Stickman Readers' Submissions October 6th, 2002

Tuktuk Or Taxi

By Dom

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“Tuktuk or Taxi ?” It sounds like one those truth or dare questions doesn’t it? Life’s never easy at the best of times and people are often faced with moral and personal dilemmas.

Every day we’re faced with puzzles to solve like “Skimmed or Full Cream?”, “Organic or GM?”, “Pub or gym?”, “Regular or bit on the side?”, “Charity box or ciggies?”, “Takeaway or home cooked”, “Fried or Grilled?”.

It’s a constant battle of ethics.

Every now and then I get these spiritual urges and they can vary in length and degree. When I spawned an interest in Buddhist philosophy some fifteen years ago I started to look at the world in a different light.

I don’t proclaim myself as an authority on Buddhist matters, or wish to preach, but Buddha does speak a lot of truth. His first ever sermon, and I don’t believe in coincidences was entitled “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth”.

As a layman my simple interpretation of the Lord Buddha’s teaching, is he aims to end suffering or “Dukkha” which is caused by “Tanha” or temptation. In order to prevent Dukkha, we must avoid Tanha and enrol on the Noble Eightfold Path.

I hope people don’t take offence at me having abridged the world’s nicest religion to six lines, but that’s really what it’s all about. The Noble Eightfold Path is a way of life that people adhere to, in which they try to do as little harm as possible to themselves and the environment, and thus reducing the suffering endured by themselves and others.

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If I abbreviate the Noble Eightfold Path to “NEP” it’ll make my writing easier, although I’d be careful about using the phrase if you’re having a natter with a Bangkok monk.

True conscripts to the NEP avoid anything that a tortured soul like myself would see as “fun” and regard it as “Tanha” i.e., Marlborough Lights, Carlsberg, Singha, Mekong, Steak Pie and Chips and discussing the size of that young Swede's breasts, because it leads to “Dukkha” or suffering, i.e. sore throat and bad breath, hangover, worse hangover, schizophrenia, obesity and a black eye off her boyfriend.

If an individual wishes to end their suffering and follow the NEP, they must make sacrifices, which appear to be sufferings (i.e. give up the booze and fags) to actually reduce the long term suffering.

Now the above examples are pretty obvious cases of Tanha and Dukkha, but among highly ranked monks the debate as to the more “disputed” forms of Tanha and Dukkha has been as long and undulating as the road from Wat Po to Angkor Wat.

For example, and this is true it has long been a moot point among Buddhist factions as to weather cleaning ones bathroom with bleach makes us part of the “NEP” because it removes the chance of infection, or whether it is actually a subtle form of Tanha, because it tortures the souls of the poor bacteria we eradicate in the process.

I can already see you scratching your heads and asking “What the f### has all this got to with tuktuks and taxis”.

As a famous Belgian once said, “Soon my Dear Hastings all will be revealed.” In simple terms the answer as to whether to “tuktuk or taxi” is down to the individuals own personal belief. Which of course you can decide on, but let me help lay out a few facts which might help you decide. Anecdotes often make things easier to grasp.

On one of my recent trips to Thailand (I try, cash permitting, to get there twice a year) I was talking to a couple of guys who’d graduated from some University in California (I think it was the one where they discovered LSD) and they were doing their bit for international relations by getting on a plane to Bangkok and fraternising with as many different nationalities as possible, whilst underpinning the local economy by liquidising their assets (much to the delight of the Boon Rawd Distillery).

After the introductions were made, the two guys explained that they’d passed with flying colours and were starting off their PhD. One guy was interested in mechanical engineering and had scribbled some notes, which he read out to me as being the basis of his doctoral research and it read as follows, “Vehicularisation in Asia. The Tuk Tuk………The tuk tuk embodies a number of innovative design features, which combine the comfort and safety of a motorbike, with the manoeuvrability of a Winnebago….”

I think it had been a long journey and he also mentioned something about his girlfriend and the baseball team.

The other guys’ interests lay in the field of Human Anthropology and Genetics and he mentioned something about having observed traits in tuktuk drivers that were alarming in their similarity to Japanese Kamikaze Pilots and Charles Manson’s band of suicidal evangelists.

Although these guy’s were a little cynical in their outlook I enjoyed a drink with them (two bottles of Mekong and a lot of Chang) they headed, cursing out into the street and into the path of a tuktuk with an urgent delivery, tripped and came within an inch of the “Wheel of Truth” and I sat in my chair and watched, as the driver wrestled with his “Tanha” as to whether or not he should give them some first class data for a couple of research programmes entitled “High momentum impact effects of the motorised trishaw on the human body” and “Healthcare in South East Asia”.

