This is 30: On getting to know Los Angeles by getting around Manila

The first story in our ‘30 Stories for 30 Years’ series comes from Cris B. Liban, Metro’s Chief Sustainability Officer. Read on to learn how growing up in the Philippines has helped him understand the daily rider’s experience. 

Think no one walks in LA? Try walking in Manila. Growing up in the Philippines, we hated walking. With temperatures up to 110°F at 100% humidity, a slight move left or right would trigger a waterfall of sweat that would drench every single piece of clothing on your body. Yes, head to toe! If I had to walk to my destination, I would try to escape the pounding rays of the sun through my umbrella. And riding a bike, well, forget it.

Liban on board. Photo: Aurelia Ventura

Here’s how a typical trip would go:
1. Get out of the house.
2. Hail a tricycle (motorcycle that has a small cab on the side) or a pedicab (bike with a rickety cab on the side).
3. Get into a jeepney (modified vehicle that has up to 18 passengers in the back) or bus (sometimes air-conditioned but often not).
4. Nearing my destination, hail a tricycle or pedicab.
5. Arrive.

When I was growing up, I did not really have a concept of how far things were from where I lived. I was not really exposed to many modern necessities like maps or GPS. We just knew what to ride, point to point, until we got to where we needed to go. And we “measured” distance by how long it took to get from one place to another. Usually in one-hour increments. For example, traveling from where I used to live near the University of the Philippines in Diliman to Makati, the financial district, used to take me at least 2 hours. And that’s for 10 miles.

Despite the traffic, though, there was no shortage of public transportation. There were plenty of tricycles, pedicabs, buses, and jeepneys to ride anywhere. This made access to any part of the megalopolis possible.

Contrast that to living in a developed nation, where we have the conveniences of modern transportation and many of us can choose how we want to get around. But many of our riders here at Metro cannot. They need to ride our buses and trains to get to their jobs and homes. Growing up in an environment like the Philippines has helped me understand that. I also regularly ride our system. I feel every bump and squeal and smell of it. 

I have ridden Metro buses and trains with my son since he was about 3 years old. When he was in high school, I would always drop him off at Loyola High School, then I would take the extra 30 minutes by bus to our Metro headquarters.

One day he and I got separated and an empty seat opened up beside me. A very young man sat beside me and began looking at me intently.

Feeling uncomfortable at first, I asked him, “How are you doing today, young man?”
His answer surprised me. “Dr. Liban, right?” 
I replied yes, and he went on to say that I probably would not remember him, but I had spoken at his class about my career when he was in fifth grade. He was so inspired by how passionately I spoke about the environment and engineering that he had decided to become an engineer himself. Now a senior, he was going to Cal State LA next year. He told me he was the first in his family to go to college. Literally, THE FIRST. No one in his family has ever gone to college. Ever!

The young man got off at the next stop, and my son, who had watched the interaction, slid into the empty seat beside me.

“Who was that?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “A kid telling me that I actually inspired him to become an engineer.”


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Categories: Employees, Transportation News

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2 replies

  1. You not doing nothing but enforcing the payment of fair but not the security of the people who are using this platform to feed their families wow I can’t believe what I had to experience today on the metro people smoking drugs sleeping while mothers take kids to school hard working people we need security for the train riders not no damn money protection what is. Los Angeles County police and sheriff department doing other than protecting themselves ???

  2. Such a moving story – brought me to tears reading it. Thank you, Mr. Liban, for sharing your story of our homeland The Philippines. You have inspired our youth in reaching for the stars. Maraming Salamat Po.