Grails and the Secret of Happiness

26 Jul

grail /ɡrāl/ (plural grails) a thing that is being earnestly pursued or sought after

I don’t have a grail doll. Honest.

I don’t even have a grail Sylvanian anymore. I used to. But I’m different now. I feel different.

I started thinking about this when a friend brought it up in a recent conversation. “You have so many toys now. Do you still have a wish list of dolls or toys? Do you have a grail doll? A grail Blythe doll?” I couldn’t really answer her without thinking about it.

And so I ruminated on this question for a couple of days. I ran through a list of what I could possibly want. I looked at pictures on the Net and surfed for dolls and toys. But the more I thought about it, the less I found to really ask for.

Some people -collectors most of them- find it strange that I don’t have a wish list of dolls and toys. I really don’t. Now that I think about it, I haven’t had one in a while. In the beginning, when I was starting out, I would spend hours looking at dolls and Sylvanians on the Net. I had a list; I knew what I wanted to look for on trips abroad or in local sales. Today, while there are still many beautiful things in this world that make me catch my breath and dream- even for a split second, for the most part, I am quite content to simply look at them from afar. In the last few years, I have torn my original list into pieces and started a new one filled with experiences and activities, of things to do and places to see, and of memories I would like to make with my husband and children. But things? No more.

I suppose you could say that I’ve experienced a change in mindset. By simply accepting what material graces come my way, I don’t feel the envy or covetousness that ruins the act of collecting. The truth is, I don’t beg or ask my husband for dolls and toys because he gives them willingly. Perhaps one could argue that I have it easy, and that would not be an unfair assessment at all. But I have seen firsthand what material want does to even the most prolific of collectors and it is not something I’d like to happen to me.

I don’t covet anyone else’s collections. I’ve never felt jealous or envious of things my friends own. On the contrary, I feel a great deal of pride in knowing they enjoy what they have, without reservations. I don’t “snake” someone else’s reservations or purchases to add to mine. And if I ever once thought of you as a friend, even just once, I would never ever think to compete with you.

I guess when you live with the gratitude that comes with knowing you have enough, another doll or toy won’t make a difference. I have what I have, and that’s enough. If I don’t have it, then it’s just another one of those things that I can probably live without.


In the end, it all boils down to knowing that everything material in this life is transient, but love, peace, friendship, these things are eternal. These are my real grails.

Hello, Kitty Cafe!

25 Jul

I heard the news first from my friend Stacy when she tagged me in an album of pictures she took two weeks ago. I hadn’t heard that the Hello Kitty Cafe* would come to the North, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was back at the SM North EDSA after a long hiatus.

I knew it was coming, though. In December of last year, two pop-up stores opened at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City and at the Fiesta Duty Free Mall in Parañaque. Both had limited running dates till January of this year and served as precursor to the Hello Kitty Cafe** at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Now, we Northeners don’t need to feel so left out of the good stuff. The Hello Kitty Cafe is back in town!

The last time I was in a local HKC, it was in 2000, shortly before the SM North EDSA branch closed. I remember because I have a memento of my last visit, a picture taken with a struggling eight-year-old boy who would not set foot inside the Cafe. Despite entreaties and bribery (with hefty servings of food which he ate, but outside the Cafe), my son refused to step in and had to be dragged inside for one picture with his Mama. Ahhh…memories!

kittymama with struggling child low res

I know I said I have sworn off Hello Kitty, but still, some youthful part of me longs for a little bit of her now and then. A♥, ever the enabler, suggested squeezing a quick visit to the Cafe during the last SM North EDSA 3-day Sale. We went in early Saturday morning to the mall to purchase shoes and some shirts for the boys and decided to drop in for a quick bite.

The new HKC can be found on the 3rd floor of The Block, and overlooks the main Atrium or Activity Center.

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The cafe, in keeping with Hello Kitty’s feminine, feline character, is done in mostly white and pink. The design is tasteful and elegant, almost minimalist with a touch of whimsy. White picket fences delineate the mall real estate it occupies. Seating is limited.

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Below, you can see Hello Kitty she lords it over the place. There is no mistaking that she is the center of the Sanrio universe.

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Even the pitchers had her face on them! Cute! (I didn’t check the table napkins.)