After they got up and staggered into the darkness, I got in an aircon meter taxi, muttered NEP and woke up with a whole load of Dukkha.

The history of the tuktuk, is an interesting one. It’s believed that it’s predecessor the rickshaw, was introduced to Thailand by a Chinese resident in 1871, but was banned in 1901, because of the traffic chaos it caused. By 1950 the bicycle powered version or Samlor underwent a similar restrictive edict and today we are furnished with one of Bangkok’s most congenial features, the ubiquitous tuk tuk.

You can describe them a lot of ways. The first time I saw one I likened it to a "scooter / shopping trolley combination” or a “motorbike with a misplaced sidecar”. It’s a three wheeled thing with a double seat at the back and a tarpaulin roof.

The guys at “TukTukThailand” on Rama IX, who I believe manufacture and sell them, may not thank me for my lighthearted observations, but their website gives out a lot of useful information on these machines.

They operate on 250 – 660 cc 2 stroke engines which can easily be converted to LPG thus reducing the environmental harm they do and come in a number of different models, including the “Classic”, “Classic X”, “Grand” or “Sporty” models.

As a first time visitor I was quiet taken with their whimsical appearance and romantic charm, then I got in one with my travelling mate.

At first it was great and I smiled with glee as we cornered at high speed and the wind rushed through my hair. I likened it to the rickety old roller coasters my dad took me on as a kid, which made me squeal with delight and him turn green. It was like the first time I went on the “Revolution” at Blackpool, the first ride in Britain to do a three sixty degree loop, I was young and care free again and the stress of my office job seemed to wash away into the back of my mind. Then I realised that there was no safety harness. “OK” I told myself, I’ve lead an honest life and if we die I’m sure to go to heaven. I did my best to recite the “Hail Mary” although it had been a while since I’d called upon the Mother of Christ for assistance.

Then my mate, who had mechanical inclinations, told me that the bearings on the axle sounded “Fucked” to use the slang of the trade.

To compound matters we hit traffic, and the driver didn’t ease the throttle. I think he was using some sort of Zen technique to guide him through the traffic or maybe he was a Luke Skywalker fan and was “using the force”. Anyway using powers that would put Uri Gella to shame, he steered us through grid locked traffic, while lighting a cigarette and showing us some promotional literature for a “Stress Management Centre”.

We stopped at our destination. I asked if he could recommend a dry cleaners’.

For the remainder of our trip we used tuk tuks and were proud of how we negotiated the prices down. Until someone explained to me that using a “taxi meter” is actually cheaper and safer and they have air conditioning.

Nowadays when I visit Thailand, and those who prefer to feel the “Ethnic Soul” of country will hate me for this, I use the cabs.

It sounds like I’m giving tuktuks a rough ride and I really don’t mean to, but because of their quaint charm people often feel that they’re quaint and charming. In reality, the drivers can quiet often be scam merchants who get petrol coupons in commission for dropping you at fashion or gem stores, or they try and overcharge you.

In all honesty there are a few tricks to getting the best out of them and I ain’t a guru on Siam, so you’ll forgive me if the odd rogue slips through the net, but a few hints worth remembering are likely to give you a safer trip. Try and avoid tuktuks who actually tout you, these are the guys on commission. The older tuktuk drivers are usually less psychotic and have managed to reach maturity through safe driving. Agree the price before you get onboard. Speaking a little bit of Thai (even a couple of phrases from the guide book) makes you less susceptible to a sales pitch or rip off. There is a very useful phrase when you ride in one “Cha Cha” it means slowly, or “Mai Rieu Rieu” it means not too fast. Try and smile at the driver when you get in and if unless you like breakneck speeds, avoid the ones with an array of lights above the cab, these are the “Sporty” versions and the driver is more likely to have “boy racer” tendencies.

Tuktuks can weave in and out of traffic if you’re in a rush. Taxis are aircon and closed to pollution. Tuktuks are sometimes a bit scary but an essential part of your trip. Taxis pollute more. Tuktuks are a little more eco friendly. The other options are walking, motorbike taxis (only of the suicidal). Like I said earlier, “Tanha”, “Dukkha” “NEP” as they say in Thailand, “Up to you”.

Stickman says:

Occasionally fun when friends are in town, most of the time I stick to taxis.

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