Manila is a huge, modern city. Looking out at the skyscrapers and the bay from the window of our 26th floor condo we could be in Miami or L.A. Same goes for walking around one of Manila’s many huge malls.
But taking a closer look makes it obvious we’re not in Kansas anymore.
The first thing I noticed about Manila was the traffic. We were hit with it right off the bat as our taxi drove us away from the airport. The roads were packed, partly due to politicians making good on their construction promises before elections, with more rows of cars than there were lanes. Our enterprising driver squeezed and wheedled his way into spaces I couldn’t believe we fit in, sometimes with just a hairs breadth between us and the next car, and plenty of horn honking to make sure other drivers knew we were there.
That is just the way people drive here. And it works. In what seems a miraculous way to my American mind the drivers have an incredibly accurate sense of their car’s proportions. Only the main roads have stoplights, and the only stop sign I’ve seen was a board with the words “stop, thru street” hand painted in black.
This “every man for himself” rule of the road applies to pedestrians as well. We have a mall nearby that we like to walk to, but I learned very quickly to stay out of the way when it comes to traffic, and never take a crosswalk as a guarantee cars will stop.
It was on these walks that I really started to discover Manila. The streets are lined with “tricies”, motorcycles and bikes with a sidecar, a cheap mode of transportation. The drivers jump up when they see you, abandoning games of bottletop checkers, to offer their services.
Colorful jeepneys, a popular form of public transportation, crowd the streets. Each jeepney
is a work of art with murals of everything from basketball players to simple designs along their sides. Passengers sit on two benches lining the inside, and sometimes crouch in the aisle, when it’s crowded. Jake said that in the province people sometimes hold on to the sides, or even the roof, but I haven’t seen it in the city. All the doors have been removed, so people can hop in and out quickly. They name jeepneys like boats, and paint the name on the front over the windshield. Names like “Sandra”, or “Christine”, or, my personal favorite, “chamber of fear”.
Once we make it clear that we prefer to walk it’s time to focus on the obstacle course that is walking down the streets of Manila. The sidewalks here are not smooth, predictable things. There are cracks, trees that were simply paved around when the cement was laid, large drop-offs for some curbs and small steps for others, cement blocks left behind when a lightpost was removed, parked motorcycles, driving motorcycles, and large piles of trash.
And then there are the people. Fellow pedestrians, sure, but a lot of the sidewalks are lined with people selling little candies, jewelry, cell phone accessories, etc. Basically, a nightmare for parents with little kids who love to touch everything. Then there are food carts with fresh mangos, roasted peanuts, and deep fried octopus tentacles. The carts selling buko juice (young coconut) have heaps of buko right in their carts and a guy with a machete chopping the tops off.
This is just a small taste of what it is to walk or ride down a street in our neighborhood. The sights, the sounds, the smells, are like nothing that I have experieced at home. It was all expected. All of these are things I heard about or read about when I was preparing for this trip. But to experience for myself something so foreign to the small realm of life that I call home is it’s own kind of amazing.