Friday, May 31, 2013

Dirty peanuts, tiny squares of cut up t-shirts, trash cans, and knife sharpening -- all in a day's work for Manila's "traffic vendors"

Today and most of yesterday, I was weighing my blogging options.  There are two issues I'm inclined to write about.  One is poverty in Manila, a subject I'm fairly certain I will come back to time and time again.  The other was the laugh out loud trip home Zach and I had in traffic yesterday.  Then I realized, oddly enough, in this case I can write about both because they are related

My very brave and adventurous husband has rented a little Honda something or other to get around town until our car arrives.  Needless to say, I am NOT feeling quite so brave as yet and am starting to feel pretty sure that I will drive  little, if ever, in this town.  There are a number of reasons for this, many of which have to do with the fact that it is easier (and real real cheap) to get from our home to most places and quite honestly, I'm more than happy to cough up a little $$ to save some sanity.  But, Z is a red blooded American who does not intend to rely on someone else to get him around so I will dutifully support this caveman tendency (insert chest thumping, grunting, and honking).

Unfortunately for Zach, all his prior training in the driving department is 100% moot in Manila.  There are no rules, save for some color law that restricts who can drive on Wednesdays (I'm not kidding, this is a law and yes, THAT is how bad the pollution is).  Other than that, however, it seems to me that anything goes.  Crosswalks are for sissies and lines on the road that would otherwise be interpreted as pedestrian right of ways, are apparently directing traffic to speed up and aim directly for the blonde woman with the weird looking hot dog.  There are no lanes, no signals (but hey, that's pretty much like home sweet NoVa so not much to adjust to), and no enforced speed limits.  Honking is constant and like crosswalks, is left to interpretation.  One or two honks is a cabbie looking to get you to hop in his cab (where he will have probably turned the meter off and forgotten his way around Manila) and three honks is most likely a HUGE bus that is stopping in the middle of the road or making a uturn from the far right lane.  Stop lights are negotiable but if there is movement, it's best to just go light or not.  Here's an overhead video someone took.  There are LOTS of photos out there and probably twice as many blogs written about the traffic in Manila so I KNOW I'm being redundant.  Having said that, take a looky loo at this video and try and tell me you wouldn't also be inspired to say something about it:

I'm starting to think I might not get to the poverty thing afterall.   It probably deserves a more dedicated posting anyhow.

So, on with the show....

The Jeepneys.  So many blogs and posters and rants have been dedicated to the jeepneys that I probably don't even need to waste my breath.  They are FASCINATING though and have both this odd historical mystique yet remain freaking annoying as all get out.  They're loud, dirty, emit more soot than anything I've ever seen that didn't produce coal, and are the absolute WORST about following any sort of traffic law or pattern.  People are crammed in and like, the buses, get off the Jeepneys in the middle of traffic.  I may have to update this with a video someday.  I've seen so many near death experiences in two days, words don't do it justice.  There are also these tricycle, sidecar like contraptions that I swear are like clown cars.  You've never seen so many people cram into one thingamajig.

But what really gets me are the street vendors.  I don't know that street vendors really describes it right.  They're more like traffic vendors.  These folks are walking in the middle of all this madness trying to sell stuff and in some cases, services.  I tried to take a few pics but it really doesn't translate.  There were men selling peanuts in the middle of a main thoroughfare.  I'm not talking about a 20 mph side street.  This was THE main road in Manila and though traffic was wall to wall, there were motorcycles and cars speeding in every direction.  It seems insane that someone would risk life and limb to try and sell a few peanuts but I guess that's where the poverty and humor in this story overlap.  They do what they have to do to survive and in this guy's case, it was selling dirty peanuts.  I'm not exaggerating there.  They were DIRTY.  Everything that lines the main roads in Manila is coated with a thick layer of soot (or what looks like soot anyway) and it pretty much stays like that until monsoon season when the rain comes and washes it all away.  Needless to say, peanuts are not spared this indecency and most of his product was the same color as the side of the buildings that lined the road.  I guess technically, you don't eat the outside but still....well, you get the point.  You get the point and I don't want to think about it anymore.

There's also a man (or several men) who sharpen knives while you wait for the lights to turn green or for traffic to start moving again.  I haven't seen them yet but I'll be keeping an eye out ... and a knife handy.  :)  There are people who sell tiny tiny cut up t-shirts (I guess to clean with??), chargers, dusters, brooms, Filipino flags and trashcans.  I am not making fun - just fascinated by the wares and the thought process behind picking the products to sell on the streets.  Car charges I totally get.  Even the tiny tiny cut up shirts I can understand because who hasn't spilled a diet coke in their console and wished they had anything ... absolutely clean it up with?  But full size brooms, trash cans, and flags?  I am not following the logic.  Then again, I've only been here 5 days - maybe it'll all be clear in a few more weeks.

Oh - and there's pagpag and balut....don't get me started.  Look it up.   Mine is not the first jaw to have dropped at the sight of these things....

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