Thursday, April 28, 2022

A Sip of History: Destileria Limtuaco Museum in Intramuros

- April 23, 2022, Saturday.

- As someone who likes to learn and explore, there are times when I'd do things that I don't normally do. One of which is drinking. I rarely rarely drink, and my tolerance for alcohol is low, and it's not something I typically enjoy doing. However, I recently thought of the Destileria Limtuaco Museum randomly, and remembered that I had never visited this place in Intramuros. I also felt I had to visit it at some point as it was the very first and oldest still-running distillery in the Philippines after all.

- The museum was opened to the public in February 2018, although it has been in Intramuros for the past 4 decades prior. The museum was initially built as a private collection and only for personal visitors of the Limtuaco family. One can find the museum today behind Colegio San Juan de Letran, near the Jones Bridge side of Intramuros. The museum is inside a Spanish-style stone house. 

The museum.

They had to write Chinese words as the family has its roots in China.

- The actual distillery was never located in this museum. Lim Tua Co came to the Philippines from China in 1850 and thought of setting up a distillery as he carried with him his family's energizing Chinese tonic recipe. The first site of the distillery was in Gandara Street (now Sabino Padilla Street) in Binondo Chinatown. In 1939 the distillery was moved to Caloocan City. The distillery's operations were affected during the Japanese Occupation in World War II. After the war, the distillery was once more up and running. Today, the current president is the 5th generation of the Limtuaco family. The distillery is located along EDSA, near Balintawak in Quezon City.

- The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays. Currently, you may pay for a regular ticket, or a special ticket that includes entrance and 6 free shots of whichever Limtuaco product you wish to taste. Of course, I had to get the special ticket to see what was so special about their products.

You'll meet a model of a carabao before entering the actual museum. It's supposed to show how sugarcane was ground to get the juice to be turned into alcohol later. 

- The museum's first gallery is nothing short of spectacular. Giant distillation machines and barrels will welcome visitors to get a glimpse of how alcohol is distilled from various products like sugarcane or corn. Speaking of which, the first product of the distillery was the Chinese herbal wine I mentioned earlier. That's called "sioktong." This medicinal alcoholic drink was supposed to give people more energy. The distillery still produces sioktong today.

Giant barrel.

Sioktong ingredients.

Distillation machines.

First four presidents, from the first four generations of the Limtuaco family.

- The second gallery features packaging machines from the past, as well as its bar where you can take samples of their products. You can purchase their products from the museum as well. I tried a few of their products since it was included in my ticket. Of course I had to try some of their most famous products, like sioktong and the White Castle whisky. As someone who doesn't drink much alcohol, I appreciate the bar selling cold water so I can drink between between shots of alcohol.

The distillery logo.

Bottles for alcohol.

With packagine machines.

At the bar, the barista was showing me their products. The one she's holding is called Gaz, and is available in stores everywhere. I liked Gaz because it only has 7% alcohol so it's not too strong. It comes in green (apple vodka), and red (strawberry margarita).

This is the current incarnation of sioktong.

The dragon fruit wine was surprisingly tangy. I guess that's what fermentation does to the usually subtly-flavored dragonfruit.

White Castle whisky. I can never like whisky (any whisky) I'm sorry. I'm just really not used to the taste, and I think whisky is inherently strong.

This is me pretending to know how to drink.

Chocolate liqueur. Interesting, I think I kind of like it.

Again, pretentious me, pretending to know how to drink.

- The museum's third gallery is located at the second floor. The second floor shows some of the prized products of the distillery through time, as well as some objects owned by the former presidents of the Limtuaco Distillery.

Second floor gallery.

The pride of Destileria Limtuaco.

The desk and things of Julius Limpe, the fourth president of the distillery.

- I appreciated my short visit to the museum. Even though this isn't the kind of topic I'd normally be interested in, it was still nice to understand how alcoholic beverages have been done in the Philippines. I'm happy that the museum has since reopened as they have been closed since the pandemic began in 2020 until a few months ago. I hope people will get to visit this museum, both enthusiasts of alcoholic beverages, and casual goers just like me! There is so much to learn not only about alcohol, but also about the history of the Philippines!

