Friday, September 29, 2006

Puddle Protocol of the Philippines

Yesterday, while “motor boating” my scooter home in the tail end of Typhoon Xangsane as it brushed past Angeles City, it occurred to me that a “puddle protocol” exists for many of us out-and-about on Filipino rain-soaked streets. Before being a scooter-guy when I almost exclusively drove a car, I was mostly unaware of the “puddle protocol” of the Philippines, as are many drivers unaware of it, chiefly those isolated from the outside world inside the cocoon of their cars. Still, even when I was a “driver of cars” I wasn’t completely unconscious of my surroundings, just not so attuned to it like I am now.

Those of us exposed to the elements are painfully aware of the “puddle protocol,” which basically states that when you pass someone NOT protected in a vehicle, slow down while passing them through water more than an inch deep. That’s it—that’s the protocol. Seems simple, but virtually no one driving snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug inside their air-conditioned cars pays ANY mind to ANYTHING other than how quickly they can get themselves to their destination.

A wondrous thing about the Philippines is that everyone is so friendly here, so personable, BUT, also so oblivious to others they don’t immediately know. I see this big-time from folks driving inside vehicles with opaquely-tinted windows as they IGNORE the puddle protocol; while virtually everyone driving a scooter, motorcycle, or trike follows it flawlessly. The reason “we” kindly keep to the protocol and many of the jerks in their cars don’t, MUST be because of the oblivion so many folks have for one another. Simply put, there is a lack of human empathy between strangers, which is how people in cars here look at those NOT in cars.

Think of it this way, would you walk up to someone and splash a bucket of muddy water all over them? Of course you wouldn't, but that is exactly what happens when people drive uncaringly through deep water. When drivers do it here, they don't see the effects or hear the screams of protest and outrage. On the otherhand, were I to do it on my scooter, I HEAR it, and have heard it, thus, I try mightily NOT to carelessly splash people. It's that simple. We are nice to each other because we are close to each other. People in cars might as well be ten miles away and act like they are when they drive. I'm sure, no, I hope that if they could SEE and HEAR what they are doing that they would be supremely embarassed and stop doing it.

I’ll provide an example of what I’m talking about, especially as it relates to the “puddle protocol.” In the Phils, most often when it rains, it pours; and infrastructure being here mostly what it isn’t, it is almost certain that the roads themselves ARE the drains. That means the streets quickly flood, or at the very least deepen with rainwater. Sidewalks are a rarity, therefore to escape the mud, people MUST walk ON the roadway—they have no choice.

Under dry conditions none of the above is a big deal. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and four-or-more wheeled vehicles of all kinds have no problem tolerating each other’s presence while using the same streets; but what a difference a rain squall makes! Suddenly there are two “camps” plying the roads, those of us getting wet and those who are not.

All vehicles making speeds of more than 10 mph create a bow wave of water that splashes heavily to the front and sides of them. To a smaller extent, there is also a spray of water that gets squirted directly back off rear tires. However, it’s the bow wave that does all the damage to those of us exposed to the elements. There are times that I wonder if people in their cars are even aware of the mayhem they hurl about them as they barrel through puddles and deep rivulets along streets crowded with pedestrians and bicyclists. If they aren’t, it means they aren’t looking, and I suspect most of them just don’t care, or don’t care to look.

As an example, here’s how I handled the protocol yesterday. On extra-rainy days, naturally, trikes are always well-ladened with customers. Instead of simply roaring past a trike, usually puttering along to prevent water from splashing up into their passengers, I come up along them to the left and beep a warning that I want to pass. Hopefully this will cause the driver to slow up a little so I can get around him without having to speed up too much; for if I have to “gun it” to get around him that will cause my bow wave to increase in height and strength. I also move as far to the left from him as I can, while he veers as far to the right, away from me, as he is able. If there is no room to veer away from each other, I attempt to pass as slowly as possible while still passing him with some speed. If he doesn’t want to slow down some to let that happen, then I say a pox on him and let him get wet! Usually, we both follow the protocol though. I watch carefully to my right to make sure my bow wave isn’t going into him, and he does his best to steer away from it.

I am extra careful driving past pedestrians and bicyclists. If passing through a puddle or deep water with people nearby, I slow down to nothing to keep them from getting wet from my wave water. If I happen not to notice someone and I get them wet, I am deeply mortified. I call out a heartfelt, “Sorry!” and promise myself to be more careful.

On the other hand, I watched at least a dozen SUV drivers and even some in smaller sedans, run their vehicles hell-for-leather through the deepest street streams, splashing up 15-foot bow waves and drenching everyone as they flew past—including me! Happily, I wear goggles and a full-body water-tight camping suit that keeps me dry even from idiots like them. I curse them to no end though, as I watch kids, grandmothers and students of all ages get soaked to the skin by the nastiest of water by these self-centered heartless drivers from hell. And the thing is, I KNOW if I were to speak to these people face to face that they would probably turn out to be nice folks.

I expect it could be a question of people not projecting themselves into the shoes (or bare feet) of the people just outside the darkened, chilled windows of their comfortable cars. Pondering the situation, it occurs to me that their callous “rainy day attitude” is a microcosm of many disjointed societies, principally the way the prosperous disregard the unfortunate.


Ed said...

In the Philippines or American, it seems as if so many people these days aren't aware or don't pay attention to their surroundings when driving.

How deep of water can you get through on your scooter? When in Baguio after a heavy rains, sometimes I see streets with two feet of water in them moving at a pace that prevents even people from walking in them.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yeah Ed, it's called being considerate, or realizing that we are NOT the only oyster in the clam. Common courtesy seems to be fading away from ALL cultures, yes?

My scoot is made in China and not so robust, but I've seen 30 year old Hondas bust through water half way up the engines. The Japanese can MAKE a bike. As long as I don't roil through it, I can make it through water over the axels, although that's not the greatest of ideas. It usually means a bearing change in a few weeks. Sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go though.

Anonymous said...

Puddle protocol is a nice idea.

I've been splashed quite a few times when I was still there, by jeepneys and buses. And it can be embarrassing to show up at work all wet and sometimes muddy.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Around here the jeepneys are pretty good about the protocol; no buses to speak of, so not a problem... People in their cars and SUVs are the primary culprits in these parts.

Nick Ballesteros said...

Ed: I just stay at home when it rains and I'm in Baguio but when we were kids, we'd build boats and watch it speed off into the streets. The water then was relatively clean, and we sometimes would actually wade through it. I wouldn't dare do it now though, what with the upsurge of vehicular traffic there. Meaning engine oil and pollutants abound.

The flood water here in Manila is just so murky it makes me wonder how people can actually wade through it, and how senseless indeed when cars rush through, creating splashes of this brownish water into the hapless pedestrians. Walking in the rain here is nasty business. I''ve been a victim a couple of times myself.