Tag Archives: traffic

Sky bike lanes to reduce private cars on the road by 24 to 33%

Majority of Metro Manila residents favor sky bike lanes

[Note: This is a repost of my article, which was also published in Linkedin. This article is based on (with many portions directly lifted from) my thesis (special problem) for the Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management program of the UP Open University.]

The image of EDSA, used as “backdrop,” is courtesy of Richard Reyes/Philippine Daily Inquirer. The modified version of the same image—where an image of a prospective elevated bike lane is super-imposed—is courtesy of Anders Berensson Architects of Sweden. The bike lanes envisioned by this author will have protective roofs and railings for added security. A future work will calculate if putting solar panels on the roofs will be viable.

The image of EDSA, used as “backdrop,” is courtesy of Richard Reyes/Philippine Daily Inquirer. The modified version of the same image—where an image of a prospective elevated bike lane is super-imposed—is courtesy of Anders Berensson Architects of Sweden. The bike lanes envisioned by this author will have protective roofs and railings for added security. A future work will calculate if putting solar panels on the roofs will be viable.

Metro Manila is indeed among the most congested cities in the world. A study made by Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has estimated that losses from traffic congestion in Manila could reach up to P6 billion per day in the next fifteen years (Jica, 2014).

Meanwhile, a World Bank study in 2004 estimated that PhP 910 million was spent on hospitalization and medical expenses for the treatment of non-communicable diseases that include acute lower respiratory infection/pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular diseases.

Dealing with traffic congestion entails interventions in several fronts, particularly, in policy, infrastructural, and behavioral dimensions. This study is focused on the infrastructural dimension with the caveat that the other dimensions should also be equally addressed if Metro Manilans are to effectively address the issue.

A simple policy-based solution to the traffic condition is to lessen the number of vehicles on the road particularly given that the road network is not catching up significantly with the increase in vehicle and population. This is already being addressed by policies such as the number-coding scheme. This helps but other solutions are clearly required.

A preliminary study had been undertaken and considers an infrastructural approach as a support mechanism for policy- and behavior-based interventions. It looks at the construction of sky (elevated) bicycle (bike) lanes in Metro Manila, with the assumption that it can help reduce the number of motorized vehicles on the road, and, consequently, reduce congestion and carbon emissions, thereby contribute to climate change mitigation.

This initial work—envisioned to contribute to future pre-feasibility and feasibility studies—considers the likely impacts of this intervention, estimating the impacts through reduction of motorized vehicles and carbon emissions. The results of the preliminary study—based on a survey with 250 respondents and complemented by relevant work all over the world—support the case for the construction of a well-integrated network of bicycle lanes (with most of them elevated) as this will likely result to the 24 to 33.37% reduction of private motor vehicles on the road, leading to the potential decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of about 2.23 to 4.46 millionmetric tons CO2e annually by year 2030. This is roughly the same amount of carbon that can be sequestered by 57.76 to 115.54 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

Majority of Metro Manila residents favor sky bike lanes 

The survey also revealed that there is an overwhelming support on the building of sky bike lanes in Metro Manila based on the number of respondents who said that they like the idea—221 people, representing 88% of the total respondents (n = 250). With the high number of supporters and potential bikers, the question that comes to mind is, “Why are there so many people not biking to work/school these days?” The question had been answered by the survey as well.

Safety as a major deterrent

For current non-bikers, safety concern is the top reason why they do not want to bike. In the question, “If you answered NO above (#4 in the questionnaire), what is the main reason why you don’t bike or don’t like biking?”, 57 persons (38%) said they are concerned about road safety. The next top concern is on possible health impact (e.g., poor air quality) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. NON-BIKERS: Reasons for Not Biking

Figure 1. NON-BIKERS: Reasons for Not Biking

These results are consistent with studies in other countries. In what could be among the most extensive studies on biking, Monsere et al. (2014) worked with the US National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) and National Association of City Transportation Officials and considered the importance of segregated bike lanes.

