Friday, May 1, 2020

Day 2: Manila Chinatown (Binondo), Ongpin Street and Sunset Esplanade

21st November 2019 (Thursday)

My only interest in Metro Manila was to visit Chinatown. The specific place that I wanted to go was Ongpin Street. I wanted to taste the local food in particular the local Chinese food which I read was excellent.

Just a few days ago, a friend YPH, who was in Metro Manila told me that traffic was very heavy during morning rush hour. Hence, I did not go out early but decided to make my move at 8:50 a.m. My destination was Binondo Church (officially, San Lorenzo Ruiz Church). GrabCar arrived shortly after. While on the way, the driver was stopped by a traffic police. We must have stopped for a good five minutes before he was allowed to go. When I asked him what happened, he told me that he was stopped for weaving in and out of the different lanes, and the traffic policeman lectured him that it was dangerous driving. We finally arrived at Binondo Church at about 9:45 a.m.

This was certainly a working class area. The Church was situated at an intersection. There was no other landmark on my Garmin eTrex 20x that I could refer to determine my relative position. I was confused. I saw Ongpin Street on the street direction sign just at the corner of the Church. Which direction should I take to find Eng Bee Tin? I did not know. I walked along the front of the Church, hoping that I could find my relative position when I spotted Lucky Chinatown on a street sign, with the direction shown. Straight away, I changed my mind and decided to go there as I had read about this popular mall too.

There were people waiting outside the entrances of Lucky Chinatown. It was not yet 10:00 a.m. and I presumed that it would open at that time. Instead of waiting for the shopping mall to open, I walked around the mall. It was interesting to see the ordinary Filipino eking out their living on the street.

I thought I could find brunch inside Lucky Chinatown but I was disappointed.  I went out of the mall and saw a stall selling drumstick at Chinatown Walk. However, it came with rice too. Close to the stall and beside the entrance to the mall at Chinatown Walk, I saw a restaurant full of patrons. I walked in. The name was Sincerity Cafe and Restaurant. After a disappointing second round of breakfast, it was time for me to explore the surrounding area.

I took the street perpendicular to Chinatown Walk. It has a large "Chinatown Walk" sign written on the glass wall. It was just one minute away to 168 Shopping Mall. From there, I walked around randomly. The street scene revealed how the ordinary Filipino live. This was the real Philippines. It was interesting. At one street, the shop front brought back nostalgic feelings, back to Chop Boh Hin and Chop Ang Soon at the corner of Wharf Road, Binatang (now called Bintangor), the small riverine town where I grew up. I have not seen this kind of shop front with the open display since I was a boy. I stopped for a while to absorb the image of the 70s'. I did not know whether I was ever going to find another town or city that could bring up that down-memory lane feeling.

The first time I had such a feeling was when I visited Hatyai in 1984 where one quiet unpaved street took me to my childhood in Binatang too, to the street where a charcoal-fired bakery was located.  It was one of the two bakery making western style buns. The bakery was no longer there, having moved to another part of town. It was in later years I realised why I love old towns and old streets.

I was still exploring the streets when I found myself close to Binondo Church. From across the far end of the Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz at Juan Luna Street in front of the Church, it was difficult to determine where Ongpin Street was pointed on the sign board. For readers benefit, Ongpin Street runs beside Binondo Church, on the right side when one faces the church.

One of the first shops I noticed along Ongpin Street was Eng Bee Tin, and I went to buy some hopia, a Chinese pastry, for a total of Php718 for my office staff members. It was just opposite the road at the rear of Binondo Church. As I continued walking along Ongpin Street towards Carriedo Fountain, I saw 3 - 5 smaller branches of Eng Bee Tin. Along the way, I saw Shanghai Fried Siopao, a shop famous for its steamed buns.

At the Carriedo Fountain end of Ongpin Street were several goldsmith shops. They were cramped with people wanting to buy gold jewelry. The price must be very reasonable to have attracted so many gold jewelry buyers.

From Carriedo Fountain, I called a Grab car to return to my hostel. The driver drove through Intramuros. I was thinking of visiting Intramuros the next day but after having rode through it, I was not sure anymore. Anyway, I would decide about it the next day.

As planned, I went to Mall of Asia (MOA) that evening to look for dinner. It was just a seven minute walk from Casarenta Sea Residence to the south wing of MOA via the overhead footbridge. As I walked to the rear of the building, I saw the esplanade with a Christmas tree. I decided to walk over and explored the esplanade called Sunset Esplanade. I was already sweating when I decided to return to the mall to look for dinner. I have read that there was an Ippudo Ramen restaurant at the mall. I searched all over the place but failed to locate it. Instead, I ended up at SM Hypermarket and bought myself a pack of durian, grapes to be eaten at the hostel. The durian has thick flesh and small seed (Aljim Durian??). It was sweet, creamy and very good.

Back at the apartment, I was determined to find the location of Ippudo ramen restaurant at MOA and went to look for it on Google map and the web. It was supposed to be located somewhere towards the back of the mall. I would search for it again the next day and I would not give up until I find it. Why was Ippudo so important to me? When I was in Japan, I bought both instant Ichiran ramen and instant Ippudo ramen. Ippudo ramen was better than Ichiran. If the instant ramen was already so good, the real stuff would certainly be excellent.

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