Around four months ago, while killing time inside a bookstore, I saw this book and much as I’m embarrassed to admit, finally made my acquaintance with Paul Theroux.
The title was the one that lured me in. And the back cover copy finished me off: “Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia’s fabled trains—the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express—are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central…” A railway adventure if there ever was one.
Knowing there was a small probability I would get to ride the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian railway anytime soon (or pass through Teheran or Afghanistan), I was happy to immerse myself in Theroux’s railway journey, which was pretty easy to do with the way he describes particular incidents in the many trains he took, and the passengers he met. I know at this part I should be citing an example of such descriptive prowess, but I guess this isn’t a proper book review. Have to report though that I reluctantly finished it a few months ago, mainly because I didn’t want to end the vicarious pleasure of his long-distance railway travel.
Maybe it was reading all those narratives of railway travel that had me suggesting to a few friends to spend a Saturday in Manila and take the metro commuter of PNR (Philippine National Railway), the country’s railway company that’s been around since 1891.Covering over 4o kilometers, it spans Tutuban in Manila to Sta. Rosa in Laguna, passing through Makati, Paranaque, and Muntinlupa cities. (See stations and schedule)
Sure, it’s been neglected by the government from the 1970s to the 1990s (in favor of building more highways, which are now getting more congested), even allowing informal settlers to live beside the tracks. (And growing up, hearing tales of the settlers throwing certain ‘things’ on top of the train whenever it passed since they didn’t have any plumbing, certainly didn’t make the commute sound too appealing.) Only in the past decade has the railway company been seeing a move towards rehabilitation–newer trains, settlers relocated… there’s a reason to be optimistic. (Check their Facebook page for updates. And this blog for the actual PNR adventure.)
If all else fails, maybe the PNR can take inspiration from what this train station did that turned a town around.