Lazy Susan, feng shui, and living with angkong and amah: What it is like to grow up in a Chinoy household?

By Stanley Ong See 06 July, 2017
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You never really see something as unique and different until you see it from the perspective of another set of eyes. Having studied and graduated in a Chinese school, it wasn’t really until I entered college a decade and a half ago when I had non-Chinoy classmates and org-mates come and visit my house in Ermita, Manila.

I could easily tell how having the traditional setup of a store and storage rooms/warehouse at the ground floor and living quarters on the second and upper floors was something surely unfamiliar to them. Through the years, I have come to observe and appreciate other eccentricities and charms of living in a Chinoy household.

Multiple generations. Similar to Filipino households, living with your angkong and amah, cousins, other relatives and extended family is quite the norm. The large number of people in the household maybe chaotic at times, but you learn how to talk and respect older people at a young age and get to experience a different type of family dynamics than if you only live with your parents and siblings.

Multiple religions and practices. My amah is a practicing Roman Catholic while my deceased angkong was a Buddhist; I studied elementary and high school in a Episcopal school and studied in a brother-run Catholic school along Taft; and to top it all off, we practice Chinoy rituals like burning incense, “gold” paper (金纸), and bowing to ancestors. 

In short, don’t be surprised if you see a Santo Niño statue, image of the Virgin Mary, statue of a crucified Jesus Christ, wood carving of the Last Supper, Buddha statue, and a plain cross, all in one Chinoy home.

Security. With combined setup of business and living accommodations mentioned above, security is utmost import to Chinoys. Gated properties, barbed wires, grilled windows, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, bolt locks, dogs, and even security guards and personal body guards can sometimes make the humble Chinoy house feel like a fort.

Lazy Susan. A trademark and necessity of every Chinoy dining table is a lazy Susan; a circular glass or wooden disc that is placed on top of a spinning mechanism. This ensures that everyone has easy access to the food at the table and negates the need to ask somebody to pass along a certain dish or plate.

Feng Shui. While our house doesn’t exactly scream “feng shui (風水)”, most Chinoy homes practice some sort of practical Feng Shui to attract positive energy (chi) and in the process, good luck and prosperity. Clean windows, indoor plants, a water fountain inside the house, and proper positioning of one’s bed ensure that chi flows freely through the corners of your house.

A familiar decoration in Chinoy homes is the eight-sided Bagua (八卦), representing the sky, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain, and earth.

Jameson Chua, a school administrator, shared that facing doors (门对门), especially at the entrance, is a big no-no. In addition, headboards of beds should not contain any windows directly above them and kitchens should not be directly below beds/bedroom/places of sleep.

Decorations. Bagua (八卦), paper scrolls with Chinese proverbs, one-character posters with either 春, 福, etc., big lettered calendars that both show Gregorian and lunar dates, and a “money frog (金蟾)” are just some of the things that accentuate the aesthetics as well as the fortune of Chinoy households.

Another Chinoy staple is the daily calendar (with bold letters) that tell the day in both Gregorian and Lunar cycles.

Pinoy dishes with a Chinese twist. Chicken or pork adobo with sweet sauce and hard boiled eggs, nilaga with kundol or winter melon, and most meat dish with oyster sauce are just some of the dishes that I grew up with but couldn’t find in most non-Chinoy homes.

There are of course a lot more things to see (huge vases, koi ponds, etc.) and experience in other Chinese-Filipino houses. Do you have any special memories or areas in your house that you think fellow Chinoys can relate? Comment and share you thoughts in the comment section.

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Last modified on Thursday, 06 July 2017 21:53

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