I have always suffered from pedestrian rage. It’s not pretty. It manifests as a stunning inability to understand why people can’t (or won’t) walk at my blistering pace, why they won’t stick to the left side (or right, depending on the country), why they don’t look over their shoulders before changing lanes, why their eyeballs are not facing in the same direction as their feet, why they will inexplicably slow down or stop or swerve.
Why they won’t, in short, walk exactly the way that I do.
Like many things in the Philippines, I’ve had to get rid of this particular lifelong habit.
Navigating roads in the Philippines
Let us say that traffic here is a little manic. The road rules are flexible. Guidelines, merely. Less like rulers and more like, say, silly string.
Cars and jeepneys approach from side streets and nudge hopefully into a main road. By some miracle the traffic eases, creates a gap, lets them in, closes around them, and it all carries on.
The key to this madness working is a kind of slowing down, a trusting of yourself, of everyone else, and of the system (such as it is).
This means I’ve had to abandon my pedestrian rage, let go of my rigid rules of walking, and give myself over to a slower pace of life.
Anyone who knows me will be surprised to know that this shift in gears has actually been quite easy.
Me too! I am also very surprised! I don’t do anything slowly, certainly not walking, but here we are.
The slow lane
From my house, I walk slowly along my lane, making sure to avoid the dozens of dog poos that seem to appear magically each night.
Out on the street, I share the road with trikes, bikes, motorbikes, cars and other pedestrians – there are no footpaths on A Santos. Kids and dogs run around unleashed. Sometimes there’s a ball game going on or karaoke spilling onto the street. Vehicles try to avoid the crumbling speed humps so there’s no knowing what side of the road they’ll be on. I’m actually not 100% sure what side of the road we drive on here.
Up on Fields Avenue, which is the main street, the sidewalk is so broken and uneven, at times narrow, unexpectedly slippery, occasionally changing gradient and not gently, often blocked by a pole, a pothole, a dozen trikes, a man who shines shoes, girls gathering in skimpy outfits, lady boys in dresses that fool nobody, rubbish, dogs, beggars… If you rush through any of this, you will fall or fail or step in a hole or dog shit or turn your ankle on broken concrete or, at best, collide with a half naked woman.
Slow down. Take it in.
Yes, I still overtake people who are walking slowly in front of me. But I no longer do so out of rage, but rather out of an acceptance that they have their speed and I have mine, and both can exist together in this crazy city.
At first glance, it looks like everything here is moving fast. The traffic seems like a neverending chaotic mess. To the untrained eye, it looks like its sole purpose is to kill you.
But actually, everything works because it’s not moving fast. People are creeping along, vehicles are taking chances, but everyone is 100% prepared to slow down or stop or swerve the moment it’s necessary.
When I was a kid, there was a little cartoon ad that would come on each night, teaching you how to cross the road.
Stop at the kerb.
Look to the right.
Look to the left.
Look to the right again.
Then if the road is clear of traffic, walk straight across the road - don't run!
Walk straight across the road.
I have followed this sage advice my whole life and it has served me well. (I swap it around when needed, obvs).
But forget about it here.
Crossing the road, you kind of hover expectantly at the side and observe the traffic. When you see a gap that you think you have a slim chance of fitting through, between a trike and a jeepney, for example, a gap of a metre or so, you step confidently out and – AND THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART – you walk slowly.
Under no circcumstances do you walk briskly in an effort to avoid the oncoming traffic.
Hells no. This is an error.
Walk slowly. Walk like you have all the time in the world. Walk like the other side of the road is completely unimportant to you and the time it takes you to reach it irrelevant.
Make no sudden moves.
For extra confidence, if you must, put one hand out towards the traffic. This gesture is half to say, hey, I know you’re gonna let me through, and half to say, no worries, I got this.
By some magic, the traffic will part around you, the jeepneys will not strike you down, you will not be swiped by a trike, or murdered by a 4WD. The gods that govern the system will protect you if you simply believe in them.
This way of doing things pervades everything. If you try to do anything quickly in the Philippines, you will fail. Simply accept that whatever you are trying to achieve – cross the road, get internet connected, buy a journal – will take longer than you think –
Don’t get me wrong, I still suffer from bewilderment when I see three people taking up an entire footpath, walking with an incredible slowness that borders on backwards. But I no longer get angry or feel frustrated. I simply step slowly onto the road, barely notice as a trike skirts around me, and overtake them without rage.
Who needs rage when I have this shithole?