Six Weird Things about Manila

Sognatrice ("sohn-ya-tree-chay", isn't that a lovely name?) of Bleeding Espresso recently blogged on Six Weird Things About Your City. It was a great post, so I thought I'd play along. I've lived in Palo Alto, California for the past 12 years, but it's so reassuringly suburban, I couldn't think of many weird things about it. I thought I'd use Manila, the Philippines, instead, since after all, that's still where I've lived for most of my life. And besides, Filipinos love to poke fun at themselves.

Six weird things about Manila:

1) There are no bus stops. You can get off literally anywhere. Just shout "Para" ("Stop!"), and no matter which lane the bus is in, the bus driver will swerve (causing the bus and its passengers to sway and lean to one side), cut across any obstacles in his path, and manage to stop the bus and deposit you at the exact location you requested. No additional walking required! Just like a taxi service (or a rollercoaster).

2) The jeepney is a uniquely Filipino form of public transportation -- a garishly-decorated jeep-like vehicle that holds 10 or 15 paying passengers (or more, depending on whether people are willing to hang out of the back or on the roof). I've always found it amazing how the jeepney driver manages to negotiate the crazy Manila traffic while managing passenger fares at the same time. He doesn't wait for people to turn in their fare before starting off; passengers hand it in at some arbitrary point in their journey. Somehow, while driving, the jeepney driver always manages to figure out whether you have paid or not, where you got on, how far you've travelled, and how much you needed to pay. And when you're at the back, your money is handed from passenger to passenger until it reaches the driver. But somehow, you always manage to get your exact change back.

3) Basketball is the #1 sport. This is weird because the average Filipino male is probably 5'6" or 5'7" tall (I know because I'm 5'8", and at college I was one of the tallest females and taller than most males). You'd think Filipinos would enjoy sports like soccer or golf or bowling, where height is not a factor, but no, we're American babies through and through. Filipinos follow the PBA like Americans follow the NBA, and in around the residential areas of Manila, it is not uncommon to find a coconut tree with a basketball hoop nailed to it.

4) Everyone wears jeans. Because of the heat, you'd expect everyone to go about their business in shorts, skirts, or loose cotton slacks. But we are slaves to Western fashion. So the ubiquitous outfit of choice is a t-shirt and jeans. Thick, hot denim from waist to ankle in 90-degree weather. It makes me sweat just thinking of it -- but hey, at least we all look good.

5) You can buy 1 tsp. of cooking oil. Many Filipinos live literally day-to-day. They are often are paid daily and have no savings. So in all the outdoor markets, it's possible to buy exactly what you need to survive for that day. Vendors will sell you 1 egg or 1 tumpok (an arbitrarily-smallish pile) of tomatoes or a thimbleful of cooking oil. Companies like Unilever and Procter & Gamble even manufacture shampoo and laundry detergent in single-serve packets. Not travel-size bottles like we have here; I mean sample-size foil packets that literally contain barely enough shampoo for 1 use.

6) "Bababa ba?" This means "Are you going down, or what?". This is a classic example of how funny the Filipino language can be. It sounds like something a baby would say, yet college-educated businessmen say this all the time. I love how a single syllable can have so much meaning in it!

3 comments:

sognatrice said...

This list is awesome! I never knew any of these things about Manila...now I definitely want to visit and hop off the bus whenever the heck I want. Sounds lovely :)

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

This is an absolutely fantastic post: interesting, informative, well written and fun! I'm so excited that my post inspired something like this! Thanks for stopping by and I will definitely be back to visit you. What you wrote in your header is enough to warrant a second visit! ;)

Burndvinyard said...

err...i'd like to comment on basketball as the favorite sport of the Filipinos. yours was definitely an understatement. they are crazy about basketball!! on the other hand, the Filipinos in the PBA are quite taller than the usual Filipinos that we meet. they have more players standing over 6'2 than those who are below 6 feet. they even have so many players standing 6'8", 6'9" and a couple of 7 footers.