They are everywhere on the streets of Asian Cites.
They go by several names – tuk tuks, auto-rickshaw and bajaj to name a few. Assuredly noisy, sometimes reckless and frequently belching diesel fumes. These characteristics are common to the species no matter where they are found.
The minion like versions above are Delhi’s offering to the global species of mini-taxis and after a while I couldn’t help but wonder whether they provided the original inspiration for our one and two eyed friends. Hustling and bustling, offering services and solutions. Sounds familiar? In this location I observed whole families crammed in the backseat of these taxis often transported by drivers sitting with one leg neatly tucked underneath as they nimbly navigated crowded roads. It was fascinating to watch as I wondered how folks survived the noise of that little scooter engine that can only be compared to a lawnmower in your ear.
I then remembered that I used a Tuk Tuk in Bangkok, after which a Thai friend advised that I should not make the mistake again lest I be considered Low-so. The apparent opposite of High-So (high society), and NOT the look I should be aiming for. Apparently one should be beware of unintended messaging in foreign countries.
Perhaps this was confirmed by the Delhi driver who very aggressively offered me his services outside Khan Mall but was too afraid to drop me at my hotel and nicely requested if madam minded being dropped off outside the hotel gate at the curb. I found it a tad odd and only later did I internalize that perhaps the Tuk Tuk drivers recognized the Oberoi as too High-So to chug chug and pull up to.
Which made me reflect on my own Tuk Tuk use at home.
I must confess to having used them only once in my hometown of Nairobi in a time constrained desperate pre-Uber moment. Perhaps a once a more at the Kenya coast where it’s easier to hop on a Tuk Tuk to get to the restaurant rather than contemplate being trapped in a taxi which may not have air conditioning. But most of the time I’m that person trapped in my car in a traffic jam cursing at the Tuk Tuk driver or his relative the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) driver and never considering him as an option for transportation. Yet while in foreign country it becomes an amusing ‘must do’ experience as part of an immersion into local culture ….
I guess I’ll have to review all those other things that I do as a tourist under the banner of localized experiences and understand that the locals are not fooled by my attempts. To them I’m just apparently confirming my foreigner status.