“I need to change to my old purse for 168. We always use our older things when we go to 168,” my mom said.
“What? Why? What’s 168?” I asked.
“It’s a big building with a lot of cheap things. I’m supposed to buy some costume jewelry and fake Coach purses and take them back home for the office girls,” she said.
“168: You can get anything in the world made in China,” my dad added.
“You won’t want to go, though. Ayay will be bored,” said my mom.
The next day, my mom took off for this mysterious 168. F, the girls and I had lunch with my dad and my Tita. After lunch, I said to my dad, “I want to go to 168. I want to see what this place is all about.”
We got in the van and slowly, slowly, very slowly (due to traffic, of course) made our way into Manila’s Chinatown (the oldest Chinatown in the world having been established in 1594.)
“Wow. Chinatown. I haven’t been to this part of the city in 35 years!” my dad said.
After winding through narrow streets packed with vehicles, bicyclists, food vendors, and brave pedestrians, we got dropped off at the entrance of 168.
Upon entering 168, I was reminded of the markets in Thailand, though 168 was enclosed and air-conditioned. The aisles were very narrow and packed with merchandise on both sides – everything from Hello Kitty merchandise to plastic combs to Pokemon Cards. A plethora of shoes for men, women and children, clothing tacky and funky, and generic bags of all brands were spilling off the racks. There was even a plastic Chinese version of the Last Supper. Really! It was made of plastic and the men were clearly Chinese. It seemed that the only items not for sale at 168 were live animals.
We didn’t really need anything, but we decided since we were here, we might as well look for pirated DVDs, of which there were many — Valkyrie, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Australia, TWILIGHT. (I was tempted, believe me, but I decided to hold off for the copy I’ve already pre-ordered through Amazon.)
As we made our way through 168, F parted the crowds by pushing Ayay in the stroller in front of him. Being the only white guy towering over the packed crowd of Asians while pushing a half-Filipino 3.5 year old girl who clearly wore an expression of fear, F was attracting some attention. But then when the shoppers and vendors saw what was behind him — a pale barefoot baby strapped to her Mom’s chest — they went craaaaazy. Women (and even men) came up to me and started stroking Tingting. Those that weren’t bold enough to touch the baby were standing off to the side oohing and ahhing.
“Hi, Baby. Aw, you’re so pretty,” they would say as they stroked Tingting’s bare arms, gently squeezed her chubby legs, and caressed her big cheeks. When we made it through that crowd, we would turn a corner and be rushed by another group of people.
“Aw! Hi, Baby. Look at you,” a different crowd would say as they patted her hair, wiggled her arms, and tickled her feet. No one really paid attention to me. I was just there to make sure no one tried to take her home. I felt like Tingting was a celebrity and I was her bodyguard.
These baby-loving, family-oriented Filipino admirers were very sweet and gentle, so they’re behavior didn’t bother me too much. And Tingting didn’t seem to mind one bit. She actually gave a lot of smiles, which sent her fans swooning even more.
I’m still not sure why the place is called 168, but I think that’s how many people touched our baby during the 30 minutes we were there.