Kung Hei Fat Choi 2015: Chinese New Year 2015 in Binondo, Manila, and toy shopping at 168 Mall in Divisoria
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My son saw his first dragon dance and lion dance in 2009 during Chinese New Year festivities hosted by a supermarket in Makati City. It was only my second time to see these dances that are emblematic of Chinese New Year celebrations across the world. Wearing colorful lion and dragon costumes, some 30-odd lithe and limber young men danced to the rhythmic beats of drums and gongs, as fireworks erupted in the sky. Afterwards, we got some takeaway pancit (chow mein) and called it a day. Since then, watching the dragon and lion dances at the mall had become a yearly tradition of sorts for us. This year, I thought we’d change it up a bit by watching the dragon and lion dances where Chinese New Year celebrations are most lively and vibrant, the Chinatown in Binondo, Manila.
Because February 19th was a special non-working holiday, traffic moved fast from Taft Avenue up to the Escolta-Tomas Pinpin junction, where it crawled to what felt like two kilometers per hour. Celebrations were in full swing when we reached Binondo at around 9:30AM. There were at least two dragon and lion dances being performed on Ongpin and Juna Luna Streets and hundreds of hands holding up cameras to capture every Facebook-worthy moment. OB vans from various news agencies had staked their choice spots the night before. Throngs poured in from streets surrounding the Binondo Church rotunda. Vendors hawked everything from lucky charms to raw sugarcane sticks. Merry-makers hoping to chow their way through the historic district’s iconic eating joints were frustrated by long queues. It was fruitless to even try to get inside the famous Cafe Mezzanine, so my son and I ran to the wide, welcoming arms of the 168 mall food court in Divisoria.
Besides, we had really come for some toy shopping. My son’s constantly revolving interests had paused once again on the Ninjagos, and Divisoria is where one can find reasonably priced facsimiles of a Danish brand of building blocks. Motito owns a couple of authentic Lego Ninjago sets which now lie neglected in a plastic storage bin after being assembled a year ago. If his renewed obsession with the Masters of Spinjitzu would have the same ending, then I’d rather he indulged in it without burning a hole in my pocket this time around.
At 168 Mall, many of the toys looked to have been picked over by holiday shoppers from two months prior. There were a handful of Disney Frozen dolls, Big Hero 6 and Guardians of the Galaxy action figures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plastic weapons sets, Transformers robots, Minecraft blocks and figures, and all manner of superheroes rendered in Lego minifigures. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that they were all knockoffs. Counterfeits produced by the so-called ghost or midnight shift in many Chinese factories. But since we were celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year anyway, what better way to give back to the land and people that have given us so much than by acknowledging the fruits of their labor.
It’s always a delight to see how far I could stretch my money when shopping in Divisoria. On this outing, Motito and I managed to snag ten pieces of miniature-block base plates (for a wholesale price of P100 each), a deck of authentic Bicycle playing cards (P100), two Ninja building sets (P450), and two packs of Ninja minifigures (P300). The quality of the Ninja building sets was surprisingly close to that of the genuine article. They even came with a color step-by-step instruction booklet. The base plates were flimsier than the authentic kind, but at 100 bucks a pop, I couldn’t complain as they served their purpose satisfactorily.
If our just-concluded toy expedition in Divisoria is anything to go by, then I look forward to more wonderful discoveries in the Year of the Wood Sheep.