Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Haiti has jeepneys too!

My thoughts upon seeing this NPR/PBS Newshour spot on Haitian Tap Taps, which appear to be almost exactly the same as jeepneys.
  1. They have jeepneys, too!
  2. They stole that whole idea from the Philippines!
  3. Did the Philippines steal that whole idea from Haiti?
  4. Which country was the first to start painting its share taxis with a semiotic salad of family references, religious homages and pop culture icons? And can Filipinos (and foreigners who care about the Philippines) continue to point to the jeepney as a unique example of Pinoy ingenuity? Ingenuity, yes. But is it unique if other countries have developed something so similar?
  5. OK, my man in the video can paint, but does he also outfit Tap Taps with giant Mercedes grill pieces, longhorn skulls and horns that blare Star Trek phaser sounds in traffic? If not, then our Haitian friends still have a way to go before they can stand on equal footing with the Jeepney.
  6. Part of me resents this kind of journalism. It smacks of foreign reporters who don't know much about the countries they get dropped into, so they do stories about whatever first grabs their attention. In the Philippines, at least, there isn't a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide that doesn't include a long, competent discussion of jeepneys, multicabs and FXs. And that's where it seems like these discussions belong -- in travelogues, in blogs of tourists and volunteers, etc. Take note, so when you read my description of jeepneys and basketball iconography, you can call me out for being a hypocrite. You'll be right. But what I hope I manage not to do is exoticize the jeepney. It's important to avoid the kind of tone that makes foreign readers feel like they're on safari: "The colorful natives enjoy riding in painted vehicles!" And while the NPR correspondent here doesn't do anything that egregious, I detected a whiff of that sentiment in his report.
  7. Finally, thanks to the Wikipedia share taxi entry (linked above), check out some of the names of the jeepney's worldwide brethren! The Albanian Furgon. The West African bush taxi. The Tanzanian dala-dala, which could work in Tagalog. The Costa Rican taxi pirata. They all sound so interesting. Exotic, even...