Manila – Expected vs Actual

Prior to this trip my time in Manila was limited to killing a few hours in the evening before a flight home the next day.  It seemed like a typical third world city.  After spending  five days here I can now say it is a typical third world city.  All expectations were met, there was one surprise.

I expected the drivers to act like their driver education consisted of watching shoe horn training videos, inter cut with the line from Midnight Cowboy where Dustin Hoffman does the ‘I’m walking here’ bit.  I knew the sidewalks would be like automobile proving ground suspension torture test pavement, but undriveable.  Height, grade, material and width would vary from property to property and often changing a few times on the same property.

Intense smells were assumed, often accompanying by equally unappetizing sights.  Brushing off child beggars who touched my forearm was a given, as was making a Gale Sayers like change of direction if an adult who was hoping to separate some pesos from a gringo followed me more than two steps after I passed him.

A great disparity of wealth was assumed, as were street cats that resemble either concentration camp victims or Kate Moss.  I knew the totality of the street’s environment would mean that I would do like the locals and walk in the street to stay away from the obstacle course of  swirling flotsam and jetsam that littered the side walk.

Unfortunately, that puts me closer to the traffic.  I expected traffic noise. To be more precise, I expected the noise but I didn’t expect the NOISE.

Manila streets are rattle-your-fillings loud.  Corroded or missing mufflers proliferate, but that’s just the back beat of the traffic cacophony.  Horns make up the rhythm section with a language all their own.  The worst horns are on manually pedaled bike sidecars.  Their volume and frequency belong on emergency vehicles.  They’re grab-my-earholes loud, involuntary-leap-away from the sound source loud, disrupt-my-spinal-cord-messages loud, grab-a-pipe-and-swing-at-the-bike-driver’s-head fantasy loud.

Add police whistles to the front of the mix and you have a recipe for claiming self defense.  The whistles have to pierce the din and they do so at distances that are far beyond what is necessary for the control of the specific intersection.  The  purest life-altering moments occur at major intersections under the elevated light rail which result in a temporary psychosis inducing mix of engines, trains, horns and whistles all reverberating off the bottom of the station and the buildings on both sides.

The locals give no indication that they even notice.  I expect they all have substantial hearing damage.


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