Obstacle Course No. 1: Down Kalaw Street Sidewalks from the National Library to U.N. Avenue Station

by Esther Suson

A great big avenue, Kalaw is. Makes you almost want to lead a rally down it because it’s just that perfect size for a really effective march if you can get enough people to do it. That or drag race, although it’s a bit too straight if you want more complications.

The path from the National Library down to the LRT is quite an adventure in itself, if you walk it. First you have to dodge the whole lot of seamen outside the Library itself, as it juxtaposes the Seafarers’ Center, something like a recruiting place and I suppose something of a hangout for seamen. They’re not too rowdy, actually, and aren’t crude either. My best friend, who grew up around seamen, walks through them like one would through their own neighborhood. In numbers, however, it can still be a bit intimidating.

If you choose to cross the street at once and walk to the LRT on the opposite side from the Seafarers’ Center, a whole new set of challenges awaits you in the obstacle course that is the Kalaw Street sidewalk. When you’re not dodging the myriad flyer-givers, you’re maneuvering around random electric and telephone poles, or stepping off a corner sidewalk so high (because of our famous Manila floods) that you nearly have an out-of-body experience. Certainly at one point you’re suspended in mid-air.

And then there’s resisting the temptation of bananaque from the street-food vendors, and dodging through the crowd of puppies and children that seem to come with those. There’s the unpredictable intersections, with a toss-up as to whether they have street lights or not, and then there’s things dripping here and there and pretty much everywhere.

As if that wasn’t enough, large road construction projects (or drain construction, or water pipe, or what have you) very often slice off whole lengths of sidewalk at a time. The mud that surrounds them is so thick and widespread that you have to trust your weight to a plywood bridge that creaks so that you dread your foot going through, and you don’t even want to think of the splinters.

After that, you walk and walk and pray that the vehicles swooping past don’t make any sudden turns, because then you’d have to jump in the ditch that’s being dug, or, well, come into sudden and unwanted contact with the fences around SOME ditches. Then sidewalk again with all the aforementioned challenges, and then a sudden halving of the space by another ditch that doesn’t mind if you use the sidewalk, so long as you suddenly halved yourself as well.

Did I mention the preteen street gangs that give ground to no one? I suppose it would be too much to ask a pack to walk single file. So squeeze through there, mind the triangle park, because that’s where the station is. Navigate through the children sleeping on the benches and the stairs leading up to the station. Made it? Great! Because Obstacle Course No. 2 is only beginning.

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