It is easy to dismiss Binondo’s filthy and crowded sidewalks once one has breathed Alabang’s crisp, unpolluted air or Bonifacio High Street’s lush greenness. After all, when one is on vacation, one expects nothing less than paradise to greet him. To the naked eye, Binondo will seem a horrifying disappointment, but some still choose to visit the area to take in its rich history.
Horse-drawn calesas that continue to trot along Binondo’s streets today are one of the district’s main attractions. Calesa rides may not be as glamorous as they used to be, but one look at a carriage can bring back some type of collective memory or images of the Spanish Colonial Era that most of us have experienced only in classic Filipino literature. It is a consolation then, that a calesa ride can surely take its passenger on a time travel to the good old days when Binondo was glamorous and its streets sparkled with wealth and newness.
With enough imagination, one might even catch a glimpse of Rizal’s Ibarra walking along the shores of Pasig. But it is not only the old or the fictive that Binondo can offer to its tourists. The observant eye will notice landmarks of modernization and of Westernization that blend in with Binondo's equally diverse historical sites. It does not confine itself to the Spanish Colonial Era; Binondo boasts of the emergence of the Filipino identity, the harmonious relationship of the Filipino and the Chinese, and the country’s efforts at economic improvement. A deeper understanding of it may explain why people should not consider Binondo as any lesser than Tagaytay, Boracay, or Alabang just because it is not as sophisticated as they seem. After all, Binondo has character.
There are many entry points to Binondo: one may opt to take a jeepney, board a bus, or drive his/her own car. One may enter from Delpan, Jones Bridge, or Recto. But there’s nothing special about any of those. If one were to enter Binondo for a tour, riding the ferryboat along the Pasig would be the best choice.
Launched in Ferbruary 2007, the Pasig River Ferry can transport 150 passengers throughout Metro Manila. Only five stations are operational now; fortunately, one of them is Escolta. This mode of transportation is special not only for its unconventionality, but also for what it has to say about the Philippines.
Pasig River was once prestigious. The river was an important transport route during the Spanish Colonial Era. In a way, it served as the veins in which the “blood” of the economic activity of the capital and its neighboring cities flowed. The Pasig lost its shine after the Second World War for various reasons. Eventually, pollution took over; by the 1990s, the government declared it biologically dead.
One may notice a parallelism to the country’s history. As a colony, we survived; one can even go so far as to say that we were well off. However, when the depression came, it hit hard. Unable to recover, we gradually declined. With the recent...