what you make of it
If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.
Comparatively speaking, Manila is a very comfortable post. There is a great restaurant scene, travel opportunities abound, and one would be hard-pressed to find friendlier, more welcoming people than Filipinos. In many respects, living here is a joy. There are two main drawbacks, repeatedly underscored by friends and colleagues alike: the weather and the traffic.
The rainy season lasts half the year, and when it rains in the Philippines, it really pours. Monsoons pummel the islands between May and September with fearsome regularity. Fortunately, because of the Philippines’ tropical climate, the rain oftentimes feels more refreshing than unpleasant, and – unless there is thunder involved – life mostly goes on, rain or shine. Junebug’s daycare seems to be the exception to the rule, as it frequently closes when it rains. Munchkin’s school and soccer practice, on the other hand, tend to go on uninterrupted. Similarly, D has now twice attended ultimate frisbee practice in driving rain. There are dry, sunny days during the rainy season too, but it’s better not to put life on hold because they are few and far between, especially between June and August.
The traffic is far and away most expats’ biggest complaint about living in Manila. Quite simply put, there are too many vehicles for the infrastructure to handle. Even at midnight, Manila’s main roadways are apt to be crowded with cars. The Embassy and Munchkin’s school are located on opposite sides of the city. We requested and received housing that is close to the latter, which leaves S with a painful commute to work. Because the Embassy shuttle makes multiple stops to pick up and drop off passengers, on many days the commute feels utterly soul crushing. Even so, other than driving around our well-regulated BGC bubble, S has been loath to get behind the wheel and take on the stress of navigating Manila’s roadways.
Some describe driving here as a game of chicken; others compare it to bumper cars in which the objective seems to be to come as close as possible to other vehicles without actually bumping them. The roads are chaotic and claustrophobia-inducing, with cars frequently straddling two lanes, swerving slowly from one lane to another to gain an advantage, or simply creating their own lanes where none are designated. Motos, taxis, jeepneys, tuk-tuks, and buses dart in and out of traffic with little regard for the rules of the road. Both buses and jeepneys will slam on the brakes in the middle of crowded highways and then proceed to block several lanes of traffic to let passengers on or off.
All that said, driving here is still easier than it was in Kenya. D, for one, thrives on the chaos, in large part because he had mentally prepared himself for far worse. As long as one makes peace with the fact that traversing five miles might take 45 minutes to an hour, it’s really not that bad.