Wednesday, August 16, 2006


This was the largest town during the 1800s outside of Intramuros.

It was the center of commerce for the Chinese and Filipino businessmen even before the Spaniards arrived and it continues to be a thriving commercial hub to this day.

More than 70% of the goods sold in the provinces are estimated to be directly sourced from wholesalers along Chinatown’s dozens of narrow streets. This area also boasts numerous eateries which attract many people from all over Metro Manila, especially on weekends.

My father, though born in Subic, Zambales, studied in Manila from elementary to college and lived at my grandfather’s cousin’s house in Binondo; only to return to Subic during vacation. After graduating from college, along with his cousin as partner, they set up a business at Florentino Torres Street near C.M. Recto Avenue.

From the time I was old enough to go to the bathroom by myself, my father started taking me along to his office on Saturdays when he worked only until lunchtime. I was a quiet, cooperative child and could be left on a chair near him as long as I have a favorite toy in my hand to keep me occupied. But when I turned eight or nine, there were times boredom would spur me to sneak out of the office and gallivant on my own around Chinatown. Confident with my basic know-how of the various twists and turns of some of its narrow streets, I would usually end up at my favorite place -- the pet shop that my father and I always passed by on our way to eat lunch.

It had a gigantic aquarium filled with exotic salt water fish. The nice Chinese proprietress would lend me a stool to sit in front of it. And while I ate a bag of buchi or mini hopia I bought from the nearby street vendors, I would make believe I was an underwater diver. This would go on for quite a lengthy period until I would get a tap on my shoulder from that nice Chinese lady as she pointed to the wall clock nearing 12. I would then thank her and run back to my father’s office.

At lunchtime, as we passed by the pet shop on our way to a restaurant, the nice Chinese lady would wink at me as if to celebrate our little secret. This escapade went on for quite some time until my father noticed my disappearing act and had his messenger, Tito, trail me. Once settled on the stool to watch the newly-arrived batch of intensely colorful salt water fish, Tito rushed back to the office and told my father my exact whereabouts. My father decided to leave for the day an hour earlier than usual and came to fetch me at the pet shop.

I was too engrossed by the activities inside the fish tank to sense my father standing behind me until I noticed his figure reflected on the tank’s glass. My eyes widened with fright but before he could utter a single word, the nice Chinese lady stepped out of her counter where the cash register was to greet my father. And from their initial exchange, they appeared to know one another. My father had always been a man of few words but quite articulate when necessary; however, on this particular occassion, he was obviously fumbling for his words.

And before I knew it, my father was buying me a five-gallon fish tank and some of its paraphernalia. The nice Chinese lady then told me to come back and buy the fish another day when the tank had been fully set up; with its water conducive enough for the fish to inhabit. Before saying goodbye to her, my father asked if he could use their telephone to ask Tito to pick up our purchase and bring it home.

We headed for lunch and then to a movie right afterwards. While my father dozed off as usual — lulled by the comfortable cushioned seat and the air-conditioned theater — I sat there fidgeting on my seat. My mind was fixated on my unexpected good fortune earlier. Although I was thrilled to have received a fish tank, I couldn’t figure out why my father got me one even though I was sneaking out without his permission.

I thought perhaps, the nice Chinese lady must have convinced my father to buy me one, but my father wasn’t one to be easily swayed by a sales pitch. Besides, I didn’t hear anything about getting me an aquarium in their conversation; they were merely updating each other about respective family life. I then suspected something else — but even at a very young age, I knew better than to pry so I left well enough alone. These intermittent thoughts, in the end, distracted me enough from enjoying a John Wayne western projected up on the silver screen.

I returned to the pet shop many times since then — now with my father’s permission — because the nice Chinese lady had started to teach me how to breed fresh water Zebra fish, which I later traded for marbles and bubblegum cards with some of the neighborhood kids.

And it wasn't until in high school that I realized I was wrong in assuming that my father and that nice Chinese lady might have shared a romantic liaison in the past (considering they both grew up only a block away from each other). The truth was, the many other surprise gifts and treats that I later received from him revealed the clue: they were mostly things my father never had as a child. And that every time he got something for me to enjoy, it was also as if he were getting it for himself.

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posted by Señor Enrique at 6:13 PM


Blogger vina said...

hehe, maybe the chinese lady hypnotized your father into buying that fish tank!