They saw that safety concern is indeed a major deterrent toward the use of bicycles. Their studies, along with work of other experts in the field estimated that many (e.g., 60% of the US population) are “interested but concerned” but that 81% of this segment will likely feel “comfortable” on streets with a separate bike lane. Interestingly, if we will add 38% (concerned about road safety) and 24% (concerned about health impacts) from this survey (proposed Sky Bike Lanes for Metro Manila), they will add up to 62%–which is close to the result (60%) in the US. Certainly, there is another layer of complexity about safety concerns and a simple mathematical solution is not going to resolve that. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that there is a universal truth about feeling scared on the road if one is biking (unprotected) in busy roads.

Similarly, Fraser and Lock (2011), undertook a systematic review of literature, which analyzed the impact of built environment, for example, dedicated bicycle routes, toward increase in cycling in a given society or population. Their review of 11 studies showed that environmental factors indeed had a positive association with cycling. This means that factors such as presence of dedicated bicycle lanes, separation of cycling from other traffic, short distances (e.g., from home to school) contribute to people’s willingness and decision to bike.

Two to 4 car owners (out of 10) will leave cars behind if there are sky bike lanes

Based on the Metro Manila survey, 43 (42%) car owners indicated the desire to use the bike lanes “all the time or often (e.g., at least three times a week).” By adding those who indicated using them “occasionally (or at least once a week)” (13%) and “every now and then” (35%), there is a potential of 90% of car owners using the bike lanes in varying frequency.

Based on the study’s estimations (using projections undertaken by Jica in 2014), there is a reduction of volume by 24% by 2020. This means that 2-3 out of 10 persons who own cars will likely bike to work/destination by 2020 if there is already a good network of sky bike lanes by then.

Using a second set of scenario (where there will be more bikers), there will be a likely reduction of private car volume by 33.37%. Again, this means that that 3-4 out of 10 persons who own cars will likely bike to work/destination by 2030 if there is already a good network of sky bike lanes by then.

Meanwhile, the estimated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of about 2.23 to 4.46 millionmetric tons CO2e annually by year 2030 is better illustrated by using the US EPA online Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator (USEPA, 2017). Clearly, the estimated reduction of carbon emissions that the proposed sky bike lanes will likely contribute is significant. For example, the volume of reduction is the same as the amount of emissions that may be sequestered from roughly 57.76 to 115.54 million of tree seedlings grown for 10 years (Figure 2).

Figure 2. What does 2.23 and 4.46 million MT of CO2e mean?  [Source: US EPA, 2017]

Figure 2. What does 2.23 and 4.46 million MT of CO2e mean?
[Source: US EPA, 2017]

Sky bike lanes in other countries

The construction of sky (elevated) bike lanes is a fairly new intervention. There is no official count available online but there could be about ten (10) elevated bike lanes all over the world so far with about four (4) of them under construction or in the planning stage. Nevertheless, this preliminary study—despite its focus on a relatively novel idea—will, hopefully, contribute to continuing discourses and encourage more research work on the effectivity of segregated, specifically, elevated bike lanes, for cities like Metro Manila—where there is no longer much space on the ground for any massive infrastructural intervention.

One of the more popular sky bike lanes is the Cykelslangen (Bicycle Snake) in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is constructed over the Copenhagen Harbor, 4-meter wide (with two lanes) and 230-meter long. It is about 5.5 m in height from the quay and used by 12,500 bikers/day. It cost the Danish government about US$6.6 million to construct.

Cykelslangen (Bicycle Snake) in Copenhagen, Denmark. [Image courtesy of Dissing+Weitling Architecture]

Cykelslangen (Bicycle Snake) in Copenhagen, Denmark. [Image courtesy of Dissing+Weitling Architecture]

Meanwhile, the Bicycle Skyway in Xiamen, China, is probably the latest to be built, with the government opening it to public in early 2017 (Travers, 2017). The elevated bike lane—inspired by a concept by middle school students who won in a local science and technology competition—straddles over five residential areas and three business districts. The bike lane can be reached through 11 entrances, which also connect to the same number of bus stops and two underground rail stations (Johnston, 2017). It took safety considerations very seriously by installing 30,000 lights and automated gates that help monitor flow and capacity (Johnston, 2017).

