My Evening Together With A Tuktuk Driver
About mid 1990 I spent the first part of the evening at a place called the Saxophone Club up near Victory Monument. No idea if it still operates today <Still in business at the same spot – Stick> but then the venue was a marvellous place for local and falang R & B as well as some jazz musos.
I’d planned to hook-up with a local buddy of mine and after a few hours I decided time to look in other pastures as the Thai friend just happened also to be a plain-clothes-officer (Narcotics Control Board, no less) and a gent who possibly would not have appreciated my love of what I considered to be scintillating company. Not to mention his habit of gleefully flashing his badge at anybody who came near me including the mamasan of my guesthouse one evening (must have scared the wits out of her…). Perhaps (?) his way of showing his concern (?) for my welfare in Krung-thep; I was only a fresh twenty-something then. A single bloke, a bit green but sure got on well with the working girls – most of them would have been older than I was at that stage of my life.
About 01:30 a.m. (after bottomless free drinks) I bid my mate farewell and out onto the flooded footpath – it had been raining a treat – and jumped into a parked tuk-tuk. My Thai was very limited but after a bit of negotiation he agreed to get me down to the Ma-lai, the Malaysia Coffee Shop which was the best after-hours constellation of its day, quite a scene after the Patpong bars closed. Still a few years before the Malaysia / Soi Ngam Duphli was to become a gay area and used to have awesome pick-up potential.
The journey started out and the driver negotiated the treacherous streets and alleys, all of which were heavily flooded. After about forty minutes of chugging through the lakes and puddles (at a walking pace) the saam-lor conked out, a not unexpected outcome. It was just the two of us in some part of the city I would have no idea how to find, an area of shop fronts, soi dogs, some stragglers and a lot of water. It was then I told the driver – “…no problem, you steer, I push…” – which kept us busy for another hour at which time I was utterly exhausted. We struggled to get the hapless machine up onto a footpath and under shelter.
Thankfully out of the monsoonal downpour we were stranded. I then had the bright idea – I would repair the saam-lor and get him operating; the driver chuckled at me and must’ve thought I was nuts… But when you’re young you can do anything, right?
I loved the mentality of “can-do” one encounters in Asia – others will certainly disagree – but I always found where there was a will there was a way. Even Vegemite, Kellogs Cornflakes and Ektachrome 400 could be had if you looked hard enough, but this was 1990. Possibly changed a bit now.
A foray around the grates and grills of the shop fronts and a Thai employee was soon to be espied asleep on a bunk bed under a roaring fan. We banged on the grate. I required a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, some rubber bands, batteries for the driver’s flashlight, some WD-40 and two tallies of Amarit Beer (do they still brew this stuff??).
No WD-40 so some tissues would have to do.
Then down to work on the tuk-tuk. It was actually his vehicle which he tried to explain he was purchasing on agreement from some “controller”, hence he seemed happy enough I had a fiddle with it. Naturally I took great care – if I broke or cut something I knew I would be paying for repairs and goodness knows what else…These are a Daihatsu water cooled two-smoker which runs on LPG, not unlike the old Suzuki 750 water-bus. Go like the blazes but prone to ignition problems in the wet.
Fuelled by the cold beer, our work area illuminated by the driver’s flashlight, we lifted the cowling and got to work on the machine. The trick was to locate the high-tension-leads which exited the contact-breakers and get the whole device as dry as possible. Then the rubber glove was to be prepared in such a way that it could slip over the tension leads as tightly as possible and fastened with rubber bands over the contact breaker set-up in order to protect the device from moisture, thus giving a good spark. The rubber glove trick I had learnt from some guys down in Adelaide who used to race the little Morris Cooper “S” and I figured the same trick just may work with the Daihatsu.
Piece of cake – don’t think so… This went on until the dawn broke around grey skies and we eventually got everything back together. After numerous attempts and several hours of trial and error, this time the engine KICKED. It really roared into life with gusto like I’ve not seen – could have used the machine in a James Bond film. The thrilled driver then circled the machine in and out of the flooded street, pulling doughnuts, hurling water everywhere and giving it a test run like a kid with a new toy. He insisted he was not accepting money from me however I insisted in giving him something – about 50 baht I think. I told him he should take off and use his new “submarine” tuk-tuk, after all I just wanted to get back to my room and I figured it best to part ways then and there – just in case it stopped somewhere else.
I imagine in this day and age the problem we encountered has long since been sorted but I do wonder if his vehicle kept on going through rain and shine. I still have a fondness for riding in the occasional tuk-tuk even though public transport in Bangkok is so much more comprehensive now.
And finally – I would not recommend any reader try the same. Unless you know absolutely what you’re doing.
Very funny indeed. It reminds me a of a mate of mine who went to Bali in the rainy season. The taxi broke down and as he tells the story, he ended up pushing it down a road with the driver in knee deep filthy water!