Traveling Mercies

Ms. Anonuevo is a fellows of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).  She works at the Goethe-Institut (German Cultural Center), thus the daily use of  the MRT. This piece was published in the in the April 13, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

One popular (and effective) happiness-increasing exercise is the gratitude visit, involving writing a letter to someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, delivering the letter personally, and spending time talking with him/her to talk about what you wrote.

Not needing to promote German as a foreign language for a couple of ‘holy days’ has given me the space not just to reflect on whom I wish to thank; this precious time of meditation has proved surprisingly productive: Here is my gratitude letter (which I am not merely delivering but making public!!  Alas, the processing of my thankful sentiments will have to wait!):

Dear DOTC-MRT3 Management,

Like the great giver of thanks, (Saint) Paul, I can’t help but have words of gratitude on my lips and in my soul every moment I think of you.  Unlike Paul, however, I haven’t exactly been the most straightforward in expressing my joyful brimming gratefulness.

As much as gratitude is extolled, G.B. Stern was right in saying that, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” In the spirit of Positive Psychology, let me, in behalf of all MRT users, finally express my appreciation of you and the great gift that is the MRT….

Beyond the comforts of its inevitable familiarity (after all, it is the fastest and cheapest way to travel from the North to the South and vice-versa), the MRT quickly made its way to my heart because of the quality experience it gives its clientele.

As a progressive rail transport system anchored on excellent service, the MRT is simply a dream.  From beginning to end, the journey is quite unbelievable! From the long ticket lines (leading to crowding), to the long train intervals (leading to crowding), and, finally, the long and chaotic turnstile lines (leading to crowding), my MRT experience during peak hours is simply an unparalleled adventure.  What I especially find exciting are: 1) guessing whether I will be able to get on the next train, 2) contorting my body so as to fit inside the train with the rest of the MRT throng, and 3) coming up with a quick exit plan to be able to get off at my desired station. Which other group of commuters has access to such cheap thrills? Only in the Philippines (and China), I say.

I also want to commend you for making the MRT not just extra-fun but extra-safe as well.  The constant reminders that one’s co-passengers are potential pickpockets and bag snatchers are powerful primes.  In other words, the slightly menacing voice-over primes people into distrust by focusing on the brutishness of others.  Surely the best protection one can get when one is surrounded by fellow Filipinos who only wish to reach work in one piece is hyper-vigilance. Instead of that ecstasy-like high of loving everyone, everyone regards everyone else with suspicion.  Limited space + people pressed for time + an atmosphere of paranoia = the ridership with the most competitive spirit of them all.  Surely, the excitement from all that pushing and shouting is the main contributor to the MRT’s high customer satisfaction ratings.

Another unique thing about the MRT is the important information I learn about Filipinos and the Philippines during my 20-minute rides.  For example, if not for the MRT ‘Did You Know That…’ portion, I would never have guessed that Tetchi Agbayani was actually NOT the first Filipina who posed for Playboy or that Filipinos are such kilabots that a couple of foreign beauty titlists chose to marry a handful of them.  The best part of this transformative learning experience is that these nuggets of knowledge are repeated ad nauseam, day in and day out, ensuring that if these questions were asked in GameKnB, any MRT regular would be able to shout out the answers with impressive conviction.

Apart from giving one the chance to win thousands of pesos in game shows, the “facts” provided by the mellifluous voice with the Marian Rivera-ish diction also sharpen the critical thinking skills of its listeners.  What a stroke of genius to include the rare intentionally dubious piece of information.  Instead of focusing on the stress of the long commute, I find myself mentally calculating how it’s possible that the Philippines was the blessedly Catholic group of islands being referred to in the Bible when the Spanish only came to the Philippines in 1565.

Speaking of the Spanish and Español, I read an article saying that soon the MRT train coaches will be turned into works of art by “sprucing them up with posters featuring a collection of Spanish poems.”  As much as I recognize this laudable effort to make traveling via MRT an even more educational experience, let me just pinpoint a teeny weeny flaw—the choice of language. If we want to promote the beauty of language and an appreciation of other cultures and our shared history with them, I believe that Chinese (Mandarin) is the way to go! I agree with Tsao and de Quiros—the Chinese are indeed our masters; they’ve already succeeded in invading the Philippines. De Quiros’s suggestion involving the army of Filipina HK maids teaching their wards Tagalog and Filipino obras should be complemented by our own understanding of the culture we want to revolt against.  And what better way to do that than by learning Chairman Mao’s traditional Chinese verses by heart?

Of course that speck of a critique is nothing compared to the things you are doing right….  To conclude, let me elaborate on the most special thing about the MRT—not its actual services but what it stands for.  In my opinion, the MRT is like one big bear hug from the Philippine government.  As of late our dear government has been accused of ridiculous hypocrisy, glaring inefficiency, unchecked greed, blatant corruption, brazen cheating, rampant abuse of office, insatiable appetite for power, costly blunders in conflict- and insurgency-management, gross acts of injustice, and even murder, but, surely, we must also give credit to where it’s due.  Thanks to the generous government subsidy, the 400,000-500,000 or so daily MRT users need to pay only a fourth of the break-even fare!  Usually Senator Chiz Escudero seems like a reasonable chap, but his comment on government spending way too much for MRT expenses was totally uncalled for.  Doesn’t the good senator see that this is the government’s way of showing its citizens that Filipinos deserve not just the best services but also the most liberal subsidies?  Who cares if this isn’t the most cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money? Who cares if there’s something onerous (to use Chiz’s word) about the high-maintenance contract?  As the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts.

And so I close this letter with the sincerest of thoughts: may you be blessed with a marvelous MRT ride every single day!  This earnest wish is the best way to tell you this: Maraming maraming salamat sa inyong walang sawang paglilingkod, MRT Management.

Warmest regards,

Krupskaya Medel Añonuevo

No comments yet.