About Richard
The Journey
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Report: #13
Date: June 14, 1999
Subject: Car Insurance in Manila
Location: Manila Philippines

Dear Friends,

I had to leave Indonesia because my 3rd 2month-only visa came to an end. I left my bicycle in Bali and took buses and boats to Malaysian Borneo (pigs with beards, big-nosed monkeys, insect-eating plants and glowing mushrooms), Brunei (free and queue-less fun park with modern rollercoasters and flight-simulators) and then, because I heard it was only a 60Malaysian Ringgit (US$16) boat ride, to the Philippines. Here.

But I'm here not for the most common reasons one might come to the land of the current Miss Universe. I was intrigued to catch up with a couple of guys I met in Hong Kong; one buying a mountainbike in order to lose weight so he could fit into his WW2 Spitfire plane; and the other staying in a low-budget dormitory in HK, and running for senator when at home. Plus I wanted to meet the family of one of my close, Philippine friends.

This is only an aside, and not on my cycling route, unfortunately, but I want to keep you up-to-date. I should be back on the wheels in Indonesia soon. In the mean time, here's a kind of day-in-the-life-of style train of thought.

And there will be no side-effects whatsoever should you not send this to ten other email addresses. Or if you just delete it immediately.

Take a deep breath...

Car Insurance in Manila

Enormous thanks for your e. I received it at the home of Rene, a thoroughly kind Manila car insurance salesman and vehicle registration agent, who's the brother of the lead guitarist of the Tardy Boys, sprint-specialist cyclist, and all-round good guy, Edwin Bunales (pronounced Bunyales), and his wife, Grace.

Looking at Manila you'd think that dealing in car insurance would be a license to print money without even having to pay for the printing costs, but Rene and Grace live pretty modestly with their 3 children, having just the means and substance of people living in an average suburban semi-detached, with slightly over the average number of kids and no dog, in the UK. You know; one car, colour TV, VCR, computer, small yard, 3bedrooms, microwave etc. Rene does however have his fingers in a number of other pies, one of which being an Internet Server agency. That brings him and his the perk of free and unlimited Internet access and free local phone calls. Hence I'm able to comfortably tap this out to you at my Weggc-like leisurely pace. Much obliged to Rene, Grace, KatKat, RenRen and MakMak, may they live a conspicuously joyful future.

Today I accompanied Rene on his collection rounds which he only slightly engineered to take me to some of the more colourful clients and scenic spots than he might normally grind through. He took me out in a borrowed, leaky, old car (cos his is at the workshop as it took a knock and is awaiting the insurance company's rubber stamp for the repair go-ahead. I'm sure a few people will enjoy the irony of that) which, however, felt nicely at home and unobtrusive trundling along the working class, speed-bumped backstreets and shortcuts of congested Manila, avoiding the carbon monoxide bottlenecks by squeezing by the frontdoorsteps. Frontdoorsteps as often as not a mere open interface with the street; a boundary evolved and stretched by assorted, crammed-in, stacked, hanging, cluttered or trailing paraphernalias (paraphernaliae?) and practicals pertaining to processing passing people into pesos. Or, for a less cynical mind, to persuade people to pause and pass the time of day. A pleasant time of a non-umbrella day. Though the pause may equally be to evade the grilling sunshine; in a cool Aladdin's cave of toothpaste sachets and toiletries; in the wind of a full-speed standing fan; or in between papayas, calamansis (tiny green lemon-oranges), apples and grapes. Or amongst the whir of seamsters' pedal-powered sewing machines. Or beside the clang, hiss and grime of tyre menders. Or behind the slats of ratan furniture. Or on the hushed upholstery of an air-conditioned computer servicing office (for once with a door and window). Or simply for a tea, Sprite or beer. (I don't know whether it was the time of day for eating the local delicacy of almost-fully-formed-duck eggs (Baluut) or not though.)

Anyway, through the streets we drove, carefully rounding tartan-skirted, white-bloused groups of schoolgirls, both motorbikes and BMXs with sidecars operating as taxis, jeepneys (coloured and ornamented metal fortresses on wheels posing as buses, or maybe they're cathedrals, judging by the biblical references adorning them), refuse trucks, undercautious toddlers, etc, to a big, local "wet and dry" market like a two storey car park, but with a siege of double-parked cars outside, and a maze of comestibles inside largely smelling of raw meat.

On foot, we entered sideways into the people-jam inside and checked out the price of good quality rice; 24Pesos =US$0.67 per Kg. And we (or rather Rene) bought "biiko" (rice cake topped with palm sugar syrup) and "buto" (glutinous (sticky) rice balls). This was Rene's patch and several of his clients were busy weighing, dishing out, or chopping. Many halts for friendly acknowledgements. And I was GI Joe according to a large number of amiable calls.