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But as concession to her friends, they can be found in cute doughnuts filling the display chillers. Below are My Melody doughnut faces with ribbon- themed doughnuts,

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Hello Kitty and Baad Batz Maru face doughnuts (why does Bad Batz remind me of Angry Birds?),

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and cheery Keroppi face doughnuts, with more ribbon doughnuts. You can’t get away from Hello Kitty and her ubiquitous red ribbons.

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The cafe also serve cupcakes and small cakes,

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and healthy green salads.

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Unlike its predecessor, the new Hello Kitty Cafe does not serve full meals.  It has a streamlined selection of sandwiches, salads, pasta and pastries. They also serve coffee and shakes. Since the Cafe is still on soft opening, some of the items on the menu may not be available but there is usually a sufficient stock of pastries on hand. The prices are a bit on the high side so be prepared to shell out serious money for Hello Kitty food.

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A♥ is not big on sweets and pasta so we deferred our Kitty date for another day. He did, however, buy me a souvenir of my visit, which came in this plain white paper bag sealed with a Kitty sticker.

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Who can resist a Kitty doughnut? Certainly not me!

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I’ll be coming back soon to stay longer. I hope to taste their salad, pasta, and coffee next time. In the meantime, let’s spread the word that the Hello Kitty Cafe is back!


*Hello Kitty Cafe SM North EDSA

3rd Floor, The Block,

SM North EDSA, Quezon City


**Hello Kitty Cafe BGC

Third Floor, Uptown Place Mall,

36th Street Corner 9th Avenue,

Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City

730 Days Gone

18 Jul

I wrote this on July 15, 2016, on the Second Death Aniversary of my father.

The Home Above

Two years ago, while my sister Jas and I were going through boxes of old papers, a single letter fell on the ground. It was a letter from the Carmelite missionaries, dated July 15, 1978, saying that July 16 was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I told Jas about it, wondering at the coincidence and pondering on the importance of this unexpected discovery. It turned out to be Daddy’s last day. A week later, I found a stash of old cards we gave Daddy, and this was in them. I think Daddy was sending us a message. I know for sure he is in heaven now.

It was late on a rainy night much like this two years ago when Daddy left us. Alphonse, normally in bed and asleep by ten, could not sleep that particular night. He paced around the room, restless and seemingly bothered. We tried to appease him by blowing bubbles with him, an activity that almost always soothes him, but he angrily shooed us away.

When the phone rang twice at 11:00 pm, Alphonse stopped walking around the room. He stood near the foot of our bed, transfixed and silent. When I put down the phone, he seemed relieved. Then, without fuss, he allowed himself to be led to his bed by his brother. I often wonder about this night, how Alphonse seemed to know of or sense Daddy’s passing even before the call came. Daddy passed away sometime after ten in the evening, alone in his room in a private care facility in Taguig.

I broke the news to our mom as soon as the call came. She started wailing loudly, her heartbroken sobs interrupted only by the anger and blame she directed at me. I stopped her from going to the facility that night. There was a storm coming, I told her repeatedly. I promised we would all go back when the storm had abated. How was I to know?

At one in the morning, amid strong rains that whipped and lashed at our convoy of vehicles, we made a slow, sad trek back to Quezon City with Daddy. We finished signing papers at two in the morning. The funeral staff had brought him to the preparation room but they allowed us access to him. Daddy was soft, but cold. He smelled faintly of baby powder and dried blood. The attendants had wiped Daddy’s face clean and we kissed him on the cheeks and forehead. We held his smooth, cold hands one last time. And then we left him lying in a metal slab, a white cotton sheet tucked around him as if he were sleeping.

The power was out when we returned home. It was going to be light soon but we needed to rest our weary bodies and troubled minds. My husband and I tumbled into bed and fell asleep, my fingers knotted in his. I closed my eyes and willed myself not to cry. There were still so many things to think of. I made a mental list of them, going through each item over and over again until sleep finally came.

Hours later, I woke up unexpectedly from my dreamless slumber as I felt a cold chill pass through me. Sometime during the early hours of morning, A♥ had let go of my hand and rolled over in a fetal position, his back to me. I turned over to reach out to him but in the darkness, I saw my dad lying between us. Daddy seemed to be just sleeping. I’m a self-confessed scaredy cat but somehow, I didn’t feel scared; I felt comforted. I stared at the figure before me and whispered “Let’s rest na, Dad.” I rubbed my eyes of their tears and closed them again.

Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun) made landfall in Metro Manila early that morning, leaving much of the city in shambles and without power. The rains fell without let-up but Mom, A♥, and I needed to brave the downpour for one more errand. Daddy needed new clothes. All his old ones were much too big for him. He had lost so much weight in the last six months that he needed to hold up his pants with a tight belt. And his shirts, even the new ones, they all hang off his scrawny frame loosely.

Mom went through all the racks of suits they had and chose a navy blue suit, a light blue shirt, and a striped tie. A♥ hurried to pay for our purchases while I oversaw the packing of the suit. The saleslady reminded Mom to hold on to the receipt so we could exchange the suit if it didn’t fit. Mom looked at her sadly, eyes brimming with tears, and said “We won’t be bringing it back.”

Daddy’s wake lasted all of five days. We did not expect so many people to come. From early morning to late at night, we sat with guests who wanted to pay their final respects to him. We told Daddy’s stories over and over again and in turn, we heard snippets of his life from those who knew him as their friend, as mentor, as business partner. Daddy felt most alive to me then.

The night before his funeral, I finally allowed myself to cry. I knew that the next morning would be the last time I would ever lay my eyes on his face. After that, I would only get to see him in my dreams, and only if I got lucky. I burrowed my head in A♥’s arms and wept till his arms were drenched in hot, salty tears.

At six in the morning of Daddy’s funeral, I woke up suddenly again, shivering. My teeth chattered from the cold that wrapped itself around my chest and back. I knew it was Daddy hugging me goodbye.

Over the next year, I would dream of him intermittently but often, and in each one, he grew more robust and less frail. I dreamt of him frequently as the father I had in childhood but of late, I see him looking more like he did in his early sixties. The last dream I had of him was a few months ago. In it, I saw him through my bedroom window looking up at me from the garage. He looked healthy, happy, and serene. I saw him mouth the words “I love you” over and over again. I woke up with cheeks wet from tears. I think he’s telling me- us– that he is alright where he is.

It has been two years since that rainy night in July. Seven hundred thirty days without Daddy. I don’t feel the pain and loneliness too much these days, but God, I really miss him still.

There’s No Easy Way to Say Goodbye

11 Jul

We were going to do some grocery shopping Saturday afternoon, not a lot, just the usual eggs, bread, and milk for the coming week. Because it had been a long, tiring ten days since we got home from our vacation, A♥ said “Maybe we can take in a quick movie too? We won’t be long.” I didn’t even think about it. I said yes right away.

Alex was home to keep an eye on his brother and we had temporary care lined up to help Alphonse. I couldn’t resist the lure of a movie to distract us from the daily grind. And it was a real date, even if there were groceries involved.

I hurriedly changed into a new outfit I had been saving for the next date- a pair of tattered jean capris and a loose white cotton blouse I had purchased in Fuji on sale. I took out my hair rollers and gave my hair a quick run through with my fingers. I dabbed some sunblock, laid over a primer, and worked through my makeup as fast as I could. When A♥ saw that I was ready, he grabbed his keys, flashed me an OK! sign, and gave final instructions to Alex for his brother’s care. And then we were off. Almost.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we ran into Alphonse on his way up. He was humming a wordless ditty but upon seeing us, he stopped. He looked at us- first at me, then at A♥- and took in our clothes and the makeup on my face and then, just like that, it seemed as if a universe of happiness was sucked out of his whole being. His back bent into a stoop, his shoulders slumped, his hands stopped flapping. As he became still and small, his eyes turned vacant and glassy. The corners of his mouth drooped into a sad little pout. He didn’t make a sound. If I could describe what betrayal looked like, I’d have said that Alphonse, at that very moment, personified all its hurt and sorrow.

Despite my promises to return with presents for him, he just stood there, staring at us, that same sad, wretched look on his face. If he had grabbed at us, perhaps, I would have been firmer and maybe we would have made it out the door. But that afternoon, when it was all too possible he was still wounded and hurting, he needed, nay, wanted, us to be there for him. How could we leave him?

