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spending an alternative Valentine’s affair: Chinese Lunar New Year

Just when you thought Valentine’s weekend (which by itself is somewhat a rare occurence) would find yourself limited to being caught in crowds of couples flocking into the metropolis’ usual romantic haunts, and/or if you yourself do not feel like spending Valentine’s either, it was nice to get an alternative occasion to celebrate: the Lunar New Year which our fellow Filipino-Chinese brethren celebrated that same weekend.

What better way to celebrate it than to pay a visit to the place which is the heart and soul of the Filipino-Chinese community: the Manila Chinatown.

While Chinatown is often (if not always) identified to the district of Binondo, Chinatown actually extends to parts of Santa Cruz, San Nicolas, and Tondo, making the Filipino-Chinese community here the largest in the country, as well as one of the largest overseas Chinatowns in the world.

The guy above is Ivan Man Dy, a tour guide renowned for his “Big Binondo Food Wok” tour. As the name implies, the tour takes you to a historical and culinary tour of Binondo and the famed Tsinoy (a popular term for Filipino-Chinese) dishes that Chinatown has to offer. It’s a special tour being conducted and I heard it was fully booked before I considered joining it. So I decided to embark on my walk to see what’s going on in the place this Chinese New Year. With some help from Mr. Man Dy’s Big Binondo Food Wok Map.

Lion and dragon dances are a staple sight to behold on Chinese New Year or on any special occesion the Chinese Filipinos celebrate. The movements of the lion and dragon figures dancing and flowing through the loud beats of the drums are by themselves a sight to behold.  The Chinese believe that the loud drumbeats help drive away evil spirits, which may mean the Chinese believe evil spirits do not tolerate loud rock music as well.

One group made a little unique presentation. It was not much on the dances or the drums but rather this fellow who exhibits his (or is it a her?) fire-eating skills. For some spectators, why content watching the dance of paper dragons when there’s a “human dragon” they can see instead?

As with many other cultures, the Chinese view every new year that dawns with hope for good luck and prosperity. The Chinese, our Filipino-Chinese in particular, still practice many of these traditions in the hopes of attaining the good fortune they wish for the coming year.

Traditions like displaying oranges, pomelos, and tangerines in the house which is a symbol of good luck and wealth. Curiously, the practice developed through some word pun as tangerine in the Chinese language sounds like the Chinese word for luck and orange in Chinese sounds quite same as how they say wealth in their language.

The New Year is also a time for them to pray for their dead ancestors, showing how much they care for their kin and their dead. They burn sheets of paper called joss paper to pray that their dead are “doing well” in the afterlife, to put in some layman’s term. In temples, they offer their prayers by burning incense sticks.

lighting incense sticks at the shrine/temple of Sto. Cristo de Longos
burning the joss paper

A Chinese New Year would not be complete culinary-wise without a serving of that staple called nian gao, better known here as tikoy. It is actually a sticky (I do mean sticky) rice cake which is believed that it provides  “increasing prosperity” for the coming year. This delicacy is so much in demand in Chinese New Year as people form long queues in various food stores in Chinatown to order.

long queue to buy Eng Bee Tin bakery’s tikoy
nian gao (tikoy) and lucky bracelets for sale

Throughout the streets in Chinatown, you cannot help but notice the various items on sale, many of them are purported to be good luck charms. Items like jade (?) bracelets, red envelopes, (ang paos)  miniature big-bellied Buddhas, and of course, tigers since the Chinese horoscope dubs this year as the year of the tiger.

shopping for lanterns and gold artifacts for luck
ang paos and miniature tigers for sale

Part of the belief I mentioned earlier about the loud-sounds-drives-away-evil-spirits belief, celebrating Chinese New Year would not be complete without the loud fireworks that rattle off continously like that of a machine gun.

smoke from the firecrackers

Again, a prosperous Lunar New Year to our fellow Tsinoys!

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