Manila traffic

Manila may be the most congested city in the world. On Monday we took the two dominant forms of public transportation for a trip to the fish market. The first was a tricycle, a motorcycle with a sidecar. Swarms of them pour through the streets filling the air with noise. We took the tricycle to a jitney stop. A jitney is among the most enduring symbols of the Philippines, a short chrome bus decorated in garish colors. They work like this: A man, working with the driver, stands outside yelling “Ari, ari ari,” over and over to indicate that the bus is taking passengers, almost until people are sitting on each other’s laps. Once on board, each passenger passes money up to the front. Whoever is sitting behind the driver yells “Bayad, po,” as each payment reaches the front, and the driver reaches a hand back, sometimes making change, all while navigating the busy streets. When it’s time to disembark, passengers yell “Para,” and the driver stops.

This is the most prominent form of mass transit in the Manila, among the biggest cities in the world. The city recently built a small train service, but it is always packed. We’re taking it to dinner tonight.

My aunt and uncle’s commutes take two or three hours each morning and afternoon. Manila’s streets are arrayed like veins and capillaries, a far cry from the grid of Manhattan, the ideal of urban planning. A typical commute is spent winding through curled backroads and then stuck in the clogged arteries of the city. Yesterday my aunt left for work at 6:30 a.m. and only returned home at 8 p.m. My uncle typically sets aside two-and-a-half hours for his journey to work. It’s difficult to imagine how many productive hours are lost to Manila traffic each day.

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The drive back to Quezon City

We left a resort in Candelaria Sunday. The drive back to my Lola’s home in Quezon City took hours. I saw rows of shanty houses from the car window. The most run-down are made of cinder blocks with tin roofs. It seems like there are few homeless because the very poor are able to squat on other people’s property. In this way poorly enforced property rights are a benefit to the poor. But they are also a symptom of an ineffective government. Enforcing property rights is the most basic role of government. A government that fails at this basic function likely can’t provide welfare or effectively collect taxes.

I’m not sure what can be done to help the Philippines.I need to learn more about the country. But part of me thinks it’s a lost cause, that maybe the best thing people can do is leave. That’s what my parents did. Leaving thePhilippines might be the most economically beneficial thing they did for us. They likely raised our potential incomes and standards of living by a greater degree than we did by attending college. If only it were possible for everyone.

A town divided: Boroughitis leaves South Hackensack split

A town divided: Boroughitis leaves South Hackensack split

I came up with this story idea after I had to travel to South Hackensack for another story. Living on the south side of Hackensack, I thought traveling to South Hackensack would take a few minutes. Instead, my GPS took me through several towns. South Hackensack is south of Hackensack, but it’s also in two other places, a byproduct of the Boroughitis that afflicted Bergen County in the early 20th century.

Full story: nj-ne.ws/uEZJJ

Real Estate – The Bend

I’ve been listening to ‘Atlas,’ the new Real Estate album, for about two weeks straight. I love their music. It seems like it was made for driving around the suburbs. Even the cover art speaks to me – it’s the Alexander’s mural that stood at the intersection of Routes 4 and 17 in my hometown of Paramus. I don’t know if I like ‘Atlas’ more than ‘Days,’ but luckily for me, I don’t have to choose.

Thousands pay tribute to ‘fireman’s fireman,’ Capt. Gregory Barnas in Wallington

Thousands pay tribute to 'fireman's fireman,' Capt. Gregory Barnas in Wallington

I covered the funeral procession of Wallington Fire Capt. Gregory Barnas last week. I’ve never seen so many firefighters in one place.

They came from Ridgefield and Westwood, from New York City and Browndale, Pa., a blue and black sea pouring out of buses normally for tourists and prisoners and senior citizens.

Read: The Orphan Master’s Son

Orphan Master's Son

Today I finished reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Here’s part of the summary from the publisher:

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

As I read the book I thought many of the harrowing tortures the Dear Leader subjected his people to had to be made up, but in an interview at the end of the Kindle edition of the book, Adam Johnson said many of the most awful details he conjured came from his research into North Korea. I loved the book. The setting was fascinating and the pacing was terrific. I was gripped by the ending. Go read it.