A♥ took command and got Alphonse dressed and ready to go in no time at all. The three of us headed to the grocery store and ran our errands, the movie and date forgotten casualties of parenthood. We passed by McDonald’s for a treat before we went home. Alphonse was quiet, but he was smiling again.

Later that night, as Alphonse hovered around us again, I asked him a few questions.

Mama: Alphonse, are you sad when Mama and Papa leave you at home?

Alphonse nodded.

Mama: How do you feel? Ouchy? In here? (I point at his heart.)

Alphonse showed me this.

Alphonse crying copy

Once in a while, this nonverbal, profoundly autistic young man opens up to the world and it is a rare, amazing insight into his heart and mind.

Don’t be afraid, son. Mama and Papa will stay as long as we can.

Review: Suit Up Philippines’ Luggage Cover

4 Jul

For Mother’s Day and my birthday this year, I received new luggage from my husband, a Rimowa Mutiwheel 75 Sports trunk and a smaller cabin multiwheel, both in matte blue. These were unexpected surprises because we had just purchased matching Delsey Helium suitcase sets at the Travel Expo last year and they were new and still unused. We had planned to use them for our trimova sports trunkrip to the United States later the same year. Alas, we were unable to use them because of SouthWest’s size restrictions. We would have been subject to penalties equivalent to the cost of our tickets (which were cheap at USD99/pax, one way to Dallas from NY, and USD99 for Dallas to LA); too late before we found out that no one really checked for sizes at the SW terminals.

With the spate of “tanim-bala,” the obviously politically motivated modus of “planting” bullets in unsuspecting travelers’ bags, making big headlines last year, A♥ and I didn’t want to take any chances leaving our suitcases unprotected. Besides, the thought of new, pristine luggage being thrown, flipped, dinged, and battered into submission by airport personnel was enough to make us cringe.  We knew we didn’t want to DIY our extra layer of precaution. Neither did we want to spend money for plastic wrappings at the airport, which was not only time consuming and expensive, but environmentally unsafe as well. The only option left was to buy reusable luggage covers.

We found LOQI luggage covers at the Pochi store in SM Megamall. We purchased matching covers for our cabin and checked-in luggage in the following designs: Tokyo for me and Singapore for A♥. They were a little expensive but well worth the price. The fit was perfect and the fabric was stretchy but snug. We were able to use the covers on a trip to Singapore in December and they held up very well to travel. The only downside was the grease stains they acquired during handling. Those were difficult to wash off and can be readily seen because of the fabric’s light colors.

suit up FB

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I wanted to dress up my Rimowa for the same reasons I did our Delsey, and because I had time to do so, I thought I could make a custom order for the sports trunk. It was serendipitous that on the day I was searching online, I came upon a Facebook post on sports trunk suit covers by Suit Up Philippines.

On May 10, I sent Suit Up Philippines’ official Facebook account an inquiry; their response was quick and courteous. I was advised to send them e-mail, which I did, the very next day. In my email, I detailed the size of my sportstrunk (mine was 75 but the trunk also came in a bigger size) and provided dimensions. After sending my design and specifications and receiving input from their end through a series of email, we concluded the transaction with a bank payment made to their account on the 18th of May. All in all, my custom cover set me back PhP2648.

Three days later, I received the tracking number to my package and on the 24th, I received the delivery. I was so excited I took out my luggage to try it on right away. The initial rush of enthusiasm turned into dismay.

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Unfortunatately, what was promised in their ads and what arrived were two different things. I was disappointed because all the pictures I had seen of their other products and all the feedback posted by visitors in their page pointed to solid, reputable products that were functional and beautiful at the same time.  By just looking at it, I knew there was something inherently wrong in the pattern of their sports trunk cover. Note that the sports trunk is more cubelike, with one face being close to square. Regular suitcases carry the shape of rectangular prisms, with all its faces being rectangles. Because the design did not account for this difference in shape, the suitcase cover was stretched to one side, anteroposteriorly, leaving the two sides hanging and the handle holes misaligned.

In the series of pictures below, you can see the problematic design. Picture 1 shows the suit cover as used. Notice the ill fit on top and on the sides. The sports trunk is square on top; when the cover is placed on it, the suit is stretched on one side and left hanging in the other two sides like dog ears.

