Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuk-tuk life

From Cambodia Pocket Guide site an extensive interview with a tuk-tuk driver:

Tuk-tuk Sir?

2/12/2007 11:14:26 PM

When you want one they’re never around, but try going for a walk and they come out in swarms!

They’re keen and eager to please for an amount that to us is loose change, and this enthusiasm is what can fuel the often tense relationship between tourists and tuk-tuk drivers. But the life of a tuk-tuk driver is not all shouting at tourists and roadside gambling. We interviewed a random driver, Mr Oeum Phalla, to find out more.

'How did you become a tuk-tuk driver?'

'I worked as a car driver for an NGO. When my contract finished I couldn’t find another job so I bought my tuk-tuk with the money from my payout.'

'What's your average day like?'

'All the popular tourist places have a team of drivers. My area is near my house at the front of The Shop on Street 240. I usually start work at 7am and finish about 8 or 9pm everyday. I don’t take holidays. I always make at least $5 per day. Sometimes up to $10. My best day I made almost $30. Other drivers don’t make as much because they can’t speak English. I like to study when I have no customers so now I can speak Thai and I have begun to learn Chinese. I like driving a tuk-tuk because it is an easy job. I don’t need to work hard, I just drive around and it’s good money.'
'What are your favourite customer pick-up lines?'

'The usual things but I never ask more than once or twice. I don’t like to make them disturbed. The best thing is to always be friendly and smiling. I have regular customers that often call me because when I first met them I was friendly so they keep calling. Right on cue, Phalla gets a call from one of these regular customers so our interview continues on the move. We joined regular client Maria and her visiting mother Jorun on their way to Russian market. Leaning over the tuk-tuk I asked Phalla as he drove what they really say about us in Khmer as we walk past. He tried to tell me they rarely comment on tourists [yeah, sure!]'

'Are tourists easy to get along with?'

'Most are good, funny and friendly but some are crazy and sometimes they smell, but I can’t complain because some tuk-tuk and moto drivers smell too.'

'Do customers ever get angry about prices?'

'Yes, a lot. Sometimes I am angry with them, and sometimes they are angry with me. I am afraid when a customer doesn’t ask a price first. I don’t cheat anybody. I always give a good price but sometimes they want prices that are too low. One guy the other day didn’t ask a price to Russian market. The correct price is $1.50 or $2.When we got there I told him $1.50 but he wanted to pay only $1. He got so angry he threw $1 at me and walked away. The biggest problem is the guidebooks, many of which checked the prices in 2001 but never checked or changed their prices again. In 2001 petrol was R2500 but now it is R4000. People read the books and believe them so now we cannot get a higher price even though it costs us more to drive them.'

So the life of a tuk-tuk driver really is as boring as it seems. Next time you take a tuk tuk have a chat and a laugh and liven up his day. Oh and always agree on a price first!

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