Manila

I arrive in the international airport in Manila, and go to the bathroom. The toilet paper dispenser features a picture of a panda on a bright green background, and claims to be ‘saving the world from global warming’. It doesn’t say how. I’m not sure whether to feel disheartened, since i’ve come all this way, only to discover that my efforts are no longer needed. Maybe I should feel relieved, in the knowledge that a toilet paper dispenser has the task in hand, and anything I might do is redundant. Or amused at the claim, given that people in the Philippines don’t use toilet paper at all.

 

Some mining companies are planning to expand their operations to Antarctica, asteroids, and the moon.

On a city bus, I look out the window, and see an average day in an average bustling city. Then I look again, at the same scene, and see Hell. A few generations ago, this was a jungle, alive with sound, with flowing water, wind in the trees, and all sorts of birds I’ve never seen and probably never will. Now there is no sign of any of this having been here. There is only concrete, vehicles, fumes and motor noise. People cover their faces with cloth to avoid breathing the toxic air. No trees grow, nothing is visible except buses, trucks, taxis and the concrete walls lining the roadside, that are effective at blocking the sound, smell and sight of this from nearby residents, and are also effective at amplifying the sound, smell and sight of Hell to those on the road. There is no space here for life. Yet for millions of people, this IS life. How did it come to this? The point where this is normal?

There are flyovers over flyovers, and on one of the concrete posts holding them all up is an advertisement with the words “taurine enhances your mental development”. Our collective mental development has reached a stage where we don’t object to concrete posts telling us to buy chemicals to think better.

After a few hours of commuting around Manila, my lung capacity has reduced significantly, and when I blow my nose it comes out black. I’m losing my ability to breathe. I’m here for just two days, yet for drivers, commuters and roadside vendors, this is their whole life. Constant asphyxiation. These people are not living, but dying.

We have a choice, to continue this, to the point where nothing is left alive, and only toxicity remains. Or we could force it to stop. One day soon, people could be swimming in the Pasig River again, and eating fruit from trees that will break through this concrete.

 

After the discussion at the university, we walk out of the campus to get a bus. On a patch of land on the edge of campus, a squatter community occupies a forest. The shelters in the shanty town are made of corrugated iron, canvas banners, and bamboo. Children, chickens and dogs all run and play between the trees and huts. I feel a sense of longing and loss, for the connection with neighbours and other beings that I’ve never had, yet arises spontaneously in this settlement, with no effort from the residents.

In Australia, festivals are held just to create this sense of community, for only a few days, among people who will never meet again. Our neighbourhoods have been designed to keep us apart, to prevent community from erupting. Only disasters bring it about, and governments are always quick to suppress it, and regain order.

Someone else walking here would see poverty, and feel pity. I’m sure the people here have their share of problems, but I can’t help feeling that their lives are a lot richer than mine will ever be.

A few steps further on, and I’m on a multi-lane highway, in front of McDonalds, and the car fumes are so thick that the haze is visible.

 

Pasig calls itself ‘The Green City’, yet is almost completely paved over. There are no parks, no green space, the few trees are forced to inhale vehicle exhaust, and don’t look at all happy about it. Their roots are paved over, right to the trunk. The few garden boxes look sad and dusty.

 

In the middle of the day, or late at night, the bus ride from Muntinlupa to Guadalupe takes around 20 minutes. In peak hour, traffic moves at walking pace, and it can take several hours. Many commuters deal with this by falling asleep. The man in front of me is texting ‘this traffic jam makes me want to cut people’s throats’. I want to channel this frustration, felt by millions, into actions that will stop traffic jams from happening ever again.

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