Manila Chinese Cemetery houses

Philippines: Manila Chinese Cemetery – what it’s like inside

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.

Manila Chinese cemetery North Gate
I walked out of R. Papa station, by the road… and all I saw were the closed gates at the north entrance. Ugh.
Boundary wall Chinese cemetery Manila
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(?).

Manila barangay fiesta decorations Philippines
I just kept walking around assuming there would be an entrance to the cemetery somewhere behind
Stage barangay event Manila
But I couldn’t go much further because the road was blocked with this stage set up
Kids barangay Manila Philippines
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.

Manila Chinese Cemetery south gate entrance
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.

Man peeing Manila Chinese Cemetery
I’m not kidding. That’s the guy, in red, peeing outside someone’s grave.
Manila Chinese Cemetery houses
Oh, by the way, these are not houses… but graves

Gates locked Chinese gravestone Manila
Behind these locked gates are where the deceased are cremated
Manila Chinese cemetery alley
Alleys upon alleys of actual burial homes
Chinese anti Japanese memorial manila
Came across this monument
Chinese anti-Japanese description Manila cemetery
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.
Manila Chinese cemetery corner
I kept walking… and yes, if you haven’t noticed, there was hardly anybody in here
Manila Chinese cemetery neighborhood
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.
Family Lao cemetery Manila
Although it’s mostly Chinese names you find buried here…
Filipino Chinese cemetery Manila
… there are some very Filipino-sounding names too.
Manila Chinese cemetery Christian burial
It’s nice to see how every family chose a unique design for their burial house
Mabini road Chinese cemetery Manila
I also liked how they gave actual street names to the roads inside this cemetery
Yellow tower Chinese cemetery Manila
I used this yellow tower as a landmark to know how far I was going from a familiar area
Dr. Clarence Kuangson Young memorial Manila
The yellow memorial was in honour of Dr. Clarence Kuangson, who was a former Consul General of China to the Philippines
Inside Chinese cemtery streets Manila
It’s amazing how I had to remind myself every now and then that I was walking among the dead
Kai family Chinese cemtery Manila
While most houses were for the elders, some burial homes are made big enough to contain generations of the same family
Chinese burial house Manila cemetery
A very ornate Chinese design
Small burial homes Manila Chinese cemetery
And some, not so
Manila Chinese cemetery security guard
I saw some homes being guarded by private security. I’m guessing it was to keep the homeless from gatecrashing.
Manila Chinese Cemetery houses Philippines
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
Manila Chinese cemetery street lanes
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.

Manila Chinese cemetery lane Philippines
It’s nice to see how well some lanes are maintained
Large Chinese cemetery home Philippines
This feels like one big family
Graves inside burial house Manila
A peek inside

Houses Manila Chinese cemetery Philippines

Stray dog Manila Chinese cemetery
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.
Poorer grave houses Manila Chinese
I was now in the ‘poorer’ part of the cemetery
Broken damaged site Manila Chinese cemetery
Saw some more broken/damaged/demolished homes here
Manila Chinese cemetery back wall
I had reached the boundary wall at the back of the cemetery
Baby burial section Chinese cemetery
This is the section where young children (and babies) were buried
Baby graves Manila Chinese cemetery
Which made seeing how some of them were broken into all the more sad… and creepy
Stacked graves Chinese cemetery Manila
The ones who couldn’t afford individual plots were buried in these vertical graves
Broken graves Manila Chinese cemetery
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.
Chinese cemetery homes Manila
I went back out
Gate Manila cemetery
Was this the north gate? Did I really walk this far?
Yellow house grave Manila Chinese cemetery
I decided it was time to leave. I had spent more than hour walking around and taking photos.
Woman standing alone Manila cemetery
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.

Manila Chinese cemetery road
I reached the road leading back out to the South Gate
Eatery inside Manila Chinese cemetery
There’s an eatery inside… but I’m assuming it’s not always brisk business inside
Chinese temple Manila cemetery
This is Chong Hock Tong Temple
Big grave home Manila cemetery
This was one of the biggest structures I saw in here
Foothill cemetery graves Manila
There were ‘regular’ graves on this foothill
Chinese cemetery panorama Manila
A panorama
Leaving Manila Chinese cemetery
It was time to leave
South gate exit Manila Chinese cemetery
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.

Manila traffic signal road
I walked back to the main road and from the junction, I walked left towards Blumentritt LRT station
Under LRT train tracks Manila
I was halfway between Blumentritt and Abad Santos anyway
Blumentritt street market Manila
I walked through a lot of stuffy street markets
Blumentritt market Manila Philippines
I sat down at a 7/11 to the left and had an ice cream
Magnum Gold ice cream
I tried Magnum Gold (caramel coated) for the first time. It was okay.
Blumentritt LRT station Manila
This is Blumentritt LRT station… but I was on the wrong side
Blumentritt junction Manila
I had to cross to the other side
Blumentritt railway intersection Manila
This man was the unofficial traffic officer. Seeing this unmanned crossing is also when I first came to know Philippines had a railway network!
Blumentritt train station Manila Philippines
And that’s the railway station
Blumenteritt railway tracks Manila
I wonder how much of the country is covered by the rail network
Blumentritt street market Manila Philippines
A food market on the other side
LRT train Manila Philippines
I got down at Doroteo Jose Rexona ad Manila — 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 🙂
Sticker printers shopping center Manila
The attached shopping center was full of businesses dealing in printing… stuff
Sticker shop Doroteo Jose Manila
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.

Next post in this series:

Philippines 2014: Pahiyas Festival in Lucban; Kamay Ni Hesus

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

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  • Charles Ng


    Hi there!
    Great blog that you have here.
    If you want to explore Manila, Id like to offer my help at no expense to you.
    I grew up in Manila and Ive been wanting to explore it more (just like what you are doing).
    If you have any plans about going around the city, drop me a message and I will see what kind of help I can give. I have a dayjob so it might be a challenge but Ill do what I can.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Charles, will let you know when I visit Manila next.

    Vincent Tuban Reply:

    Can I join your adventures in Manila? Hehe. I’m really interested in any kind of exploration. 🙂 by the way, your blog is really good. It feels like I’m also traveling with these photos.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    He he, I wish to tour Philippines again Vincent! Thanks for reading my blog. Please click ‘Like’ on my Facebook page to follow my posts.

Comments are closed.