How not to have a bad day in Manila…

S….or any place else really where time is not valued in the same way as it in the West. And especially if you are a new expat in town.  I see lots of new faces arrive, having never lived overseas before, and it makes me realise that I have learnt quite a bit in my 20+ years of bouncing around the planet.  Here’s what I want to tell them about tackling every day life in Manila:

Have the taxi fare available in small change.  Never, ever, ever get in a taxi with a large note.  They will not have the change.  However much of a rush you are in, you will not save time by skipping this reality.  In fact, you will end up spending more time on trying to solve the problem at your destination and greatly increase your blood pressure at the same time.

Keep small change in general.  When you purchase something from a large store, give them your large bills.  Say no when they ask you for help with “20 pesos” so they can conveniently hand you back simpler large bills in change.  They have a drawer full of change and have been asked to try and get exact amounts from customers.  They have the change to give you, so take it.  You’ll need it later for the small shops, vendors and taxis along the way.

Know how to get where you’re going.  Even if you’ve never been there before.  Taxi drivers typically do not know the roads and have been known to capitalize on this fact by taking you the “scenic” route.  Buy a map book for Metro Manila and photo copy the relevant page so you have some idea of where you are.  Don’t expect the taxi driver to be able to follow the map.  I tried that at first and most of them just glanced at it and threw it on the seat.  They do much better with landmarks. I would study the map and call out landmarks I saw, asking them to “turn left at the BDO bank, for example.  I have a file with a number of well-thumbed photocopies that I used regularly until I got familiar with the city streets.

Build in Enough Time to Get There.  The traffic is very erratic here.  It can be very difficult to be on time.  Sometimes the same journey can take 15 minutes, sometimes an hour.  I try to plan the longest, reasonable amount of time and I try to have something in mind to do (see below) if I’m early.

Set realistic goals for errands  Make a mental separation of what you have to do, from what you’d like to do and expect to have to change your plan.  Popping in to the dry cleaners on the way to your appointment sounds good on paper if you are heading in that direction.  But service is slower than you are probably familiar with and unexpected difficulties can make a quick side trip less than fast.  I put the dry cleaners receipt in my bag and plan to stop on the way there if the traffic is light, and on the way back (or not at all) if its heavy.  Not always possible, but if its not urgent, it can make the difference between peace and sanity.

Ask before you need to know  Another time filler for when I’m early: doing research.  For example, I might have noticed a store opposite my doctors office that sells something I know I’ll need at some point in the future.  When you have extra time and are not in urgent need of something, it is SO much easier to handle the questions and research.  Often you need to ask the question different ways, or talk to a different member of staff, or just figure out the right language to use.  Its much easier and more productive to do this when you’re not madly rushing or frustrated.  Plus I become that rude, arrogant foreigner when I’m panicked and I hate that.

Take responsibility for your own bad experiences  I certainly don’t follow my own advice all the time- I get pissed off and frustrated plenty— but my days are much better when I do.  Sometimes bad days are just unavoidable.  But more often  when everything’s going pear-shaped, its frequently because I’ve veered from my own rules.  Taking responsibility for my own mistakes doesn’t calm my frustration when I’m in the moment, but it does redirect it back to me and not the poor unfortunate sales assistant who might otherwise take the brunt.  And think it helps me cope better next time.

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