Friday, August 12, 2011

There Are No Jeepneys in the US of A

I came to the Philippines in 2005. It was a fluke of fate, a left turn out of Hong Kong rather than right.

Before that I roamed the planet whenever I could afford it, which wasn't often enough, but, hey, alimony does crimp one's style. This ramblin' started courtesy of Uncle Sam's traveling circus, the US Army, which saw fit to give me an all expense paid tour of Saigon and its nearby environs, most of which were duly padded in sandbags to keep the shrapnel at bay. But after R&R in Hong Kong and vacation in Sydney, I was hooked. I liked the differences between other places and my home country.

Now my home country has the most varied scenery known to mankind, from the glaciers of Alaska to the sand dunes of Death Valley, endless rolling plains, some of the deepest ditches in the world painted red in the sunset, those elegant Rocky Mountains where I grew up, snakeland swamps, mighty rivers, gorgeous beaches. But the culture is pretty pat. By that, I mean ordered and proper and kind. People drive between the lines and generally follow the laws. It is hard to find exotica unless you like the kind represented in a stripper slipping up and down a silver pole at a gentleman's club out in South El Monte. Oh, and there is New Orleans.

"See Julie do something that no other woman has done before in public!" You can wander the streets of "N'awlins" with a beer in hand as the barkers fairly drag you in to the strip joints and clubs.

Well, Julie was pretty good, balancing that glass of champagne on her ample left boob.

Her right was ample, too, now that I think about it.

I've been to all those places. River rafting and hitchhiking, mountain climbing and body surfing, skiing and cross-country cycling. Camping. Ogling Julie. Luxury hotels and smoke infested dives with lumpy mattresses from all the prior action thereupon. I drunkenly pissed once from the terrace of the Morro Bay Inn into the mighty Pacific, and on another excursion got potted up whilst watching the whales swim south toward Mexico. That was in Clint Eastwood's town, lovely, artsy Carmel, California. Trust me, Mayor Clint would not allow any obscene painting of Jesus to be posted in an art gallery in his town. He has class. And a .44 magnum.

But you see, there are no tricycles in the USA for a 5 peso ride downtown. No outrigger boats for a quick jaunt over to that island off in the distance. No local wild fiestas where everyone feeds everyone else and half naked dancers bong their way through town vying in street dance competitions.  Only in Hawaii can you drive between the sea and green tropical forests dissolving into the misty clouds high up the mountainside. And there, a cut-rate hotel room runs you $100. And everyone stays between the lines.

There are no drunken cock-fights with every motorcycle in town jammed aside the National Highway so the riders can foolishly bet away the family's money that they sweated so hard to earn. There is no tuba in the USA. Oh, the south has its moonshine and some people brew beer in their basement. But there is no mango tree to drink it under, where you can slobber happily with your drunken pals whilst the women fiddle with the food and kids.

There are no Jeepneys in the US of A. If you don't own a car, you have a headache.

Juices, I can hardly remember all the countries I've visited. Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Australia , Canada, Mexico, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, Israel, England, Spain, Portugal, France. Aargh. I'm forgetting some, I know.

I would strike half those countries from my list of feasible  retirement places because you can't live year-round in shorts and a t-shirt, wander about speaking English and be quite confident that people may try to scam some pesos, but not do anything really nasty; just avoid Mindanao. Some of those countries, like Singapore and Japan, live too much between the lines, if you catch my drift. Egypt is the best place to visit if you want to look at really old architecture, but the Sahara sand stings and I don't trust Muslims (no offense intended). Israel? Way too many guns hanging around on the shoulders of very young soldiers. England? Snooty, cold and between the lines. Spain? I don't trust Catholics. Hahahahaha, whooo, wheeeooo. (No offense intended.)

No, I like a place with character. It doesn't have to be rich. It has to be authentic.

The Philippines is authentic, even though the authenticity occasionally drives me nuts. I'd rather be nuts than bored.

My home is on a gently sloping mountainside just below the cloud line. If I look one direction, I see green volcanic mountains draped in wispy cotton veils, if I look the other, I see the West Philippine Sea with a Chinese aircraft carrier somewhere off in the distance. My kid speaks two languages at the age of three, he runs around naked half the time, like the locals, and he loves books, an obvious cultural contradiction. But hey, like his Pop, he believes in marching to the beat of his own drum.

Also, living here is a fine joke on those stuck between the lines. The Philippines is going up. They are going down.


  1. Actually Joe, believe it or not, there ARE jeepneys in the USA.

    Go visit St. John and St. Thomas when you get the chance. You will find some well built, independently operated vehicles that have two or four rows of lengthy seats (depending on the owner's design decision to go with horizontal or vertical seating). They have no seat belts and are sometimes elaborately decorated that they mass pass as a Pinoy Jeepney. They may stop anywhere to pick up people who flag them down. Fare usually is $2 for the short routes.

    This is not a poor man's solution, especially in affluent St. John where you may find upper class tourists from Rockefeller's Caneel Bay Resort riding to beach hop over to Trunk or Cinnamon Bay or perhaps to visit the town in Cruz Bay.

    In St. Thomas you will find even bigger versions of these that it is quite common to find a "conductor" yelling out at passengers to hop in as they are going to so and so.

    So the question is why don't they use the bus, cable car, or expand their water taxi fleet? I asked them and they gave me a very good reason. I will not tell you the reason for now because I want to continue to see Benign0, Ilda, and Ben Kritz continue with their ignorant belief that Jeepneys are folly.

    You can easily spot small potatoes from the big shots by the amount of arrogance they have. And the three mentioned are quite arrogant (and ignorant), I must say.

    Oh yes, and these "Jeepneys" may be found in other affluent places as well.

  2. Looks like you've gotten more than what you bargained for there, Joe. Authenticity aside, I agree it is the character of the place (not to mention, of its people) that either draws you towards or repulses you from it. Must admit, your insights are the last thing unsuspecting tourists might want to know, but for those adventurous enough, riding 'Patoks' (i.e., jeepneys with an attitude) is highly recommended. And while they're at it, i could see no hurt in trying out pedicabs, Kuligligs and our infamous taxis from hell, i mean EDSA. That would really make an impression... Anyways, great article Joe. Impeccable, as always.

    Expat, 'love your work man, especially the last parts of your comment. an ax to grind, apparently...

  3. Expat, I knew I was treading a little loose in making that "no" statement. I'm glad you corrected me on it, and I agree a Jeepney is a great way to travel. I don't know if it is a national trend, or was just along the main route in Northern Mindanao, but the hangers on, external, got a free ride.

    1DC, I find riding a pedicab down to the pier a fine romantic ride with my wife and kid. And I've done the Kuligligs and taxis, too. The wildest rides were the blue buses from Olongapo City north through Zambales. On one, the conductor was pouring buckets of water through the floor onto the engine to keep it from melting.

  4. Hell (hope u don't mind me using that word) yeah! Who needs the rides in Star City, right? ok, sorry...

    BTW, some may argue that jeepneys are a symbol of pinoys' ingenuity. Others, a sign a poverty. Frailty? Well, that's just for argument's sake. But regardless, the country has been able to relate its identity with this vehicle in all its positive attributes. Just saying...

  5. I'm a George Carlin fan, and you can use any word on his expanded list as long as it is not an adjective applied to me. And I suppose most other people.

    I look at the Jeepney as reflecting the toil of the Filipino laborer, day after day. Toyota would love to claim the mileage that I think some of those simple diesels wrack up.

  6. @expat

    i'm so curious... whats the reason?


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