Monday, June 06, 2016

A Filipino Food Tour and a Massive Cemetery

Lydia wrote this post and my hilarious yet informative quips will appear in [brackets].

[We started off our day with an Uber from the hotel. God I love Uber so much.]

[The armed guards outside the hotel.]

[The first jeepneys were modified jeeps left behind by the Americans after World War 2. The bus-cab hybrids are often very flamboyantly decorated and packed to the gills with sweaty humanity. They were nice to look at but I never felt the need to get inside of one.]

[I guess they don't have to worry about a tree branch knocking the power out.]

We had two guided tours scheduled for the Philippines. The first was a food tour of the Chinatown area also known as Binondo. They called it a “wok-ing tour.” So clever. As I mentioned yesterday, the traffic in Manila is crazy, and it caused us to show up 20 minutes late for our tour. Fortunately, our guide Anson was still there patiently waiting for us.

Our first stop was New Po-Heng Lumpia House known for, of course, lumpias.  Lumpias are sort of like spring rolls, but the shell is a little bit thicker and a little more tortilla like. The lumpias had a mix of pork, brown sugar, and cabbagy stuff inside. I think this was my favorite food stop of the day.

[We needed some liquid to wash down our malaria pills, so I ordered two sprites. They came in little glass bottles, but it was only 65 cents for two. Not too shabby!]

We crossed the busy street to a farmer’s market type road and stopped to buy some jackfruit. I thought it was was sort of like the fruit version of gummy bears.

[In addition to the food our guide Anson threw in some interesting architecture as well. The lumpia restaurant was inside an old art deco shopping department store. All of the faded glory art deco really reminded me of Cuba.] 

Across the street we popped into a little restaurant for our second food stop. We were served guisado noodles with a peanuty sate sauce and some Filipino style empanadas. The noodles were a little spicy for my taste, but the empanadas were great. As we ate, Anson explained how the food we were eating showed the clear mixing of Chinese and Filipino cultures. Pretty neat.

Our guide also threw in some cultural stops. We stopped at the Binondo Church, and Anson explained how many Filipinos practice a mix of Catholicism and Buddhism. He explained it as we don’t really know which religion is truth, so why not just try them all and hopefully something works. The church had a crazy altar that was basically a replica of St. Peter’s Basilica. There was also a statue of Mary in a bright pink dress that I liked a lot.

[There were tiny little kids outside the church begging which was sad/annoying, but there were also ladies selling strings of fragrant flowers. Inside the flowers were hung on or next to statues of saints as an offering.]

[Outside at a little shrine the mixing of religion was much more obvious. There was a cross but also a lot of incense burning. The guy on the right was rubbing the cross then rubbing different parts of his body, sort of like taking a bath.]

The next food stop was Filipino BBQ. Anson said the restaurant was the oldest in Binondo, but wasn’t sure when it opened. It also wasn’t in its original location, so it didn’t look historical or anything. We ate roasted pork with a sweet, tangy sauce. Normal enough. Outside the restaurant there was a stand selling roasted pig legs and other weird creatures. I’m glad we didn’t eat that.

On the way to our next food stop, we popped by a rooftop Buddhist temple. There were a couple of people burning incense and another dropping some small blocks of wood to see what kind of luck he’d have for the day.

[Lydia and I were debating whether this place was Buddhist or Daoist. There's a statue of a red faced Chinese deified general named Guan Yu there in the back. Well I thought Anson said that guy was Daoist so I looked it up. Wikipedia says "He is a figure in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and small shrines to Guan are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops and restaurants." My boy Guan is so awesome that he broke religion. It's like if Batman popped up in an Avengers movie and everyone was cool with it.]

[I think this bucket of sticks was sort of like a magic eight ball. You ask it a question then shake the thing until one of the sticks falls out, and the cosmic answer to your question will be written on the stick.]

[Inside the temple were lots of red rectangles with donor's names written on them. Well here is the very solemn place that the big donors get their names.]

We checked out another cool old building: Syvel's department store on the historic Escolta Street.

