How to Be Comfortable in Manila – Part 1: Traveling Comfortably

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. Read More

Car Talk with Car Man

Hey there, car fans! Car blogger Car Man here with his first installment of Car Talk with Car Man.

When you meet me, the first thing you will notice about me is my car. It is the latest model of car, four doors for easy entry and exit, with a slick black paint job and heavily tinted windows. The tints are crucial because nobody who’s not in a car is worthy to gaze upon the majesty that is Car Man.

Car Man lives in Muntinlupa City, the South. The South is car country. Down here, we love cars, and Car Man is no exception. We have the South Luzon Expressway, built so that our cars can go FAST. In fact, that’s why they call it an EXPRESSway. Ha, ha! Just a little car humour for you from Car Man, the car guy.

As you might guess from his name, Car Man goes everywhere in his car, with no exceptions. Some people may say, “Car Man, having a car in Metro Manila gives you more options, but aren’t there times when it might be easier to not take your car? For example, when you have to go to Greenbelt or Glorietta by yourself, wouldn’t it be more practical to take a comfortable aircon express bus for 40 pesos than to spend 160 pesos each way on toll alone, plus gas and those hefty Makati parking fees, plus the stress of freeway driving and Makati traffic?” But of course, Car Man knows that “practical” is just another way of saying “too poor to take your car everywhere all the time, no matter how inconvenient it is”. If Car Man started occasionally travelling in vehicles that were not cars, he would no longer be Car Man. And aside from the loss of status, can you imagine all the paperwork involved in legally changing his name to Bus Man?

Besides, do you know how much car Man makes? It’s a lot of money compared to someone who makes a lot less money than him! True, he may spend a quarter of his income on gas, toll and car loan payments, but that is a small price to pay for the freedom and status that come with being Car Man. Even if Car Man sometimes has to borrow money for his mother’s diabetes medication, at least he always has money for toll. Because really, once you make a certain amount of money here, you have to be a Car Man. Once you’re in this income bracket, you need to hang out at the kinds of high-end places where Car Men are expected to hang out, and you need to go there in your shiny new car. It is important to give clear, frequent indicators of what socioeconomic class you identify with. Otherwise, what would your friends think? They might think you’re kuripot or jologs or baduy. Car Man is none of those things; he is a cool guy with a car. Hey ladies, check out my car! Let us engage in sexual intercourse in the back seat of Car Man’s car.

By the way, do you know what Car Man hates? Jeepney drivers! They stop abruptly in the middle of the road to pick up and drop off passengers, without considering the inconvenience they cause to Car Man and other men and women in cars. Jeepneys and buses are obviously the sole cause of Metro Manila’s traffic problem. If each person in those jeepneys and buses were driving their own Pajero, the traffic problem would disappear.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first edition of Car Talk with Car Man, and I look forward to talking cars with you again soon. I’m Car Man, and I love my car. Because in Metro Manila, there is literally no other way to travel.

Let’s Make Yogurt!

(Note: If you really just want to know how to make yogurt, skip the seemingly obligatory preamble and go straight to the section marked “How to Make Yogurt in a Subtropical Climate When You’re Really Cheap”.)

In the Philippines, as in many parts of Asia, natural dairy products are not really part of the local culture. “Milk” usually means infant formula with added palm and coconut oil. “Cheese” is… well, I don’t know what it is, exactly – check the ingredients, of which there are many. Filipinos do produce a fairly delicious natural cottage cheese called kesong puti, but it is seldom consumed in reality, and is more something that people wistfully imagine being consumed in a romanticized version of the Philippines of yore – those quaint olden times when food was not carcinogenic and locals would put on their frilliest dresses and freshly-pressed barong and ride a kalesa to visit Calle Escolta and drink tsokolate made from fresh tableya. Those were the days, yes, but progress marches on, and we have since moved on to the wonderful, gleaming modernity of SM Megamall, Swiss Miss and Quickmelt.