Rene bought us some sweet mangoes at his usual seller-woman and she happily posed for my photograph. This prompted all the banana-selling women within laughter range to call for their photos to be taken too. I was only too glad to capture their grins.

After transactions of even the smallest amount, Rene would conclude with his "patented" "Thankyou for your kind consideration regarding settling of this matter." In English. And in his mischievous bargaining, he would sometimes say, with an obviously feigned sadness, "Where is your heart?" He sometimes gained smiles and a small discount. He sometimes gained only smiles.

Back in the car, windows full down to catch the slightest breeze; through the clogged city we shuffled and stuttered. Getting nowhere fast. In between chit-chat and laughter, we sang to Rene's Police CD, "The Best Of...". Rene enlightened me as to some of Sting's poetic lyrics; "Another industrial ugly morning." And we payed a visit to the real ones; the friendly inner-city coppers. Which is as much of a clue that I'm going to give you as to where Rene sources a fair number of his clients.

We drove to his client and friend Popoi's for a collection for a taxi franchise payment. Popoi has a wicked sense of humour and cutting line of conversation. I remember most his comment; "If you have an enemy, nominate him for election as a presidential candidate. It's sure to ruin him."

Not all that surprisingly, Rene could only extract about a third his dues from Popoi. But we were treated to a good rice and fried "bangus" (the national fish) lunch and fresh fruit, and Popoi's parents gave us the warmest of genuine welcomes. They want us back for a social with other guests tomorrow night. We both left Popoi's place in a good mood. And I'm sure Rene won't mind at all returning for anything outstanding.

His favourite threat and negotiating tool; to "pull your armpit hair", will never scare the money out of anyone, nor ever be implemented either. Everyone knows this, even if they don't understand his jokey English.

Remedying an overheating engine at a couple of petrol stations on the way, we headed for the hills on the edge of Metro Manila, Anti Polo. It was nice of the next client to choose close to the highest point in the area to live. Even so, we had to U-turn in retreat from one total traffic block. After some standstill. And on the way up we stopped, though we were running a bit late, to eat iced, fresh pineapple slices by the roadside; welcome in the still droopy-dog's-tongue-out afternoon.

Funnily enough, despite the apparent complete chaos of the traffic, it was refreshing to notice that any driver could easily pull into any lane of traffic ahead of drivers who almost invariably slowed down without anger, to accommodate. So long as the driver pulling in manoeuvred carefully and obviously enough. And Rene took things reassuringly slowly and cautiously. Maybe because we had no seatbelts. The norm round here.

Whatever you do, "Keep Smiling", even if you're cursing the other driver through your teeth. Rene's rule. In fact, I think, an essential survival rule for all Manila. And the World, I could add.

And he told me some of the history of the Philippines' famous Jeepneys. Of the system of colour-coding cars so that on a certain day each week, cars registered ending in certain numbers could not be driven in the city. But this prompted some people to buy cheap, barely driveable bangers so that they could drive on the day their normal car was banned.

I say cheap, but one of Rene's ways is not to use that word, but to say "affordable".

A little down the other side of the hill, in a busy little town, after asking directions twice, we found Rene's last client of the day, running her mini mart; one of those Aladdin's caves I mentioned earlier. She gave us chilled mineral water. And while Rene got down to paperwork, I, in my oversized way, just got in people's way, trying to stay near a fan and to find a space for my head amongst the dangling strips of toothpaste sachets. And upset the store dog.

I took some photos of this surreal treasure trove though. Treasure for me later, I hope, to add to the gems of recall which will be triggered whenever I have strands of pineapple stuck between my teeth again.

We saw daylight end eating a noodles-and-bread snack at a restaurant with a great vantage point, watching way over to the Manila skyline. Healthily in the distance. Sky blue-ing on one side. Orange-ing on the other.

Past ex-squatters-now-new-owners' shanty houses on the banks of Manila's immense, valley-sized flood water channel (where when the heavy rains come they might be lucky to get a big fish swim into their living room!) and by huge malls, it only took about 2hours to drive back to Rene's family. And TV-news of Yugoslav troops pulling out of Kosovo.


PS This has just about nothing to do with anything else, but I couldn't resist adding it: - Some Philippine signboards:-
"Best Gas Sold Here"
"Beast Gas Sold Here"
"Mercy Vulcanising" (I've heard of mercy killing, but...)
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