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Monday, February 15, 2010
Chinese New Year
We wandered down the streets and enjoyed the sights and sounds. Periodically young men dressed in dragon costumes and others with drums banging and cymbals clashing would stop in front of a shop and an elaborate ceremony would take place. Shops would put red bags full of goodies above the doors, the dragons had to retrieve the bags and the crowd would shriek. Then, all hell would break loose and tons of firecrackers would go off, filling the air with smoke and debris and making us all deaf. This was neat the first time, still fun the second time, but it got old around the seventh or eighth time. We all enjoyed the festivities though, and the people were all in a good mood and it was more laid back than the Quiapo market had been. We ate lunch at a Maxim's Tea House - a pretty realistic Chinese restaurant that we all enjoyed. The meal came complete with soup, fish, chicken, shrimp, "cold cuts" which was warm noodles, chicken, pork and tofu, and UBE ICE CREAM. Ube is the Tagolog for purple yam. They put it in everything, often desserts. We'd all been wanting to try it, and we finally got some at the end of the meal.
*** A note about eight white girls walking around Chinatown in Manila: we became instant celebrities wherever we went. At one point I was buying some snacks (little cakes called Hopia) and realized the girls in the next shop were taking my picture with their cell phones. Other times mothers would come up to us, put their kids in front of us and take a picture. Always there is pointing, laughing, chatter and commotion when we are out. We were offered all kinds of things, including men who "loved" us and wanted to "be your Valentine". We politely (sometimes not so politely) refused. We were all kinda feeling like this must be what it's like to be a celebrity - and we're kinda sick of it. It gets ridiculous, and if you see our pictures of YouTube or elsewhere on the internet please know that we did not consent to them. Those of us with lighter hair or taller stature are even more prized as photo tokens. To top it all off every vendor DOUBLES the price of an item when we ask, purely because we're white. We have to explain that we're in debt 1 MILLION Pesos and are poor medical students. Enough ranting - but we're all pretty sick of this by now!***
From Binondo we walked over to Intramuros. This is the old part of the town that was the original fortress built by the Spanish and overtaken by the Japanese, then leveled by the Americans during WWII. I'll talk more about it later, since I'm going there on Tuesday when my cousin, Rueben, is in town.
We continued south the the famous Rizal park which was crowded with Manilans enjoying the cool evening. We were once again a photo-op and the talk of the town, but we strolled along the park anyways. At one end is Manila Bay, at the other is a huge pool with a stone map of the Philippines embedded in it. We can see the map a lot better from the LRT, and no one is allowed in the pool and it is gated off. (This is actually for the best since I'm sure it would be TRASHED if open to the public.) At this point it was closer to finish the walk home. We stopped for some wine and then settled in to enjoy Valentine's Day with just us girls.
We topped off our day with a dinner of Tikoy. Tikoy is a Chinese treat made of rice paste. It has the consistency of dried rubber cement, is sticky, and will cling to a plate held upside down. The texture is akin to "eating Gumby", and the flavor was ok. We were supposed to have 3 flavors but instead we got 2 chocolates. The other flavor was Screw Pine (Wikepedia it) which I'm actually beginning to enjoy. We all tried some and then argued about what effect this cuisine would have on our digestive system. When we were all assembled we cut into a giant chocolate-chocolate cake and drowned our sorrows with wine. All in all it was a good Valentine's day and a busy weekend.