Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Driving in Manila for Foreigners - Tip #2: Horns and Highbeams are your Friend.

In most other countries and cities (with the exception of places like New York City), it is generally considered rude to honk your horn excessively at other drivers. Usually the horn is reserved for aggravated drivers, to call your attention to something, or in more extreme driving instances. In Manila, the use of the horn is a regular necessity. I've probably used my horn more in the past year and a half that i've been driving here in Manila than I had in the whole 24+ years I had been driving in the US prior to that. It's worth noting though that the horn here is used in a couple of different ways. 

I mentioned in my previous post in this series that cars here drive mere inches from one another. This gives very little "cushion" around your car, so the horn is often used to tell would be lane interveners, "Hey, i'm here next to you...don't even THINK about coming into my lane." It can also be used to nicely draw the attention of other drivers to your presence in a myriad of other driving situations, like when you see that tricycle about to make a U-turn from the right shoulder, or even that taxi cab or SUV about the make a U-turn from the right shoulder across all lanes of traffic (yes, it happens ALL the time here). In these situations, a nice quick double or triple honk works well to inform them of your presence.

Other instances where the horn is completely acceptable is when taxi cabs and Passenger Jeepneys stop in the middle of the road to pick up or drop-off passengers (probably the cause for a LOT of the traffic problems in Manila). A heavier handed honk lets them know that there are people on the road OTHER than them. Of course, this doesn't mean that they will move any faster or learn anything from it (like pulling over to the side of the road when dropping passengers), but it sure does feel good sometimes. 

Now, let's discuss the use of highbeams here in Manila because it is VERY much different compared to other countries. Misconstruing the "meaning" of the highbeam flash could have catastrophic results, and in a minute you'll see why. 

In the US, we usually flash our highbeams in 2 main situations. The first is when someone else has their highbeams on and they forget to turn them off when you come into their line-of-sight. We'll usually give them a quick highbeam flash to remind them that their highs are on. Out of courtesy, they'll usually realize their mistake and turn off their highbeams. Normal, considerate-of-others kinda behavior. The other common use for the highbeam flash is to concede right of way. For example, you're on a road in traffic and there is an oncoming car with their turn signal on waiting to cross the street to turn. If you're not going anywhere anyway (because of the traffic), you'll signal to that turning car that you are letting them go by giving them a quick highbeam flash. This is usually followed by a "thank you" wave as they proceed with their turn. Basically, the highbeam flash used this way is a signal to other driver's that, "I'm letting you go". This is in stark contrast to how the highbeam flash is used in Manila.

In Manila, the highbeam flash is used mainly to signal the intent to go (or to keep on going). When you flash your highbeams at someone you're telling them, "Hey buddy, I'm here and I'm going!" (if you're waiting to cross the street), or "I'm here and I'm not stopping for you!" (if you're driving down the street and someone else wants to cross into your lane). It's also worth noting that usually both the horn and highbeam flash can be paired together as both an audible and visual warning of intent to go.

So, like I said...highbeams and horns are your friends. Familiarize yourself with their proper(at least for the streets of Manila) usage and meaning, and USE THEM. Just remember, If you're waiting to turn left onto a side street and the Jeepney driver barreling down the opposite lane flashes his highbeams at you, he is NOT letting you go out of courtesy. He's telling you that he IS NOT stopping. Obviously, misconstruing the two could be catastrophic and would result in you NOT getting to your destination without incident and within a reasonable amount of time...


Monday, July 21, 2014

Driving in Manila for Foreigners - Tip # 1: Forget what you know about "Personal Space"

In the first post of this series I stated that I would be writing tips about driving in Manila "successfully" and gave my definition of what a successful drive in Manila meant to me. Now it's time to get to the nitty gritty. First up is kind of a prerequisite to driving in Manila, and that is your notion of "personal space". Take whatever preconceived notion you have about Personal Space (when it comes to driving at least) and throw it out the window. Your notion of personal space has no bearing on the lawless streets of Manila.

I know drivers in the US very much value their personal space when it comes to driving. We are used to keeping several feet between our car and the next and we expect other driver's to do the same. Good luck with that here because you're lucky if you get several inches. Other drivers will squeeze their cars next to yours within mere inches, and at first it made me a little uncomfortable. Now, I do the same and it allows me to take advantage of driving situations I wouldn't have been able to had I left several feet in between other cars. 

