The perils of driving in Metro Manila

Driving in Manila is almost suicidal; many drive with a death wish. Just ask any law-abiding foreigner residing in the Philippines to confirm this.

In the congested streets of Manila, super aggressive bus, jeepney and taxi drivers seem to have perfected the art of changing lanes, much to the dismay of those who religiously follow traffic rules. They swerve their vehicles rather boldly onto lanes they want to ‘conquer and divide.’ Never mind if they cut other vehicles as long as they reach their destination ahead of the rest. More often than not, it’s the female drivers, often regarded as “frail” and “lacking in driving techniques,” who are on the receiving end of this form of road bullying.

Horrendous traffic jams are common in major thoroughfares, especially during rush hour (a backseat passenger can actually finish knitting a scarf to get from Point A to Point B). You find yourself stuck on the road alongside with some of the bullies who have managed to ease you out of your lane in such effortless precision. And during those agonizing hours you wait for the traffic to loosen up, your eyes suddenly chance upon a rather hypocritical rear-end message on the public utility vehicle in front of you: “How’s my driving”? with a LTFRB hotline number to go with it. While you feel a bit tempted to report, say, a bad bus driver’s road misdemeanor to the proper authorities, your gut feel tells you this feedback system is all for show. What’s the use, really? Complaints just pile up and go unattended, according to reliable sources.

Have you ever seen drivers, at the height of impatience, overtaking and taking the lane of the oncoming traffic? This is an all too common sight. A lot of drivers do this — occupying the seemingly free lane of the opposite direction to get ahead of the line. In the end, they clog up the other lane and traffic worsens on both sides. Mass cursing then ensues.

And then there are the throngs of motorcyclists who seemed to have multiplied in the metropolis through the years, thanks to easy-to-pay schemes offered by motorcycle dealers. During stops, they snake through space gaps in between vehicles without any care in the world; car scratches are bound to happen at some point. And once the light turns green, they speed up with menace and change lanes like it’s second nature to them. It’s rather scary. With the way they negotiate the streets, it somewhat feels that there’s an assassin from this ‘cool’ motorcycle group out to get you.

Needless to say, one must watch out for those money-hungry traffic policemen (a.k.a. “crocodiles”) out to get you — you catch the drift — in some ‘tricky’ parts of the city landscape. In some areas, there are no proper road signs installed at crucial points, which can cause motorists a lot of confusion and, eventually, a police ‘arrest’ (the question is, would you just give the traffic officer some bribe money to get it done and over with, or would you rather hand over your driver’s license and go to all that trouble in redeeming it in their office later on?) One might wonder if these road traps were deliberately set up by the traffic enforcers, or it was just a plain oversight and nothing more.

And then there’s the sound of impatience. What’s with the overhonking of some motorists? Can’t they see you can’t just turn right or left en route to, say, a particular subdivision just because the traffic policeman or the traffic light has not yet given his/her/its go signal? In some countries, this is considered rude and haughty. But then again, this is Manila where too much honking seems to be the trend and, therefore, generally acceptable.

Crazy drivers. Unbearable traffic jams. Corrupt traffic enforcers. Long hours on the road. There’s so much agitation in the streets of Manila. True, you could just hail a cab in some occasions. But with the way Pinoy taxi drivers charge without using their meters (highway robbery!), you know you’re better off driving your own car, budget- and security-wise. Taking the jeepney or bus could be a transportation option, but with the air pollution and widespread crime in commuter vehicles, would you risk it?

It’s not safe to be on the road — well, any road in the world for that matter. But the streets of Manila are extra accident-prone, just because motorists lack the discipline to follow the rules. Why, some unqualified drivers can even get a driver’s license simply by paying up fixers! With this kind of system, is it any wonder that we have wayward — and sometimes drunken — drivers out there, who make it to televised police reports?

One can only do his/her part to be a defensive driver, who harms no one and vice versa. But we can never tell how things pan out in the rough streets of Manila, what with the complex traffic dynamics involved. Road bullies abound — and they always spell trouble. It will not hurt to say a prayer or two for travel protection before you step out of the house.

Drive safely, everyone.



Pedestrian panic in Metro Manila

I really miss my acquired “pedestrian power” in Switzerland.

Today, I ventured out of my comfort zone (read: my parents’ house in Las Pinas, a city south of Manila) for the first time, and hied off to Manila with my sister using public transport. Little did I know that I had to relearn how to cross the street Philippine-style in order not to lose my life while on vacation to visit my family and friends.

