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.
Annoyed, I walked back and found myself walking through a barangay(?).
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.