Friday, February 10, 2006

I Walk the Line (mostly)

This entry sprang from an e-mail exchange with Mike.

I've been saying for years that the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas) will continue to have massive problems until they learn to manage a "queue" ( that's waiting in line to us 'Canos). The multiple things for which we expect to "stand in line" become near-riots in Manila, and a special event will often lead to a trampling, as was the case with the recent tragedy at a promotion for the ABS-CBN tv show, Wowoweee.

You can always recognize a Filipino newly arrived to the U.S. by the the way they'll rush and shove themselves onto a bus---like a football running back "hitting the hole" (fortunately, this passes rather quickly). In the past, there was little or no concept of an orderly queue in the Philippines (when necessary, queues are often enforced by armed guards), perhaps because so many things in Manila life require near-endless waits. Massive, non-computerized bureacracy turns something like getting a driver's license into an all-day chore (and even then you might not actually get in to take care of business). Anything to get ahead in the throng, which, if done properly can save hours, has been considered fair game, as everyone's doing it.

The Tagalog word for a "queue" is "pila", and Ferlie and her friends often refer to their homeland as the "pila-ppines", as you spend soooo much time waiting in a mob-like series of semi-organized lines that ultimately converge at the desk of some species of functionary.

Lest you think that this is not a cultural phenomenon, try watching the line-ups for plane boarding at an airport. Any flight with a largely Filipino passenger list would appear to have had it's boarding choreographed by schizophrenic football coaches. I think that the Northwest employees trying to herd our flight's passengers on-board will require extensive therapy to recover from dealing with a crowd of otherwise well-mannered, very friendly people who completely refused to cooperate with very simple boarding instructions.

When we flew in this time, we didn't have the usual escort of Ferlie's Uncle Ben (he's an airport employee who's always managed to have us processed through the Diplomatic Lines, letting us avoid what would typically be a 1-2 hour period not unlike trying to get to the front row of a Metallica Concert). On our own, we had to mingle through the crowd with all the other "un-connected folks". The crowd was huge, and while we did do a bit of elbowing and creative merging, the process was much less chaotic than it had been five years ago when I did this thing on my own.

Ferlie and I, when talking about the changes that seem to be slowly taking place, marvelled at the burgeoning civility in what I've dubbed "wait management". What this bodes for the future of the Philippines, I cannot say, but it's nice to be able to recognize a positive development.

I've pointed out to some of you that on our recent trip to the Philippines, we saw a great many new buildings, bridges, and roads. In Meycauayan, where Ferlie's parents live, we noticed both new and upgraded parks, expanded churches, and a vastly improvement in the quality and cleanliness of commercial areas. With the recently expanded North Luzon Expressway, traffic was unrecognizeable (largely because it was moving). We see reasons to be optimistic.

All that said, the Philippines is facing a potential crisis, as the family-centered culture is starting to give way to a hedonistic consumerism, and a decadent entertainment industry exists in correlation with (I won't speculate here on causation) an expansion of drug-use, teen pregnancy, and the "breakdown of the family". I hope that the people of the Philippines are able to retain all of the qualities that make the Philippines the friendliest place I've visited, as well as fix their numerous social and economic ills.

The editorial that started all of this blathering can be found here.
Stories about the Wowowee tragedy can be found here, here, and here.


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