From Madras to Manila

Monday, November 07, 2005


For those of us not blessed with a car (yet) or a helicopter and lacking the intestinal fortitude to take a jeepney or motorbike, the taxi is the best and most convenient form of transport.

Catching a Cab

Getting a taxi is a three-step process:
  • Step 1: Stand at any convenient corner, sidewalk, divider, bus-stop or even, under extenuating circumstances, in the middle of the road
  • Step 2: Raise your right arm, or if that is occupied with your umbrella, your left, or if that is clutching 15 assorted plastic bags from SM, your leg at a 90 degree angle away from your body and wave your hand (or foot) in a frantic manner as if trying to attract the attention of a bull that’s goring a matador nearby
  • Step 3: Repeat Step 2 for fifteen minutes till fed-up and proceed to walk in a calm and orderly fashion in the direction of your home, stopping at every intersection to repeat Step 2 a few times before carrying on

In the event that you do spot a cab, you can now proceed to test the Uncertainty Principle, which states that the mere action of observation can actually affect a passing cab’s properties according to certain probabilities, as listed below:

  • Cab that appeared empty almost to the point where it runs you over will mysteriously display a passenger lurking in the back seat: 70%
  • Cab driver making his way along a highway leading straight to your front door with no turns along the way will insist that he intends to go the other way: 15%
  • Cab driver making his way on off-peak hours along a deserted boulevard will prove to be clairvoyant and develop the firm belief that there is ‘trapic’ (traffic) and masses and masses of stalled cars just beyond the turn, making it fruitless to even venture in that direction: 10%
  • Cab driver will ask for 200 pesos for a 50-peso distance: 4%
  • The cab will be empty and the cabbie happy to get a paying passenger: 1%

Late in the evening, after the mall crowds have departed, it is even now possible to catch glimpses of lonely, deranged pedestrians clutching parcels and parcels of smelly, rotting groceries, dashing between intersections, fingers twitching helplessly at the ends of stiff-board-like arms, eyes darting this way and that, watching for an empty taxi to materialize out of the darkness…

Inside The Cab

If you are among the blessed few who manage to latch on to a cab, congratulations! Slip inside and take a look around at some of its attractions.

The modern Manila cab is a vehicle that was manufactured by the Toyota Company at around the same time that the Model T was making its debut in the US. Boxy and completely without any charm whatsoever, that these contraptions move at all is a source of unending wonder to me, given that their production lines have probably long been decommissioned, spare parts rusted into fossils and mechanics with any degree of familiarity with its workings having passed away decades back.

Let me first draw your attention to the door handle, which was broken off long ago and is now held together with a strip of packing tape as a kind of memorial to the part that once was. It’s purpose is to keep you from ever exiting the cab, which probably explains why it is so difficult to get an empty one nowadays.

Next we peruse the bucket seat in front. Remember never, ever to sit in it. True to its name, it is the most uncomfortable seat of all time and there is no position that you can assume which will not turn you into Quasimodo in a matter of minutes. And, oh, the seatbelt does not work.

Moving on to the meter, first-timers here will spend the entire duration of the journey trying to find it. It’s a little 3 inch x 1 inch thingy that’s located at the base of the gear shift and visible only in first gear, assuming you're breathing lightly into the driver’s ear at the time. In order to not offend the driver by frequently checking the meter, I've worked out method of lurching forward violently every time the brakes are pressed and quickly checking the fare. This works fine except in situations where a concerned driver asks you to put on the rear seat-belts leaving you with the less effective option of faking a sneeze to get a peek at the meter. The fare starts at 30 pesos and is calibrated to jump by 2.50 every time the driver presses any pedal at all, making a 5-minute stroll into a 150-peso experience.

Last, but not the least by a fair margin, is the fuel indicator, which always points to E, no matter what the distance is. Manila cabbies seem to have a genuine hatred to filling more than 2 litres of fuel into their tanks at a go and I have had at least two edge-of-the-seat experiences where the vehicle seemed to be traveling miles and miles on pure will power, an interesting alternate energy source, though rather unreliable. The only reason we made it both times was that, given the lateness of the hour, my prayers were beating his hands down in intensity and fervor, aided, no doubt, by the number and variety of Gods I could pray to while he had only one, poor soul.


  • Quick tip: Dont stand forever in the SM taxi stand. Just get a cab from glorietta next door. Easier. Faster. Far less painful than what Amit just described.

    By Blogger Sandi, at 1:41 PM  

  • Another couple of tips...

    At MegaMall if the taxi queue is horrendous, comandeer a fx may cost a little more..but it's worth it..and make sure they take you to your door.

    If you have so much shopping that will only fit in the back seat of a taxi...wedge yourself into the front seat with more shopping..that works quite well.

    By Blogger Madame Chiang, at 4:14 PM  

  • hahahh that was a funny article..

    Bhavani Giritharan.

    By Blogger Bhavani Giritharan, at 1:48 AM  

  • hahahh that was a funny article..

    Bhavani Giritharan.

    By Blogger Bhavani Giritharan, at 1:48 AM  

  • My favourite thing about Manila taxis is how they wait until they have a fare to fill up on petrol, and do it while you are sitting in the cab, with the engine running. And if you ask them to turn the engine off, it will take them about five minutes to get it going again.....


    By Anonymous Kate, at 10:12 AM  

  • Happens in India too, especially with the three-wheeler autos in Chennai, but not ALL the time like here! And c'mon you HAVE to fill at least enough to reach your destination!!

    By Blogger Amit, at 4:07 PM  

  • This post is so true. It's worse when you live somewhere that isn't Makati, like, gasp, Quezon City. The taxi drivers usually "screen" me. They ask where I'm going, and when I say QC, they ask where. When I tell them, I usually get the OK to enter the vehicle, but once in a while they just drive off before I have a chance to slam the door.

    One thing I also do, when not going to Megamall or some other well-known Manila location, is carry an atlas of city streets. More often than not I've had to give taxi drivers directions. When I don't bring my atlas along, the cab driver ends up circling my destination for hours before figuring out where to stop.

    By Blogger Christina, at 1:58 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Real Name, at 5:41 AM  

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