Anson also took us to a store selling the things needed for traditional Chinese weddings and funerals. They sell stacks of fake money to be burned at funerals in hopes that the dead will be rich in the afterlife.

Dessert was next. We started with mango-tapioca ball smoothies and duck egg custard cupcakes. I’m sure they have a more Filipino name, but I don’t remember what it is. The cupcakes were surprisingly good until John reminded me they were made of duck eggs, and then I liked them a little bit less.

Our last food stop was for hopias, bean-filled pastires at Eng Bee Tin. This bakery is famous for its purple hopias filled with ube, a purple yam.

 Anson explained that due to a large number of fires, Manila has a volunteer fire department in addition to the government-run one. The owner of the Eng Bee Tin donated several fire trucks to the volunteer department, and in honor of his restaurant painted them purple. So the next time you’re driving around Manila, and you’re wondering why the fire trucks are purple, now you’ll know.

After we were sufficiently stuffed, it was time to head to the Chinese Cemetery for our second tour. Getting there proved difficult. We tried for quite a while to find Internet so we could order an Uber but had no luck. We eventually settled for a taxi, but once we arrived our guide was nowhere to be found. We ended up finding him quite a ways inside the cemetery waiting by the crematorium. Really? You couldn’t just wait by the entrance?

The cemetery itself was pretty interesting. Rather than headstones, the wealthy Chinese built house-size mausoleums for the deceased. Some have reflection pools, some have tables and chairs, and most have working toilets. Now you probably find yourself asking, why does a dead person need a working toilet? Well, the amenities aren’t meant for the dead person, they are for the family. This way when the family comes to visit, they have places to sit and eat, and a place to go to the bathroom.

The mausoleums are as varied as the people buried inside. Some were traditional Chinese architecture with dragons and red and yellow paint, others looked like Catholic basilicas, and still others looked like art-deco houses.

[The bottom left of this photo has a little red topped pagoda looking thing. That is the oven where all the fake paper money we saw earlier is burned to make sure the dead person is rich in the afterlife. Money is the main thing, but we learned they would also burn paper cars, iPhones, and houses that the deceased relative would also need. What if you were dead and you got a magical iPhone but no charger? Boringest. Afterlife. Ever.]

A couple had gigantic bibles inside.

[Our guide told us that children and grandchildren were obligated to take care of their elder's graves. Well what's to be done when you want to move? Take your dead relatives with you, of course!]

One commonality among the mausoleums was the photographs of the dead hanging inside. Despite their large size, only two people were buried in most mausoleums – the husband and wife. The kids were buried elsewhere. However, unbeknownst to me, polygamy was well accepted among the Chinese, and there were quite a few mausoleums with two or three wives.

[Lydia asked our guide about this gay couple. Unfortunately one of them is woman.]

[Somebody's never seen an elephant... awkward.]

[The less well off people just had little slabs.]

[On the other end of the spectrum is Ma Mon Luk, a successful restaurateur. People called him the noodle king, so of course he needed to have a massive crown on top of his mausoleum.

[This place was really cool but honestly it sort of depressed me. People built these giant lavish castles for the dead, but time ultimately ravaged family's fortunes and their ability to care for their castle tombs.]

[The cemetery was so big that it had its own snack shops inside.]

After we’d gotten our fill of cemetery, we headed back towards the hotel. Our hotel was in an area known as “Resort World.” We checked out the mall and casino next door. They were both pretty much as you’d expect.  The mall had fancy stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. [Amusingly the casino's security told me that I needed to wear my hat backwards so that it didn't obstruct my face.]

[My first set of screen stairs.]

After our adventurous eating this morning, we decided to play it easy for dinner and grabbed some McDonalds. It’s always fun to see what McDonald’s serves in other countries. In the Philippines the most interesting things on the menu included spaghetti, chicken wings, and rice.

[You know what kids like? Cups of corn.]

After resting for a few hours in the hotel lobby, it was time for a long, slow flight to Singapore.

["Welcome to Singapore. Drug offenses will get you the death penalty."]

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