There is this thing about travelling abroad that disturbs me.
Although it is lesson enough not to compare how it is out there to what it is really like back here, you cannot help but do so. There is something almost masochistic about comparing Manila to some places that you visit. OK, let's not get sensitive by using the term better but maybe more advanced. Whichever way you look at it, you still feel bad.
You ask yourself why it does not even take three hours and when you land at the airport in Hong Kong, it is like you landed on a completely different planet.
Why do they have trains that go straight into the city from the airport --- leaving you off a few steps from your hotel? And why is everything so systematic, comprehensible, convenient, accessible ...? (The adjectives go on and on and the ritual of masochism continues.) Why does everything seem to work efficiently?
You also ask yourself why is it that in three and a half hours you land in Singapore --- and it is a city state that is as big as MetroManila but looks like Tomorrowland if you are standing right at the intersection of Taft Avenue and EDSA.
Well, actually there are many places in Manila that really look like some of the sets they built for science fiction movies. That is more like from the imagination of Ridley Scott --- Blade Runner country. However, in Singapore everything is seemingly immaculately clean, trees are abundant --- and look, they have trains that work, buses that are efficient --- and throughout the duration of my five day stay --- never encountered a single incident of traffic.
Maybe I and my fellow travelers were just lucky. But I really, really was amazed that our coaster never stalled, the taxi cabs we rode never stopped not unless there was a traffic light ... or we got to our destinations. After a while you sort of miss how it is in Manila when you spend a minimum of two to two and half hours from Muntinlupa to Quezon City on a regular day. Or that you have accepted traffic as a way of life kasi it is a sign of progress daw. Whatever!
One thing more .... the only litter you find in the streets of the Lion City are leaves from the abundance of trees that seemed to surround you everywhere. Someone said, "That is because the government plants trees everywhere. Everything in Singapore is a legislation."
Well, Honey, I do not give a flying eff because the trees look good, it keeps the air clean --- and it is far better than the tracks of pollution you clean from your nose at the end of the day, realizing that half the time you have been sustained by carbon monoxide.
Then of course there is this place called Japan which is a good four hours away and has a world all on its own.
Japan has this thing for efficiency to the point that as a Filipino you get really, really spooked out.
When their train is scheduled to arrive at 10:21 ... then it will be right there at the exact time down to the millisecond. (Subtext: Eh, dito?)
The Japanese are so disciplined --- that everything about their culture is engraved right into their very core. They move differently. They conduct themselves uniquely so much so that if you are in a restaurant and you hear loud people talking, chances are they are not the citizens of that country but ... well, other nationalities (like us, for instance).
Everyone is dressed differently there that even the homeless look chic. I kid you not.
Of course on the very first hour I got out of the Kansai Airport in Osaka, I encountered my first cultural blunder when my rather wide behind occupied the entire escalator. You know how it is: bad enough that your girth was never meant for a stairway which all the while you assumed was for a single file, right? But then I heard someone at my back saying some from of "Excuse me" or "Get your fat ass out of my way". That was when I looked back and realized there was an entire line of people I was blocking. And they did not look amused.
I got it. There was a fast-track lane and there was the normal file.
You leave the other side of the escalator free so that those in a hurry can rush up or down without having to elbow their way or shove obstacles. Eh, how was I to know about that practice when all I know about escalator etiquette is what I trained for at the Megamall?
But it goes beyond escalators. Or traffic. Or the fact that people actually follow rules in other countries. That cars stop when pedestrians cross --- and people queue to ride cabs and buses only stop to pick up and drop off passengers in appointed areas. And cutting somebody on the road is not only considered bad manners but a sign that you come from a long line of apes who can now drive. Whatever.
It is things like these --- such everyday matters for some --- that seem so exceptional for others like us. And that makes you wonder: why are we in awe when it is so seemingly ordinary and commonplace for them? Why does it look impossible from where we come from whereas it is just a way of life for them.
And that is when you feel really bad.
You begin asking yourself: why is it that you feel bad each time to you visit a foreign country --- for pleasure or for work --- and you come home wishing that you could bring back some of the things that made life easier from the place that you left?
No, don't get me wrong: indeed there is no place like home --- but home should be better. It is not that not everyone can afford to see how life is outside our shores or time zone: but everybody deserves something better. What is it about them that makes their lives far better just on the day-to-day basis? Is it them or can it be us?
Have we screwed up somewhere along the way? Or are we going to blame the politicians and the nag-li-lider-lideran? Whatever it is or may be ... then it must be something not said, declared or flaunted by politicians in their speeches. It should be felt and experienced in order to be validated.
Oh, come on --- it is not only about those running the country. It has got something to do with the people as well. We get what we deserve ... and we are in the here and now because we deserve it. Or are just smug as slugs to accept that ganito, eh.
It took us three hours and fifteen minutes to fly back from Singapore to Manila.
It also took us two hours and twenty minutes to drive back from NAIA 3 to our place in Muntinlupa.
The moment I stepped out the airport and went back to the road, I realized that indeed --- I was home. The traffic mess outside the parking lot and the arrival bays in NAIA 3 is of epic proportion because of the construction taking place outside, the sheer volume of cars plying the routes and the lack of foresight/logic/consideration of people who we pay with our taxes to make our lives a bit easier.
(I was just wondering: is this the first Filipino experience any tourist in our country would encounter the moment he stepped out of an airport? More fun indeed, he would say.)
Quietly I told myself that this was where I belonged. And like so many who have not given up the right to dream, I want it to be better. Far better than this. And don't give me crap like, "It is not going to happen in our lifetime."