I heard the Department of Tourism is trying to drum up interest around the humble jeepney, which we all know is the most popular means of transportation among us Filipinos. While some argue that it is actually the unassuming banca or motor boat that is most used in the Philippines given the country’s geography, it is undeniable that the jeepney has already earned a special place in our lives.
DOT’s decision to give our jeepneys a facelift is a wise move since they are not just around to carry us from one destination to another, they are cultural symbols as well. Jeepneys are emblems of our street life.
The mere mention of these flashy and colorful jeepneys conjures images of a busy and lively Filipino community. Also, the experience of riding one and the practices that materialize inside the jeepney are just remarkably Pinoy. I don’t think you’re bound to encounter the phrases “Bayad po,” “Pakiabot,” and “Para po,” (or any of their equivalent) anywhere else in the world except in the Philippines.
They have been around as far as I can remember. As a young kid vacationing in Manila in the 80s, I would instantly say “tigidig tigidig hiya!” whenever I see a jeepney, in reference of course to the ubiquitous horses that decorated them during those years. I would also often find myself reading all the names written on their ceilings, which I later found out to be the names of the jeepney owner’s children.
Other times, I will outwit my younger sister by identifying the vibrant designs that hugged jeepneys’ bodies then. It must have been a rewarding sight for my sister to see her name written on the most prominent part of our jeepney when our family eventually owned one after the Edsa Revolution. My name, on the other hand, was written on the rubber plates that were attached to the jeepney’s bumpers. I was often ridiculed by the kids in our neighborhood as these plates were often covered with mud, insinuating that I wasn’t the favored one in our family. 😀
Through time, jeepneys have earned the moniker King of the Road, owing to the fact that they, or the people who maneuver them for that matter, do as they please when they are on the road – unload and pick up passengers whenever and wherever, drive on lanes where they are prohibited, bust people’s eardrums with their blasting music. Jeepney drivers eventually became infamous for their delinquency and jeepneys were seen as a “cheap” mode of transportation.
This year, DOT will try to change all the bad impressions we’ve made of our iconic jeepneys. As a move to further push tourism in the country, reports state that DOT plans to improve the facade of 50 old jeepneys in Metro Manila to show that “it’s more fun in the Philippines,” the department’s latest campaign.
Under the Jeepney Arts Festival project, DOT wishes to incorporate some of the country’s tourist spots and symbols of cultural pride in the design of these jeepneys, elevating them into “works of art and culture.”
This project is really promising since jeepneys are one of the first things that foreign travelers see when they set foot in the Philippines. They make a great impact among our visitors. In fact, I haven’t met a foreign guest who has not been fascinated with our jeepneys. Riding them is definitely on their must-do list while in the country and I bet the jeepney rides that they have taken make for some very interesting stories when they get back to their countries.
In 2010, I met a young backpacker from Australia who was smitten by the jeepney’s loud ornaments and how it can pack at least 40 people in one go. He was short from buying a jeepney until he realized that even when he brings that jeepney with him to Australia, it will never be able to replicate the Filipino experience of riding one. The jeepney is the Philippines.
After all, jeepneys are highly important when on a journey around the country. The ride is inexpensive and it allows you to take in as much scenery as you could. The amusing part of it is that you get to meet interesting people when you share such little space with them.
I love riding jeepneys when I travel to the countryside. While on a jeepney to Tan-awan, in Oslob, I met a young German couple whom I eventually interviewed for a story I was writing on the whale sharks of Cebu. In Guimaras, I was able to save travel time because of the lady seated beside me who provided me with local information about the island. I found the best pongko-pongko place in Cebu City because of the jeepney driver who also frequents the place.
Jeepney rides also send your adrenaline rushing especially when you take the top load, which is, really, a very Filipino thing to do. My friends and I like to do this when we travel around the Cordilleras, where trips in the region are scarce and commuters have to make the best out of these trips, hence the overpopulated rides.
The last time I was on the top load was in December 2010 when we conducted a free leadership training program in Panabungen, a remote community in Mt. Province. I so loved the two-hour top load ride from Besao to Panabungen that when it was time for me to travel back to Sagada en route to Baguio, I was the first one to get on the top load at 5:00 am.
It is high time we give our jeepneys the attention and adoration they deserve. They are not simply there to transport us daily, they speak volume of our history and the kind of society our country has become now.
We need to introduce them to the younger generation who, apparently, has never been accustomed to the jeepney culture yet. Last week, I read a feature article chronicling the lessons a teenager learned from her jeepney ride. While I do not want to be indifferent, I will be honest that for a moment there after reading the article, I felt a lump form in my throat.
We should ride the jeepney often. We are juanderkids, right?
Let us all support the Jeepney Arts Festival. DOT needs people to paint the jeepneys from September 20 to 23 on the SM Mall of Asia Open Grounds behind the SMX Convention Center.
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 🙂
- First photograph taken with a Sony T90 digital camera in October 2009, second photograph taken with a Canon 550d in January 2012.
- Photographs on the first collage courtesy of C. Kerpes and A. Hopper, retrieved through Facebook. Travel around the Philippines, 2011.
- Photographs on the second collage taken with a Sony T90 digital camera in December 2010.