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Picture 2 shows the overhang in one side more clearly.

suit up cuaycong 02Pictures 3 and 4 show that the holes don’t match the extrusions perfectly. As a matter of fact, the top opening is stretched taut to accommodate the top handle and the retractable trolley handle. suit up cuaycong 03

suit up cuaycong 04Picture 5 shows the top opening when the handles are hidden. You can’t access the trolley handle or the top handles easily.suit up cuaycong 05

Were it not for their excellent customer service, I would have demanded a refund right away. I was impressed at the speed they responded to questions, the courtesy they displayed through our email exchange, and their willingness to work out a solution with me. Customer service kindly offered me a replacement of size but did not promise a different pattern or shape configuration. I wanted to know if changing sizes would resolve the fit issues but they could not assure me of a definite answer.

On May 26, they asked that I return the cover so that they could repair it. I was only able to send it back on June 4 and true to form, they acknowledged receipt of my package and promised to “repair’ it. Seven days later, they sent me the tracking number to my repaired item, which I received on the 15th.

If I had held out hope the fit issues would be resolved to my satisfaction, I would have been doubly disappointed. They managed to trim the overhang but still failed to create a snug fitting cover. I took pictures to document the changes and as you can see, the fit does not look anything like the covers they had on their Facebook page.

The trolley handle was now easier to access-

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but the taut stretch of the fabric made the edges almost white, as if black was simply a dyed color. You could also see the seams stretched to its limits.

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The overhang was smaller but the folds were more apparent.

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Visually, it was not appealing to look at.

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I wrote them back again to reiterate my concerns and thank them again for their service. At that point so close to my trip, it was useless to keep sending back an item they couldn’t fix. Short of a changing their item pattern to perfect the product, I think Suit Up Philippines would do well to remove the sports trunk cover from their lineup. Aftersale support is well and good, but a good product will be able to stand on its own merits, even with just minimal customer service.

Also, after much thought, I went back to my LOQI covers for the trip to Japan just this end of June. I think I’ll stick to LOQI till I can find another brand that works just as well.

(At Narita Airport, June 30, 2016)LOQI covers

The Currency of Life

10 Jun

buddha kindnessIt was a few days before the deadline for graduation ball registration. I had been waiting for a particular person (not A♥, he is quick to remind me) to ask me to the final ball of our high school years. I was jittery and already a bit afraid that the call would never come but I had my heart set on that one boy. Just him. I crossed my fingers and waited.

Perhaps sensing the distress I was in, a friend came up to me and said “Hey, Pinks, I know how much going out with him means to you, but if he doesn’t ask you, I’m here. I’ll take you to the ball.” I hugged him awkwardly (back then, hugs were always awkward affairs) and thanked him profusely.

“No big deal,” he said. “That’s what friends do for friends.”

As it turns out, I finally got the call the night before the deadline and what I mistakenly thought as my dream-come-true did come to be. Still, in all these years, I have never forgotten the thoughtful words of that young man. Although he and I have gone on separate roads since then, his act of kindness remains undiminished in my memory.

The other night, A♥ and I went to say goodbye to him.

His was the third wake we have been to in as many weeks. The first was for my cousin, who passed away after a bout of illness. Then, early this week, we paid our respects to a friend’s beloved parent. On Wednesday night, we bade farewell to our Pisay batch mate and dear friend of our youth.

As we find ourselves going more to wakes and funerals of those we hold dear, we are changed by the knowledge that Time is no longer our friend. Life is short and each passing second draws us nearer our end. While we used to measure our lives by grades and achievements, by graduations and promotions, by the leaps and bounds of our youth, today we are suddenly more aware of the beats of our hearts and the breaths we take. For the first time in a really long while, we feel mortal.

But life, as they say, is a one-time offer. You can’t have it more than once. As such, we need to live and live well. To love and love fully. To make each second, each breath, each beat, count. And we need to live with kindness as the currency that drives our short lives. “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”* – it’s to live forever.

Judging from the testimonials on our friend’s Facebook wall, kindness was never in short supply in his life. He gave it away often and all too willingly.

Many years ago, I was one of the recipients of his gift. I only wish I got to say “Thank you” one last time.


