10 ways to celebrate the Year of the Horse in Metro Manila

1. Throw noodles for prosperity.
Our neighbors in Hong Kong call this ye sheng and this is how it works: organize a group of people you want to (or are forced to) spend the Year of the Horse with, gather around the raw fish salad and take out your chopsticks. At the count of three, dig into the 18 ingredients and throw them as high up in the air as possible. Warning: this exercise can get dirty. If you’d rather stay clean, they’re also available in single, bowl-sized portions in Spiral’s Chinese New Year buffet spread. 29 Jan-2 Feb. Spiral, G/F Sofitel Philippine Plaza, CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd, Pasay City; +63 2 5515555. Prices vary from 29 Jan-2 Feb, PHP1,100+++ to PHP1,500+++ children, PHP1,980+++ to PHP3,250+++ adults. PHOTO: SOFITEL PHILIPPINE PLAZA

2. [FREE] Watch Chinese movies.

Aftershock screening: 24 Jan, 7:30pm; 25 Jan, 12pm; 27, Jan 7:30pm.

Catch one or all eight movies being screened at the 8th Spring Film Festival organized by Ateneo de Manila and Confucius Institute. This one will resonate: Aftershock by Feng Xiaogang, a summer blockbuster hit in Hong Kong back in 2010, about a disastrous earthquake in Tangshan in 1976. Twin children (one boy, one girl) are stuck under a rubble and only one can be rescued. The mother is asked to choose which one she would save. Sophie’s Choice, much? 24 Jan-2 Feb. Shangri-La Plaza Cineplex, Shaw Blvd cor Edsa, Mandaluyong; +63 2 6332227, +63 2 6334735. 

3. Join a food tour of Chinatown.

The Big Binondo Food Wok is the tour to take if you’re a foodie with a sprinkling of interest in history and architecture. Led by Ivan Man Dy (he who toured Anthony Bourdain when the TV host was in town), this Lunar New Year edition lasts around 3.5 hours and promises a lot of Instagram-worthy moments. You’ll likely encounter parades and lion dances as Dy gives you an insider’s guide of Binondo’s oldest restaurants. Expect dishes not available on his regular tours, like the chao tau hu (in layman’s speak: stinky tofu). Book way in advance. 30 Jan, 2pm and 31 Jan, 9am and 2pm. www.oldmanilawalks.com, +63 2 7113823, +63 918 9626452. PHP1,500/pax inclusive of food sampler.

4. Get hot and bothered on Hunan food.

If you’re go-to Chinese food is siomai, mami and machang, it’s time to widen your palate. We’ll let you in on a secret: the only restaurant in Metro Manila that serves spicy Hunan cuisine is in Sta Cruz, Manila, on the ground floor of a gaudy hotel whose interiors look like it was ripped off from different pages of a European design almanac. Like Szechuan cuisine, Hunan dishes also use a lot of fresh chili peppers — they also look prettier. All dishes are currently on 20% discount (until further notice) so now is a good time to try the boiled fish in red soup (it’s red because of the floating dried chilli peppers; PHP600 pre-discount, good for four), boiled frogs (PHP780 pre-discount) and braised turtle (PHP498 pre-discount). G/F Lido De Paris Hotel,1036 Ongpin St. Sta. Cruz, Manila; +63 2 7088888 to 91. Daily 11am-2am. 

5. Take up Chinese painting.
One of the most enduring images in Chinese art is the galloping horse. Harness your inner artist by enrolling in a short course on Lingnam-style painting under master Cesar Cheng. The next cycle of classes starts in April, but you can book now for an early bird discount. Confucius Institute at the Ateneo de Manila University; www.ateneoconfucius.com, +63 2 426 6001 ext 5288. PHP6,500 for 10 classes, materials not included.

6. Hang out at the Chinese Garden.

This secret spot in Rizal Park, spread over 15,000 square meters, first opened in the 1970s. It’s definitely worth a visit for its small lake, ornate dragons, pagodas, gazebos and park benches to rest your weary soul. There are also rare trees you can only see in this part of the park: calabash, whose fruit is used to make the musical instrument maracas, and saraca, which National Park’s operations division chief Rose Tenepere says is known as the queen of flowering plants. Look for the statue of Confucius and the wise Chinese sayings on the pillars of the gazebo. In February, the local Chinese community hosts a Spring Lantern Festival event. Really, all that’s missing is piped-in erhu music and free WiFi, and we’d be hanging out here every day. Rizal Park, Padre Burgos Ave cor Ma Orosa St, Manila; +63 2 3027079. Daily 7am-10pm. PHP10.

7. Learn the history of Tsinoys.

If your only idea of Tsinoys in Philippine pop culture are Jose Mari Chan and Richard Poon, get thee quick to Bahay Tsinoy, a cultural museum that details Chinese presence in the Philippines from before Magellan’s time to present, with a light-and-sound theater, ceramics collection and black and white photos you could look at for hours. Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center, 32 Anda cor Cabildo Sts, Intramuros, Manila; www.kaisa.org.ph, +63 2 5276083. Tue-Sun 1pm-5pm. PHP100 adults, PHP60 students.

8. Visit Ma Mon Luk’s grave.

The mausoleums at the Manila Chinese Cemetery are the most interesting and colorful this side of Asia, with architecture that reflects the social status as well as the depth of how some Tsinoys paid respect to their ancestors. This is just one of many interesting trivia you’ll learn from this engrossing tour of the most flamboyant and eclectic building designs meant for dead people, like the guy who founded Chinabank (Dee C. Chuan) and the ancestors of Ace Hardware (Co Ban Kiat). By appoinment; www.oldmanilawalks.com, +63 2 7113823, +63 918 9626452. From PHP4,500 for six people or less.

9. Tuck into heritage food.
Make Chinese New Year a family affair. Gather up the elders in your clan and take them out for a food trip to the oldest Chinese restaurants in Metro Manila — from Binondo to Quezon City. Watch this space for our story roundup.

10. Stay the weekend in Chinatown.

Founded in 1596 in order to encourage more Chinese to become Catholic, Binondo has since emerged to become one of the city’s most dynamic and vital commercial districts. It’s not all business here, though. There are calesa rides, cultural stops, temple hopping, bargain shopping and food, glorious food. Read Coconuts Manila’s Staycation guide to Binondo for more information on hotels, attractions and activities in Chinatown. 

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