August 16, 2006 7:07 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Oh, I'm so sorry, Vina. You read my entry without my having pasted the last paragraph, yet ... hahaha. Sorry!

August 16, 2006 7:52 PM  

Blogger ipanema said...

I love it when children have this kind of relationship with their parent/s. You're very lucky. I can feel that it was a very happy childhood. You remembered everything: from small details to your suspicious inclination. I love this part. But most of all your concluding paragraph. This made me teary-eyed.

Lovely story, thanks.

August 16, 2006 9:55 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww! Such wonderful memory about your father. You also got me with your last paragraph. Very touching.

A couple of years ago, I also bought my kids a fish tank complete with the trimmings, and three bubble-eyed fish (not sure if that's exactly what they're called), one fish for each one of them. I bought them all these with the understanding that they would be responsible for feeding the fish and cleaning the tank. They did feed the fish but I ended up taking care of the fish tank. Well, anyway, the fish only lasted about 2 to 3 months.

August 16, 2006 10:12 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good story :-)

My father used to frequently take me to pet shops. He once bought me an aquarium for my birthday. He was the buyer of fish; perhaps he was also driven by the same motive as your dad.

August 16, 2006 11:06 PM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Salt water eh.. I'm a fresh water enthusiast naman.

Me and my brother envies the salt water ppl... the Saltwater fish's color is mind numbing talaga.. and now they're cheaper than FW Fishies. Tsk.

August 17, 2006 6:04 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I have five older brothers, Ipanema, four of which thrived on picking on me.

And from these four, two enjoyed nothing more than teased me to death about so and so as being my girlfriend. Thus, from an early age I've become very conscious of how I behaved towards any girl in front of these two unless I wanted to be teased.

And from such awarenes I would base my observations on how other boys/men behaved towards the opposite sex. :)

On my future entries will unfold how this kind of relationship developed between me and my father.

August 17, 2006 6:07 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

You have good narrative skills... As I was reading this entry I swear I hear a kid talking about his binondo 'adventures'. !

There is this chocolate (powder/bullion) shop on the left hand side of the binondo church. Sniff your way there. :) You should know it, they've been there since forever I think.

August 17, 2006 6:11 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Actually, Irene, my father was rather surprised how responsible I was with this hobby. I ended up with having four more but smaller tanks for breeding purposes, and managed everything myself. But my eldest brother would lend a hand when I had to change the water on the biggest tank.

As for the last paragraph, it has its downside, too (embarrassing moments, actually), which I will write about next time. :)

August 17, 2006 6:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

There you go, Aurea! Although with my father, he would just admire my tanks and give me the money for whatever I needed for them.

August 17, 2006 6:18 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Salt water fish are cheaper than fresh water fish now, S.A.???? Wow!

But then again, even if they were then, I probably wouldn't be able to manage such a tank -- not an easy task, but the allure of their shapes and colors are, like you said, mind numbling talaga. And like I had mentioned, I was so mesmerized by it that time and space seemed to no longer existed.

Thanks for your compliments, S.A. Wish I have your wit and comedic skills as well to infuse my writings with; hence avoid making my entries appear too serious....hehehe.

Yes, supposedly, there's a chocolate factory over there! Who is your friend that does walking tours? Does he have a blog site?

August 17, 2006 6:28 AM  

Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for sharing that glimpse into your childhood. You have, in a matter of a few paragraphs, captured the playful essence of innocence. Great work, Eric.

In fact, YOU should get published. =)

August 17, 2006 7:21 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

He already posted in one of your blogs... Ivan Mandy (aka streetwalker). I saw him featured on TV with one of those young congressman (Zubiri?) before leaving for welly.

Not the Celdran dude.

Our flowerhorn just died a couple of months ago. :( My Mom loved that fish!

August 17, 2006 7:25 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Old manila walks. :) He posted in your escolta posts.

August 17, 2006 7:27 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, S.A.!

I visited his site and thought it was another Ivan :) I was confused because it was another site about architectural preservations.

I wanted to do a food trip entry on Chinatown and featuring his tour might be a good idea.

August 17, 2006 7:43 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

So sorry to hear about your flowerhorn, S.A. I know that's a very popular but expensive fish :(

August 17, 2006 7:48 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I thought you might enjoy my childhood memoirs especially those with my father, Hb00, since you have a son, D.

