“Do you speak Chinese? Mandarin?” I asked the young man in the DVD store.

Thought bubble: Of course he speaks Chinese! Can’t you see he looks Chinese and you are in Chinatown, for crying out loud!

“Yes,” the man said.

Oh the hell with it! Pointing to a Korean TV soap opera, I asked him, “Duoshao qian (How much)?”

“Sishi kuai,” he replied.


“Duibuqi (I’m sorry). Shenme (What)?” I asked again, feeling like a fool. “Sishi kuai,” the man repeated.

Sishi…I know that! Sishi…???

“Okay,” I said, resorting to English to get a grip at my pride, which was falling to the floor at an alarming speed. Thankfully, he walked away.

Aaaahh! Sishi! FORTY!

“Forty pesos” was what he said. I couldn’t believe I forgot my numbers; I learned how to count in Chinese in kindergarten! I could feel my face turning red, but only inside those thought bubbles. My pride froze an inch from hitting the floor and went back up. I felt pretty good that the man at least understood my question, and I wasn’t minding my tones either.

Such was the highlight of my walk through Chinatown in Binondo, Manila this afternoon. It was an exceptionally hot day, a welcome change from the storms that had devastated some parts of the Philippines in the past weeks. I was sweaty and thirsty and aching all over. But I wouldn’t have traded the weather for a cooler one, or the walk for another day holed up in bed.

Aside from the Korean drama, I bought a Chinese movie DVD. “No English subtitles,” warned the signs all over the store. Daunting. I couldn’t even figure out the title. It seemed to be a romance flick so I picked it over historical battles that I was sure would feature extravagant and impossible moves that I’d find boring. Maybe I will watch the one I bought when I am at the Intermediate level. Six months from now. I wonder if I have an emotional quotient good enough to stave off my curiosity for that long.

I also tried to translate the names of the shops on the streets. Only understood one or two, which already made me ecstatic (talk about extravagant), especially when I recognized the characters for drugstore and commercial place. I had a hard time remembering those two in class.

At last, I was able to take a photo of Binondo Church.

And that old building near Carriedo Station.

When the cars and noise became too much, it was good to discover the almost deserted Benavides Street.

Too bad Bee and I were still full from gobbling Don Henrico’s astounding buffalo wings. Fast and roomy LRT 2 took us back to Quezon City without a bite of dimsum or mian.

There’s always a next time. By then, I’ll be better prepared when I start asking, “Duoshao qian?”


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