19 July 2012

Commuting a Sentence

Yesterday was the first time in a long time I found myself wondering why I still worked this job and lived in this country. Maybe Cris has spoiled me with all the driving around. Maybe I've gotten too comfortable living and working with home just 4km away from work and a minimum of Metro Manila traffic in between. Maybe my new neighborhood is just that much nicer than my old one.

Whatever the case, I would like to express my admiration for anyone who must commute home from work from Ayala Station every day. Yesterday I felt like crying for all of them.

The sheer number of people in the queue, which just takes over the entire station, is astounding. I walked the length of the station last night and then walked back when I saw the exit was blocked, and in the three minutes it took to do that, the number of people lining up (hundreds), crowded, noses smashing into one another's backs, seemed to have doubled. I could only imagine the number of people crowding onto the actual train platform and the number of people on the actual train.

I'm no stranger to the MRT, nor am I a stranger to the crowd at Ayala Station, but this was the first time in the past four years that I actually tried getting home from there at rush hour. I decided to take the bus.

That, of course, meant walking 1.2km back to the correct loading bay on Ayala Ave. in a storm, but I thought it would work.

Okay, as much as I've been driven around in the past couple of months, I'm still quite proud to be a pedestrian and a commuter. I'm also used to walking, and I actually prefer the rainy season.

But yesterday, everything just seemed to get me down. I'd been sick for almost a week and was feeling nauseous. I'd come from a disappointing, demoralizing meeting that made me question my career choices and crave a vacation. I'd had to put off a doctor's visit to carry out a family errand. I'd had to go up, down, and across three different mall buildings looking for the place to carry out said errand. I'd done all that walking in the pinchy meeting shoes already responsible for the ugly black line across my big right toenail. The downpour (and the puddles) meant that there was water in those shoes. Now I just wanted to go home — like everyone else on Ayala Ave. at that hour.

So, it's no surprise I couldn't get on a bus, either, at least not the bus back to Quezon City. I decided to just sleep over at my grandmother's place in Makati, then commute back to QC in the morning. I crossed the street, which sounds simple but, on Ayala Ave., meant a 200m walk to the underpass and a 200m walk to the bus stop actually across the stop I'd just left.

It was the first time in a long time I found myself feeling miserable about Philippine urban planning, which is why I was wondering why I still live here, which led me to think about getting a job elsewhere, which led me to question what's still keeping me at my job here.

Once again, my teal-and-gold-filtered memories of Singaporean streets, Singaporean sidewalks, and Singaporean public transportation swam before me like dreams of summer vacation. I thought of the difference the position of taped lines in front of train doors made (they're supposed to be at the sides!). I thought of the difference crosswalks made versus under- or overpasses. I thought of the difference trees, clean air, and conveniently placed bus stations made.

My brothers at a crosswalk in Singapore.

I also thought of the children and parents in "I Not Stupid." I thought of how many foreigners often see Filipinos, even successful ones in white-collar jobs. I thought of Philippine beaches and Philippine mountains. I thought of the Chocolate Hills, which I've never visited. For some reason, all that was enough to make me feel torn.

How much would I have to give up just to be able to get on the train without feeling like cattle? Would it all be worth it? Or is there not enough in my native country and culture worth staying for? Do I really live in a world where I have to choose between clean air, a less f-ed-up government, good urban planning, and a manageable population, and staying where I've spent ~7/8 of my life to date? What kind of world is this? Why is it so hard to go home from Ayala Ave.?

Here's some language nerdiness that borders on philosophical. I can't find Chinese words for "yes" and "no."

A dictionary like nciku will tell you that "yes" is 是 (shì), but none of my teachers or lessons so far have actually spelled out that 是 and 不 (bù) mean "yes" and "no" in the same sense as "oo" and "hindi." In fact, the very first Chinese lessons say that 是 means "is/am/are/be," and 不 is "not – ," as in,

是不是红的? ; "Is it or is it not red?"

So in dialogues, when they answer a yes-or-no question with 是 or 不是, in my head, I translate, "is / is not."

Another way to affirm or negate is 有 (yǒu) or 没有 (méi yǒu), but that's literally "have/meron" and "have not / wala."

你们有苹果吗? ; "Do you have apples?"
没有。; "(We) do not have (apples)."

你给她打一个电话了吗?; "Have you given her a phone call already?"
没有。; "(I) have not."

Maybe it's just me, but saying that something is or is possessed requires more conviction than just a simple "yes" or "no." I wonder if this is reflected in Chinese culture somehow. I could just be a geek.