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Manila Traffic is Fun

By Paul Peczon


I just moved to the Philippines, and despite what everyone says, I think the traffic is kind of fun. Granted, I still haven't stared working and therefore am never in that much of a hurry, but that doesn't change the central fun fact of driving in Manila: You can do anything you want.

Traffic signals are merely suggestions. If nobody's coming, left on red is OK. It's even OK maybe if people are coming but they look like they might not hit you. Lane markers are completely optional unless they are made out of concrete. There's a wire fence divider on EDSA southbound that has been run over and has become an optional on-ramp. The stripes painted on the road mean nothing, as evidenced by the "avoid swerving" signs that everyone ignores. Lane width is dictated by how wide your vehicle is.

There is a law of the street, however, and it goes something like this: bigger is better. Inertia equals mass times velocity squared. If you get into a collision your car will get messed up and the situation will suddenly become less convenient and significantly less fun. Ditto for faltering in your diligence and bottoming out on one of the many sinkholes and other fissures of the road. I've learned that sometimes manhole covers are missing, sometimes disguised by the puddles that drift lazily from the gutters here and there.

People spend good money to drive under less challenging conditions on videogames. Some people go so far as to wait in line for lesser thrills like roller coasters and bungee jumps. Outrun a belching diesel jeepney to a spot ahead and thrill to the delight of winning yet another small contest. Manila traffic is a fine thing for gamblers and those who like to exercise their hand to eye coordination.

Of course, as with all professional sports, there are some hard times to driving in the Philippines. Sometimes it stops moving completely after you have finished reading your magazine and you have to just sit there, like a second stringer warming the bench. Thank goodness there's a lot of good rock and roll on the radio. And bless the vendors who risk their lives to bring us tabloids, cough drops and cigarettes. Their young begging acolytes aren't as much fun, though, playing on your compassion when you know that giving them some change doesn't really help them out in the long run. I would gladly give a generous donation to a "free lunch at school" program if I could, but there isn't one. And besides, the little rascals sometimes surprise me and scare the heck out of me.

The thing is that pedestrians in general don't belong on the street. Traffic is a vehicle thing and I for one have made a point of not driving on the sidewalk. The king vehicle of the road is the bus, the older and more disreputable looking, the better. When the bus is coming, you get out of the way or get smushed. As we've already discussed, getting smushed is no fun and if you get flattened by a bus you might get maimed or killed, also no fun. I don't mind, though, because my romantic belief in poetic justice says that it's only fair, since the bus carries a lot of people who might otherwise be driving badly individually. Jeepneys are, of course, just small busses, and as such deserve some of the respect that the big boys do. And you might note that not only do Jeepneys have oversize bumpers, but they are in fact built with a sort of armored vehicle motif. Worthy opponents, all. Bastards.©1995 Peczon

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since October 1, 1997
mildly updated Dec 09.

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