(SPOT.ph) Territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea aside, the Philippines and China actually have a beautiful relationship that traces its roots all the way to the 10th century. Chinese merchants would come to Manila because of the ease of transportation through the Pasig River. They eventually settled near the riverbanks, including Binondo, and gave birth to a community of Chinese-Filipinos. And now, a microcosm of the world's oldest Chinatown is featured in Chinatown Museum, which opens on June 8 at Lucky Chinatown in Binondo, Manila. Not only is it the first cultural museum that's dedicated to one district, but it’s also Manila's first museum housed in a mall.
This may seem a bit unusual knowing that Chinatown, after all, has a number of ancestral houses and old sites that can very well serve as a window to the past. But Tefel Pesigan-Valentino, VP and Head of Marketing and Business Development at Megaworld Corporation, sees this as an opportunity to bring more people into the cultural hub. "Museums are actually venues for conversation, for exchanges of story and culture. We want to bring this closer to the community, to the people. Incidentally, a lot of Filipinos are mallgoers—so that’s the best way to communicate to them,” she told the press in a sneak peek of the museum on June 7.
“It’s a new notion of going to the mall. Also, Lucky Chinatown [stands on where part of Meisic Street used to be]. If you know what Meisic is, it’s a play on the words 'may Instik.' So [it's] very fitting actually why Chinatown Museum is here,” added Janine Cabato, the museum’s curator.
Chinatown Museum features 18 galleries that highlight the social, cultural, economic, political, and religious landscape of Binondo. A small replica of Binondo Church greets visitors while a series of photographs show how this Catholic structure changed through the years since its consecration in 1596. The space eventually leads you to traditional shophouses, from stores that sell textiles and housewares to a panaderia; the cottage industries that boosted Binondo’s economy; and a life-sized model of a tranvia that once plied the roads of the old town.
Finally, museumgoers are led into four galleries—Rosario, Escolta, Meisic, and Unionpay—that houses rotating exhibitions. For now, it features St. Stephen's Highschool Centennial Exhibit, drawings of Escolta's Art Deco Buildings, a postcard exhibition, and artworks by Bernadette Solina-Wolf. "It really is more about making sure that the community is part of Chinatown Museum," Cabato added.
To guide visitors, Chinatown Museum has its own mobile app which anyone can download through Google Play or the App Store. Docents, who are from the University of Santo Tomas’ History Society, are also there to provide information about the exhibitions.
“It reinforced something that I’ve always believed in since childhood—that Binondo’s really unique. It’s such a small place, just an island. But it’s really diverse because here you have furniture-makers, restaurants, pharmaceuticals, wonderful shops—everything’s here [on] this little island,” Dr. Fernando Zialcita, professor from the Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture and one of the consultants, said about the opening of Chinatown Museum.
Chinatown Museum is at 4/F Building A, Lucky Chinatown, Reina Regente Street, Binondo, Manila City. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are at P150 (with 30-peso discount for senior citizens and 50-peso discount for students). For more information, visit Chinatown Museum's website.