The newly-build elevated bike lane in Xiamen (China)—at 8 km, it is touted to be the longest so far in the world. [Image courtesy of E. Johnston/Road.cc]

The newly-build elevated bike lane in Xiamen (China)—at 8 km, it is touted to be the longest so far in the world. [Image courtesy of E. Johnston/Road.cc]

Another good example is the 1-km shared bicycle lane and walkway that has transformed the urban landscape of this part of Auckland, New Zealand. Called,Te Ara I Whiti (Light Path), it is found in Nelson Street andhas received international recognition in the World Architecture Awards in 2015. Its name was inspired by the integration of LED mood lights that keep on changing colors.

Te Ara I Whiti (Light Path) in Auckland, New Zealand. [Image and data courtesy of GHD, Katz Maihi and Iwi, Monk Mackenzie Architects, LandLab, and Novare]

Te Ara I Whiti (Light Path) in Auckland, New Zealand. [Image and data courtesy of GHD, Katz Maihi and Iwi, Monk Mackenzie Architects, LandLab, and Novare]

The case for segregation

Ziemba, Mitra, and Hess (2012) looked at the important question on segregation and their study revealed that there was indeed an increase in the number of bikers when bike lanes are physically separated and improved. The improvement in the design of a bike lane in Sherbourne Street (downtown Toronto) led to an increase in the number of bikers, where almost 24% of the respondents who are newbikers shifted from driving. Meanwhile, Strauss and Moreno (2013) undertook a study in Montreal and found that 61% more cyclists are found in intersections that have segregated bike lanes than in street corners without.

A comprehensive study for the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan(State of New South Wales through Transport for NSW, 2013) with over 1,200 submissions revealed that 70% of NSW residents indicated that they will likely bike more if it was safer and more convenient. The strategies outlined are evidence-based, indicating, for example, that comparing the number of vehicles and bicycles in a particular street with segregated bike lane during a peak hour (8:00 to 9:00 am), more number of people are traveling by bicycles.

The results of this study as well as other reports became bases for the strategy paper developed by the National Roads and Motorists Association of Australia (2015), which also favor the construction of separated or segregated bike lanes that are intelligently located and form a grid. This means that bike lanes should be continuous (as against disconnected). The Association emphasized that “more continuous separated routes will make cycling a more attractive option and reduce the safety risks associated with funneling cyclists onto roads where cycle paths suddenly end.

Meanwhile, a study by Teschke et al. (2012) compared roads with and without segregated bike lanes and the results showed a reduction in the risk of crashes by nine (9) times. Buehler and Dill (2015) undertook extensive literature review and came to the conclusion that many of existing research work do suggest that a high percentage of people favor “separate paths and/or lanes over cycling in roadways with motorized traffic — particularly with high volumes of fast-moving motorized traffic. Among bike facilities, cyclists and non-cyclists seem to prefer physically separated bike paths or cycle tracks to bike lanes or wide shoulders on roadways.”

Aside from safety considerations, impact on reduction of motorized vehicles (consequently, carbon emissions) is indeed very significant. Experiences in other countries show that biking (in some countries, along with walking) has a direct impact on the decrease of motorized vehicles on the road. In Netherlands—where biking registered a 30% share in total travel mode—car use is only at 45%. Compare this in a country like the US—where biking share is only at 1% (the lowest among the countries in the list)—car use is as high as 84%, generating the highest share. This was reiterated by Gosse and Clarens (2013) who highlighted that providing people with better bicycle facilities is an initiative that can increase share of non-motorized vehicles in the modal share without requiring huge investments.

Therefore, empirical data point to decline in motorized vehicle use where there are good systems and infrastructure such as segregated bike lanes, metro (subway), and sidewalks. While there is still a need to keep on analyzing experiences and validating data, such numbers should guide policymakers and decisionmakers in planning their cities particularly when it comes to transportation infrastructure.

