Jeepney! Almighty Jeepney!
Everyone's symbol of the Philippines, everyone's adjective. It's impossible to explain a jeepney--you have to see one. But once you've seen one, all you need to say is "jeepney" for the full force of its symbolism--its representativeness, its jumble and joy and color--to infect whatever word you're modifying.
The word itself contracts "Jeep" and "Jitney," the latter a form of share taxi found in the US and Canada in the early 20th Century.
Where did it come from?
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It's also impossible not to fall in love with jeepneys. I did, my first hour in Manila--exhausted from a 16-hour flight and 13-hour jetlag, inside an air-conditioned taxi trying to muscle its way through morning rush hour to our accommodations--when the rising sun picked out the brightest things on an already colorful landscape, and all the things that people had tried to tell me about jeepneys before burst visually into my consciousness like ripe coconuts onto my hard, hard head.
The brightest things were moving targets full of people and I didn't manage to take a single picture that time, nor did I manage it for the rest of my trip in Manila, despite repeated attempts. My only halfway decent jeepney pictures are from the inside of one Zak took me on to get, in a roundabout way, to the Manalos' store.
It seems almost silly to point out the Filipino-representative nature of jeepneys; it's so overstated already. But do you notice something about all these youtube videos?
Yeah, they're all made by Ams of the non-Fil variety, or other flavors of white tourist. (Let's count me among them, since in the Philippines, I'm white. That's, after all, what counted to the Filipino strangers I encountered: the American, the money, and the white. Oh, and apparently I'm white because of the loves and enthusiasms the Philippines awakened in me. Jeepney! O, Jeepney!)
Filipinos I met didn't talk about jeepneys amongst themselves, and were almost reluctant to answer my questions. A cliché? A stereotype? Fil Ams were equally reticent, and undelighted. Used to it? The only Filipino youtube videos with the word "jeepney" in them were the excessively posted video of a band called "Sponge Cola," (?) who had an apparent hit with their song "Jeepney." There aren't any jeepneys in the video, but I have no idea if the song deals with jeepneys. (Well, there were also the inevitable personal videos made by Sponge Cola fans using photos of self and drawings of unicorns against the backdrop of the jeepney song.)
But Americans? A post-modern, transportative, artisan-fact like a jeepney is almost calculated to make GenX travelsters wet their shorts with cum-to-Jesus. Love. LOVE! How it bleeds American pop through its chrome skin! How it bedecks, deflowers, beflowers a supra-militarized past by dragging it into a dingy military relic! How it pollutes the air (you can hardly ride one for the fumes!)! The names of the jeepneys! They all have names! Love! How unselfconscious! Just like the na-ked-tives in National Geographic! We love that shit!
And the Catholicism of the jeepneys! They're so Catholic! With their virgin statues, and saintly names, and sometimes near-evangelical airbrushed Jesus. We love the Catholic in the foreign, since the US is so fundamentally post-Catholic, post-joy, post-passion, and post-tack. It makes the Philippines almost look like those weekends in TJ, or spring break in Cabo! Only better, because, without the frat boys (much)!
And, naturally, jeepneys can also be rolling carnivals of affect, being evidence both of poverty and pluck. Although an American would never decorate a moving vehicle thus without a guarantee of praise, attention, gallery space, and the possibility of grant monies, we can appreciate the sheer cultural wastage of decorating 200,000 + vehicles to be used purely for public transport, particularly if said vehicle is a microenterprise run by an undereducated family that barely speaks English.
Okay, I'm being a bitch. Truth be told, I'm annoyed that it turns out I'm a cliché of an American tourist, so in love with the Jeepney, the Jeepney, o!
But so be it! Let this rhythm of searched-for youtube videos be my love song to the Jeepney, the lovely Jeepney, the ironic Jeepney, the joyful Jeepney, the mortal Jeepney. May it live forever!