In Manila’s concrete jungle, the pedestrians seem to have no rights at all. Drivers are the kings and queens of the road. They don’t let pedestrians cross the street even at pedestrian crossings. You cross at your own risk. Motorists, most often than not, are not gracious. (But in fairness to Filipino motorists, a number of pedestrians are also undisciplined and are guilty of jaywalking. During my driving days in the Philippines, I almost hit and run over people who had the gall to cross streets at undesignated places.)

This afternoon, I almost got hit by a speeding van while crossing the street along the pedestrian lane on my way to the jeepney loading zone near Manila’s city hall. If my reflex system had been undependable — that is, failing to rush to the other side of the street on time — I would have been the next police report in the area. My epitaph would have read: “Dead due to lack of alertness while crossing a main street in Manila. Forgot that white pedestrian crossings in the city are not recognized by Filipino motorists after migrating to Switzerland.

Uninitiated Swiss people will definitely have a hard time in Metro Manila if and when they decide to tour some areas of the metropolis on foot. I think my step-mother-in-law will not survive here on Day 1 alone.

Where, o where, are the yellow pedestrian crossings of Switzerland? Suddenly, I miss the Swiss drivers who step on their breaks every time they see me cross the street at designated crossing lanes. Those yellow lines empower me with pedestrian rights, something that seem non-existent here in the Philippines.

While I can walk leisurely and with dignity as I cross the streets of Switzerland, here in Manila, just the mere thought of making the first step to reach point B from point A that traverse a busy street already gives me the jitters. I should wear a reliable pair of running shoes next time if I have the guts to go back to the “battlefield” where there’s an ongoing war between pedestrians and motorists on who has the right of way.

‘The Swiss Happy List’

A week from now, I’m scheduled to leave for Ukraine to do some volunteer work with Canadian and American teacher-missionaries. If plans don’t miscarry, I will teach English to pre-intermediate and intermediate adult students in a place where teaching resources are scarce, if not non-existent. I should therefore start preparing my lessons now before distractions — major and mundane — crowd my schedule this week. As it is, I’m already pressed for time.

But before I go on a two-month hiatus from blogging, I would like to share with you my personal “Happy List” (featuring my 101 simple joys as an Asian resident of Switzerland), upon the suggestion of someone I know, who knows my constant struggles with culture shock, language barrier, and homesickness as a relatively new resident.

So, here goes my list of “101 Things to be Happy About While in Switzerland” written in no particular order:

