Date: May 14th 2014
After my Corregidor island tour, I took a break the following day to do some shopping in Manila. Today, I chose to spend my afternoon checking out Manila’s Chinese Cemetery. My ‘first’ Pinay friend Aimee told me about the cemetery and she suggested I check it out. That was back in 2011. Well, three years later, here I am.
Getting to the Chinese Cemetery wasn’t as easy. I mean, if you get to Abad Santos station, you will see the cemetery right away… but it’s finding the right entrance that’s the challenge. I got down at Abad Santos but when I couldn’t find an entrance nearby, I asked the staff at the LRT and they told I had to go to R. Papa, the very next station! Annoyed, I took the train to R.Papa.
I walked out of R. Papa station, by the road… and all I saw were the closed gates at the north entrance. Ugh.
I wondered how the heck I could get in. There was no one I could ask either.
Annoyed, I walked back and found myself walking through a barangay(?).
I just kept walking around assuming there would be an entrance to the cemetery somewhere behind
But I couldn’t go much further because the road was blocked with this stage set up
So I walked back
I walked back to R. Papa where a bunch of tricycle taxi drivers accosted me asking where I want to go. I didn’t feel like wasting time anymore so I just hopped into one, bargained it down to 30 pesos and asked the guy to take me to the right entrance of the Manila Chinese Cemetery.
The tricycle rode all the way back to Abad Santos station and then passed it to take a left. Another left turn and voila: I was at the right entrance!
The security guard at the entrance asked me where I was from and I replied saying I’m not from media, just a tourist. There is no entrance fee or anything, so one can just walk in. But as soon as I went in, a older guy approached me and asked me if I wanted a guide. He said he would show me around the cemetery in a bike and tell me all about the people buried here. How much? ₱800 (₹1100/$17/€14) he said. I said no. I even asked him if he was an official guide here.
I walked further inside… and another “guide” approached me. He offered to take me around for just ₱400. At this point I was doubting these “guides”. So I just said no to the second guy as well. Then this second fellow went and urinated beside a grave house.
I’m not kidding. That’s the guy, in red, peeing outside someone’s grave.
Oh, by the way, these are not houses… but graves
Behind these locked gates are where the deceased are cremated
Alleys upon alleys of actual burial homes
Came across this monument
It was honouring the Chinese and Filipino-Chinese who fought the Japanese when the latter occupied Philippines. The Japanese conducted many executions inside the cemetery.
I kept walking… and yes, if you haven’t noticed, there was hardly anybody in here
Which made it all the more… spooky, I guess. I mean, look at it. I’m walking through what looks like a neighbourhood but is in fact a ‘neighbourhood’ for the buried.
Although it’s mostly Chinese names you find buried here…
… there are some very Filipino-sounding names too.
It’s nice to see how every family chose a unique design for their burial house
I also liked how they gave actual street names to the roads inside this cemetery
I used this yellow tower as a landmark to know how far I was going from a familiar area
The yellow memorial was in honour of Dr. Clarence Kuangson, who was a former Consul General of China to the Philippines
It’s amazing how I had to remind myself every now and then that I was walking among the dead
While most houses were for the elders, some burial homes are made big enough to contain generations of the same family
A very ornate Chinese design
And some, not so
I saw some homes being guarded by private security. I’m guessing it was to keep the homeless from gatecrashing.
I mean, if you are rich enough to bury your loved ones like this, clearly hiring a security guard shouldn’t too much of an extra expense
I kept walking not really knowing just how big this cemetery was
While I was walking, I crossed paths with someone who was loading his pick up with some equipment (looked like he was working on a burial house). He greeted me with a smile and while I greeted back, I made some small conversation and asked him some questions that were lingering in the back of my mind. He confirmed that most of the houses here, especially the large individual plots up in the front few lanes, are owned by wealthy families of Chinese descent. They have to keep renewing the ownership of the plot, otherwise they lose it. I presume when one loses a plot, the remains are exhumed, the house demolished to make way for a new one.
As I bid him goodbye, he told me the poorer grave houses are at the back and that I should check it out. I told him I will and we went our separate ways.
It’s nice to see how well some lanes are maintained
This feels like one big family
A peek inside
One annoying moment was being followed by this stray dog. It kept barking, which in stray dog language, only means more of these assholes would come — but fortunately only this loser of a dog did. Eventually it went away.
