I recently wrote an article about getting ahead in the Philippines by backing up. Just a simple piece about some of the reasons it is often better and easier to back into tight spots and an observation or two that foreigners and Filipinos alike are often not practiced and comfortable with backing their vehicles.
As always the comments to that article provided a lot of valuable tips that I either didn’t know or were explained better by the commenters than I would be able to.
I’d like to put a few thoughts together on driving and car selection here in the Philippines while all this is fresh in my mind. Mainly because the “Automotive Culture” here is similar but in some ways very different than what we in the USA have grown used to in a lifetime of growing up and then driving there.
Some Things To Consider:
1. A car is nowhere near as much a necessity here in the Philippines as it is back in the USA. In the USA a car is virtually a necessity in many areas, and many of us have always owned a car (or two or three) since we were in our early to mid teens. It’s almost an extension of our bodies. A man without a car is almost like a man without shoes would be here in the Philippines.
Recently my lovely wife, the Unofficial Cook and I were watching a US news show on TV in here our Philippines home. The item being featured was a story about a nurse-practitioner in Florida who ran her own medical clinic for poor families. The clinic was having a bad time financially and the owner/benefactor had been forced to cut the operating hours back to only three days a week. She told the reporter, “Gosh it’s so sad to drive up to the clinic on the days we’re closed and see the parking lot empty of cars.”
Wow. My wife and I just looked at each other and shook our heads. Poor people driving cars? Poor people in the Philippines wouldn’t even have a derelict car to sleep in, let alone one to drive to a clinic. (assuming, of course, the highly unlikely availability of any medical facility that wasn’t cash in advance.)
In the Philippines a car, even an old one, is a definite sign of affluence if not out and out wealth. And is you move here, especially if you are in my “Economy Birding” in the Philippines category, don’t be in a hurry to get a car, either. Percentage-wise, cars are a much larger portion of the budget of those families lucky enough to own them, and you can get virtually anywhere you need to go much cheaper using the very cheap and ubiquitous Jeepney, or tricycle or habal-habal motorcycle..
2. If you live in or near a big city and go into the city often, a car can be a real liability. Parking is often not available, or chaotic and inconvenient at best. A few days ago my wife and I had to take some papers to a branch of our bank in another medium sized provincial city. The bank was easy to find but the parking consisted of tiny lot in front holding three cars side by side, parked in two deep. There were no slots at all, so I had to stop in the middle of traffic and let my wife out to run in the bank. while I proceeded up and down the street, around the block, time after time until finally I was able to sneak into an empty slot in the bank lot. (blocking the car in front of me in place).
Sure enough, before our meeting was done, the guard had to come to find me so I could move my car to let the car I was blocking out. And I then pulled into the front space just vacated so that in seconds, I became blocked in by the next customer wanting to park,
When out business was done, we, of course, sat in our car letting the air conditioned cool things down while the guard went and found the owner of the car now blocking us in, and we waited while he returned to his car and the guard got both lanes of traffic in the bust two-lane street to stop and clear enough room for the “Blocker” to give me enough room to ‘escape” and then take his his own turn at being the “blockee”.
This goes on all day long, everywhere .. a real nuisance if you have a lot of stops to make. If you drive to a restaurant and park, you’ll get used to parking guards wandering from table to table holding up little white boards with car license numbers scrawled on them … hoping to find the driver of a car blocking i=another customer in, so that the blocker can leave his guests and meal and play musical cars in the parking lot to take his own turn as “blockee”. Be sure you want to drive.
3. You will be stuck in traffic. There is no escape. Be sure you want to pay extra (a lot extra) to be stuck in your own vehicle, when you could just as easily be stuck in a public transpo vehicle of a lot less money. Plus when you ride a jeep, you never have to worry about parking.
Things You Can Do Now To Prepare For Driving in the Philippines
- Learn to back up
- Learn to parallel park
- Learn to drive a stick-shift – it does matter if you _want_ to, you may have to drive one here.
- Learn to judge distance … you have to drive closer here
- The Most Important: Learn to ignore others. This is huge for many foreigners. You will see traffic violation and weird behavior by other drivers _ALL_ the time. If you are a self-appointed traffic cop wanna be, or a frustrated driving instructor, you will go crazy in a week. Reduce your stress, reduce your frustrations, just focus on yourself. Just ignore them,dodge and weave as necessary and proceed on your way. You’ll live a lot longer and life will be more enjoyable.
Always remember, It’s more fun in the Philippines … if you allow it to be.