels, forlorn pictures of old Chinese portraits sitting alone inside dark mausoleums, barking dogs, frozen Shishi lions, creepy open graves and incomprehensible red Chinese characters ‘til I finally reached the oldest Chinese temple in Manila, the Chong Hock Tong Temple.
I entered its tiered gates, curious to see its interior. After waiting for a dog to leave the temple’s inner chamber, I stepped inside and inhaled its incensed atmosphere.
A few photographs later and I was on my way out. The sun was really leveling down and the wind was starting up. A few stalls surrounding the temple were already packing up and it seemed everyone was on their way out. It was curious to note that there were no lights strung around the streets as the sun exited out west; it was gonna be really dark soon.
Unlike the local cemetery I’ve been visiting annually where twilight signals the time when you can hardly drop a pin between the throngs of people visiting their deceased relatives; here, evening implies the time to bid your final farewells to your departed ones or at least until the next November arrives.
Evening arrived with a slight drizzle. While the festivities of the day were just starting at most burial grounds around the country; I exited the gates of the Manila Chinese Cemetery as it was creakily being closed down.
Manila Chinese Cemetery
R.Papa LRT Station
Rizal Avenue, Manila
Click to view location on Google Maps