I sat down to write about tuk tuks, but it’s not what I really have on my mind. It’s about to get a bit … umm… introspective? preachy?… in here for a minute. Consider yourself forewarned. I’ll post a bunch of pictures at the end, though, so you don’t feel misled by the title. I’ll start with tuk tuks, though…
I mean, it’s really still sort of about tuk tuks, but it’s mostly about being an outsider. And being an outsider is both a blessing and a curse of travel. While it’s the only way to experience things very different than what you’re used to experiencing, it also keeps some doors closed and opens some so widely that you wish they’d slam the hell shut.
Like the open door for tuk tuk drivers on street corners waving from an entire block away and yelling, “Tuk tuk, madame?!” I get it. It’s these guys’ way to make a living (and, yes, they’re almost all guys. i’ve seen one woman tuk tuk driver so far), so it makes sense for them to hawk their wares as assertively as possible. But when it happens literally over a hundred times a day when you walk places, you get tired of saying “no” (or “aw-tay”) with a smile that many times.
The other day, I walked out of a mall (another whole topic I could write about, given my love for malls in general – what a place!) in the drizzle, and it was like a swarm of bees with all the tuk tuk drivers when I approached the street. Umbrella up, head down. I powered the length of the block where they were all parked. Was I tired? Fed up? Hangry? I don’t know. But something got the better of me, and I found myself feeling frustrated and angry with these people who are just trying to make a living.
It was interesting to watch myself go from several weeks ago finding the interactions positive and engaging, to finding it all tiring and infuriating. It just begins to wear on a person.
And here we go… (Qualifier, because that’s how I roll: these are incomplete thoughts, spurting from my fingertips. If something strikes you as “off,” as ignorant, as disrespectful, please make a comment so we can have a discussion about it.)
Travel recalibrates my mind in so many ways. Today I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born into a situation that makes me not have to think about how to fit in unless I choose to be in that situation. Now, I understand that my experience here is NOTHING like the things people encounter in the United States when they are viewed as outsiders. Or anywhere else where outsider status arbitrarily equates to less-than status. I would never even consider to compare this to the systemic issues that exist (except, i get that i am comparing by even writing this), but it’s good for me to experience this tiny glimmer of what it feels like to consistently be seen as an outsider and treated differently because of that. I am SO. DAMN. LUCKY. to be able to say that I’m an outsider incredibly rarely, that sometimes my outsider status as a rich white American girl is a positive thing, and that I typically only experience any bit of discomfort when I choose to put myself in those situations. I mean, really? How much more ridiculously privileged can you get that, to feel even any surface removal of privilege, you pay for an expensive plane ticket and jet off to the other side of the world?
There are people in my own town at home who experience the negative sides of this type of thing every day, only magnified a quadragazillion times. And not in worst-case terms of getting ripped off by having to pay an extra $1 for produce in the market, or being mildly harassed by tuk tuk drivers, but in terms of getting into life-and-death situations. Literally. Life and death.
So, now, every time I’m greeted with, “Tuk tuk, madame?” even if said in a more-aggressive-than-assertive way (which, honestly, is quite rare), I smile openly, say “aw-tay,” silently wish them well, and send a message of gratitude to the universe for this being the extent of the annoyance I endure as a rich white girl in the world.
Charmed life example #1.
And now, the promised pictures in a series I’ve entitled “Town by Tuk Tuk,” or, “Back of Tuk Tuk Drivers’ Heads,” or “Tuk Tuk, Madame!” or “There’s One with a Dog on the Back of a Moto.”