When I was attending college at Far Eastern University and during the early years of my professional life in the metropolitan Manila, I always frequented the Manila Chinatown in Binondo. I would, also, often walk through Tomas Pinpin Street until I reached Escolta and then cross through the Jones Bridge to get to the Manila Post Office and Intramuros. There was something about these districts that always drew me in. Perhaps it was because it was a childhood thing; a few times when I was a kid, my family would leave our car at home and would instead ride the Pasig Ferry in Guadalupe Station in Makati and alight at the Escolta Station, and then from there we would make a trip in what we knew back then as the “old Manila.”
And in all of those trips, I would always stop by some of the decades-old food businesses there to have my lunch or simply have light snacks after long hours of walking (usually with my trusted camera; I always loved doing photo walks there). I never had any trouble going in; there was hardly any line.
But during a trip back here with my workmates just early this month to do a food crawl and a photo walk, I was surprised that food businesses there had long lines of waiting customers. We met up at Wai Ying restaurant on Benavides Street supposedly to have our lunch first before we do our agenda – but surprisingly we had to wait for 10 to 15 minutes just to finally get inside. We also had our snacks later at Chuan Kee restaurant on Ongpin Street and again we had to wait for around 20 minutes just to finally get a much-deserved and much-needed spot in the crowded restaurant.
This surprised me, as I could not recall a time that I had to fall in line just to eat at these restaurants before.
As I learned later, there have been trends going on in TikTok where users would post their experiences and reviews of these decades-old food businesses; they would document their trips to Binondo and would compress them into 15-30-second video content, where they would show the places they visited and their comments or reviews on their experiences. I do not have a TikTok account and I have been out of Facebook and Twitter for nearly a year by now so I have been outdated about what has been going on in the social media sphere.
So, if TikTok suggests that everybody’s been having food crawls in the famed heritage district, would you want to miss out (yes, this is a classic indication of “FOMO” or the fear-of-missing-out culture)? Of course you would also want to join the fun!
And that is not all. People are wanting to have a taste of every piece of Binondo; I saw that even the old, classic fried siopao and lumpia stalls were catering to long lines of old and new patrons, too – all wanting their piece of these delicious snacks.
Isn’t that amazing – how TikTok, which has always been a subject of constant criticism by global authorities and researchers because of several issues like worrisome content, security issues, and sketchy data collection, among others, is not at all that bad. I do not work in TikTok nor do I get any benefit from saying these things but I would like to give credit where it is due: These decades-old food businesses in Binondo have been there for so long and have also suffered a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet they have been enjoying a deluge of customers for weeks now.
And this happens beyond TikTok, too. Who could have missed the news about how a Twitter post by a private individual that showed a photo of a nearly-empty Tropical Hut sparked a public interest to dine in at this then-popular fast-food restaurant? The said restaurant did not exactly have the same ring to its name as its more popular counterparts like Jollibee and McDonald’s, but who would have thought that a post by a private Twitter user would cause great disruption (good disruption) in its struggling business?
Walking through the streets of Manila Chinatown and seeing so many groups of friends and families – nearly all had their phones out, happily documenting everything they saw and did – a few weeks ago made me feel so happy, even though the reason why I have been out of Facebook and Twitter was because I did not like how the FOMO culture was influencing my and other people’s habits. While I loved the Manila Chinatown that had fewer crowds because that’s what’s more familiar to me, I have to say that this new vibe is something that our Filipino-Chinese businessmen friends in the district deserve. They have long been part of society, hence they deserve all the support they can get.
And while Tiktok, Twitter, and other social media platforms remain problematic in some sense as they still cannot fully address the long-standing issues pitted against them, we cannot deny that they have been instrumental in boosting tourism and business, especially now when it matters most.
Thanks to social media and the younger people’s FOMO behavior, the decades-old food businesses in old Manila are roaring back to life once again.
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.
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