Monday, April 25, 2022

San Nicolas: The Other Side of Manila's Chinatown

- April 16, 2022, Black Saturday.

- Those who live in Manila or who have gone to Manila will know that Chinatown is one of its popular tourist spots. Manila's Chinatown takes pride in being the oldest Chinatown in the world, being established in 1594. However, most people are only familiar with the Binondo district, which is the heart of Chinatown. Beyond the towering Binondo Church and its plaza is the San Nicolas District. Not many have heard of it or have gone to visit it, well, probably because it's currently a residential area. Most economic activity (i.e. restaurants, shops) is in the center of Binondo.

- Before going directly to San Nicolas, I took the chance to have a photo op with the giant Chinatown Arch at the end of Jones Bridge. The new arch was built in 2015. The old arch still hides behind the new arch though. I'm glad they did not demolish the old one!

I feel great wearing my "costumes" again. (I use quotation marks because to me, they're things I use regularly -- just not during the pandemic huhu.)

With more photos on Jones Bridge. Love the silhouette effect.

I sort of have a night version of this, and shot from the other side during my night tour of Manila (click here to see).

Love the stairs!

Close-up photo of the arch, and a change of vest. By the way, this is said to be the world's largest Chinatown arch.

With the old arch, which was built in the 1970s alongside the other old arches of Binondo. At the back is the Philtrust Bank, built in 1914.

One of the old buildings of Binondo. Unfortunately, a lot of these old buildings aren't taken good care and are usually demolished later on to give way to new buildings.

- After my early morning photoshoot, I passed by Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz to have breakfast at Jollibee. Later on, I passed by Juan Luna Street on the way to San Nicolas. I was actually surprised to know that there are old buildings that still remain even in Juan Luna! To think that I've been passing by Juan Luna a lot ever since I was young, and I neve knew. Well, I guess I never bothered looking up whenever I'd pass by Juan Luna, since I would normally be busy taking care of my things. Juan Luna can be crowded on a regular day after all.

This fountain has been here since the 1800s. Hiding behind me and the fountain is the iconic Binondo Church.

This Art Deco building along Juna Luna used to be the Aguinaldo Department Store. It was built in the 1930s. It closed in the 1960s when newer and bigger malls were built outside Manila.

Details: outside the building are several statues. Two of them are a statue of Lady Liberty (left) and Andres Bonifacio (right).

- Upon reaching San Nicolas, I met up with my former student Keefe who wanted to tag along for the day's adventure. It was so nice to see him, and I was happy to have a former student learn history with me for the day. (He was my student in my history class after all.)

- Before going into the details of our own San Nicolas walking tour, let me tell you something about San Nicolas. Owing to its proximity to the Pasig River and the Manila Bay, it was a fishing village. As early as the Spanish era, is has been inhabited by Filipino "indios," mestizo-sangleys (Filipino-Chinese), and pure-blooded Chinese. As such, it has always had this reputation of being an "extension" of Binondo's Chinatown.

- We first visited the Casa Tribunal de Naturales along Asuncion Street. This appears to be the only "casa tribunal" of its time to survive in Manila. It functioned as a municipal hall in the 1800s. As it is a tribunal house, it had a small court for hearings.

Casa Tribunal de Naturales.

- At the street behind the Casa Tribunal, at the corner of Camba and Lara Streets, stands the Chan Uangco Sunico House. It was the home of the bell caster Hilario Sunico in the 1870s. He also became the gobernadorcillo (or "barangay captain" in today's parlance) of San Nicolas. 

Sunico House.

A block away is this old house, at the corner of Madrid and Lara. I couldn't find much information about this house. (In case you're reading this and would like to tell me anything about this house, please do so.)

Some of these houses retain the ceramic letterings.

At least the street signs back in the day were clear and big.

