Metro Manila has a reputation, not entirely unwarranted, for being a rather chaotic, messy place – the Tagalog word for this, magulo, is much more mellifluous than any English equivalent, and I’m not sure that any one English word can really capture its spirit. And while it’s true that Manila can get pretty nuts compared to what most westerners are accustomed to, the fact is that people’s experiences of the place vary greatly. The spoiled expat (of which I am not one!) and the humble sidewalk cigarette vendor selling his wares on a polluted highway obviously have very different experiences of the place. But nonetheless, it is possible to lead a comfortable existence here.
When I say “comfortable”, I do not mean comfort in the preferred local sense of entirely avoiding ever doing any of the things that 75% of Filipinos have to do, like riding public transit, washing their own dishes, or going to places that they don’t especially like. For me, doing things comfortably involves a reasonable balance of efficiency, relaxation, and relative freedom from crime, pollution, traffic, extreme heat, and the various other pitfalls of urban living. But by my definition, comfort doesn’t have to mean living one’s entire life inside a hermetically sealed, air-conditioned bubble, free from any awareness that the Philippines is, in fact, a subtropical country, or carefully avoiding the slightest unwanted intrusion from poor people in non-servile roles. A full, varied adult life has at least a bit of room for discomfort, confrontation, frustration and stress, as long as we ultimately have enough moments of serenity and joy to balance them out. I consider myself comfortable because my life is, by and large, ridiculously easy and low-stress; but I am not unfamiliar with the smell of diesel, the rivers of sweat that pour down my forehead on a hot summer’s day when my jeepney is stuck in traffic, or having a stranger’s nose in my armpit on the MRT (better them than me, at least!).
For most people in Manila – certainly office workers in cozy air-conditioned buildings – the main discomfort of their day occurs while in transit through Manila’s mind-boggling traffic jams and its byzantine public transit system. And for that reason, one of the biggest parts of a comfortable life in Manila is traveling comfortably. A comfortable life may not be one where we spend hours of each day stuck in traffic, squeezed up against strangers on the bus or choking on pollution, but a comfortable life can include all of those things, as well – in moderation.
So here, now, are some ways to travel comfortably in Manila:
1. Have A Lot of Money
This is, by far, the easiest way to live and travel comfortably in Manila – assuming, of course, that you actually do have a lot of money. By Manila standards I am not exactly rich, and I live like someone who earns even less – living below my means, so to speak. I prefer to live a simple life, and having a lot of money isn’t a requirement for my version of comfort. But, all other things being equal, it sure doesn’t hurt to be rich out here! In a place where Cash Rules Everything Around You (C.R.E.A.Y.), having buckets of money will let you take constant shortcuts in life while never leaving the lap of luxury. Got an overflowing basket of dirty laundry? Pay somebody to wash it! Want to get to work comfortably? Buy a car and pay somebody to drive you! Want to get to work even faster? Buy a condo next to your office! Need somebody killed? Well, you really shouldn’t, but that can be arranged for a price, as well. (more…)