12/12/2019
Fifteen minutes between trains

I wouldn't call myself a frequent user of public transportation - it's partly due to geography - but I certainly have expectations. You can say I was spoiled by my trips abroad, where as much as possible I make it a point to walk, take a bus, or catch a train.

Sure, it can be intimidating, especially if you're faced with a complex system of routes, modes and fares, but once you get it, you get it. I guess it also helps to have one of those contactless cards that you can use to get on a train, or a bus, or any convenience store when you suddenly find yourself hungry and not that willing to rifle through your wallet for money. A couple of years back I got myself an Octopus card, realizing that I was returning to Hong Kong frequently and that it would really come in handy. That, plus updated (and downloaded) maps on my phone, helped Shalla and I get through our vacation there last year without going through most of the usual spots, or having to worry about how to get where we wanted to go. (That said, we regret being short when we considered a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.)

It also helped that we know - and this was before the disruption of ongoing protests there - that a ride was coming. There are signs a plenty, if you could figure out the system, at least. Also, we knew when a train would be coming. We trusted the announcements because they were right for the most pat, and when they weren't, they were just slightly off. This is the case everywhere we've been to: in Seoul, in Taipei, in Kuala Lumpur (although it feels a little more chaotic, or perhaps it's the tropical temperatures), and in Singapore (although technically we were only there together for eight hours, mostly at the airport).

As for Manila? Well.

Yesterday, perhaps against all better judgment, I took the train. I took the MRT, which has become, for better or worse, a symbol of all that's wrong with the government. (I must note that I am drafting this entry, by hand, at a conference room inside the offices of a major government agency.) Over the years (and across administrations) it's become this inefficient and insecure mess, groaning and sputtering under the wright of this urban agglomeration's much-vaunted growth. It's fascinating, in this grotesque way: how has it become this bad, when thirteen years ago, when I took the trains from La Salle in between classes to take a chance at a radio career, it already was?

But then, it was the best option. I had to walk from the flat to the grocery to get some paper plates and plastic utensils: there's a sudden potluck get-together and it's difficult to have budgets approved on the fly. I could get a bus, but we don't have working bus stops along EDSA, if we're to be frank. A taxi is too expensive. A ride-sharing app has never been on my phone, and I'm not going to download it now, still. A train is not reliable. But then, decisions like these, here, are no longer rooted in logic, but in some sort of survival instinct - if not the need to get out alive, at least the need to exert as little effort as possible.

I have a Beep card. I got one when I had to use the train to travel to someone's wake. I barely use it, because I don't really use the trains - again, geography - and I don't frequently take the P2P buses, and you can't really use the cards in most other places anyway. (FamilyMart, Wendy's, and where else?) But it's always been in my wallet, ready to be tapped on the terminals when I have to. And yet, when I did just that at the MRT station, it wouldn't bite. I had to take it out of my wallet. I never had to do that in Hong Kong, or even at the P2P terminals.

A train just left when I got on the platform. No worries. Surprisingly, I'm not rushing anyway, and besides, you'll need this respite before jostling with all these other passengers. But you have no idea how long the respite will be. The displays don't tell you how long until the next train arrives. Actually, they don't tell you anything, apart from the occasional PSA against catcalling and the more frequent "advertise here!" messages. I remember news reports just monitoring how many working trains are there, and it makes me just a bit anxious. What if there are just nine trains? And then a train arrives on the other side of the platform and I feel a bit more anxious. What if my podcast finishes before my train arrives? Will the paper plates arrive on time? Will they hate me if I'm late because of the train, or a lack of it?

In reality, there were roughly fifteen minutes between trains, which might be understandable if you consider that it's no longer rush hour, but is unacceptable once you realize that you're waiting for a train in the middle of the nation's capital. In Hong Kong, in Singapore, in Seoul, in Taipei, you know the train will arrive in five minutes, then in four minutes, then it's already there. Here, you'll have to guess, and then you'll bite your nails, unless it's so crowded you can't even move your arms, much more chew them off.

But, to be very fair, the train wasn't as crowded as I expected. Either that, or I got lucky I wasn't that squeezed when I got on. I imagine in all other instances I'd have to skip three trains because it's so packed I cannot get in - that, and I was pushed out of the queue by bastards, I mean, warriors who see me in my rolled-up sleeves and my leather shoes and think I'm a weakling and I'm really just used to driving my own car, but you can't really just leave the station because you'll have paid for the ticket anyway. Fifteen bucks, I think, just for your honor to be besmirched.

I was at the end of the wagon, and apparently that meant really big windows, much bigger than the trains in Hong Kong. As the thing slowly rumbled on - the MRT is still slower than a car driving just under the speed limit along EDSA, although, of course, you know - I had a chance to see my surroundings in a way I don't get to when I'm driving or riding a bus. I have a new, fuller view of the buildings, the sidewalks, the people forced to go through them, and the billboards. Yes, the billboards. From left to right: Nayeon, Jihyo, Chaeyoung, Mina (oh, hi, Mina!), Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Tsuyu, Dahyun, all bathed in pink and lavender.

I never expected I'd recall all of their names. That's deep.

And your responses...

And i thought the L train was bad..,,

Blogger jeany.12/16/2019     

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