I was now in the ‘poorer’ part of the cemetery
Saw some more broken/damaged/demolished homes here
I had reached the boundary wall at the back of the cemetery
This is the section where young children (and babies) were buried
Which made seeing how some of them were broken into all the more sad… and creepy
The ones who couldn’t afford individual plots were buried in these vertical graves
Honestly, I was starting to get a bit creeped out being in a tight corner of a cemetery where some graves were open… and it was really quiet… and I was all alone.
I went back out
Was this the north gate? Did I really walk this far?
I decided it was time to leave. I had spent more than hour walking around and taking photos.
I saw this woman standing there in the distance. Just standing. Again, kinda creepy.
According to Lonely Planet, it seems you can hire a tricycle to take you around the cemetery. I would suggest that to people who don’t like to walk a lot (or bring your cycle). The Manila Chinese Cemetery is pretty damn big. And keep the place clean, don’t litter.
I reached the road leading back out to the South Gate
There’s an eatery inside… but I’m assuming it’s not always brisk business inside
This is Chong Hock Tong Temple
This was one of the biggest structures I saw in here
There were ‘regular’ graves on this foothill
It was time to leave
I went out the same exit
The Manila Chinese Cemetery is an interesting experience to say the least. It’s definitely the first time I have seen such “house graves”. Gives new meaning to the word(s) “burial home”. I checked online to find out if this is how many Chinese cemeteries are and found out it’s not. It’s just something the wealthy do and Manila Chinese Cemetery is a one of a kind. According this blog, in the 19th century, the Spanish colonials did not allow the Chinese to bury their dead in the Catholic cemeteries of Manila, so the Chinese were forced to establish their own cemetery. Given that many Chinese flocked to Philippines (predominantly to Manila for trade) centuries ago, it’s no surprise that many of the city’s wealthy today are Filipino-Chinese and thrive in the world of business. That wealth is even reflected in how they bury their beloved.
The concept of house graves — if you can afford it — makes sense. It’s like your loved ones are given a new home. Even when they are long gone, they still have a roof over them after the new doors invite them into the after-life. A home where the family (the living) can visit and spend time with their lost ones on their death anniversaries or on other family occasions. I also read some of the houses come equipped with amenities like bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and air conditioning, since some families like to stay over and sleep beside their deceased family members. I did see some houses with air conditioning so that part is true.
I walked back to the main road and from the junction, I walked left towards Blumentritt LRT station
I was halfway between Blumentritt and Abad Santos anyway
I walked through a lot of stuffy street markets
I sat down at a 7/11 to the left and had an ice cream
I tried Magnum Gold (caramel coated) for the first time. It was okay.
This is Blumentritt LRT station… but I was on the wrong side
I had to cross to the other side
This man was the unofficial traffic officer. Seeing this unmanned crossing is also when I first came to know Philippines had a railway network!
And that’s the railway station
I wonder how much of the country is covered by the rail network
A food market on the other side
I got down at Doroteo Jose
Apl.de.ap — when he isn’t doing anything with the Black Eyed Peas (which was not much anyway) — he is a judge at The Voice Philippines, and hawking deodorant to make some cash :-)
The attached shopping center was full of businesses dealing in printing… stuff
For example, this shop prints t-shirts, posters, mugs, pins, caps, etc. They also were selling printed badges of K-pop stars for ₱20 each. I bought two Girls Generated pin badges.
I headed back to the hostel and went to bed early. Tomorrow, I had to leave Manila early in the morning to catch a bus going to Lucena Grand for the Pahiyas festival in Lucban.
Previous post(s) in this series:
Philippines 2014: Corregidor Island tour
Philippines 2014: Bargain shopping in Manila; Paseo de Santa Rosa & Solenad
Philippines 2014: Japanese tunnel; leaving Davao for Manila
Philippines 2014: Scuba diving for the first time, at Samal Island (Davao)
Philippines 2014: Philippine Eagle Center, Davao
Philippines 2014: Attractions at Eden Nature Park… and getting lost
Philippines 2014: Sky Cycle at Eden Nature Park, Davao
Philippines 2014: Leaving Cebu for Davao; Davao City sights
Philippines 2014: Tumalog Falls; Oslob church, Cuartel
Philippines 2014: Oslob – Swimming with whale sharks
Philippines 2014: Trek to Mount Pinatubo crater lake
Philippines 2014: The itinerary this time around; UP Diliman and Maginhawa
My Philippines journeys: 2011 series | 2013 series