You can say I had a colorful childhood. A part of it was spent in my birthplace, The Philippines and a greater majority of it was spent in The Kingdom of Bahrain. If you’ve never heard of either countries, I won’t hold it against you. Both are but just dots in the world map. But the similarities of the two ends there. Philippines and Bahrain can’t be further apart in terms of weather and culture and traditions, but both are home to me.
One of the biggest differences of the two is transportation. In Bahrain for example, the best way (and sometimes the only way) to get around the island is to have a car. Purchasing your own vehicle is easy, gas prices are cheap (Bahrain is in the Middle East), so it’s rare that people commute (or need to) by public transport.
In the Philippines however, it’s an entirely different picture. There are so many ways to get around the country that owning your own car is not the most ideal. Besides the traffic and the ridiculous gas prices, even the middle class prefers public transportation.
Personally, I like to commute. Well, I really don’t have any choice since I don’t drive. Why? That’s an entirely different post right there. Commuting in and around Philippines is both an adventure and an inconvenience.
When I was in college, we had to wear this pristine white uniforms. I was attending Nursing school and we had to wear this one piece dress type outfits for lecture days. I hated the thing. Not only does it limit my movements, I had to wear a pair of white panty hose with it, which, if you’ve never inserted your person in one, just don’t. It’s hot, it’s itchy, and it’s the most unflattering form of clothing I have ever owned.
When I say that commuting in the Philippines is an inconvenience, that monstrosity of a uniform is a key factor in that statement.
The most popular means of transport in the Philippines is the Jeepney. It is the crowning jewel of Philippine ingenuity. They are resurrected U.S. military jeeps that were left over during WWII. To make money out of anything is the Filipino way. They stripped down the US jeeps, decorated the vehicles with vibrant colors, added more room for more passengers to sit, and voila! The Philippine Jeepney is born.
They say that you’re Philippine experience (or your citizenship) is only completed by taking a trip in one of these bad boys. The wide open windows let’s you bake in the sun in the tropical summer and drenches you in the pouring rain – not unless one of your kind-hearted co-passengers rolls down the plastic tarp that is made irrelevant during a storm (I’m sure a lot of Filipinos can sympathize with me on this). You get to sit with different folks from different walks of life and if you’re lucky enough, you don’t get to sit at all. If you’re brave enough to just hang on for dear life as the jeepney weaves in and out of traffic then you deserve a medal my friend. Not only did you risk your life just so that you can get to your minimum wage job on time, you paid, to risk your life. And it’s just a bonus if you get to sit next to an inconsiderate long haired jerk as you get to eat hair for the entirety of the trip. Cool times.
The Philippine jeepney is not all that bad. It has been very good to me too. I have made instant alliances with my co-passengers to gang up on the driver that is clearly txting while driving. I was granted the revered responsibility of collecting and handing out everyone else’s payments (and change) too many times than I would have liked. I participated in a trade between 2 jeepney drivers when 1 driver is no longer interested in taking you to the place you paid him to take you to. And most of all it has been the setting of a lot of embarrassing moments in my life and have since then been a filling for my blog posts. Actually, those embarrassing albeit funny moments are the only thing good I have gotten out of riding a jeepney.
Remember that uniform I was talking about? I was wearing that one mundane weekday. I always choose to ride a jeepney with very few passengers, but since it was the morning of a weekday, every jeep is either almost full and full and beyond capacity.
This particular jeep is just almost full, and since I’m relatively a tiny person, I usually sit sideways, because a.) I’m wearing a skirt type dress that hikes up and b.) I get car sick when I don’t see the direction the jeep is going. Not unless it’s an inconvenience to everyone else inside the jeep, this is how I normally sit.
This day was no different. I was sitting sideways, my face being whipped by the wind (my hair is tied in a bun, I’m not an asshole) and the person in front of me and behind me had no complaints about me being in this position – or at least none that they’ve vocalized.
I don’t normally wear make up but for some reason I chose that day of all days to wear a particularly dark shade of lipstick. Maybe to look more of a lady person (this plays a role in the story). The person in front of me, a gentleman in his late 20’s early 30’s is wearing an equally pristine white uniform for some local company (this plays a role in the story). Now the distance between us should be a couple of inches, just enough for us to be close but not too close.
So there we were, both minding our own business. When the jeep suddenly screeched to a stop. The driver was trying to beat the red light but decided at the last minute to abide by the rules somewhat (probably saw a traffic enforcer) causing everyone to jerk forward then back. This is a common occurrence in a jeepney so there were no violent reactions from the passengers, well, except for one.
The sudden stop caused me to go face first, or in this case lips first, in the man’s shoulder in front of me. There is no denying it as the evidence of my dark lipstick stain on his white sleeve is visible for everyone to see.
I muttered my apologies as I checked for blood on my lips. The man closed his eyes, breathed an exasperated sigh and said, “Patay ako sa asawa ko!” – “My wife is going to kill me!”
Checking to see if this guy is serious, I asked him why.
He explained that his wife might think that he’s involved with ummm…a lady friend.
I felt bad for the guy but I had to laugh. I offered to wipe the stain with some wipes, just to remove the outline of my lips and suggested that maybe he can pass it for rust or a fruit stain or something.
He let out another sigh and said, “Hindi maniniwala yun.” – “She’s not going to believe me.”
Maybe this guy has been unfaithful before or maybe his wife is just the insanely jealous type, regardless, I felt so sorry for ruining this guy’s day, I just had to help.
I was about to reach my destination when I hastily scribbled my number on a piece of paper. Told him to have his wife call me so I can verify the story. But what if the wife thinks you’re his mistress lying for the guy? Way ahead of you. I also left my student number. But you can be his student mistress! Still ahead of you. I also asked him to have him and his wife meet me whenever, no big deal, I’m the hero. I felt compelled to do all that because the guy looks really miserable.
The rest of the day was pretty normal and uneventful. But as I was brushing my teeth, I received an anonymous text, asking me who I am. It was sent by the jeep guys wife! I then quickly type a recount of the lip stain story hoping that it would be enough to silence the issue forever. She replied, “Anong lipstick??!” – “What lipstick??!”
Turns out the wife didn’t notice the stain but she did find the note with my number, written in my neat girly handwriting, in his trouser pocket. To avoid further confusion, as I’m also getting tired with this story, I made a call to the wife which turned to a 15 minute therapy session of her spitting stories of her husband’s previous infidelity. We ended the call with the wife being relieved and the husband shouting his apologies in the background.
I still sit sideways when I ride the jeepney but I have now learned the lesson of keeping a handkerchief in my mouth that serves the dual purpose of minimizing the smoke I ingest and to avoid lipstick staining the sleeves of cheating husbands.
*This post was inspired by this post.