Binondo Revisited

Revisited Binondo last Sunday, with my fellow aspiring travel photographers. With DSLR cameras around our necks, and feeling like a bunch of tourists lost in the jungle called Chinatown, we had the people around the area freely posed for us.

I was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating and gracious the people were, from side-walk vendors to store owners, side-car pedallers to kalesa drivers even the security guards were quite helpful – not to mention the roving policeman, who posed nonchalantly while he answered some of our questions.   

We met up at 6am in front of Binondo Church, aka Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. Mass was going on and around us were sampaguita vendors peddling and street children begging, all with smiles on their faces.  


Walking along Ongpin towards Salazar St., we saw the neighborhood stirring.  Newspaper boys loading the news sheets onto their bicycles, fruit vendors displaying their wares on their karitons, bakers rolling their doughs ready for the oven and sidecar pedallers waiting for their first passengers.  

We had a hearty breakfast of kiampeng (fried rice) and kikiam (deep fried ground meat wrapped in tofu skin) at Cafe Mezzanine Volunteer Firemen’s Coffee Shop, wherein part of their proceed are donated to the volunteer fire fighters of Binondo.  

Binondo streets are known to be narrow and fire trucks from other areas have had difficulty entering the vicinity whenever a fire hits. Therefore, the residents came up with their own fire fighting units and most famous of these are the purple colored fire trucks, donated by Eng Bee Tin Hopia Factory.

We then walked back to Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz and started our first photo project.  It was creatively challenging and the stifling weather made it more so.  Patience was stretched to the limit that morning, as the assignment was called, and Starbucks beckoned.  Apparently, Starbucks Binondo was one of the first branch worldwide to offer a menu with chinese translations and a chinese signage.  

After quenching our thirst and answering nature’s call, off we went to our next assignment.  My buddy and I decided to hit Ongpin St.  It was mid-morning and the street was relatively quiet.  There was no traffic and the pedestrians were very relaxed, a far cry from the hustle and bustle Chinatown is known for.

Lunch was at Tasty Dumplings, where we had their famous battered fried porkchop, hongma with kiamchay (braised pork belly with salted vegetable in pot) and deep fried silver roll, (deep fried bread to lap up the sauce of hongma) all downed with a tall ice cold bottle of … water.


Off again to our next assignment.  We were confined to shoot along Salazar St., where the fruit vendors are.  Lucky for me and my buddy, we found our subjects in a quaint little air-conditioned charm store, right smack in the middle of the fruit stalls, selling all sorts of oriental idols, Buddhist prayer beads and lucky charms.  They even have a beautiful Buddhist altar, complete with water falls and fountains, at the back of the store.  The gentleman at the counter was most gracious and allowed us to shoot away.  My target was the Buddhist Singing Bowl displayed on the countertop.



The next assignment was an artistic challenge because we had 45 minutes to take only 4 shots, no more no less.  We walked around the block to find our composition.  We started from Salazar corner Benavidez St. and walked towards Masangkay, turned right and headed towards Soler.  Along the way, we met a group of street children playing, who caught sight of our cameras and gamely posed for us and there we took some great shots.  We turned right again from Soler St., which brought us back full circle to Benavidez St.  


Our final assignment was to take scenes of Binondo as a travel destination. Instructions were received at the final pit-stop, the Golden Fortune Tea House along Masangkay St.. Everybody was hot, tired and weary.  All I could manage was a tall glass of ice cold lemon tea and a fruit platter I shared with a friend.  As we cooled our heels, we started to compare notes and share our experiences.

To cap the day, and shoot our final assignment from a different perspective, I decided to share a kalesa ride with a friend who hasn’t been to Binondo in a long time.  I myself haven’t ridden in one in years.  For Php200, we started our ride from Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz and headed towards Ongpin.  We turned left at T. Alonzo St straight to Claro M. Recto.  From there, we turned right at Rizal Ave. and turned right again on Ronquillo, passing Plaza Santa Cruz.  We then turned left at Dasmarinas St. and turned left again at Nueva to take us to Escolta.  From Escolta, we rode to Carriedo, which brought us back to the other end of Rizal Ave.  We went thru Ronquillo again and passed Plaza Santa Cruz, again.   We hit Tetuan and turned left at Gandara until we reached Quintin Paredes and rode back to Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz. (Whew!)

Binondo for a day as a tourist/photographer, was an unforgettable experience.  It opened my eyes to the unique sight, sound and smell of a true Chinatown.  I realized how friendly the people were, how culturally rich the locales were and the abundance of food to taste was unimaginable.  I accomplished things I never thought possible and relived experiences long missed.  

I realized that Binondo was a representation of myself.  Brought forth from Chinese roots and shaped by Filipino hands.  

Jo Uygongco

Sept 3 2008


5 Responses to “Binondo Revisited”

  1. For me, the best pic is the candid shot of the smiling kids. however, I love the Buddhist singing bowl (the actual stuff, not the pic. hehe) You’re starting it out great. Keep it up!

  2. Great !!!

    Photos are fabulous and loved your writings. Good Job!!!! Give my regards to Auntie and Uncle.

  3. Beautiful 🙂 Idol!

  4. Thank you all for your most encouraging comments 😀

  5. Thanks for the article. Well written.

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