This isn’t as bad as it sounds, though. I’ve long since learned to adapt, and enjoy all of the wonderful foods that are part of the local culture, like fresh tropical fruits and delicious seafood. So when I’m craving a rich, creamy taste that isn’t made with Indonesian palm oil haunted by the ghosts of dead orangutans, I can go to the market and order a bag of freshly-preshed coconut milk. Even better than the actual taste might be the experience of watching it get squeezed out in front of me by an impressively shirtless man with a hydraulic press. It’s delicious, and food doesn’t get any more natural. And oh, those abs! Read More

Words from an Asshole

Oh, hello! How are you? It is good to meet you. My name is An Asshole.

Since we have just met, I would like you to play a game with me. It is a guessing game. I always invite those who I have just met to play this game, because it is a game that I enjoy very much.

The game works this way: Based on my appearance, can you guess my age? Please guess my age. Thank you for guessing my age.


Ha! Ha! Ha! You have guessed an age that is much lower than my actual age. You see, I look much younger than most people who have the same age as me. This is because most people with this age look older than I do. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Thank you for playing this game with me. By guessing incorrectly, you have improved my self-esteem. You have reaffirmed my belief that I have aged more gracefully than the average individual born in the year in which I was born. I look forward to playing this game with the next person I meet, as well.

I am An Asshole, and I am an asshole.

Bloggerbels is Mobile-Friendly for 2016!

After months of being nigh-unreadable on mobile devices, Bloggerbels has finally entered the 21st century (or at least the first decade of it) with the installation of a new WordPress theme. Apologies to everyone who had to slog through the earlier iteration of the site on their smart phones – The original theme I installed claimed to be mobile-friendly, but wasn’t, and it took a while for me to get over the sting of this deception and find one that actually was optimized for smartphones. Enjoy a horizontal scrolling-free 2016, friends!

P.S. While narcissistically Googling my own blog, I was very amused to see that someone had bothered to lift (with citation) my horribly backlit, hurriedly snapped photo of a not-especially-nice part of Alabang. I guess I’m… flattered?

No More Drinkin’

It’s been more than five months since my last drink, and I feel good!

I hate to disappoint you, but my last sip of alcohol was not part of a nightmarish bender. It was, in fact, quite prosaic: a bottle of San Miguel, perhaps preceded by one other bottle at most, consumed on Malapascua Island in Cebu – a pretty good place for drinking, as far as that goes. Nothing interesting happened, good or bad, as a consequence of my consumption of that solitary beer. If anything, the sheer blandness of that experience is probably what finally inspired me to stop drinking.

My drinking habit is something that formed gradually and imperceptibly. For years I wasn’t terribly interested in alcohol, partly due to my parents’ brilliant efforts to deglamourize it by offering me and my brother little sips of wine over family dinners at home, starting at quite a young age. It worked quite well, I think, until I moved 11,000 kilometres from home, and negative habits gradually began to take root.

Once I was on my own, I began to sporadically experiment with more excessive forms of drinking. Manila’s infinite quantities of nightlife, along with the overall Filipino fondness for drinking, provide ample opportunities to drink to the point of regret. But although I’ve been plenty drunk plenty of times since, it didn’t take me long to realize the limited appeal of heavy drinking. Inhibitions have long since ceased to be a major problem for me – if anything, the problem is that I tend to be too much myself – so being drunk never offered many advantages other than making boring people seem like more interesting company. On the other hand, the disadvantage of feeling absolutely terrible afterward was pretty hard to miss. Even the social advantages tended to be rather one-sided, given the fact that I am, based on my experience, quite socially objectionable when I’ve had a few too many. And the alienation I experienced caused me to get frustrated and behave more badly, leading to some experiences too awful to describe in any sort of detail. As the sad, lonely, regrettable experiences with drunkenness began to pile up, the disadvantages of heavy drinking became quite hard to miss. And although I’ve still had to re-learn that lesson from time to time, with all the subsequent occasions I’ve hoped against all odds that heavy drinking would help me cut loose, give me a night to remember, etc., it almost always led only to more reminders of why limiting myself to a couple of beers was a very good idea. Read More