A reflection from our time spent in the Philippines regarding traffic…

My wife tbV [the beautiful Val] and i have just returned from a two-month trip to the Philippines which was pretty amazing. If you’re interested in how that came about, you can read some of the story over here.

i am hoping, however, to share a few thoughts and reflections from our time there and hopefully in not-too-long pieces that are easy to jump into and digest.

If you bumped into me and heard about the trip and asked what my overall impressions are of the Philippines from our time there, one of the likeliest aspects of the trip to be mentioned is the modes of transport and travel.


Two things come to mind:

[1] VARIETY – the absolute variety of what you see on the roads is incredible. The five main types of transport in most places we were in were motorbike, tricycle, jeepney [ex military vehicle turned into sturdy overloaded taxis], van [South African Quantum taxi]  and bus.

We are talking small motorbikes and on so many occasions we would see four adults sitting on one motorbike or mom and dad and two little children on the same bike. That was so wild to see and yet appears to be quite normal in many of the places we visited. The pic at the top of this was the world record attempt of people on a bike we caught a glimpse of as we drove by on a bus.

[2] CHAOS – Sitting in a van driving on the wrong side of the road as we approach a blind corner was not a rare occurrence during this trip. And multiple vehicles heading for the same space. Overcrowded jeepneys piled high with baggage and even people on the top and bursting out the back. Drivers heading on over to the other side of the road on curvy mountain passes to avoid the pothole in front of them that extended across most of the road. It really felt like there was a sense of make it up as you go along. And yet in two months there i think we witnessed the after effects of one, maybe two accidents, none of which seemed particularly destructive.

But this is the thing… with all the chaos that seemed to be happening all around us on the roads, something felt different and it took me a while to put my finger on it. But when i eventually did, it was so completely obvious and was the narrative that ran through our entire trip. In two months of chaos on the roads around us, i heard someone use their hooter/horn in anger a total of one time. Once.

In South Africa we angry hoot in parking lots, we angry hoot when a taxi pushes in, we angry hoot when we have been waiting in a line that doesn’t seem to be moving regardless of whether we know why the backup is happening. The difference between the Philippines and South Africa was the complete lack of aggression on the roads.

When i was taught to drive i was told i had to drive aggressively. Always be anticipating what might happen, who might jump into the road and what car might try to push in and just make sure that i take up the space i need to and get where i’m going.

The Filipinos on the other hand, drive defensively. They typically employ a short double-burst hoot to let people in front of them know they are about to overtake or when turning a sharp corner and are on the wrong side of the road and so on. Or to give acknowledgment when someone else has let them pass or moved out of the way. The hooter becomes a communication device and not a weapon.

The use of small motorbikes and tricycles would completely work in South Africa, if it wasn’t for the levels of aggression we have on the roads. In which case i don’t see them working at all, or else being quite hazardous alternatives, which is such a pity. Because they are small and reliable and don’t use as much petrol and mean that a lot more people can have some work.

So this started out as a reflection on our time in the Philippines but i was left with more of a reflection on South Africa. How aggressive we are and how quickly we turn to violence. Happened to me on the Twitterer while in the middle of compiling this post. Conversation happened around white privilege and i gave a different response to one of the white men who responded not with a better argument for his case but by calling me an “Asshole!” which is what we do. Frustration on the hockey field doesn’t lead to people trying to up their game, but typically becoming more aggressive with both words and bodies.

Why are we so aggressive and prone to violence? And the realisation that i am not exempt from that so what work needs to be done in me in that area? i have always loved this one line from one of Paul’s letters to the Roman church which simply says: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

To put it in my own words: Retaliate with good. 

In the Philippines in so many ways and places, when it comes to the possibility of anger, rage, aggression and violence, i saw an alternative response in operation. One thing South Africans desperately need to learn…

Where are the spaces where you need to work in this area? 

[For another Philippines Reflection on Hospitality and Generosity, click here]