There is no extensive study in the Philippines yet on the extent of biking although a study by Gozun and Guillen (2008) estimated that only around 2% of all trips in Metro Manila are made by bicycles. Latest statistics show a very high share of private cars at 71.3% by vehicle trips and 31% by modal share (Jica, 2014). The non-inclusion of biking in many transportation-related studies reflects that the extent of biking—while showing increasing trend in many countries and cities all over the world—is still low in the Philippines.

Study limitations

The survey is still currently open so as to ensure a robust analysis during the pre-feasibility and feasibility stages. Therefore, while diligent efforts had been exerted to cross-reference the initial results[1], assumptions, and analysis here with others’ work in the field, the calculations from the survey data shall be continuously enhanced in future work (and, at the current stage, should be used with caution).

No substantial data and analytical work are available on biking in the Philippines, much more, from peer-reviewed journals. Therefore, the author had to rely more on work in other countries. This poses limitations because conditions (e.g., climate) in other countries are very different. Nevertheless, this must be taken as a continuing challenge for researchers not just in the Philippines but all over the world.

This is an initial work on scenario development so focus is on preparing the ground work for better and more robust scenario building. As the sample size is smaller than the ideal, some data (e.g., anticipated distance to be covered by potential bikers) had not yet been utilized in anticipation of the more complete survey.

Paving the path toward urban renewal 

Clearly, the preliminary results and existing literature support the case for segregated bike lanes—where sky bike lanes fall under—and which are expected to encourage more bikers on the road (with many of them hoped as previous car owners). However, a robust feasibility study is crucial in order to ensure viability.

The traffic problem of Metro Manila requires multi-faceted solutions and the building of sky bike lanes alone will not solve it completely. Nevertheless, it is very crucial that the solution should include an intervention to lessen the number of motorized vehicles on the road—and increasing bikers on the road, along with effective and efficient mass transport systems, will help in ensuring this.

However, in the case of the Philippines, there is much to be done. The country has been “under-building” (e.g., mass transport systems) for the past decades but building too much in areas where they are aggravating congestion problems (e.g., shopping malls in central business districts).  The traffic problem (and the bigger part – urban decay) can only be addressed through multi-pronged interventions where both behavior and policies inter-weave.

More studies need to be to undertaken. It is ironical that with the gravity of the problem, substantial work and investigation still need to be done particularly with non-motorized transportation. The massive transportation challenges in Metro Manila can only be solved through a holistic approach where policy-, infrastructure- and behavior-based interventions are done comprehensively and systematically.

Constructing elevated bike lanes is an infrastructure-based intervention. It is not the end-all-be-all type of solution but the results of this study show a huge potential for reducing traffic gridlocks and massive congestion in Metro Manila—a reduction that will ultimately result to lasting socio-economic and environmental impacts including reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

While this is just a preliminary work for the bigger task ahead, it is hoped that this work becomes a basis for a more in-depth analysis of elevated bike lanes and a tool for policymaking, advocacy, and resource mobilization for the next stages.

[1] Based on 250 responses in the survey administered via Google forms (with cut-off date of 23 October 2017).


Buehler, R. and Dill, J. (2015). Bikeway networks: A review of effects on cycling. Retrieved   from https://ralphbu.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/buehler-dill-treviews-2.pdf

Dissing+Weitling Architecture. (n.d.). The Bicycle Snake. Retrieved from http://www.dw.dk/cykelslangen-bicycle-snake

Fraser, S. & Lock, K. (2011). Cycling for transport and public health: A systematic review of the effect of the environment on cycling. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/21/6/738/493197/Cycling-for-transport-and-publichealth-a

Gosse, C. & Clarens, A. (2013). Quantifying the total cost of infrastructure to enable environmentally preferable decisions: The case of urban roadway design. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748 9326/8/1/015028;jsessionid=545D4ACFA221562D900B3D2EA3F800F3.ip-10- 40-1-105

