Manila used to be known as the Pearl of the Orient – a name that implies magnificence and opulence; a place that’s indubitably blessed. For centuries, Manila prospered until WWII came along and put an end to Manila’s winning streak. Nowadays, this city plays host to over eleven million people, with half the population living below the poverty line. Families here are forced to conjure houses from any form of spare land, from the sides of roads to the insides of mausoleums. Throw in a few million vehicles and tens of millions of commuters and you’ll find a city in a perennial jam. To feed their families and solve the city’s woes, Manila’s squatters have devised their own mode of transportation, the manong.
The manong is a 4 foot by 8 foot wooden box cart with custom-made wheels powered by a single person. These rickety push carts provide a cheaper alternative to traveling between major spots in the city, such as the Polytechnic University of Philippines and between the various squats. Using existing train tracks, manong pushers have created their own intra-city network that saves commuters at least half an hour of transit. The carts are placed on railways and the pusher runs along the track pushing the cart, jumping on and off again to keep it in constant motion. In areas with heavier traffic, where trains run every 15 minutes from both directions, pushers have to immediately evacuate their carts and pull them aside to prevent a collision.
There is no fixed schedule for a ride and pushers often wait until their carts are full (usually between 12-15 passengers) before making the journey. A five kilometer ride on this flimsy trolley costs 5 pesos ($0.12) in comparison to 10 pesos for the bus or 30 for a cab. Despite Manila’s harsh weather, manong pushers have operated day and night for the past 20 years, eking out a living for their families and giving their fellow citizens a way about this clogged-up metropolis.
Writer KC Hong is from a long, long line of Chinese people. Thankfully, her grandparents decided to settle in Malaysia. At the age of 3, she was sent off to school because her parents couldn’t stand her chattiness. But after years of being a full-time Asian, she is finally rebelling and embracing that chatty kid. You may find this part-time Asian writing, doodling or getting lost.