Opinion Opinion Feature

Stand on the right, walk on the left

My family went to Tokyo, Japan for the holidays, and one of the most striking things I noticed during my stay there was the way the Japanese daily commute looked like, something I got to observe as we used the subway to get around the city. 

Whenever a train would pull into the subway station, the lines of people waiting to hop on would wait respectfully at the sides of the doors for all those alighting to step off the train before getting on themselves, and there was very little pushing and shoving, even for rush hour crowds. Meanwhile, escalator lines were neat and organized, with those standing waiting on one side to allow those hurriedly walking up and down the freedom of the other side. This was the case, not only in the subway station, but in escalators around malls and other areas as well.

Suffice it to say that I found these sights rather surprising, and maybe even impressive; I had gotten used to seeing commuters cut lines at every opportunity, after all, so such practices of etiquette were a stark contrast to what I expected. But what does this say about our country, then, where every train that pulls into the station constitutes a shoving battle between those getting on and those getting off, and where we have difficulty following simple rules and guidelines?

SM malls recently launched an ‘escalator etiquette’ campaign by putting up new signs and guidelines that advised mallgoers to ‘stand on the right’ and ‘walk on the left’ when using the escalators, emulating the custom followed in Japan and other countries. The decision is laudable, with SM promoting discipline and order by encouraging Filipinos to follow this very simple and effortless, yet effective practice. However, during my last trip to the mall, I could not help but notice that several of the mallgoers still seemed to ignore these signs and guidelines. The fact that Filipinos have a hard time following such simple rules is just one example out of many of the entire country’s lack of discipline.

To be utterly fair, I realize that one of the reasons the Japanese can afford to be so disciplined in their commute is because their trains are punctual and less crowded, their lines are shorter, and their stations are better maintained. In this regard, I do not blame the Filipino people for being impatient or frustrated during their daily commute. At the same time, the campaign launched by SM is still fairly new, and it stands to reason that several people simply do not notice these signs, or are not yet used to these rules and simply forget them.

However, late trains and crowded stations are still not an excuse to cut and shove through lines, and people should learn to be aware of escalator etiquette, especially when the guidelines are posted along the escalators themselves. At the end of the day, it does not hurt to make an effort to maintain and practice these rules, especially when the country as a whole is calling for more discipline. 

The Philippines elected President Rodrigo Duterte partially because it believed it needed his iron fist to instil discipline into the Filipino people, and whether you agree with Duterte’s methods or not, it is true that the country lacks order in so many areas. It becomes frustrating, then, that the same people who thought a Duterte presidency necessary to correct the country cannot abide by simple escalator guidelines.

Thus, it is my hope that over 2017, Filipinos as a whole can buy in to small, simple rules like these. Because while these guidelines may mean little in the grand scheme of things, they can still be one example of our country learning to exercise more order and organisation in our daily lives.

At the very least, the next time you find yourself shopping in an SM mall, or going up or down any escalator for that matter, have the discipline to stand on the right and walk on the left.


Wilhelm Tan

By Wilhelm Tan

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