- Many of the old houses of San Nicolas are in danger of being demolished in favor of larger and newer buildings. Such is the situation of heritage preservation in the Philippines - we don't preserve a lot. Manila used to be called the Paris of Asia and all sorts of names because of its ornate European-style architecture. While repurposing old buildings is an option many have proposed, it isn't always everyone's way to go. For example, Keefe and I wanted to see Casa Vizantina, which was a house built with Byzantine influences. Today, the house is not there anymore and a replica has been built in Las Casas de Acuzar in Bataan (see here). Another victim of this is the Sunico Foundry, one of the most iconic houses of San Nicolas, now being built into a condominium. 

- In lieu of the original houses, I also appreciate historical markers, such as the one we found on the structure that used to be the house where the Katipunan published their own newspaper, "Ang Kalayaan." They only had one issue as the second one was seized by the Spanish. As you can read in the marker, the original building was destroyed in 1945 as part of the World War II damages.

Lavezares House, corner of Madrid and Lavezares Streets. I cannot find information about this house also, but what I know is that it's one of the more well-maintained houses. Many of these houses have been repurposed as warehouses too.

This is located across the Lavezares House. I cannot find information about this house either.

Some buildings will have this kind of historical marker. This one is for the house where Ang Kalayaan was printed.

This building that now stands where Ang Kalayaan was printed is located at the corner of Sevilla and Lavezares Streets.

- At the edge of San Nicolas is San Fernando Street, which is known for the San Fernando bridge. The bridge is one of the few that connect San Nicolas to Binondo. However, this bridge is the most popular among all the bridges as it faces the Binondo Church. That bridge, supposedly, would be a nice place to have a photo with the Binondo Church as the background. Unfortunately, the view church today from the bridge is covered with trees, stoplights and street signs, and an infinite amount of cable wires. By the way, along the bridge, one can also find the Panciteria Macanista de Buen Gusto. It was a restaurant mentioned in Jose Riza's book, El Filibusterismo. The restaurant, though long non-operational, miraculously still stands today. It is, like many old houses, in a sorry state. I think the moment I blow on it, it will turn into ashes.

Panciteria Macanista de Buen Gusto, along San Fernando Bridge.

- The first place we saw along San Fernando Street was the San Nicolas Fire Station. Built in 1901, it was one of the first (if not the first?) first stations in the Philippines. It is still fully functional!

The San Nicolas Fire Station.

- We also passed by the Arch of Solidarity, which is supposed to separate San Nicolas from Binondo. Near the Arch of Solidarity is a building with the so-called "Hidden Temple." Unfortunately, I also could not find information about this intriguing ang towering temple.

Arch of Solidarity.

Hidden Temple. I really am curious to know about this building. I cannot find anything about it, other than people referring to it as "hidden temple."

It looks intriguing.

- Taking a bit of a detour, we went to the street behind San Fernando, which was Urbiztondo. This sleep street is also home to another architectural treasure: the birth house of Antonio Luna. Antonio Luna was born in this stone house ("bahay na bato") in 1866. It is currently abandoned, though one can see that the house is generally still intact.

With Antonio Luna's birth house.

Yay for former students. Look at that bright smile. It is the smile of learning. HAHA.

Philippine flags hung proudly. Or at least, I hope the flags feel proud.

- Going back to San Fernando Street, we also found a building that stands on what used to be a house related to the Rizal family. It has two historical markers: one saying the the house belonged to the Rizal family, and another specifically saying that Rizal's mother, Teodora Alonzo, died in that house. Again, I'm partly happy to see these markers one hand, but on the other hand, I'd like to see the houses too. 

Rizal's house.

What it is today.

- We later passed by the bright yellow Cham Samco and Sons Inc. along Sto. Cristo Street, near San Fernando. Although it looks small, this hardware store was actually a pioneer of the hardware store in the Philippines. The store was incorporated in 1947. The yellow structure has been their store since that time too! 

As bright and yellow as the sun.

