Walking is man’s best medicine.
My visit to Hong Kong felt greatly satisfying! Yet there was still something I craved for. There was a hankering to walk thousands of steps once again in an attempt to explore and see the hidden gems of the world. Without wings, where would by feet possibly take me?
To find an inner peace but at the same time to make an exciting journey, I was bound to make my own personal pilgrimage inside the heart of Manila. I’ve geared my body for a walkathon around Quiapo, Binondo, and Chinatown in hopes of a successful temple hopping. As a local, I’ve had to re-venture Manila in hopes to see its full beauty as well as to dig for hidden gems. There’s no telling what I might come across. Only God knows!
The faithful day of June 13, 2017, the epitome of a perfect pilgrimage finally began. Learning from my mom throughout my younger years, she floats over my head as the Navi in this journey. It’s time to embrace the one and only perlas ng silanganan! The pearl of the orient!
Without wings, I cripple myself from the blue where I belong. Barefoot and lost, I followed a spectrum of feathers. Gravity was not defied but it opened my eyes.
Striding in Manila
“Arriving at Carriedo Station. Paparating na sa Carriedo station.“
The arrival to Carriedo station via the LRT-1 train line was the first stop. As I exited the train, I was captivated by the view overlooking Carriedo Street. Vendors scattered all over the street does not sound beautiful but the view seen from above is an amazing first sight. The umbrellas linking together forms a unique picturesque perspective of the locality of Manila. A small reminder that these imperfections make up an extraordinary place.
Quiapo – A huge open market
I began my first steps in the cramped streets of Quiapo. Vendors after vendors after vendors, that’s the signature trademark of this place. Fishes, fruits, vegetables, clothes, toys, school supplies, some cheap gadgets, and Catholic relics and charms, what else is not on their list? Everywhere there’s something being sold but at least haggling is an option for people. The ideology of Quiapo is a huge open market. An everyday hay day for this particular locale.Back then, my mom and I used to pass by the streets here when she went to work. I used to be like a sluggish little boy weighted by the stress of Manila. Now, I walked here boldly with utmost fascination, breathing wholly that strong Manila musk. Thanks to her blessing, I knew how everything goes around these dusty old streets. In particular, she had always taught me to be overprotective of my belongings. There are tons of people here and it’s always advisable to be aware. Quite literally, bags in the front.
“Sir, bili na kayo! Anong hanap niyo?” (Sir, come and buy! What do you need?). The vendors, however, I found really mirthful. They dropped the line wearing a cheerful smile. Simple people living quite an unremarkable life and yet they fascinate me, honestly, that these people could maintain their positivity. I know Filipinos well that despite poverty, they derive joy from very little things. Filipinos are gifted with the ingenuity which makes them survive the daily cruelties. That’s the real culture and beauty of people in this country.
Minor Basilica of Black Nazarene
I made my way to my first Church. The Minor Basilica of Black Nazarene or more commonly called as Quiapo Church. This exploration had not only paved way for discoveries and for peace but rather for a spiritual growth as well. The presence of the Church signified the daringness of this journey. The Church boldly stood high with the simplest colors of gold and white. The simplistic design still made the church rise gloriously. And, so did I with my audaciousness. People tend to flock in this area and luckily it’s still early. I was able to my traveler deeds in a more peaceful ambiance. With that, I offered my prayers and gratitude to God! There’s nothing so gracious than an independent journey quite like this.
Hopia – The best little treat
Hidden in the many streets lies my most favorite hopia shop. This specific store hides in Palanca Street nearby a sign labeled as Excelente Ham as I recalled. My mom used to bring me here just to buy these delicious treats. I guarantee that the hopia here is so good that it’s worth the visit.
For those who have no idea, this treat is originally a Chinese treat that’s also called Bakpia in Indonesia. This sweet and tasty pastry comes either diced or rounded and varies in their fillings – ube (purple yam), baboy (pork), kundol (wintermelon), pandan (screwpine), red monggo (red mung bean). My most favorite has to be the monggo (mung bean) which is an all time classic! It’s not gastronomic either so no need to be afraid.
For only ₱40 for 8 pieces (that’s only $0.79), one pack is all I needed! They were packaged in the same small thin white paper bag where the warmth of these freshly cooked treats can be felt on the palm of my hands. Taking a bite, I felt the same soft feeling on my tongue and the same sweet golden taste of the mung bean on my palette. They have been consistently amazing! I definitely recommend this place to other Manila wayfarers out there.
Sta. Cruz Parish Church
It’s time to turn my attention to the main agenda of this trip. I walked again street by street until I reached Santa Cruz where I was welcomed by a fountain decorated with angels pouring water from their vases. The water was quite yellow perhaps due to pollution. I stood in the middle of the area just beside the ornamental structure and gazed around to spot some shops and two interesting places. The first one would be Santa Cruz Parish Church.The church stood stunningly with its baroque styled walls. The exterior looked newly built but also looked quite old from the design choice. Taking a look inside, we have an unsuspectingly huge interior that features a simplistic design. Fewer ornaments and fewer engravings. Simplicity is everything! However, I love the beautiful marble walls of the altar where a deer-like figure can be seen looking upward to what assumes to be heaven. It’s one of the most beautiful altars I have seen. Outside, just near the entrance doors, there were some Chinese guardian lion statues. and a stone floor engraved with Chinese characters. It was a sign that it was once built for the Chinese community living nearby. That’s where I’m headed next!