Gozun, B. & Guillen, M.D. (2008). Towards a Sustainable Transportation Environment: The Case of “Pedicabs” and Cycling in the Philippines, Thirteenth CODATU Conference of Urban Transport (CODATU XIII), Vietnam, 12-14 November 2008.Retrieved from http://www.codatu.org/wp-content/uploads/Towards-a-sustainable-transportation-environment.-The-case-of-Pedicabs-and-cycling-in-the-Philippines-Brian-GOZUN-Marie-Danielle-GUILLEN.pdf

Japan International Cooperation Agency. (2014). JICA transport study lists strategies for congestion-free MM by 2030 [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.jica.go.jp/philippine/english/office/topics/news/140902.html

Johnston, E. (2017). Longest elevated cycle path opens in China [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://road.cc/content/news/217380-longest-elevated-cycle-path-world-opens-china

Monsere, C., Dill, J., McNeil, N., Clifton, K., Foster, N., Goddard, T.,…Parks, J. (2014). Lessons from the green lanes: Evaluating protected bike lanes in the US(through Portland University, commissioned by the US National Institute for Transportation and Communities). Retrieved from https://bikeportland.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/06/NITC-RR583_ProtectedLanes_FinalReportb.pdf

National Roads and Motorists Association. (2015, March). Cycling strategy: A new vision for cycling in NSW.Retrieved from https://www.mynrma.com.au/images/About-Education/NRMA_Cycling_Strategy_-_March_2015.pdf

State of New South Wales through Transport for NSW. (2013, December). Sydney’s cycling future– Cycling for everyday transport. Retrieved from http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/b2b/publications/sydneys-cyclingfuture-web.pdf

Teschke, K., Harris, A. Reynolds, C., Winters, M., Babul, S. Chipman, …Cripton, P. (2012). Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519333/

Travers, J. (2017). World’s longer aerial bike path inspired by middle school students. Retrieved from https://www.ecowatch.com/aerial-bike-path-china-2261408355.html

US Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). Greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

World Bank. (2004). Philippine Environment Monitor 2006. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPHILIPPINES/Resources/PEM06-chapter3.pdf

Ziemba, R., Mitra, R., and Hess, P. (2012). Mode substitution effect of urban cycle tracks: Case study of a downtown street in Toronto, Canada. Toronto: Ryerson University. Retrieved from http://www.ibiketo.ca/sites/default/files/Ziemba_mitra_hess_trb%20poster%202016.pdf

May’s flowers and showers

Just keep on swimming! (and biking!) [Sketch in watercolor by Mei Velas-Suarin]

Just keep on swimming! (and biking!) [Sketch in watercolor by Mei Velas-Suarin]

Happy month of May, everyone!

For this month’s attempt at watercolor sketch, I’m inviting you to savor the joys of May – the time of the year when we hold the traditional “Santacruzan” (Sacred Cross) and “Flores de Mayo” (Flowers of May) and, of course, it is also the time when we’re beginning to enjoy the first rains. This  summer had been excruciatingly hot so I think many of us (especially our hardworking farmers!) really looked forward to the rainy season.

There is also a special reason for this sketch. Many people close to me know that I am graduating from my master’s course work this year (with God’s graces, this December!) and so I am also busy preparing for my Special Problem (almost like a thesis). I decided that I didn’t just want to go through it because it’s a course requirement. I really wanted something that will have a special meaning to the community–sorry, I didn’t want that to sound so ‘cliche-ish’ but you get the drift, right?

I wanted my work to focus on a real and urgent problem and while the Philippines, for sure, has a lot of them, I decided that my work should address the horrible traffic situation in Metro Manila…and this is why I sketched this vintage bike! It’s the image that I am now using in the homepage of my dream, Project: SKY BIKE LANES. [Please visit to get to know more about this dream project so that, together, we can make it come true.]

