2016: Year of the Fire Monkey (Chinese New Year Celebrations in Manila)


Growing up in the Philippines, the Chinese New Year usually means getting up early and going to the temple with my whole family, all of us wearing red in some way. It was more of a secular thing, though, since it was celebrated only by the Tsinoys (Chinese-Filipinos). With new year’s day itself usually falling on a weekday, we still go to school and to work just like any regular day.

In 2011, it was proclaimed a special non-working holiday. This allowed the Filipino community to actively participate in the celebrations, and boy, did it make the whole thing more festive! Filipinos are some of the most open-minded people, embracing Chinese culture and traditions with curiosity and bringing the same passion they have for celebrations of any kind. So every year on Chinese new year’s day, throngs of people would swarm Binondo, the center of the Chinese-Filipino community and the oldest Chinatown in the world.

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Lion dances are a common sight during the new year festivities. Some are professional lion dancers, and some are mini kiddie versions complete with appropriately-sized lion’s costumes wielded by kids who looked not more than 10 years old, with their own drum squad banging on drums and cymbals. Some of the street children play along, imitating and swinging empty cardboard boxes above their heads with their own DIY lion dance.

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Street performers abound. Fire-breathers, fire-eaters, and the pounding drumbeat that accompany them are always a draws a good crowd.

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Ongpin Street, the entrance to Chinatown, is directly beside the more than 400 year-old Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish. (Or, as we call it – Binondo Church, for short.) Religious items and native delicacies are sold side by side with Chinese new year staples like coloured chicks and lucky charms. You can start your trek through Chinatown on this side, or if you want to escape the crowd for a while you can slip inside the church and listen to the mass being held, say a prayer or light a candle. (A little trivia: Chinatown is actually bookended by two Catholic churches. Binondo Church on one end, and Santa Cruz Church on the other end. 🙂 )

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Amidst the happy faces, this sad little one caught my attention. Another photographer tried to get him to smile but he wasn’t having any of that.

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Mid-afternoon, we went to a nearby mall because I missed my morning coffee and I was craving for some, and they had cosplayers (in theme with the Chinese new year, of course) on stilts!

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I remember Chinese new year 2012, the first year it was being celebrated as a holiday here, the City government then really took measures to make it a closed street event in Chinatown. Everything was very organized. Cars were not allowed in, and there were programs, activities, dragon and lion dances in different parts of Chinatown. This year the people came, but I didn’t see anything special organized. It was a little disappointing. (On hindsight, maybe the lion dances came out after we went to the mall. -_- )

The mall was likewise crowded, but the festivities were better organized than in Chinatown itself. They had a new year countdown program with celebrites and fireworks the night before on new year’s eve with the City Mayor attending. This is a Chinese-themed mall on the outskirts of Chinatown, not just during CNY. For Chinese new year they went all out with the decors: rows and rows of red Chinese lanterns and yellow banners with auspicious wishes written on them, and a huge hanging fire-monkey lantern that supposedly gives you good fortune if you pass under it.

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They also set up a “food street” in the street behind the mall, with vendors selling…well, not necessarily Chinese food. XD  Apart from a couple of nods to Chinese cuisine like dumpling with noodles and lumpia, there were people selling finger foods, barbeques, takoyaki…

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…and Filipino street food staple isaw (barbecued pig or chicken intestines) and even a boneless lechon (roast pig)

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Back in the “Chinatown Walk” (the strip of walkway between the mall buildings), there were a slew of activities set up. There’s a wishing well, among other things,with a money tree in the center and two monkeys hanging from it. There’s also a statue of Buddha on an altar where people lined up to light an incense and pray to Buddha for good health. You can also write your wishes for the new year on wooden wishing plaques (called ema in Japan) and hang them up on the Wishing Wall. Some people wish for good health, love, doing well in exams and career, and good fortune in general.

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As we pass by one of the numerous Chinese restaurants, the noodle master put on a show making pulled noodles (la-mian). A crowd gathered at the window to watch him. Not a few (including me and my friend) were taking photos and videos of him. The crowd was riveted as he twirled, twisted, pulled and stretched the dough over and over until – with one last flourish – long, fine strands of evenly thin noodles were magically looped in his hands, and dropped them into a large boiling pot of water.

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I had to pass by Chinatown again on my way home. The crowd was still pretty thick from what I could see. There were a few dragons and lions still doing their dances, and families were still out and about enjoying the festivities. It was very heartening to see, because in the end, it’s all about family and the friendship between the Chinese and Filipino communities that really gives meaning and hope to having a wonderful start to a new year.

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So, Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai (恭喜發財)! If you’re interested in Chinese horoscope, here’s a list of predictions for this year.

