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Enter the (Wooden) Dragon

Enter the (Wooden) Dragon

Bernard Supetran

This long weekend is arguably the best time to drive through the pockets of Chinese communities across the archipelago to better appreciate the indelible influence of our Oriental neighbor in our way of life

The revelry of welcoming the Lunar New Year might have subsided, and the smoke of the pyrotechnics have settled, but the Chinese heritage will linger throughout and beyond the Year of the Wooden Dragon.
This long weekend is arguably the best time to drive through the pockets of Chinese communities across the archipelago to better appreciate the indelible influence of our Oriental neighbor in our way of life. This year is special as it marks the 430th anniversary of the establishment of the world’s oldest Chinatown in 1594 by the Spanish authorities, and Chinese communities are pulling all stops to make it a landmark celebration.
Hotel Lucky Chinatown in Binondo
Pit Stop 1: Binondo
This quintessential district in Old Manila is the mecca of anything and everything Chinese, and is worth visiting at any given time. Despite its popularity for delectable food, it is a treasure trove of culture, commerce, cuisine and everything in between which you can easily explore on foot.
The heart of Binondo is the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of San Lorenzo Ruiz and the plaza, both named after the first Filipino saint. The side street is Ongpin is the hub of Chinese restaurants and traditional pharmacies, jewelry shops, delicacy stores, and decades-old shop houses which have shaped the history of the area.
Chinese Garden at Rizal Park

Lucky Chinatown Mall is a jazzed-up recreation of a typical Asian shophouse which has lent the area a dash of modern living with its mix of cineplex, lifestyle shops, the al fresco and bike-friendly Chinatown Walk activity lane, and the Chinatown Museum which has a remarkable depiction of Binondo’s history. Developer Megaworld Corp. recently unveiled a humongous 500-foot art installation of the Wooden Dragon mixed media art installation which will provide an oglefest to mallgoers in the next few months.

Attached to the mall is the boutique 93-room Hotel Lucky Chinatown which is dangling staycation promos for the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day, as well as the Binondo Food Crawl which goes around the must-taste food stores in the area. Its Café de Chinatown offers comfy dining of all-time Chinese favorites and international dishes, while Zabana Bar is a hip watering hole for spirits and light meals.
The distinctive Buddhist temples are architectural marvels which invite us for a glimpse to understand the ancient faith.
The district’s Old World charm is supplemented by the eclectic character of neighboring Sta. Cruz, Quiapo, Tondo, Ermita, and Intramuros, which is home to Bahay Tsinoy, the first-ever museum dedicated to Chinese heritage which was opened in 1999.
Recently, Quezon City launched its own Chinatown Heritage Tour in Banawe St. to recreate a Binondo-type experience and attract more business locators. Popular for cheap motor vehicle accessories, the road aims to lure some 100,000 visitors within the long weekend and beyond.
Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum in Cebu City
Pit Stop 2: Cebu
The country’s oldest city and province are also home to a sizable Sino community in the central archipelago which have made it their home for centuries. But despite their presence, it has no visible or defined colony.
Chinese culture is very evident though in some of the city’s tourist spots which have been dazzling tourists for decades, such as the 17th-century Yap-San Diego Ancestral House in downtown Cebu, which combines Asian and Spanish influences. The Taoist Temple in upland Beverly Hills in Lahug is one of the most-photographed attractions and is the most popular among the houses of worship scattered across the province.
Not to be missed is the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum across the City Hall is a noteworthy repository and showcase of Sino role in Cebu’s development dating back to the precolonial period. Its centerpiece is a replica of a junk or traditional sailboat which was widely-used by Chinese merchants in sailing and setting up trading posts around the islands.
Pit Stop 3: Dumaguete
Sought-after by tourists for its laid-back aura, this city also bears strong marks of Chinese roots which are hiding from plain sight and often glossed over during city tours.
The City of Gentle People has become the jump-off point for commerce and trade to various coastal towns in the Visayas and northern Mindanao because of its strategic location.
At the beachfront barangay of Calindagan is the postcard-pretty Bell Church (main photo), a Taoist temple adorned with bell towers, dragon sculptures, a pagoda and landscaped garden looking out into southern Cebu and Siquijor.
At the port area is an imposing arch along the Don Carlos Gothong Sr. Ave., which is named after a pioneering Chinoy shipping magnate to celebrate the enduring friendship between the two races.
The Oriental DNA is evident in numerous establishments, notably in home-grown shopping malls, a 9-hole golf course, and Chinese restaurants which have become part of the gastronomy landscape