1. Clean air (the perfect gift for asthmatics)
2. Lindor chocolate balls (I let them melt in your mouth)
3. Sunday School volunteer work
4. Super fast Internet connection (via cable)
5. Unlimited train travel with my SBB General Abonnement
6. Calida pajamas made of cotton
7. November in Switzerland
8. Victorinox Swiss Army pocket knives
9. Global Zone Carrier Code 10840 (makes overseas calls to RP cheaper than usual)
10. Pet owners picking up their dogs’ pooh using those doggie plastic bags found in designated trash bins (but I wouldn’t like to do this myself, ugh)
11. Shopping at Carrefour
12. Surprise letters and packages from the Philippines and the USA
13. SF1 weather forecasts
14. Antiques fairs
15. “Aktion” signs in shops (it means products are on sale)
16. Bibliothek membership (I can borrow books and films for a year!)
17. Christmas markets
18. Caotina choco powder mixed with fresh milk
19. Seeing cute babies on ‘three-wheelers’ (baby trolleys)
20 Autumn leaves
21. Snow
22. The expatriate-friendly Swiss News paper
23. My friendly Turkish classmates in German class
24. Home-made Christmas cookies in decorative tin cans
25. Swiss lakes and ships
26. Talented buskers
27. Swiss music boxes (love them!)
28. Supermarket chain COOP’s sticker collection promos (allowing you to buy selected Tupperware products or cooking pans at reduced prices)
29. Staeheli Bookshop in Zurich
30. Swiss precision
31. My Schmidt-Flohr piano bought from a Christian businessman who supports Israel
32. Roger Federer
33. Summer sale
34. Cuckoo clocks
35. Personalized “Thank You” cards (usually with original photos on card covers)
36. My Mondaine Women’s Round Evo wristwatch (with eye-catching red leather strap)
37. Dr. Oetker’s easy-to-bake brownie mix
38. UBS online banking system
39. Extended shopping hours on Thursday nights
40. Non-allergenic duvets (oh, how expensive but worth it!)
41. COOP resto
42. Cell group in Zurich church
43. My highly competent Swiss dentist who speaks great English
44. TEX-AID charity bags
45. Self-service, push-button scales/pricing machines in supermarkets
46. Freshly baked bread
47. Cable cars
48. Whole roasted chicken to go at Migros‘ take-away counter
49. Recycling
50. Postal stamp dispensers and mailboxes
51. Systematic garbage disposal system
52. Hydro-powered vehicles and Smart cars
53. Those Bernie dogs
54. Discounted movie tickets on Mondays
55. Wooden bridges
56. Asian markets (yes, they exist in Switzerland!)
57. Basel Carnival (Fasnacht)
58. The water fountain in Geneva
59. Going on a fun pedal boatride in Geneva
60. Chocolate Easter rabbits on supermarket shelves
61. Open-air cinema in Nidau in summer (with sub-titles in German and French)
62. Smiling strangers who greet you “Gruezi” on the streets
63. Pedestrian crossings (all vehicles stop to let you pass)
64. Wooden coin boxes from brocante fairs
65. Summer street exhibitions (e.g. Teddy Summer 2005″ in Zurich)
66. Feeding hungry swans
67. Distinct taste of Rivella
68. The unique Swiss flag (they say that the Swiss are just as ‘square’) 🙂
69. Swiss chalets
70. Non-smoking signs on SBB trains
71. Chinese food take-aways
72. Foreign language courses
73. Switzerland’s electronic phone directory
74. Interlaken, Interlaken, Interlaken (call me biased)
75. Multi-lingual environment
76. Shopping arcades in Bern
77. Art graffitis on walls
78. ‘Human statues’ and their stationary performance art
79. Swiss In-line Cup
80. Old buildings still functional (as offices or residential places)
81. Summer course in French language and literature at the University of Neuchatel
82. Free gift-wrapping services or materials in small shops and department stores
83. National holidays (Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Pentecost)
84. Great fireworks display on August 1 (the Swiss National Day)
85. Real Christmas trees adorning living rooms during the Yuletide season
86. Billing system (e.g. you pay the doctor or the dentist only after you receive the bill)
87. Good healthcare system
88. SBB’s reliable luggage transport service (you can have your heavy baggage sent in advance to the airport by train)
89. Panoramic view of the Swiss Alps
90. Freedom to wear what you like, without being judged as a “fashion mishap”
91. Betty Bossi instant meals (you are three to five minutes’ away from a sumptuous meal by microwave)
92. “Happy hens” walking freely in farms, and not locked up in cages
93. Three Kings’ special cakes with a plastic king hidden in the bread, and a paper crown prize for the child (me) who finds the king
94.  The Swiss work ethic
95. Drinkable water from the faucet
96. Cleanliness and semblance of order almost everywhere
97. Free education in Swiss state schools
98. Opportunity to feed hungry swans swimming in picturesque Swiss lakes
99. Pre-seasoned meat for grill parties
100. Quaint old cities/towns with cobble-stoned pavements
101. Sledding fun in winter

I’m sure there’s more I can add to the list as I go along. But let this 101 list suffice for now.

Appreciating the little things in life is an advisable habit, especially if you’re a Filipino expatriate who left your comfort zone to start an unknown life in a landlocked country found in the heart of Europe. It’s one of the sure-fire formulas to combat ‘socio-cultural burnout.’


Pedestrian power in Switzerland

In the concrete jungle of Metro Manila, one crosses the street at his/her own risk. Pedestrian crossings don’t really mean anything to impatient motorists who seem convinced, based on their recklessness, that they have the right of way almost always. No wonder we hear a lot of hit-and-run incidents in the Philippines.

So I inwardly relish my newly acquired power over the motorists here in Switzerland, a virtual haven for pedestrians like me who almost had a near-death (or should I say “near-tire”) experience on Taft Avenue, Manila in the early ’90s. Here, I can set foot on those yellow parallel lines and feel safe, not worrying if a jeepney from out of nowhere hits and runs over me. Here, I am the queen of the road — on foot.

The Swiss law states that motorists must hit the breaks for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing if the latter shows an intention to cross the road. They have to because it is the law, and not because they are fond of stopping their vehicles on behalf of the pedestrian. (Reports have it that 20 percent of road fatalities are pedestrians. So one must still exercise caution.) After all, it is widely known that traffic violations cost a lot of money. This explains why some Swiss motorists sometimes feel a bit jittery while driving.

However, pedestrians must wait for a green light before crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing with pedestrian lights, regardless of whether there is an ongoing traffic or not. Penalty fees may just be as high. So “jay walking” — that is, crossing the road against a red light or crossing where it’s prohibited — is not an option even though one is in a hurry to catch the last train home. It is considered a crime here, so don’t even think about it.

But comparatively speaking, as I already pointed out, pedestrians in Switzerland have more leverage than their counterparts in the Philippines. And this is even an understatement.