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Philippines: Chinese cemetery

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Chinese cemetery | Philippines | Asia

[Visited: August 2009]

The big street still had all the noise and pollution that can be found in many parts of Manila, but as I turned a corner and walked slightly uphill, the smaller streets had a much friendlier atmosphere. Kids playing outside, an old woman sitting on a chair, a man washing his jeepney: life seemed much more relaxed here. When I reached the entrance gate of the cemetery, I met with a resident who claimed to have been born here, and decided to explore the cemetery with him. That was a good decision: he turned out to be a very knowledgeable guy with a good sense of humour. We agreed on a two hour walk, and my new found friend started to talk enthusiastically about the history of the cemetery.

Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Two storey houses containing graves of Chinese inhabitants of Manila

In the 19th century, the Spanish did not allow the Chinese to bury their dead in the catholic cemeteries of the city, so the Chinese were forced to establish their own cemetery. Ever since, it developed to a unique place for the dead, which apparently does not have a similar counterpart in mainland China. This vast area reflects the realities of real life, with luxurious buildings housing the rich, spacious houses the middle class, and walls with square graves the poor. But what makes this cemetery so interesting, is the fact that the dead are buried in fully functional houses with bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and often air conditioning. In some cases, relatives even live in the same house as the dead.

Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): The War Memorial is a central landmark in the Chinese cemetery

Although the tomb houses of the Chinese cemetery have front doors that are locked, you can peek inside. Normally, the ground floor contains the grave of the deceased, and behind, you can see the bathroom and the kitchen. Stairs lead upstairs to where relatives can sleep. There even is a mailbox in many houses for those who wish to share something about the dead with the family. On Sundays, and notably on All Saints Day, many Chinese come to their dead here, prepare lunch, have a drink, and play mahjong, always with one empty chair for the departed. Furthermore, I saw a temple in which Buddha and Jesus are present side by side. The cemetery was the site of heavy fighting and executions during World War II, and there are several memorials, as well as a mass grave, to commemorate those events. The Chinese here bury their babies separately from the family graves, and the wall where babies are buried makes for a sad read. There are alleys with rental tomb space, there are tomb houses with trees growing straight through the roof, there are old tombs with stone turtles - symbol of longevity. I even saw several tombs where the man and wife were already buried - but where a third space was still open, reserved for the lover of the man. Every tomb is unique, every tomb has its story to tell, and you can easily spend a lot of time exploring this fascinating Chinese cemetery.

Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Lane with graves for the poor
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Chinese temple look for family tomb
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Tombs have a grave, but also bathroom and kitchen inside
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Street with graves and trees
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): One of the many grave alleys in the Chinese cemetery
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Some of the graves are big buildings where relatives continue to live
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Baby graves have a separate wall in the Chinese cemetery
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Cremated persons have a special resting place where they are given food and drinks
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Multi-religious temple with Buddha and Jesus
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Interior of grave with marble and gold
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Family grave in the Chinese cemetery
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Bible covering the tombs of a couple with, on the left hand page, Job 19:25-27 and on the right, John 11:25-26
Picture of Chinese cemetery (Philippines): Dog locked up inside a grave

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