First of all: it’s great to be back here in Baguio.
Last night, before I left for Baguio, me and my friend Erik were having a couple of cold ones at Tomatokick in Maginhawa. Over random discussions of life and work, he asked me about my Manila experience.
I’m reminded of Scott Adams’ preface to his best-selling book, “The Dilbert Principle:” you can sum up just about everything you learn in your life in bullet-points. While it’s not my first run around the block in Manila, it is my first time to live there independently and to go to unfamiliar-going-on-extremely-familiar places. If anything, probinsyanos like myself would be confused in Manila, to the point that they put themselves in harm’s way. So for this long-overdue X-List, I am listing down 10 things that a Manila first-timer should never, ever, do.
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1. Jaywalk. While I agree that the MMDA (to some, Manila’s equivalent to the Gestapo) would put their blue-and-pink overpasses (reminiscent of Kotex and Modess) on the worst of places, pedestrian overpasses are your best friends, especially when it comes to Manila’s chaotic roadways. Jaywalking is very tempting for people who want to save a few steps and a few minutes to get to bus stops and to MRT stations, but it’s not worth your life. Accidents resulting from jaywalking are one of the leading causes of death in Metro Manila.
2. Hail a cab. There are only three good reasons to hail a taxi in Manila: 1) you can afford it; 2) you know your way around, and; 3) you carry heavy luggage. Taxi fares in Manila are prohibitively expensive: my trip from the MiniStop across SM North EDSA to my boarding house in UP Diliman cost me P70. There’s no way in hell I will pay that much to get from my house in Teachers’ Camp to as far away as Wangal, La Trinidad. I qualified for all three good reasons to hail a taxi: I had enough money, I knew how to get from EDSA to UP, and I was carrying heavy luggage. It’s not that Manila taxi drivers are dishonest, it’s just that they just know too many “shortcuts” that you’re better off taking a jeepney to wherever you’re going.
3. Take shortcuts through malls. In theory, malls are “shortcuts” to get somewhere: in my case, from my office in Ortigas Center, the theory is to cut through SM Megamall to get to Ortigas Station or cut through Shangri-La to get to Shaw Station. This is a completely stupid idea: malls are designed to get you lost in a maze of stores, food courts, and kiosks until you buy something. Only with the purchase of a Happy Meal, prepaid load, or a personalized shirt will the epiphany get to you that the shortcut is actually around the mall.
4. Rely on the “kanto” system for directions. A “kanto,” or a street corner, is one of the most confusing terms in the Manila lexicon. To many, a kanto would be just your average street corner. But take a look at a road map of Metro Manila and you’ll get my point: everything in Manila is a kanto. When asking for directions, always ask for the nearest landmark, not the nearest kanto. This landmark may be a store, a building, a McDonald’s, a 7-Eleven, or a police outpost. I take this cue from Erik: “Ped Xing” and “Railroad Xing” is not a landmark, but a common street sign.
5. Show your cellphone. This is a constant reminder I take from my landlady and security guards. I use a Nokia 6300, but as I have observed, almost every Manila resident would use a Nokia 3310. The reason being is that you can never underestimate pickpockets who would rob you of your diamond-encrusted Swarokski crystal-studded underpants without you even knowing it. The best thing to do is to secure your pocket, keep your earphones inside your shirt, and do texting in well-lighted areas where you’re extremely sure nobody will rob you blind.
6. Ignore the disabled, the old, and the young who seek alms. Charity and empathy is something I feel is lost in Manila. Remember that the reason why many of us are here is to look for opportunities and for a better life, and the same is true for them. Never mind that they are dirty, lice-infested, or are nuisances on the sidewalks. You can’t blame The System everytime a pathetic scene like this greets you in the morning. Even a peso of alms will get them a step into making it for one more day in this world.
7. Pay the jeepney, tricycle, or bus driver P100 or more in the morning. The phrase, “Barya lang po sa umaga,” is not a request: it is a demand. Even at 6:30 AM, conductors and drivers refuse to break bills bigger than a P20. I suggest that you keep a jar of coins for loose change whenever you need money for alms and fare. Sometimes, tricycle drivers can be mightily annoyed with people who give them a P100 in the afternoon. Besides, you don’t have to wait for change.
8. Take the MRT. The Metro Rail Transit, or what I call the mechanical enema of Manila’s public transport system, is meant for people who are already familiar with it. The MRT is one fast piece of shit, but it’s still pretty much a piece of shit when it comes to passenger comfort and convenience. Ladies who wish to take the MRT should go ahead and ride out on the front cabs, but men should be prepared for near-suffocation, sweaty underarms, and random shoving. Here’s when you should get rid of your Arthurian sensibilities: if you really have to shove your way in, by all means do so. But if you don’t, take the bus. But if you’re new to Manila, you’re better off avoiding the MRT altogether.
9. Take “malapit lang” seriously. Manila is a time-space warp: “malayo” (far) and “malapit” (near) are studies in the arbitrariness of linguistic terms. A rule of thumb is that if you can walk from any point “A” to any point “B” within seven minutes or a cigarette, then it is “malapit.” “Malayo” will qualify for everything beyond that measurement. This is why Philcoa is not “malapit” from UP Campus, why my office is not “malapit sa” SM Megamall, and why TriNoma, though just beside SM North, is “malayo” from the latter.
10. Call Manila “Manila.” Remember that the term “Manila” is a vernacular for probinsyano‘s like myself who couldn’t care if we’re in Pasig or in Quezon City or in Caloocan or in Mandaluyong. So be specific about where you are.
Or if you’re like me, just call the Metro.