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At last, a treasure house
of Tsinoy heritage
By Vangie Baga-Reyes
Photos by August de la Cruz

IF THE Spaniards have Instituto Cervantes, the Germans the Goethe Institut, the Americans the Thomas Jefferson Center, the Ayalas and the Lopezes their own museums, the Chinese-Filipinos boast of Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center, a museum cum library focusing on the cultural heritage of the Chinese in Philippine soil.

For quite a long time, Tsinoys (Tsinong Pinoy) in the Philippines have not had a treasure house to showcase the tangible aspects of their heritage, not to mention the vastness of collections of Chinese artifacts unearthed in the country.

More than the siopao-siomai-pancit-mami influences and various superstitions we inherited from the ethnic Chinese, there was not much to recollect about the Chinese predominance in the country in olden times. For much of the past 10 centuries since the Chinese first came to Philippine shores to trade, then to settle, and eventually to leave their valuable imprints and impact on Philippine life, not much of that rich heritage was given a venue to be understood and reflected on.

With the construction of Kaisa Heritage Center, for the first time the Chinese-Filipino community has a repository of the historical and cultural legacy of the Chinese in all aspects of Philippine life. Not only does the center restore and record the Philippine historical past found in Chinese records and artifacts, but it also features the unique blending of Filipino and Chinese cultures and the intertwining destinies of the two races throughout history.

''We feel ashamed that the Ayalas, Lopezes, Vargas and other prominent families, as well as the foreign embassies, have their museums in our midst, and that we, the ethnic Chinese, so far have little to show for the pioneering work of our ancestors in the country,'' says Teresita Ang-See, executive trustee of Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Inc., a cause-oriented NGO that aims to integrate the Tsinoys into the mainstream Philippine society.

Bahay Tsinoy

Kaisa Heritage Center is a 3«-story building located on Anda cor Cabildo Sts. in Intramuros, the only newly constructed and butter-colored building in the area.

The 1,002-sq.m. lot houses some of the significant events and treasures of the Chinese-Filipinos.

Here's a peek into the museum called Bahay Tsinoy, which occupies the first floor and the mezzanine.

At the entrance, guests are welcomed by a huge collage of faces of today's Tsinoys and the back-breaking life of early immigrants. A step forward shows the variety of precious Chinese artifacts excavated in the Philippines, such as porcelain and coins, as well as artifacts brought to the country by the early Chinese--from kitchen utensils, farm implements, weaving loom and cook ware, to goldsmith tools, pottery and porcelain.

The artifacts, says Ang-See, are either donated by concerned Tsinoys or on loan from the National Museum.

Bahay Tsinoy also features lifelike dioramas depicting the life of the early Chinese immigrants (as traders, artisans, craftsmen, peddlers, goldsmith), ancient maps, a replica of a Chinese junk called sampan, and murals and bust of Gen. Jose Ignacio Paua, a true-blooded Chinese who fought during the Philippine Revolution.

A gallery of rare photographs and prints showing the ancient Chinese in Philippine history are set along the walls at the second floor. There are more than 500 photographs in the collection.

Also displayed are old receipts in English, Spanish and Chinese, and cancelled checks of China Bank (the first Chinese bank in the country) issued at the turn of the century, valuable Chinese coins and other documents.

Then there are the rare and exquisite porcelain pieces from the Tang, Sung, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The library

Also occupying the second floor are the Chinben See Memorial Library, the Kaisa Research and Data Bank Center, and the Awat Keng Auditorium, which is still under construction.

The library--which honors the late Prof. Chinben See, the anthropologist, renowned scholar and conceptualizer of the Center--carries more than 7,000 books, documents, magazines, dissertations and other articles.

The Data Bank Center contains a collection of current research materials, clippings, microfilmed archival materials, and old Chinese newspapers from all over the country.

To acknowledge Tsinoys who have made a mark in their own fields, a photo gallery of outstanding Chinese-Filipinos has been put up in their honor.

Those whose pictures, accompanied by a short profile, appeared in the gallery includes Jaime Cardinal Sin, President Corazon Aquino, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee, Gen. Vicente Lim, artist Ang Kiu Kok, composer Jeffrey Ching, singer-composer Jose Mari Chan, scriptwriter Ricky Lee, Sen. Nikki Coseteng, journalist Jullie Yap Daza.

Philanthropist Dr. Angelo King provided the seed money for the contruction of the center. Additional funds were later raised by the Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran through fund-raising campaigns.

Tomorrow, the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center will be inaugurated, with the attendance of former President Aquino, who will be joined by other dignitaries from the cultural community, public officials, businessmen and leaders of the Tsinoy community.

Bahay Tsinoy opens to the public starting Feb. 1. Entrance fee is P50 for adults and P30 for students and children.