This is actually a significant aspect of a personal healing process, because as much as wonderful our relationship was, his early demise from my young life brought trauma also. And I trust that you all will oblige me in my continuing to write about my relationship with him :)

August 17, 2006 7:56 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was also fond of my father and I just wish I could remember every little detail of my childhood. But alas, my memory is starting to fail me. But then again, it was such a long time ago. And just like you, I also quickly jot down anything I remember before I forget.

August 17, 2006 10:36 AM  

Blogger vina said...

haha, yes i did!

well, at least that clears things up for me. i was having the same suspicion too, hehe.

August 17, 2006 10:38 AM  

Blogger ladybug said...

Nice narrative...and you even posted a picture of a calesa. :-) I used to ride those concoctions when I frequented the area during my teens. Brings back memories.

August 17, 2006 1:12 PM  

Blogger Rey said...

This is one of the most intimate posts i've ever read from you, Eric. And it moved me.

Fathers do try to give their children the best things they themselves didn't had the pleasure to have when they were young. May father was like that to me. And I am like that to my son.

August 17, 2006 2:29 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Btw eric, do you plan on switching to the beta version of blogger? I am unsure if I want to switch.

August 17, 2006 3:52 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The more I spend time in Manila and talk to people that knew my father, the more these memories start coming back, TouchMeNot.

You see, there was a time I tried to completely purge all those memories from my mind, because of the anger I felt when he died. This may explain why my only other sister a year older has much sharper memories of the past. She was able to handle his death better than I did, and therefore, had no need to forget the unpleasant past.

But now, through these entries, I am slowly but surely gaining the strength to relive and hopefully, find closure, if you will.

August 17, 2006 8:16 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I'm glad you did come back to re-read the entry, Vina ... hahaha!

Been having problems with Blogger and with a slow connection, thigs just seem to get worse.

You and I have the same birth signs and that may be the reason we shared the same hunch.

August 17, 2006 8:19 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Ladybug.

To this day, I love riding on calesas! You're high up and have a much better view of the streets and sidewalks!

Haven't heard anything about Blogger's new version. Will investigate it. However, been having poblems with posting on blogger :(

Will let you what I think of the new version once I learn more about it.

August 17, 2006 8:23 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's so wonderful, Rey! And as I've said, Fergus is lucky to have you as his dad!

You ought to check out Houseband00's entries sometimes as well, because he's raising a son himself and he sometimes post entries about his experiences. And he's an architect, too.

BTW, with my entries about me and my father, there will be more intimate posts, because it is a healing process for me, too.

Thanks, Rey!

August 17, 2006 8:29 PM  

Blogger Sidney said...

Wonderful story. Those are very sweet and nice memories.

You see, there was a time I tried to completely purge all those memories from my mind, because of the anger I felt when he died.

I have the same problem. I was very close to both my parents and both died of cancer (with an interval of 2 years)some ten years ago .
I almost never dare to think back or I would start to cry. The wounds were never healed and will probably never do.

August 17, 2006 9:54 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my case, I think I retained only selective memories because there were a lot more of the painful ones. I also want to go back to our hometown, visit our old place there and like you, talk to the people who knew him and maybe that would also juggle my memories of him.

I also find writing about the past, though painful as it is, very healing.

August 17, 2006 10:01 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's the kind of pain I felt, Sidney. However, as I get older the more I realized I have to seek the wisdom therein and thus, find closure.

BTW, Sidney, there was also a certain pervading aspect of local Filipino male culture then -- "don't talk about your pain; drink it away."

And as traumatized as I was back then, I avoided this home remedy, so to speak :)

August 18, 2006 6:31 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Actually, TouchMeNot -- writings such as yours and by others inspire me to do same.

And we thought that as we get older in life, these leftover pain will just mysteriously disappear; on the contrary, the more they gnaw at our soul-- demanding closure -- and I believe that's the journey you and I, as well as many others, are on now. And with God's guidance, I trust healing is assured.

August 18, 2006 6:43 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm a student from De La Salle University and I'm working on a paper about Binondo. Because I lack the necessary talent for taking photographs, I would like to ask your permission to use your picture of Binondo Church for my paper.

If you feel uncomfortable letting me use it, it's all good. :)

December 02, 2008 8:25 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Firstly, thank you for asking for my permission first, Anonymous; much appreciate it.

Secondly, yes you may. I'm always glad to be of help to students.

Good luck with your paper!

December 02, 2008 11:09 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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