*Hallowed Ground, Thomas Campbell

Point to Point and Getting You There on Time

25 May

In the last few months, amid the heat and tension of the electoral contests, I learned a lot of things about myself, the people I call my “friends,” and my country. The lessons I learned from this most recent election will need a separate post, meant for another day when I am least likely to give in to tears. But from today, I will try to look at my country with more forgiving eyes and write about something that works, be it an an idea or a service, to remind us that contrary to what we are constantly being told, we are headed towards the right direction. Progress may be slow, and it may not affect or benefit all of us at once, but as long as we continue to work together as brothers and sisters under one sun, there is hope for us yet. 

These days, I find myself giving up on city travel most of the time. Not even the enticement of a new movie and buffet dinner can budge me from the comfort and safety of our home. Gone are the the days when I would readily hop on a tricycle, hang on a jeepney, flag down a cab, or even squeeze myself with the teeming crowds in the MRT. At my age, I don’t feel like I have the stamina or the patience to bear with traffic and high people volume anymore. And so I am rarely out of the house, if I can help it. With my agoraphobia and claustrophobia in full gear, you can bet that you will find me at home 99 times out of a hundred.

Sometimes, however, you need to step out of your comfort zone to rediscover the world. One such opportunity came up a couple of months ago and I readily said yes, never mind that my anxieties over vehicles and traffic were at an all-time high. I rode with my husband in the morning, slogging through an hour and a half of slow moving traffic to get from Quezon City to Makati. At least my fears were temporarily quelled, with A♥ beside me. At the back of my mind, however, I knew I had to make the ride back home by myself, and this was a cause for worry. I had two choices: use Uber, which would be expensive but safe, or wait for A♥ to finish work and go home with him then, which would mean being away from Alphonse for almost a whole day.

Fortunately, Facebook came to the rescue. It was serendipitous that at 5am that same Monday morning, I found a shared article on the Point to Point Premium Bus on my newsfeed. It seemed like an answered prayer.

I convinced A♥ to let me try the bus. I knew he had reservations because I really don’t go anywhere without him, but Alphonse also needed me at home. For someone with little experience riding a public bus, I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing, a surprise in itself.  Thus, at 3:15pm, I found myself being dropped off at the P2P bus stop. I made it in time for the 3:30pm departure to Quezon City.

The P2P bus from Makati to QC is run by Froelich Tours on behalf of the Department of Transportation and Communivation (DOTC). Launched as an adjunct to transit services last December, it was meant to be a stop gap solution to the shortage of available  transportation experienced by the riding public every Christmas season. Operating on the framework of timed departures and arrivals at specific points, the P2P bus system is widely used in many countries all over the world. Within this same system, bus drivers are paid fixed wages instead of boundaries/quota and commission-based earnings.


I got the bus all to myself!

It took the bus I rode exactly 45 minutes to traverse the section of EDSA from the pick-up point  at Glorietta 5 to the drop-off  at TriNoma. The bus ride, while a bit jerky and bouncy –it’s a bus, really, what do I expect?– was uneventful and quiet. The driver, unlike other bus drivers in EDSA jockeying for position, was careful and did not weave in and out lanes, one of my biggest bus pet peeves. Inside, the bus was clean, swept, and odor-free, the seats were comfortable, and the upholstery was intact and new. Air conditioning worked well, with cold air blowing generously out of the vents unimpeded.

In the last two months, I’ve taken the P2P bus from Quezon City to Makati and vice versa many times. Not all the buses are the same, and some are clearly nicer than others, but for P55, it is definitely a good deal. I hope more people would patronize this service, even as it begins spreading out to other parts of the city. Imagine if ALL buses were point to point and on time, then, the riding public would have a reliable service at our disposal. Perhaps then, the MRT would be able to receive the rehabilitation it sorely needs, without crippling the whole city in its wake.

The following are the routes currently in operation. For more information (maps, fare matrix), please visit the DOTC website (link here).

Trinoma to Glorietta 5 (North EDSA to Makati)
Alabang Town Center to Greenbelt 1 (Ortigas to Makati)
SM North EDSA to SM Megamall (North EDSA to Ortigas)
Robinson’s Galleria to Park Square (Ortigas to Makati)