Today (February 10), the first day of 2013 in the Chinese calendar, Filipinos all over the Philippines, more so in this city’s Chinatown area, will continue the tradition of observing the new year with dragon and lion dances, fireworks, and everything Chinese.
Manila’s Binondo enclave is the world’s oldest Chinatown, from where most of today’s Filipino-Chinese multi-millionaires trace their humble beginnings, and where most Filipinos have learned to imbibe the Chinese culture.
Established in 1594 by the Spanish Governor Luis Perez Dasmariñas as a neighbourhood for the Chinese Catholic community, the enclave has since been populated by ethnic Chinese and become a bustling merchant and commercial district, often patronised by Filipinos looking for affordable items.
Businesses in Binondo have taken advantage of increasing sales since a few weeks before today, which is also the beginning of the Year of the Water Snake in Chinese astrology.
People have been buying feng shui items to bring in good luck, such as bracelets and trinkets that they can attach to their wallets, cell phones or key chains, or hang on their doors or place on their cars’
While the Binondo merchants also struggle against the influx of cheaper, mass-produced products from China nowadays, it is around this area where most of the rich Chinese had made their first million.
The taipan—a term used to describe a Filipino billionaire of Chinese ancestry—Henry Sy started with a shoe shop in Quiapo that has expanded into a gigantic chain of shopping malls known as Shoemart or SM.
It is common knowledge that when Sy came to Manila from the Chinese province of Fujian when he was a teenager, he was so poor he didn’t have slippers or shoes. He reckoned he would earn money by selling shoes to the Filipinos.
Sy is among the 24 of the 40 richest Filipinos on Forbes’ list who are of Chinese descent, and includes the beer-and-tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan, John Gokongwei, owner of SM’s competitor Robinsons, the banker George Ty, and the real-estate moguls David Consunji and Andrew Tan.
The majority of Chinese who came to the Philippines in those days did not have skills, so they ended up as street vendors or domestic workers in the homes of wealthy Filipinos and the Spanish-speaking families.
Most of the initial immigrants came from Fujian, in southern China, or from Canton, thus most of today’s Chinese-Filipinos are of Hokkien descent.
Ivan Man Dy, owner of Old Manila Walks, a street tour of heritage areas, told the news portal rappler.com that the Chinese immigrants are successful because they practise self-discipline, they are resilient during crises, and are frugal. Not to mention the mentality that they had to carve out something for themselves in a land not their own.
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