Friday, January 13, 2012

When To Sit In The Back

In the time of always trying to call shotgun, the back seat is the best in very few instances. Back of the bus? Only if you're on a school field trip. Back of a roller coaster? Only if you want a more thrilling experience. Back of a movie theatre? Only if you're with a certain someone else, and the two of you aren't really there to watch the movie...

I'm going to add another example to this list: back of a jeepney. Except in this case, there's no, "Only if." It's always better to sit in the back of a jeepney.

I noticed it the first time I rode one. We were the first ones to get on. So why did my friends sit as close to the door as possible? Doesn't it make sense to scoot all the way in, close to the driver? Aren't you getting in the way of everyone else?

Before I continue, perhaps I should explain what is a jeepney.

Not my photo... I was way too afraid of getting run over to take one. Courtesy of

It's a form of public transportation common in the Philippines. Think of it as a hybrid between a small bus and truck, except that it has no designated stops. Seating is two rows perpendicular to the driver's seat. You flag one down anywhere along its route. You shout, "Para," when you want to get off. Simple enough, right?

The first time I rode it, we got on at the start of its route, so we paid in advance. Payment while on the road, as it turns out, is a funny thing.

It's also the reason why people fill the back of the jeepney first.

My first jeepney ride. I would not be this happy my second time.

One night, we were going out to Greenbelt, a upscale mall complex in Makati. Instead of a cab, we decided to catch a jeepney since it was cheaper at about $.15 a person. We flagged down our ride and got in.

As we crawl inside, we notice it's pretty full. There aren't any seats left except for a few in the front, right behind the driver. I take my seat--driver's side in the very front.

Stupid, foreigner me.

I pay my fare. I can hand my money to the driver easily.

I suppose now is a good time to describe how payment works.

Jeepneys are cramped. You have to duck your head to get in. That also means once you sit down, you're done. There's no safe way of getting up while the jeepney is in motion. All payment goes through the driver or occasionally, a helper in the passenger seat. Money now has to get from every seated passenger to driver.

I think you know where this is going.

So to pay, you hand your money down the line. Smarter passengers will be choosy in passing on their money. Big, scary guy with tattoos right next to you or reach across him to the sweet auntie further down? She in turn will hand your money down to the next (willing) passenger further up.

At the end of this line, there are one or two unfortunate passengers who eventually have to handle everyone else's money.

On that night, it was me.

Imagine me--the only non-Filipino on the jeepney. Money being shoved into my hands. People saying things in Tagalog. Whether it's number of people, final destination, if they need change, or even a, "take my money," I have no idea. Yet, I try in desperation to mimic their words over the roar of the engine. Unknown amount of coins coming back from the driver over his shoulder. Me trying to remember who handed me the money to begin with in the darkness of the cabin. People getting off, new passengers getting on, and the process repeating...

It was the longest 10 minute ride of my life. Don't get me wrong: I think jeepneys are one of the greatest ideas to come from the Philippines. It's the cheapest public transportation I've found anywhere in the world. Although the system can be hectic, the terminology confusing, and the situation somewhat daunting, the jeepney is uniquely Filipino. If you find yourself in the Philippines, I highly recommend that you try riding one at least once--it's a cultural experience not to be missed.

Just make sure to sit in the back.

1 comment:

  1. I either sit in the back or the very front- the logic being, you could just face forward and ignore the others, and the person 2nd nearest the driver has no choice but to hand the money because he is near enough to pass it :p