Manila Chinatown (Ongpin Street)
Right across the Church, passing by the fountain the second time, stood the Arch of Goodwill. Also called the Filipino – Chinese Friendship Arch, it symbolizes the harmony between the Chinese and the Filipinos. Of course, Chinatown is beyond this arch and some even call it Binondo. The look of the intricate design seemed like a warm stunning welcome. Chinese decorations and architecture seem to have been eye-catching my ever since Hong Kong. It felt like a glorious moment to finally be welcomed by the Chinese guardian dragon above the arch.Simply walking inside Chinatown gave me a strange happy feeling. There was nothing much to be seen but my presence meant a huge deal. Maybe it’s because of the striking red lucky charms piled up in stores? Perhaps! It has always been believed in Chinese tradition that red is a color of joy and fortune. The tradition must be true! I’m happy as I’ve ever been to wander like a lost kid and fortunate to find gems along the journey!I took a look closer to these lucky charms and they’re either elegant or cute. There sat golden smiling Buddha statues, brass jolly animal ornaments, shining jade frogs, colorful charm bracelets, and the adorable waving Maneki-neko. I’ve never had a thing for these but I loved looking at them especially Maneki-neko. Of course, there are also some hanging lucky charms. These ones, I favor for their striking elegance. They’re all sold at a pretty good price. There are also some Chinese stores selling different imported items. I just wonder if the Chinese oreo taste the same with the American oreo? That would be a cute taste test!As I made my way further into the street, I found the place a bit of lacking similarity to a real Chinese place than what I hoped for. Yet, it was ridiculous for me to expect a real Chinese resembling place. The weather was hot because of the climate and the streets had the same groggy Manila roads. Although, every business here was Chinese and they had hung up signs in Mandarin. Every once in a while, Chinese arches and some red lanterns were visible. A striking Chinese feature is still very predominant. It somehow felt like a flash of China or Hong Kong in its 50’s. The blending here of two different cultures felt uniquely Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino)! Thank God we have Chinatowns! I’m once again captivated!
Kuang Kong Temple
Precious gems are hard to find. To find this temple, I led myself into a narrow Kipuja Street. Oddly enough, the place seems obscure for many people that I needed to seek the aid of Google Maps. Once I arrived, there was no sign of a temple anywhere until I asked. Finally, someone knows there was a temple on the 3rd floor of this building.A particularly small elevator took me up to a small temple where a red banner welcomed me inside to a very quiet and embellished little space of worship. Inside, I finally felt the peaceful atmosphere that smelled of incense. The whole place was strongly decorated. There were Chinese letters engraved on tall marble pillars and a big brass pot decorated with Chinese dragons filled with ashes for the incense. However, what really caught my attention was the altar. I wasn’t able to get too close but I was able to appreciate the glass cased deities adorned with candles and flowers. The deity in the middle was proudly sitting and watched me kneel down to worship. I have no idea how to do it but doing so for a few minutes took me in peaceful solidarity.
Seng Guan Temple
“No entry without membership or special permission, sorry.” Guards didn’t allow me to enter the temples until I just ran out of temples. I decided to go for the one further away that had to walk further and further until I reached Recto Avenue. The sun shining wasn’t as fierce as my determination! Except, I sat tiredly on a jeepney this time going to Narra Street where the next temple was located. It turns out, the ride passes along the temple.
Kuang Kong temple was only grain compared to this sack of golden rice. The exterior was purely stone while the roofs had the curved design. There were two stone window frames that are designed as bamboos while most of the other walls had engravings. The image of a long ago dynasty features itself in my mind. I’ve always wanted to see a real temple and now it’s standing right in front of me!
Inside this stone building, I was not only flaunted by the colors of red but by the elegance of gold as well. I could understand why no photography was allowed. The beauty needed to be preserved for outside dwellers even me. From outside, a glass cased Maitreya statue blocks the truly hidden brilliance. At the end of the room, after the many rows of red judo mats, I saw a stunning altar where glass cases had protected the golden relics. Above the cases is a Chinese roof with red and gold lights. The surrounding woodwork near the altar had embossed Chinese characters and depictions of Chinese history painted in gold. Without photography, witnessing the place without technology made me immerse more in the peaceful nature of the temple. There was a sound of monk chanting and Chinese people praying with incense in their hands. Temples took me into a peace that’s isolated from the rest of the world.
Running around in search of temples have made me lost quite harshly. Believe it or not, I ended up somewhere just cause I was following a temple’s location but I was once again rejected. Staying at a convenience store, I was deciding whether or not I should go home or to find other places to explore. If I would push through, it wouldn’t be a piece of cake. But that’s when I realized, I wasn’t looking for a piece of cake! I’m looking for hidden gems!