Metro Manila · The Chinese Cemetery
Manila's Chinese Community has its own cemetery. Visitors of this extraordinary place do not only find splendid mausoleums, temples and monuments, but also learn a lot about the history and culture of the 'Chinoys'.
Freshly-painted one- or two-storied houses, with kitchen and comfort rooms, and porches with neatly-trimmed grass; at first glance it seems to be just another peaceful gated community of Manila's rising middle-class. But when the visitors take a closer look through the gates of one of the buildings, they see big tombs in the middle of the room, incense sticks, Chinese characters, and pictures of the deceased on the wall. What looks like a nice neighborhood is actually a graveyard.
Many of those whose ancestors rest in this place believe that their spirits continue to exist after death. They always try to worship them, show gratitude and secure their ancestors' good will. They do so by building luxuriant mausoleums for them, as well as by regularly sacrificing incense sticks, symbolic money that gets burned in small furnaces, and food. At least once a year, during the Qingming Festival in early April, Chinese families gather at the tombs and commemorate their ancestors with a big feast. That explains why many of the mausoleums, in particular those of wealthy businessmen, are so well-equipped.
Similar mausoleums can be found on the neighboring North Cemetery, which is open for Filipinos and Chinoys alike. There it is not uncommon that homeless people make themselves at home in the mausoleum. Unsurprisingly, as they often provide more comfort and better protection against the weather than the makeshift huts of Manila's slums.
The Chinese cemetery was built during the Spanish Colonial Period, when the Chinese were not allowed to be buried on Catholic graveyards. The cemetery is open for different denominations, which partly explains the diversity of styles; here a colorful Buddhist mausoleum with the characteristic curved ledges, there a protestant mausoleum in minimalistic design with a cross on top. On one mausoleum's rooftop dragons keep away all evil, on the next an angel fulfills the same duty.
Apart from the mausoleums, there are several monuments and a beautiful Buddhist temple to visit.
The Chinese Cemetery is located in the very north of Manila City. Cab drivers should know the way. If you dare to take public transport, LRT 1 passes by the cemetery. Get off at Abad Santos Station. (A map in some trains indicates to get off at R. Papa – just ignore that). Ask your way through when you exit the station. When you are a foreigner and near the entrance 'South Gate', a confused look is often enough to get assistance from the ever so friendly Filipinos: “Chinese Cemetery? Derecho lang!” (“Just straight”).
The area of the cemetery is quite big. You might be able to rent a bike for 100 Pesos at the entrance. To make sure you see the highlights and get interesting background info on the cemetery, you should hire a guide there as well. They will probably approach you right away and ask for 700 Pesos for a one-hour tour. But as with many services, you can lower the price considerably - up to 50 percent - by negotiating.