- Another of San Nicolas' secrets is the Santo Cristo de Longos shrine, which is located along the San Nicolas street. (Yes, there is a San Nicolas Street in the San Nicolas District.) If you've been to Chinatown before, you'll probably be familiar with the shrine beside Shopper's Mart at the corner of Ongpin and T. Pinpin Streets. The one in San Nicolas is just like that, and it's actually also related to the shrine beside Shopper's Mart since they're both shrines dedicated to Santo Cristo de Longos. The Santo Cristo de Longos is one of the many images of Jesus Christ. Like some forms, the Jesus Christ is depicted as a black crucified Christ. Longos refers to the barrio where the first image was found. It was said that a deaf and mute Chinese person was fetching water in a well in the barrio of Longos in Binondo. Upon getting pulling his pail, he saw a Santo Cristo statue. Surprised, and with devotion, he suddenly shouted and - allegedly - was able to hear and speak after that. The people were shocked to see this miracle, and soon venerated this particular image of Christ. That is why the most sacred and historical images of the Santo Cristo de Longos are located within the vicinity of Chinatown (or its extension communities).

Trying to be a good Catholic. Also, you'll notice that I'm holding incense sticks. Chinese Catholics back in the day merged traditional worship practices with their new Catholic faith. One of which is lighting incense sticks as part of prayer rituals instead of/apart from candles. Traditionally, incense sticks are lit to venerate or give honor to gods and ancestors. Chinese Catholics (like me) still do this today.

- The shrine was located along the way to the edge of San Nicolas, at the corner of Elcano Street and Recto Avenue. In the middle of all the chaos of Recto stand a memorial to the Katipunan, which was formed in this corner. Although the house where the organization was formed is now a big building, a memorial monument was built in front of the building instead.

Katipunan monument.

Andres Bonifacio in the middle.

- On the way to Binondo, we also passed by the Ides O'Racca Building across Divisoria Mall. The Art Deco building was built in 1935 and was owned by Dr. Isidoro de Santos ("Ides" for short,) and was a cold storage plant apar from his residence. After the death of Isidoro de Santos in 1939, the building was owned by a Japanese candy business. After the war, the building was passed on from owner to owner. It is currently vacant, and yes, might be a candidate for demolition like all other old houses. (See, this is heritage conservation in the Philippines. - Sense the tone. I also know that heritage conservation isn't as easy as it sounds, but many of the heritage buildings in the country are not in their best shape.)

Ides O'Racca, in the middle of the sea of vendors (yes, they're the colorful umbrellas you see at the bottom.)

- Keefe and I managed to make our way to Lucky Chinatown for lunch, as a way to celebrate our 3-hour walk under the sun. It was also nice to catch up in person too over a meal, really cold drinks, and glorious air-conditioning. (Yes, it was THAT hot outside, and I don't usually do well in the heat.)   

The smile of success....and learning. HAHA.

- My day, however, was not yet over. After Keefe went home, I headed back to Plaza San Lorenzo Ruize to take a nice photo with the Binondo Church. The lighting was not good in the morning since the sun rises behind the church. Lighting is best in the afternoon. Unfortunately, as it was in the middle of the day, it took a while to take a nice photo because of the people and cars passing by. However, I was finally able to do so, after an hour maybe. The Binondo Church, as many know, is the icon of Chinatown since 1596. I've lived in Manila all my life and I realized that I hadn't had a photo op with the church!

Fully-fledged Chinoy. HAHA.

- San Nicolas - and Binondo for that matter - are treasure chests that are acknowledged yet taken for granted. Binondo has been the center of Chinatown's fame, but San Nicolas has always been that quiet friend in the shadows of Binondo. While heritage and culture enthusiasts have brought people to San Nicolas to explore and introduce the district's history, its significance isn't in the consciousness of most people - even its very residents! I saw countless old houses in San Nicolas, not all I took photos of as there were just too many of them, and I just got sadder and sadder the more I saw. None of them were in good condition, even though some of them are supposedly protected. Others do not exist anymore (given that some were part of war casualties). Despite the sadness of seeing dilapidated old houses, overall, I was happy that I finally explored San Nicolas. Manila keeps surprising me, even after living here my whole life!