Last month when I was in Manila, I ended up taking four different modes of transportation in one morning. It all began when someone I had met at the talks, Dinna, asked me if I would like to come along to a tour of Manila Bay planned around the sights and places mentioned in the book “Manila, My Manila”, written by the late Filipino writer, historian and journalist Nick Joaquin. The tour was to be held in celebration of Manila Day, and I thought it seemed to be a good way to get to know the city, mediated through the writings of someone who was thought to be one of Philippines’ most important writers in English. However, that morning I had woken up late as the talk we had the night before had dragged on well into the night. Fortuitously, Dinna’s message woke me up, and I made the snap decision to rush out to Manila Bay despite not having a clue how to do so; it was my last day in Manila, and how could I not visit Manila Bay!
Unfortunately, Manila is a city with a very complicated transportation system. Tengal and Gene were still soundly asleep and could not be asked for directions, and asking the house helpers for directions did not help, and worst of all the internet was down in the house so I only had very vague offline maps on my phone to consult for directions. The message told me to come down to “Rajah Sulayman Plaza”. Unfortunately, my offline maps did not have anything called “Rajah Sulayman Plaza” – there was only something called “Rajah Sulayman Park” near Manila Bay. Later I was to find that this was the same thing (PHEW) but I had a great deal of trepidation as well because my friends had told me that the names of roads frequently change with every new president, and sometimes there are multiple roads with the same name in different places…
Anyway, in any case, I manually scanned the maps and determined that the nearest station was “Quirino”. I could not for the life of me get the route planner to work on my phone whilst offline, but at the very least I did know how to get to Shaw Blvd MRT, so I decided the stations must surely all be connected (FOR WHY WOULD THEY NOT BE CONNECTED?). On that hopeful note I set off for the station…
In order to get to the Shaw Blvd MRT station, I had to take the Jeepney. Jeepneys are these loud, bright, garish lorry-like vehicles which purposefully roar up and down the road, with musical air horns, trails of billowing black smoke, transporting dozens of people at a ridiculously low cost. The first time I took one I was completely confused, even a little fearful that I was on the wrong jeepney. They do not have fixed stops or schedules, they are independently and privately run, and you can only tell where they are going to based on the locations painted on the side of the Jeepneys. God knows how one can ever spot the locations when one is in a mad hurry to get somewhere, or when the Jeepney is speeding past you and your hand is poised to wave but you’re uncertain if your eyesight has betrayed you. Grave confusion is sure to ensue. You just flag one down, get into the back, pass your fee towards the driver – if you’re at the back the other passengers will help pass your money to the front – and your change will also exchange hands from the driver in the front of the jeepney – and be slowly passed back down through all the hands of the other passengers back to you.
Another major issue is that because they are all independently run, they might not all have the same spellings or terms for their destinations. For people unfamiliar with the areas and road names, this is a big nightmare. On the first day I got to Manila, Tengal told me to look out for a variation of the words “EDSA”, “Crossing”, “MRT”, or “Starmall”. Eventually I caught one to Shaw Boulevard; in the end when push comes to shove and you are forced helplessly to navigate the world of jeepneys, you will find that the jeepney, however confusing it may seem, will actually still get you to your destination.
Cost: P8 per ride
The MRT is very much like any other train service in the world. You buy the ticket at a counter, a security guard looks into your bag and scans you for bombs and knives just for show, and then you go through the turnstile with one of those old magnetic strip tickets. I was slightly disturbed that there seemed to be no women in the cabin I was standing in, but later I was told that there is actually a “women-only” car at the front of every train. I bought a one way ticket for P12 but when I got to the other end they said my card had zero stored value so I had no choice but to pay another P12 to get out at Taft Ave station. I can only surmise that the ticketing lady probably knowingly gave me a dud cos I was a foreigner. I shake my fist at them!
Cost: P24 (Probably should have been P12) (6-8 stations range)
Connecting Walkway from Taft Ave MRT to Taft Ave LRT
The LRT is like the MRT but the trains are smaller. I did not understand why the ticketing lady demanded P30 from me when I only wanted a one-way ticket. It seemed like way too much for just a stop or two and she insisted I pay P30. In the end I paid it in order to get out of the long queue that I was holding up. She gave me two tickets in the end and I have no idea why. Again, I shake my fist at them!
Cost: P30 (Probably should have been P15)
I paid about P60 for a short distance between Quirino LRT station and the park itself, which was fairly close by, down a straight road. I know I was definitely overcharged as a foreigner but at that point I was just glad to get to my destination quickly. Noticing that the fares I was paying on my journey were increasing with each subsequent mode, I felt that a man-powered mode of transportation should be worth more than an electrically powered ride so I was willing to pay a little more since I could probably afford it.
Cost: P60 (Probably should have been around P30)
My total journey cost 122 Philippines Pesos, which would be about SGD3.60, which means it cost me a mere PITTANCE although I was already being grossly overcharged on most of my journey. I felt in particular that the fares for the jeepneys were ridiculously low – P8 means S$0.20, which in Singapore is such a tiny amount that it will not buy you anything at any shop – how could anyone survive with such income levels? It is terrifying! Incroyable!
However, it also means that if you wanted to live cheap, there would be ways to get around the city on very very very little, if you were willing to endure the vagaries of the jeepneys and tricycles and taxicabs. To be honest, Manila is not really the best city to walk in, because you always feel like you’re in imminent danger of being run over, so any real or serious exploration of the city would probably have to involve some skill in taking both the public and privately-run transportation networks.
In the next post: more on Wawi’s show, Malate Church, and a whole backlog of other entries about Venice and Teotihuacan…