Friday, November 23, 2007
Memories of Chinatown (by Jennifer Tan)
Memories of Chinatown
I grew up in the province where my fondest memories include kite flying and running around in open fields. It was a time when I studied in Bicol and spent my vacations in Manila. It was during this long treacherous 13 hour bus rides, literally a killer to the butt, that I first fell in love with traveling. After the long hours, I would eagerly stay up, my heart pumping in exhilaration, as I watch for the first signs of big billboards and bright lights that would signal my arrival to Mighty Manila! “Sibilisasyon!” ! What awe, what excitement!. It is the same feeling of “awe”, the chase of something new to loose myself in, that has kept me traveling many years over!
Even as a child on vacation, I frequented Manila’s China town. Down by the busy street of Ongpin, I would loose myself in the hustle and bustle of loud bargains and my eyes feasted on the colorful fruits. My father is the one who introduced me to the gastronomical delights of China town. He brought me to the wonderful on- the- spot cooking of the little eateries under the artsy “singkit” bridges of Ongpin (I call it “singkit” because the graceful roof arcs always remind me of the beautiful slants of oriental eyes). And whether it was skill or the added ingredients of dirty cooking, all I could remember was that my stomach was full and content. These little eateries still exist to this day and are called “estero restaurants”.
I remember kalesa rides to what is now Chinatown’s huge “Presidents Restaurant”, strategically and unmistakably located in the heart of Binondo. But we went there not to entertain in the traditional lauriat dining style that is popular in this restaurant, we went there to watch Chinese movies! For where the restaurant now stand used to be an old cinema that featured old Chinese comedies and ghost films. When the cinema closed, a part of my childhood went with it.
More than a decade living in Manila, I am no longer in awe of big billboards and neon lights, skyscrapers and trendy places. But I have continued chase after the feeling of exhilaration of new places.
So much so that when I was in New York or Kentucky or Philadelphia or Germany, or Singapore or Australia, I enjoyed visiting their China towns! And what surprise awaits me as whether in New York or Kentucky or Philadelphia or Germany, or Singapore or Australia, Chinatown is the same Chinatown in Manila. I remember going into a store in Singapore and wondering how familiar it all felt. It was as if the Chinese traveled and brought their memories, their aspirations, their homes with them. The same loud talking, the same delicious aroma filled the air, the same tiled roofs and dragon decorations. I was awed, not at the place but for the experience of it.
The Chinese have traveled for many centuries. But more than traveling and the high of new places, it seems they wanted to create “homes” and remember ‘memories’. A playground to trade and to enjoy but without forgetting their culture!