Before I end this brief post, I’d like to congratulate our President-elect Rodrigo Duterte (and all those who voted for him) for this sweet victory! As early as November last year, I already knew he was going to be the next President. There are many reasons why I voted for him but among the most important traits that my husband and I saw in him is his genuine love for this country.  His patriotism is genuine. Indeed, he curses a lot, makes really bad jokes, and is not a good communicator but beyond the bad mouth is a good heart that inspires nationalism.  I think this is something that our country seems to be losing over the years and many are hopeful that Duterte’s victory will slowly break the cycle of apathy and lack of nationhood. Indeed, change is slowly coming.

However,  I also wrote this in my Facebook page, “no president can ever save us if we will not change. Real change comes from each one of us.” I hope and pray that Duterte’s victory will make us all commit to that change that we direly need.

Mabuhay ang ating Inang Bayan! Mabuhay tayong lahat!




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10 Things I Can Do/Have in Phnom Penh (But Couldn’t in Manila)

1. Go to cozy and (even upscale!) bars and restaurants wearing the most ordinary white T-shirts and rubber slippers. In Manila, I can’t really do this because most establishments in the same range/scale have specific dress code – i.e., no rubber slippers even if they’re Havaianas! Here, everything and everyone is so laid-back, it is always easy to just decide to go to a bar even if your original plan was just only to go to the grocery wearing an attire that Fashionistas in Manila would definitely raise their eyebrows on!

2. Wake up, eat a decent breakfast (c/o a great housemate), get dressed for work and be there before 8:00 AM. Yes, you are reading this correctly. I am actually eating a decent breakfast here everyday and don’t arrive at work looking like a tornado has just wiped off my face. Living here is such a breeze because there is no traffic! I don’t have to wake up at 5:00 AM just so I can be at work by 8:00 AM. Yes, dahlengs, I can wake up at 6:30 AM, do my girl things and eat breakfast in an hour, and voila, leave home at 7:30 and reach work in just 15 minutes!

3. Be home early enough to watch TV Patrol, Kokey and Lastikman. Yup, yup, here in Phnom Penh, I have what people call “life-work balance” (wink, wink). In Manila, I would usually still be in a horrible traffic by 8:00 PM. Here, I am home by 6:30 PM, early enough to watch news from TFC (The Filipino Channel) and yup, even the fantasy soaps Kokey and Lastikman! My friends know that I don’t watch TV but yes, I am transformed here. I guess when you are out of the country, you somehow miss anything Filipino so much that even soaps that won’t even have 5 minutes of your time in Manila suddenly becomes a novelty, like a favorite dish that you can’t just have enough of. I fell in love with Kokey that I swear I’m gonna buy a Kokey stuffed toy (if there is such) when I am home for a visit.

4. Go to work in a tuktuk and feel like I own the world. In Manila, I either ride in my driver-driven car or in a taxicab. Here, I live a simple existence, happily enjoying the short trips to and from work even if it’s just in a tuktuk. It’s not air-conditioned, very sensitive to bumps and potholes on the road, and doesn’t have the “cushiony-feel” of leather-covered seats but hey, it gives me such a beautiful view of Phnom Penh’s street-life and allows the soft morning breezes to kiss my cheeks (ohh la la…)

By the riverbank

5. Be home on Sundays and watch The Buzz. Because I have less commitments and involvements here, I have 1.5 days of weekends all to myself! I don’t have to go out to catch meetings, dancing lessons or meet-ups with my ever-growing social circle in Manila. Sundays here are so lazy and free that I can still be in my sleepwear writing my blogs while watching The Buzz. Yup, yup, I am more or less updated now in the latest showbiz tsismis back home. Very unlike the Mei that my friends knew, the Mei who didn’t even know about the Kris Aquino-Joey Marquez break-up until it was about 2 months’ old news already.

