Riding the MRT and Weekend Walkabout

After more than a hundred days, it feels good to be getting around again—even if there are a lot of restrictions.  It’s nice to again do things that you used to do almost on a daily basis—it brings back some sense of normalcy.  Even if those things used to give you a lot of stress, like commuting.

From our house, it’s still just a single bus ride to the MRT.  But as it was before the pandemic, getting a ride remained a challenge.  You go to the bus stop, but no buses stop there.  Instead, you have to go where you think passengers will be alighting.  Frustrating, but I guess some things never change.  But on a good note, there’s noticeably more buses on the road so I was able to get onto the first one that I was able to “catch.”  On the other hand, there are no more thermal scanning before you get into the bus and it seems like the “checkerboard” seating is no longer applied albeit there’s still a vacant seat between passengers.

Queuing up for the front coach.

I did not expect that there was going to be a significant change when riding the MRT.  There’s still the bag inspection and thermal scanners were added to the process, but what surprised me the most was that the first coach is no longer dedicated to senior citizens, persons with disabilities, etc.—which makes sense since we’re still in some form of community quarantine and “vulnerable” persons aren’t supposed to be going out unless needed.  There are also cordons that control where passengers can enter—there is only one area now per coach, social distancing is enforced in the queues, and security guards guide you where to go to avoid crowding in an area.

I guess I was lucky that I was led to queue for the front coach.  For the first time, I was able to see the train’s driver!  On another note, the volume of passengers was significantly less than before the pandemic and I was able to get a seat despite having much less number of seats available.  Two seats separate each passenger and these were covered in plastic with signs to avoid “accidentally” sitting there.  There are also square markers on the floor where passengers can stand and maintain social distancing.  Fares remain the same and surprisingly, escalators also still work.  I am not sure though if operating times are still the same.

First time to be in the front coach!
The square boxes on the floor mark where people can stand.

Getting back in the financial district gave me the chance to eat some of the food that I badly miss!  There are only a few fast food chains that are open within walking distance to our home so eating something else, even if it’s from a fast food is quite a treat.  But while dining in is already allowed, I wasn’t “brave” enough to do that yet so I still had my meals to go and ate them using my own utensils in my condo.

Being away from my condo for all these times is like being in a post-apocalyptic setting, to say the least.  Spiders took their time “decorating” my space and water from my faucet had gone stale that they smell of rust.  Molds had grown in some areas that didn’t use to and some new problems became prominent that I’ll have to return some other time to settle them.  But for the moment, I was afraid most for my Fitbit Inspire HR which had empty batteries for over a hundred days.  I was concerned that its batteries may have gone to the point of no return—fortunately, it didn’t happen and it still charged.  I have a feeling though that it didn’t survive unscathed as it seems to me that it’s losing charge faster than I remember.

Makati on a weekend, under the “new normal.”

I purposely went out on a weekend because I thought that’s when the least people are around using the public transportation.  Aside from keeping my exposure to other people to a minimum, I also don’t want to add to the burden of daily commuters dealing with reduced public transportation capacity.  With that said, I can’t really say if my relatively easy experience (aside from all the walking in between) is true on weekdays so I don’t think I’ll be trying that out anytime soon.

Overall, my weekend trip was very productive.  I was able to complete all the things I set out to do, did some more, and identified new things that I have to.  Here are my observations:

  • Complacency.  Some things that were used to be strictly enforced are now becoming optional in the interest of time, capacity, cost, etc.  I’m quite aware and anxious of these things as I only go out when necessary, but for those who have to do these daily, these are natural adaptations to make things more efficient.  I just hope that what remains of these “optimizations” are enough to control the spread of COVID-19.
  • False compliance.  Some establishments take contact tracing seriously by having you scan a QR code to have you enter your contact information just in case you need to be reached.  Others think they are doing the same by having you write onto their log book your name and temperature as you get in.  How will they reach you if that’s all they ask?  Isn’t physically touching a pen and paper that many others used earlier an added opportunity for infection?
  • Traffic.  In some areas, traffic is pretty much what it was pre-pandemic.  I guess those with their own vehicles are pretty much back to the old normal?
  • Wearing masks.  Why do some people still leave their noses out of their masks?  Why do some people leave gaping openings on the side of their noses when wearing masks?  Why is wearing a mask still unintelligible for some?
  • Permanent closure.  It’s one thing to hear it in the news, it’s another when you pass by a space that used to be a lively store now permanently boarded up and closed for good.  And I passed some of these in just a few kilometers of walking.  I fear that the economic impact of the pandemic is much greater than we all think that it sets us back a few years.  At the same time, I’m thankful that I still have a job for the time being.  I hope that the easing up of restrictions is helping.

It’s really nice to see the outside world again after over a hundred days.  But seeing everything that had changed so far, the “new normal” seem to be more like the “new world.”

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