Sunday, February 18, 2007

Manila: Kiong Hee Huat Chai!

We've always known the Cantonese version of the Lunar New Year greeting which is Kong Hei Fat Choi. It means "congratulations and be prosperous" and not "Happy New Year" as most Filipinos assume. But since most Chinese Filipinos trace their ancestry to Fujian province, the residents of Binondo are popularizing the Hokkien version which is Kiong Hee Huat Chai! This holiday is not only celebrated by the Chinese but shared by the Koreans (Seollal), Vietnamese (Tết), Mongolians, Tibetans (Losar), the Nepalese and the Bhutanese as well.

Yesterday was the eve of the Lunar New Year. As I was nearing the Binondo Church, I bumped into dragon dance group making its way along Ongpin Street. Anyway, my tokayo (Filipino term for person with the same first name) Manila streetwalker Ivan ManDy had a tour scheduled in the afternoon so I waited for him at the church lobby. He arrived at 2 p.m. together with two other bloggers, Anton Diaz and Sidney Snoeck. Anton and family joined his morning tour while Sidney bumped into their group. Since I've already been on his walking tour (check out this old entry on the Big Binondo Food Bowl), I decided to join Anton and Sidney for a walk around the place to look for some action.

And it wasn't difficult to look for dragon and lion dance groups since they were all over the place. The lion dance is often confused with the dragon dance. If it's just one or two people, it's a lion. We finally found a big dance group and decided to follow them since we figured they knew which shops to stop at. And our hunch was right since we were led to a shop with a load of firecrackers hanging in front of it.

All these groups were after the little red envelopes filled with money, called ang pao in Hokkien, which were taped on the ceilings of the shops. But one thing I noticed was that most of the dance groups were not Chinese at all, obviously outsiders after the loot. There were even ati-atihan groups who were quite aggressive, giving red envelopes to by-standers hoping they would put something inside for them.

Since the afternoon sun was quite hot, there were not that many groups yet. So we decided to rest a bit and have dimsum at President Tea House on Salazar Street near the corner of Ongpin. I had hakkao, polonchai dumplings, spinach dumplings, japanes siomai and taupe rolls. We saw the mango shakes on the other table and couldn't resist ordering for ourselves too. Thanks to Sidney for the treat! We also bumped into Señor Enrique there.

The shops outside were also loaded with fruits, "lucky" plants and new year decorations and good luck charms. Of course, tikoy was in abundance too. There were long queues to buy tikoy, hopia and other goodies at the more popular outlets.

We continued our walk and found even more action. Along Ongpin, the crowds were increasing as they watched the different groups perform in front of the shops. The shop owners would place a bowl of candies and coins in front of their shops for the lions to "eat." The lions would then "spit it" to the crowds who all rush in to grab the goodies. Of course, the end of the routine would be the lighting of firecrackers. In fact, the lions would play around with the other end of the firecraker belt, "biting" it with its mouth. This time, the fumes were just too much for me to handle and I ended up coping with an asthma attack.

At 5:30 p.m., we parted ways and I ended up joining the tail-end of Ivan ManDy's tour which was a visit to the Guan Gong Temple. After the temple visit, we made a left on Nueva Street (the Lord Mayor of MayniLA changed the name to Yuchengco), and entered this alley which is known as Carvajal Street. The alley is a food haven with its myriad of hole-in-the-wall tea houses and vendors who sell anything from fruits, vegetables, fish and other delicacies.

We ended up in Quintin Paredes and our last stop, the New Po-Heng Lumpia House in the Uy Su Bin Building. Of course, their fresh lumpia is healthy and delicious. After the tour, I asked my tokayo to accompany me to my favorite dumpling shop along Nueva Street, Dong Bei Dumplings. I took home frozen xie ping (fried stuffed pancakes) and chui kio (dumplings). From there, we went back to Ongpin where I bought a box of tikoy and ube hopia from Eng Bee Tin.

Anyway, got a lot of work piled up for school, work and my NGOs. Check out the rest of my photos in Multiply. Kiong Hee Huat Chai!
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