Click here to check out your Chinese horoscope!

Scroll down and you’ll see a list for each sign. These are mostly dos and don’ts and what to be careful of this year. (Hey, no harm in taking precautions, right?) You can also find your sign on the website if you don’t know it yet.


[15.02.19] Chinese New Year 2015: Sights in Manila

So it’s one week into the “Year of the Ram” (or Goat, or Sheep, whichever you prefer) and I’m just now posting the photos I took of the Chinese new year celebrations here in Manila.  -_-

I’ve actually already wrote a long-winded post but got sidetracked by an overload of work from my job. Real life has to come first, of course. So scrap the War-and-Peace version, here’s the “barebones” version that won’t take until 2016 to finish.

For the 4th year in a row, I trekked to Binondo to watch the festivities and take photos. I started in 2012, the first year the President declared CNY a special non-working holiday, and may I say at the outset that I think the first year was the best one. (Streets were closed off and everything was more organized. Are you reading this, Manila City government?)

Now that that’s out of the way, here are the photos.

Binondo is the oldest existing Chinatown in the world. It’s an old area of the city with a long stretch of road that is bookended by two churches: Binondo Church (proper name is Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz) on one side, and on the other end, Santa Cruz Church (Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church) which is technically located in Santa Cruz district and not Binondo, and therefore is not part of Chinatown. Pedantics aside, these two churches are the main entry and exit points to and from Chinatown. Normally I would start from Binondo Church where the hub of the celebrations are, living in a nearby district my whole life until around 3 months ago. Since moving house, Santa Cruz Church has become my entry point, and this was where I started.

Roasted chestnuts (or castañas, as they are known here) are a sight familiar during Christmas and Chinese new year. In the streets of the Philippines, they are roasted manually in these big woks by tossing them around in uniformly-sized hot volcanic stones.

Roasting chestnuts the traditional way

Stores in Chinatown sell these all year long, but business is particularly good on new year’s day


Vendor selling lucky charms


The boy and the lion dance wielder

Sugar cane vendors

I found their peeling long stalks of sugarcane fascinating to watch. There’s a certain zen to how synchronized their movements are, like there’s a tempo only they could hear, oblivious to the bustling sounds around them.

Children gets the most enjoyment.

Internet-ready watermelons. See? They’re already hashtagged! XDD

It had started to rain steadily not long after. I insisted on taking a photo of my friend’s lens dotted with raindrops. She kept telling me to hurry up because her lens is not weather sealed. (Well, buy Pentax, like me!)


Raindrops on camera lens

We took shelter at the nearby sidewalks. This old hat vendor approached the family standing next to us. I don’t wear hats, so I kept hoping the family standing beside us would buy one. Luckily, because of the rain, he made a sale and sold one to the mother!

Staples during Chinese new year.


Dragon dance in the distance

Watching people


Enterprising kids imitating a dragon dance by fashioning a DIY dragon out of some baskets and blankets

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Super long dragon sponsored by an insurance company

High pole lion dance. In the end, missed footing caused both of them to fall and sustain injuries.


Captive audience


A street performer breathing fire


Doing some last minute shopping

A young apprentice in charge of the drums of the lion dance

Taiwan-style spring onion pancake

Lastly, more lucky charms

2012 CNY : https://theincoherentellipsis.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/19/

2013 CNY : https://theincoherentellipsis.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/2013-year-of-the-snake-chinese-new-year-in-the-philippines/

2013: Year of the Snake (Chinese New Year in the Philippines)

I remember how we would celebrate the Chinese New Year when I was a kid.

My parents would take me and my sisters, all dressed in red, to the temple early in the morning. We would light an incense, pray for good health for the family and for blessings for the year to come. The temple would be a sea of red-garbed Chinese people engulfed in fragrant smoke from all the incense. My mom couldn’t see her friends through the thick smoke  until they were face to face, then with a start they’d  clasp each other and say their greetings in unison over the din of the crowd: Kiong hee!” (This is Fookien to the Cantonese “Kung hei!” and the Mandarin “Gong xi!”, which is a general congratulations to use for different occasions).

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Celebrating the Chinese New Year in the Philippines

January 22, 2012.
It was the day before the Chinese New Year, and for Chinese families, the eve before new year’s day itself was a big deal.
Having been out of the country for the past two years, it’s nice to learn that this  year, for the first time, the Chinese new year (which falls on January 23 this year) has been declared a national holiday. As such, a lot of activities, more than the past years, has been planned with the support of the Manila City government.

New shoes for the new year

Wearing my new shoes on the first day of the dragon year!

My new shoes

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