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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Filipino-Chinese culture enlivens Zamboanga

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I’ve been in the Philippines for 28 years, and recently, I visited Zamboanga City for business.

Exploring its history, I discovered it was established by the Sultanate of Sulu in the 14th Century. The Sulu Sultanate visited Ming dynasty’s Yongle Empire in 1417. After that, the ruling power shifted between Spanish and the Sultanate.

When we trace back the name of “Zamboanga”, we have to mention Zheng He (1371-1433), also known as Sambao Eunuch, his official title.

Zheng He is a renowned Chinese mariner, explorer and diplomat of the Ming Dynasty.

He commanded seven voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and East Africa from 1405 to 1433, leaving behind him different kinds of stories and legends in the countries he visited.

In Southeast Asia and South Asia, a great many places are relevant to Zheng He: Sam Po Kong port in Thailand, Bukit China in Malaysia, Zamboanga port in the Philippines and Sambao Long (Semarang) in Indonesia, hence their names.

While Zamboanga City is predominantly inhabited by Muslim and Catholic communities, it also has a sizable Filipino-Chinese population, coexisting harmoniously. Local markets, or palengkes, feature Muslim vendors selling traditional woven textiles and goods from Malaysia, Indonesia and China, reflecting the city’s diverse cultural influences.

As a Buddhist, I sought out Buddhist temples, including the Sambao Temple, likely named after Zheng He. However, these temples are often managed by lay believers and lack structured Dharma promotion activities. Peter, a staff member at Sambao Temple, noted a decline in attendance among Filipino-Chinese youth, contrasting with the interest shown by young Filipinos in visiting temples to seek blessings and protection from disasters.

Buddhist temples hold significant importance within the local Chinese community, exemplified by institutions like the renowned Zamboanga Avalokitesvara School, established and run by a Buddhist temple. Beyond providing education, these temples actively participate in disaster relief efforts, charitable initiatives, and contribute to national development endeavors.

On a separate note, my quest for Chinese cuisine in the city led me to discover Abalone Restaurant. The menu at Abalone undoubtedly stands out, placing a strong emphasis on fresh seafood. A standout feature of the menu is undoubtedly the namesake dish – abalone.

The restaurant offers a tantalizing array of dishes showcasing other seafood treasures, including lobster, crab, and fish. I’ve savored their sotanghon, mixed vegetables, siopao, machang and siomai, and each dish was simply divine.

Zamboanga City’s ability to maintain harmony among its multicultural and multireligious inhabitants left a profound impression on me as the gateway to the southwest of the Philippines.


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