Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I have a professional meeting scheduled at 5 pm. I have been looking forward to this meeting for weeks now and don’t want to ruin it by reaching late. But as my luck would have it, we are delayed in class and that results in me losing 15 minutes (never before but today- Murphy’s law in action!). Nevertheless, I charge out determined to take a taxi. Have all the instructions written down, know how much I should pay the taxi driver- my constant fear of not wanting to be duped (third world woman mentality). However, as I dash out of the main gate of Chula, I realise I never inquired into which side of the University am I supposed to head out from? Well, anyway I start to hail cabs but none stop. What? No one warned me about the possibility of not getting one, so much for being prepared.
I begin to panic and start walking towards the main intersection (only to realise later that it was the opposite direction). A cab stops and demands 400 baht…what are u kidding me…ok so I may look like a tourist but hello I know the rates and I am from India for heavens sake! I tell him to go away…second cab stops and he demands 200 baht….ok not so bad considering the rates are reducing now but I still negotiate. I tell him it’s too much for a distance that is supposed to cost me only 60 baht. God knows why am I convinced that I will soon get a cab that will go by a functioning meter. Yes, I would have if I had left at 3.30 pm instead of 4.15pm. Alas! None turns up, all are taken and I am down 15 minutes more. My watch shows 4.30 pm….ok so what the hell I will take a Tuk Tuk.
Surprisingly, I have never hired an auto rickshaw to attend any meeting (official or informal) in Delhi. It’s not the thing to do. One arrives dirty and grimy and stinking and my hair inevitably looks like a birds nest. Ok so all these thoughts and reservations apart, what are my options- I hop onto a Tuk Tuk and the driver readily agrees for 100 baht! There! The feeling of someone capitalizing on my desperate situation comes back.
Anyway as we whiz by, I do manage to communicate through theatrical attempts that I have to reach my destination by 5pm! I take a deep breadth and am about to burst into ‘ what will be will be’ when I notice, that my Tuk Tuk driver is behaving like he is on steroids- he is racing like a maniac, driving through the narrow spaces between cars, beating the long queues of traffic jams on the way and navigating his way through! Voah! I realise that he has taken it on himself to get me to my meeting on time. Bless him. And interestingly all this madness also seems to have some method. He doesn’t obstruct any vehicle on the way, never acting out of turn and going all about it in a methodical way. Thank God for small mercies! I took a Tuk Tuk, I shout in glee. A cab would never have been able to go through the rush hour. Whatever happens, happens for the best, I gloat, suddenly having full faith in this old Indian idiom.
But most of all, I am touched by the immediate connection and bond that I have developed with this toothless stranger who doesn’t speak ‘my language’. Who said language was a means of communication- lately it has only been cropping up as a barrier between the Thai locals and me. Not surprising then, that I connect with this local Tuk Tuk driver not through a language. We don’t understand each other’s words but we do understand each other’s actions and each other’s urgency. As if all this was not enough my new saviour suddenly pulls out an English map and starts pointing to my destination. He is now worried that I will not be able to make it by 5pm and urges me to hop on to one of the motorcycle taxis standing alongside. What? Really? No I don’t want to go with them. I feel safer with this nameless and unrelated individual. Its okay, I tell him, don’t worry I will get there a bit late.
Suddenly good fortune shines on me and we get a series of green signals. Voila! I make it to the building by 4.59 pm. I quickly pay him and repeat Khop Khun Kha several times; truly believing as if the innumerable times I repeat it, it will convey the deep gratitude that I feel for him. But that’s not enough. He patiently waits for me to go in just in case I am in the wrong place. I feel touched, honoured and truly lucky.
What a ride, what a journey I mull as I charge up the stairs for my appointment. I believe that humans across geographies have the same inherent potential of compassion and concern. That we don’t need to speak each other’s language, belong to the same country, have the same history or be related to each other to express care and concern and live an experience together.
Is my faith in humanity restored…well actually it was never lost; it was just eroding with time making me cynical and skeptical. Why was I so certain that going by a Tuk Tuk is not the appropriate way to get to a formal meeting, why was I so convinced that Tuk Tuk drivers rip you off (not taxis?), that Tuk Tuks are meant only for tourists, why did I presume that I would be more safer and quicker in a taxi knowing full well that the traffic in Bangkok during evenings can be a killer. All my opinions about Tuk Tuks were based on what I had heard from others and read from tourist guidebooks. Had it not been for today’s riveting experience, I would have continued to believe in the single story of ‘Tuk Tuks are for touristy rides and the drivers fleece you’.
I am glad, I shall leave Bangkok with my own story about Tuk Tuks and their awesome drivers who don’t fleece you but ensure that they drop you to your destination on time.
After the successful meeting, when I walked out of the building, the guard pointed me to a row of standing taxis with meters. I walked in the opposite direction and hailed a Tuk Tuk back home.
Ruchika Bahl, India
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2013 session