This afternoon Colleen and I got a ride with Bong (one of the drivers who also works with Ramer) to the Church in Binondo. It was built in 1596 and is absolutely magnificent inside. We took a few shots of the interior before we met our guide for the day, Carlos. Carlos is a great tour guide- he knows tons of interesting history of the Philippines and can take you deep inside dense urban areas to see some amazing nook and cranny locations full of local color and culture. He's got a great sense of humor and a fun delivery, along with a red 3-ring binder full of photographs and maps to go with his narrative.
[The ceiling paintings in side the church]
[Carlos & Colleen]
Carlos took off (amid a brief 15 minute rainshower) and lead us into the bustling urban jungle of Manila Chinatown. The street were packed with jeepneys, tricycles, cars and trucks, and the sidewalks full of people buying and selling everything imaginable. On most doorsteps there were usually one or two sleeping dogs or cats. We stopped by several shops and business, where he enlightened us about the history behind the Chinese and Spanish in the Philippines and various insights into Chinese customs and cultures. He also brought us to a chocolate shop (where we sampled several items) and a store which provides 24-hour dim-sum and mooncake year-round (usually only sold for the Chinese New Year).
We followed Carlos through many twists and turns and found ourselves in a small alley. Turning into an even smaller alley, entering a building, and then climbing up a set of stairs, we came to a wonderfully fragrent Chinese Buddhist temple. The idea was to buy a stick of incense (about twice as long and twice as thick as your typical incense stick!), light it, kneel at the alter and say a prayer. The incense was then placed into a holder in the rear of the temple. The whole place was amazingly ornate with gold and colorful fabrics. There was also a furnace where your wishes and prayers could be written on special paper and then burned, sending them as smoke to the heavens.
After this we moved into the "Voodoo Market" area of Binondo. Here you can find Buddha, the Virgin Mary, superstition-based herbal remedies and Jesus all in the same 4-foot square area. All sorts of religious statues, holy figures, charms and oils are available to meet every spiritual need. There were also quite alot of child beggars in this area...at one point I looked down to find that I had a small bracelette made from thin black thread with a small wooden charm resting on the inside of my elbow. It had been placed there by a small boy, about 11 years old or so, barefoot and covered with dirt, who was now asking that I pay the 2 pesos he required for the 'gift' he had 'given' me.
This was quite cool because even as the church was completly packed, Carlos took us around the rear of the alter area, where you climb several steps, drop some pesos in a box and approach an opening where you can touch the foot of the statue. (This is also the only time women can get near the statue- they aren't allowed to attend the procession.)
When we finally got to the market place area, we were greeted by vast expanse of every imaginable item for sale. Basically, it was the undersection of a large bridge filled completely with stalls of merchandise of all kinds. Each stall was lined on each side with hand-woven baskets, wood carved utensils and statues, paper lanterns, clothes and jewelry. Because of the lanterns and baskets hanging from the roofs, we had to duck to enter the narrow aisles leading back into the buildings, many of which went deep inside the bridge structure. We both picked up some really cool items for ourselves and for people back home before Colleen called Bong to come pick us up.
[Colleen at the entrance to one of the dozens of merchant stalls under the bridge. Very narrow, very low, goes back very far.]
In other news: Kendra got her hair cut for the first time since we've been here! She went out to a place in Greenbelt this afternoon with Keysi and got her hair cut and her eyebrows "threaded". This is a procedure that needs a good video to be understood and appreciated by non-Asian hair dressers, so we'll see what we can do.