Iloliliput – from JR to jeepney

Posted By on May 19, 2017 in Columns |

OK, I admit it. I am a rather large guy, even in the UK – at one time topping out at 193cm (that’s 6’4” to you non-metric holdouts, including the Filipinos who are confusing me no end with the use of feet and inches) but now I’m somewhat shorter due to the rigours of age and gravity (check this out if you don’t believe me:

And I certainly felt big in Japan. I feel even more like Gulliver over here.

Filipinos are, in height at least, even smaller than the Japanese.

In my last column, I mentioned the issue of squeezing onto a jeepney.

I can now extend that experience to the transportation outside the city.

I’ve now visited the town of Lambunao, 55 km to the north of Iloilo.

For this journey, there are long distance jeepneys (beefier than the in-town versions that often having people and/or deliveries tied/clinging to the roof and the outside). Unlike the town version, there are forward facing seats … but with insufficient legroom for those with more Brobdingnagian proportions.

Similarly, the long distance buses outwardly look modern and (relatively) comfortable but with similar (lack of) space of the leggedly impaired (or do I mean over-paired? over-endowed? – maybe the last one flatters my ego sufficiently).

So, the choice was down to an express van.

Google Maps says the journey from Iloilo to Lambunao should take 90 minutes. Hah! I now know what “express” means in the Philippines.

What it means is try to drive faster than anything else on the road including overtaking on the outside of a blind curve or approaching the brow of a hill on the wrong side of the road without clear sight of the road ahead.

Total journey time less than an hour!!

I have to say the driver on the way up would do well in Formula One and, to be fair, I couldn’t fault his technique.

It seems I was lucky, though, to get one of those fold-down seats which gave me just about enough legroom.

Coming back, I was put in one of the regular seats and, you guessed it, there was not enough room for the over-endowed.

This is where the inherent “niceness” (if that is a word) of the Filipinos came to the fore. Inside thirty seconds, my plight was noticed by a fellow passenger, the van halted, the passenger in the seat next to the driver turfed into the back allowing me to sit up front. So on the way back, I had a better view of the surrounding countryside (and any potential disasters on the road ahead).

Bizarrely, I was told to wear the seatbelt so the driver would not get into trouble with the police. Considering all the other rules of the road that were being broken, I wondered why, although I did get the psychological comfort of wearing it.

The trip came as a result of an impromptu invitation from a member of the Lambunao Town Council. I had been invited (again a spur of the moment thing) to be a presenter at a civic awards ceremony the previous weekend in the biggest shopping mall in Iloilo. That allowed me the opportunity to get a bit of publicity for what I’m trying to do here. My claim to fame for being at the event? Being a foreigner, I think.

The counsellor was an award winner and he invited me to his (lunchtime) birthday party. It was a very community affair and I think he just wanted to introduce me to his mayor, which he duly did. I offered project planning help which they enthusiastically said they needed but I don’t know if what I was talking about was the same as what they were talking about or whether anything will ever come of it.

One interesting thing did come out of the trip. We were talking about education and they mentioned that the Yamato International School had recently closed its doors.

Yamato International?

I assume the school was connected to the school of the same name in Mita but just take a look at the campus, quite possibly a copy of the Diet Building in Tokyo:

Yamato International School

I’m not quite sure why it closed – ran out of money, they said, but that may be due to the problems of trying to run an international school where there are, umm, no international students.

The countryside around it is delightful. It is the highest part of Iloilo Province with many picturesque waterfalls, rice terracing, wartime relics (foxholes dug by the Japanese to protect against bombing) and a nature conservation park.

So the building is now sitting on its hilltop, thirty minutes drive from Iloilo Airport just begging to be a conference centre, or training centre, or something.

The entrepreneur in me just starts salivating before the rational side of me starts throwing up all of the reasons why trying to use the building that, no matter how attractive, has already failed would be a really dumb idea.

But you never know ………