9/11/2009
"We are talking, aren't we?"

My building sits beside a hotel, so it's no surprise when, during my walks towards my office, or away from it, I'd see parked tourist buses and foreigners, mostly Koreans.

One day, I saw the usual crop of foreigners, but they weren't Koreans. I don't really know. Americans? Canadians? English-speaking Europeans? Definitely not Australians, otherwise I could tell who they are through their accents. It was past six, smack in the middle of rush hour, and I was on my way home. Often I cross four roads on the way to the shuttles along EDSA. They were going to cross the road, too.

I had my earphones on, as always, but I oddly heard what one of the tourists said clearly. I think he's a tour guide or something. Maybe someone who's been in Manila for quite a while, judging from what he told his companions.

"Now," he said, "while crossing the road, stretch your arms out to the incoming cars' direction. They'll stop and let you through."

I found myself doing the same thing. Left arm stretched to the road, my palm flashing, the cars stopping.

"Don't forget to make eye contact," the guy said. I didn't. I thought I never had to.

One of the things I learned when I took driving lessons last year was that bit about right of way. "Huwag n'yong pilitin," the instructor told the class. "Pagbigyan ninyo. Ayaw n'yong makadisgrasya."

And in the few times that I drove a car since, I pretty much did that. When someone is crossing the road, I stop. You can't risk anything, really. Maybe the pedestrian would continue walking and not notice that I'm coming. And me presuming that the pedestrian will stop and give way to me could prove fatal.

"Palagi ninyong pagbibigyan yung tumatawid," the instructor said.

Having a car, or driving one, gives this powerful feeling. You're handing an expensive piece of kit, and are trusted to navigate it throughout perhaps one of the most frustrating road networks in the world. You can't walk the distances you can drive, at least ideally. But, of course, they'll tell you that there are responsibilities attached to it, from not being inebriated to following the rules. At the very least, knowing where the road markings are, and keeping the whole thing straight.

So it's quite funny to think that here, the drivers are king. Whether it's a jeepney or a lorry or a measly car, they own the road, never mind where the lines are, whether someone gets in the way, whether it's a bicycle or someone less equipped. Never mind the road blocks and the markings and common sense. They're inebriated, it seems, by the very things they were granted as a privilege.

And your responses...

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