Wednesday, June 10, 2015

San Nicolas, Manila

San Nicolas is squeezed between the financial hub of Binondo, the tourist spots of Intramuros and Luneta, across the Pasig River, and the mighty ports of Tondo. It is the smallest district of Manila, and the least known, except for Divisoria, the famed marketplace for all-things mura. Even this morsel of knowledge isn't available to many, (shoppers and store attendants alike) since the block with department stores ending with numbers 8 and 9 are associated with the chinky-eyed traders of Ongpin. Often snubbed for its ruggedness, this forgotten corner of the city lies heirloom gems, very few bother to see.

The main reason for its apparent remoteness is the lack of transportation going in and out of the district. From Divisoria, a wanderer has to brave the narrow, and sometimes pickpocket-infested streets beyond Juan Luna, to realize there is something to see aside from the jaw-dropping bargain items that came all the way from China. Meanwhile, slums and sixteen-wheeler trucks greet pilgrims, should they make their way in from Bonifacio Drive. An unsightly welcome to a place that never promotes its disappearing landmarks. While there is a street across San Lorenzo Church that can serve as the main artery leading to San Nicolas' ancestral heartland, strollers and their tour guides continue their journey instead toward Intramuros, which can be accessed through the much familiar Quintin Paredes street. Considered to be the Makati Avenue of pre-war Manila, most banks and lending companies still do business here, given its nearness to Binondo.

With San Nicolas' remoteness already driving sightseers away, what puts the spear into the idea of turning this corner into another tourist spot is the communities' disregard for its heritage sites. That, or the practical and enterprising nature of its people require every dwelling place functional even when conservationists decry the misuse of architectural relics. Here, ancestral homes belonging to the once wealthy industrialists of the Spanish Manila are left in the custody of informal settlers. Many have been abandoned, or even demolished, to make way for high-rise apartments that serve only the transients of Fujian and Guandong. 

It is a sad, sad thought that while there is much to glean from these once palatial abodes - their glorious histories and bittersweet tragedies, none of the original occupants might still be around to tell the tale once a storyteller finds the courage to write what there is to unravel. Given the spread of the urban blight, along with the pockets of urban renewal happening across the district, even a passerby like me may no longer recognize the old San Nicolas, should I decide to return one day and flesh out my story.

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