The Good, The Odd and The Scary: Getting Around Metro Manila (Part Two)

Last time, we put the focus on three of the most common ways to navigate Metro Manila, namely the jeepney, the tricycle and the MRT. Among the three, I would say that by far, my favorite is the MRT. Aside from getting me to my destination on time, it also made me feel quite safe because I was in a separate car along with other women. Braving the roads of Metro Manila is quite an ordeal for me—not only am I not used to it, but I’m just too plain scared to do it, especially if I’m in a confined space with strange men. I’m sure some of them are perfectly nice and won’t do anything wrong, but I guess that’s just me. Really, I should just live as a hermit in the mountains of Cordillera if this goes on much longer. That’s just one of the reasons why this experiment began: so I could get familiar with the ways to zip around the metro. Well, that and the rising price of gas, which is just criminal.

passengers
Passengers in a public transportation

Anyway, let’s continue the experiment. I rode a couple more modes of transportation but on different days since I didn’t want to push it. With my luck, I could very easily end up in Marikina when I’m aiming to go to Mall of Asia. So, one transpo at a time works for me.

Comfy shoes? Check. Trusty shirt and jeans combo? Check. Ratty old cell phone in sling bag? A little coin purse stuffed with coins? Check. OK then. Here we go:

1. The Bus

bus
Manila Bus

Fare: PHP 9.00 for the bus with no AC, and PHP 12.00 for the bus with AC

Because I’m not a masochist, I opted to take the bus with airconditioning. Yes, it’s an additional PHP 3.00, but at least I was comfortable. Manila’s weather can be scorching hot, and I did not intend to arrive at my destination all sweaty and dusty. After boarding the bus and finding a seat next to a nice old lady, the conductor walked down the aisle and asked me for my destination. Once he got an answer he tore off a ticket from a fat booklet, punched a hole through it and gave it to me. He kept on doing the same thing until he reached the back of the bus. Then he came back and collected the fare. I was relieved that I had small bills to pay the man because I saw him get majorly pissed off with some guy who tried to pay him with a 500 peso bill.

The bus I was in was fairly cool, and it had a television and a DVD player. Fun fact: you don’t get to pick what you’ll watch. This isn’t like being in a plane where each passenger gets his own little TV screen and headphones. We’re talking about an honest-to-goodness TV pre-LCD era, big and bulky, and held in place by some sort of metal brace. And the movies…oh man, it’s usually an old Tagalog action movie or a really old Steven Segal film. For some reason the drivers are big fans of Segal.

So anyway, some crazy driving was going on. I don’t know if the action sequences on the screen were affecting the driver’s mood, but he was swerving like mad and this made me very nervous indeed. The funny thing is, the old lady beside me didn’t seem a bit fazed by this. In fact, she was calmly playing Candy Crush on her phone, while eating a sleeve of crackers. Amazing. I don’t know how she could calmly and ever so coolly nibble on a cracker while there I was, feeling sick to my stomach with all the weaving in and out of traffic and the sudden braking, which our dear driver would do at random times and random places, like in the middle of the street so that more passengers can climb aboard. For the record, the man never even pulled up the side of the road, not even once. He preferred to make his stops right in the middle!

I shook my head at this, and as I was contemplating whether to get out at the next stop and hail a cab instead, the conductor announced that the next stop is coming up, and those who wanted to get off should stand up and go down while the bus is rolling along because it’s actually illegal to let passengers disembark at that point. At this I wanted to cry. This was my stop, and I had to jump off a still-moving vehicle? I’m not made for jumping off vehicles or chasing bad guys (though I often wish that I was, think Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I’m built to sit in front of my computer and avoid such shenanigans. But unless I wanted to stay in the Bus of Doom, I would have to make a jump for it.

The bus slowed down to about 5 to 7 kph, and one by one, passengers started leaping off the bus onto the sidewalk. Darn it, if they could do it, so could I! I braced myself, said a quick prayer, and jumped.

I staggered a little upon landing, but at least I did not fall on my butt. I shakily made my way to the mall and met up with some friends, who listened to my tale with clear amusement, and maybe a bit of a “you’re so pathetic” look on their faces. Then all of a sudden, the bragging began:

“That’s nothing! I jumped off while the bus was doing 20kph and I’m fine!”

“You were on the highway, my bus was along a cliff and the driver was either high or drunk!”

“I swear my seatmate could have been a serial killer, he was muttering like crazy for two hours!”

Eh. My friends suck.

2. The FX

fx
FX mini-bus in Manila

Fare: starts at PHP 30.00, depending on your destination

An FX is a communal taxi of sorts. The name came from the Toyota Tamaraw FX vehicles that started popping up in the streets of Manila during the 90’s. Here, you get to ride with just about 10 to 12 people in an airconditioned vehicle. So it’s like being in a jeep, only more comfortable. It’s like being in a bus, but less scary. It’s like being in a cab, but with more passengers so you don’t need to make small talk with the driver. I’m intrigued.

Nowadays, an FX doesn’t need to be a Toyota Tamaraw, any type of minivan can be an FX, and some of them are registered, though there are lots of them that are operating illegally.

To know if you’re getting on the right FX, you only have to ask the driver if it’s going to pass by your destination. I did that, feeling self-conscious all the while. The man said yes, so I picked the middle part of the vehicle, right behind the driver’s seat. I was pressed against the door by 4 other passengers beside me. I took care to put my stuff on my lap just in case.

I was already pretty squashed up and feeling a bit numb when one of the girls beside me got off. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that at last, I was going to get a bit more breathing room for the rest of my trip. Wrong! A few minutes after the girl went down, I spotted a big, burly guy flagging down the FX. I could see the alarmed looks on my seatmates’ faces. All the while I kept thinking, please don’t sit next to me, please don’t sit next to me. He chose to sit at the other end. There was much shoving and scooting and rearranging to get all of us to fit. I shot the driver some warning looks, hoping that he would see me from his mirror. What if this guy was a mugger? What if he slits our throats? From the corner of my eye I saw him reach into his bag and I thought, this is it, this is the part where he pulls out a knife or a gun and announces a hold up. But no, wait a minute. He pulled out a pink phone, scrolled daintily on the screen with his gigantic finger and called someone. Then in a nasally voice, said “Hey guurrl, I got the MAC lipstick you wanted! And it’s such a cute color too, I swear you’re gonna die when you see it!”

My seatmates tried their very best not to laugh. In fact, one of them was turning a fetching shade of pink from trying. I, on the other hand, was stunned. Then, in a very even voice, I said, “Um, did you say MAC? What color did you get?”

At that my seatmates couldn’t hold it any longer and burst out laughing. Hilarity ensued, introductions were made, and the big scary guy and I were now occasionally chatting to squeal about lipstick colors. Who knew?

Well, I think my experiment worked. I’m no longer scared to take public transportation, though I admit it would take me some time before I get on another bus again. The others weren’t so bad, like the jeepney, the MRT and the FX. Plus I made a new friend! So all in all, all’s well that ends well.

Saved money? Check.

Got over irrational fears? Check?

And now I know more about the hottest lipstick colors this season.

Sweet.

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