Also, driving closely to other cars also serves another, more important (IMHO) purpose...especially on the streets of Manila. Driving closely to other cars means not leaving space for someone else to "muscle" their way in front of you. Remember what I said about a "successful" drive meaning getting to your destination safely and in a REASONABLE amount of time? Well, if everyone is allowed space to muscle their way in, you'll never get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. Oh, and it won't be just one person that muscles their way in...once you let one person in, the other cars will pounce on the opportunity like a Lion pouncing on the prey it just happened upon. Before you know it, you've been forced to let 5, 6, or even a whole parade of cars through. Never gonna get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time like that. :)  

So, like I said...take your notion of personal space and toss it out the window. Cars will drive mere inches from the side of your car. You'll be able to look over at the people in the other car and feel like you can practically touch them, or play a game of Patty Cake with them they're so close (unless of course you have ultra dark tint like me and most everyone in Manila). Get used to it. Embrace it. Utilize it. That is what allows you to fit 4 cars wide on a 2 lane road... :)


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Driving In Manila For Foreigners: The series

Manila is known to have some of the most traffic congested and hectic streets in the world. To the outsider looking in, the streets of Manila can definitely look like a lawless free-for-all where everyone does whatever they want, whenever they want with blatant disregard for anyone or anything else. Yes, this is true to an extent, but honestly there IS some order amongst the chaos. There is a "way" that people drive here, and once you get accustomed to how people drive here, and what to expect (and look out for!) it honestly isn't that bad. In fact, in some ways I actually enjoy (and almost prefer) driving here, but more on that later...

Driving a car here is definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart. So, as a foreigner (I was born and raised in the US) now living and driving myself around Manila daily, I figured I would share some of my experiences and tips for foreigners that may want to brave the streets of Manila. I'll share my thoughts on what I think it takes to "successfully" drive the streets of Manila.

But first, let me define what I mean by "successfully". To some, a "successful" drive in Manila may just mean getting to the destination without incident. Yes, this is a successful drive, but to me a "successful" drive needs another qualifier. To me, a successful drive not only includes getting to the destination without incident, but also getting to that destination in a minimal or reasonable amount of time. It's easy to get to your destination without incident by driving super defensive, but driving super defensive may also mean that everyone and their Lola takes advantage of you and it might take you FOREVER to reach your destination...especially considering the horrendous Manila traffic. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

You did WHAT?!

When Polly (my wife) and I first announced our decision to uproot our family from SoCal in order to reverse-migrate to Manila, Philippines we were met with a wide range of comments, enthusiasm, and criticism. We got everything from, "Wow…that's AWESOME!" to, "Wow, you guys are so brave!", to "Sounds like an adventure!", to "Why the HELL would you do that?! Most people are trying to get OUT of the Philippines!". Well, for me the choice was rather simple…it really was about trying to offer a better life for our kids.

"What?! A better life for the kids by moving AWAY from the US?! How could that be?!" i'm sure many might be thinking. The ironic thing is, THAT was the exact reason that my parents originally migrated FROM the Philippines TO the United States (despite having NO friends and NO family there) back in the late 1960's…to provide a better life for their (then) unborn children (me and my brother). So, how is it that I could possibly think that I could be offering my kids a "better life" by moving them to a 3rd world country? Well, let me explain.

Most of it has to do with the sad state of the US Economy. Most Americans work day in and day out for someone else's successful company and make just enough to pay the bills...many living paycheck to paycheck. That's OK, when you're young and don't have anyone that depends on you, but when there's family and kids involved it just won't cut it, IMHO. Don't get me wrong though...I'm not saying that money buys happiness. I'm not saying I wanna be Donald Trump, or Bill Gates. I just want the financial freedom to be able to give my kids the life that they deserve.

So, why the Philippines? Well, I've always been Entrepreneurially motivated. I've always felt that the most viable way to build true wealth is to be the OWNER of that successful business...and not "just" an employee. Problem is, the small business world in the US is not necessarily a great place to be. The fact of the matter is that 8 out of 10 small businesses in the US will fail within the first 5 years. That's not very good odds. Even in our neighborhood of Hermosa Beach back in Southern California, I saw it all the time. Small businesses in the area were always popping up, and just as quickly as they popped up, POOF, they'd be gone. Not too promising.

Is the small business failure rate lower in the Philippines than the US? Well, honestly...statistically, I don't know. But the Philippine economy IS actually getting stronger (I dunno if "booming" would be an appropriate term) and I truly feel like there is more opportunity here...especially for small-business minded people like myself. It's definitely not fool-proof but it sure does feel like the small business success rate in the Philippines is higher from the people I have talked to. I sure intend to find out, hopefully to the benefit of our kids.

Are there things that I will and do miss from the US? HELL yes...every F'n day. Are there benefits to living here over living in the US? There are definitely some. Ultimately, will making the move to the Philippines be worth it? I guess only time will tell...