6. Live without internet access at home. In Manila, I have unlimited internet account subscription at home. It’s like I couldn’t live without it. My whole life depended on it, from the time I wake up to the time that I’d call it a day. I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t open my Yahoo. But here, I’ve learned to live a “normal” life again, minus the pressure of surfing or opening my emails everyday. Besides, home subscription here is still expensive so I just check my Yahoo in the neighborhood internet café where speed is as slow as dial-up in Manila (hehe). But I can’t complain, they charge 1,500 Riel only for an hour of use (that’s about 16.00 pesos); still expensive if compared with rates in Manila but remember that Cambodia is still considered behind in terms of technology vis-à-vis other bigger cities in Asia.

7. Travel overseas just riding a bus! Since this part of the world is land-locked with Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, I can go to these countries just by bus! Imagine the amount of money I can save on transportation even if they are considered overseas trips. In fact, I went to Vietnam last June and spent less than $100 only on a 3-day stay including my hotel expense!

8. Have a hair-cut using sign language and an old photo. Now, this should be in No. 1 but I didn’t remember it earlier. Here in Phnom Penh, most hair salons are manned by Khmer and sometimes, Chinese/Korean hair stylists. So having a haircut using English language is definitely a luxury. While there may be salons run by English-speaking stylists, they would normally charge such ridiculous fees that one would think they are giving you a new piece of head or face. One time, I badly needed a new hairstyle (my curls are getting ugly already) and after being shocked to discover that the English-speaking salon I first went to will charge me $90.00 for a hair straightening procedure, I decided to try a salon across the street, whose signage tells me it is run by a Korean. I looked at the male stylist focused on doing a man’s hair and decided this is the place. The Stylist’s hair was so perfect and chic-looking that I told myself, I won’t hesitate trusting him with my hair even if he comes from Mars. I was right; he didn’t speak any English nor understands it so I ended up showing him my old photo (I had the foresight to bring one) and gesturing through sign language how I wanted my new look to be. It was like an adventure; I felt I was about to go to the guillotine, not knowing if I’d still want to look at myself in the mirror after this lunatic decision. But yes, since you are reading this blog now, I didn’t commit suicide after this adventurous stint with an unfamiliar hair stylist. He actually copied exactly how my hair looked like in my old photo and later, I happily I told him (in my combination of sign language and English) that I loved what he did and I’m going back again.

9. Get a discount without even asking for it. One time, JR, my housemate, and I went to the market to buy fruits. Since fruits are very cheap here, we decided to buy lanzones, mangoes, mangosteen, and rambutan from an old woman in the market near our flat. We paid in US dollars but were given change in Riels. Because we were not yet very familiar with converting USD to Riels and vice-versa, it was a bit confusing for us. We were repeatedly counting the bills handed down to us; the old woman was repeatedly talking to us in Khmer, perhaps trying her best to explain to us why we are getting those bills. She was gesturing a lot, getting back our bills, counting them one by one again, giving them to us again; and then later, another woman who was passing by was also gesturing already. JR and I still looked totally confused. Finally, when I realized that our change was indeed correct and in fact, we even got more, I dragged JR out of the vendor’s stall or I’m afraid she’s going to throw us out already. Later, I explained to him that what we got was even more, realizing that the poor old woman must have gotten so frustrated with explaining the conversion to us that she actually gave us additional Riels more so we will already leave her in peace! JR and I were laughing all the way back home and can’t stop imagining how ridiculous we looked and how exasperated we must have made the old woman feel! Driving away stupid customers by giving them extra change is probably a trick that vendors normally resort to if things get really tough. 😉

10. Spend less than $20 in personal phone bills a month. In Manila, I maintained two subscriptions in Globe and this means paying about $80-90 a month! Here in Phnom Penh, sending SMS and making calls are much cheaper and because I have a smaller social circle here, I don’t spend much on personal phone bills. It’s cool to realize that I live a much quieter and simpler life here. Besides, my only real close friend here is also my housemate and that means spending less on SMS and phone calls because I can always tell him how my day went, face-to-face, minus the fear of ever-growing cellphone bills. 🙂 Ahhh…life in Phnom Penh really rocks!

[Re-post of a blog dated November 9, 2007 (from my previous site).]


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