18 June 2011

The Fast and the Furious: Philippine Edition

I recently had a long weekend with my parents. We went somewhere north, in Bataan province, which was about 4 hours away from where they live, by car. In order to get there, we first had to drive along the South Luzon Expressway, so that we can get to Metro Manila from the province of Laguna, where they live. Then we had to drive almost the entirety of EDSA (Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue), which traverses the metro area. Then we had to drive the North Luzon Expressway from the beginning up to San Fernando, Pampanga. From San Fernando, we had to drive local roads to reach Bagac, Bataan. This was our final destination.

I suppose after seeing how driving in the Philippines works, there is only one rule that is applicable: if there is space in front of you, take or else someone else will take it. Mom actually does a great job at it, and here I am thinking that if average Americans drive in the Philippines, they’ll be overwhelmed.

The funny thing, though, is that Dad does a very good job at backseat driving. He directs my mom to honk, to watch out, to do all those many things when he is not the one driving at all. And I find it funny that they make these comments about how the road conditions are in the Philippines, when I think the best way to deal with it is just to accept that road conditions in the Philippines are worse than overseas.

See, sometimes it’s not the roads per se that is the problem. Sometimes it’s the people who use the roads. Here’s a few examples.

In the rural provinces, chances are there’s only one big road that runs through town. Everyone uses it, and everyone drives along it in order to reach the next town. This is especially true when the terrain is mountainous, and there’s only one road that is carved along the mountains and valleys in order to connect the towns to each other. Now people living next to the road can be interesting, mind you.

See, they might think that it is okay to dry uncooked freshly harvested rice on the road. If you see a big swath of road, with brown sandy material, chances are this is freshly harvested rice, and it needs to be dried so the pods can come out when it is milled. People in rural areas actually use the road to do this, sometimes even using the whole half of the road, so it effectively turns into a one-lane street, and traffic has to share it. Now if you are a fast car running 80 kilometers per hour who is used to driving in the city, that might be a hazard.

People also walk on the road. The thing is, in rural areas, there is no sidewalk. And yes, it is more pleasant to walk on a paved road than on the gravel unpaved earth next to it. So people walk on it, and they usually have no idea that there is a correct side to walk on. They walk on whichever side they want, and if you’re the one driving, you have to swerve sometimes in order to avoid these pedestrians.

Animals use the road too, from dogs, ducks, and cows. It sucks if you’re driving fast and there’s a curve, when suddenly you see a bunch of ducks crossing and you have to immediately slam your brakes.

I guess what I find funny is the fact that my parents continue on voicing their complaints at how undisciplined the people are, how they don’t know that what they’re doing is a safety hazard, how they are idiots, and so forth. But really, I think, it’s ruralia: life is slow. People are carefree and they don’t have a lot of things to worry about. They don’t care if they walk on the right or wrong side of the road, they don’t care if they let their dogs roam freely and cross the road, they don’t care if their rice is actually a road hazard. Life is just life.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that my parents are just wasting their breath. People won’t change, if they do, it’ll take a long time before they actually do so. So I don’t think there’s any use in complaining, as it’s not functional, it’s useless, and all it adds is stress in the whole driving experience. If I were them, I’d just take it slow, drive slow, and be extra careful, instead of insisting of going at 80 kilometers per hour on a rural provincial road.

(History Hugs the Mountains, from my Ollantaytambo Series)


  1. I could never drive in most Asian countries! I like my empty Canadian roads.

    I found being a pedestrian in Thailand, HK or China challenging enough. Only in Singapore cars actually stop for real at the red light. Anywhere else, run for your life!

  2. Zhu,

    Which is why driving in Asian countries can be a test. If you can drive in Manila, then you can drive pretty much everywhere else!

  3. I maintain that drivers in "Asia" are better skilled, just because they have to be aware of pedestrians, cyclists, hawkers, trucks and even cows while crossing a busy intersection without traffic signals.

    Not surprisingly, per capita road accident rates are lower in India than in USA.

  4. Priyank,

    I agree. If you can drive in Asia, you can drive in North America.