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Tuk-Tuk Negotiations

The tuk-tuk driver spots me, makes a U-turn into oncoming traffic, bumps up onto the sidewalk. “Where you go?” Not far. “Dawp dollar!” He quotes $10 ‘tho we both know it’s a $2 ride. I do the no thanks hand wave, “Atay” walk away slowly, like it doesn’t matter. He acts wounded, pinches his eyebrows together. “Okay, okay,” points to the back seat of cracked Naugahyde, tatty pink satin curtains covering a metal grate designed to thwart professional drive-by purse-snatchers. “Let go.” I know he means “let’s go” but take him at his word and try my best to let go.

He suits up: pink motorcycle helmet, blue paper pollution mask. Beep beeps his way through impossible knot of Phnom Penh traffic. Sometimes it’s around the pagoda and down a side street. Other times he’ll circle the Monument weave through oncoming traffic like he’s skating on ice. He knows how close he can squeeze in between a torry and a taxi, how fast to take a tight corner in a U-turn. If there are no vendors in the way, we’ll limp along, one wheel on the sidewalk, one on the road. When he sees an opening he takes it. A plush monkey grins from the rafters.

This is just Part One of getting to my site from Phnom Penh. The tuk-tuk driver drops me off at a big open market where lan taxis (cars) and torries (vans) lurk hoping for one more passenger to stuff into their vehicles. The taxis are $4, twice as much as the torries, but after the last ride with 24 passengers, plus a box of fish, I’m taking a taxi.

This morning’s taxi ride coming from my site to Phnom Penh was pretty typical. Two drivers got into a fight over who had the right to my escort me. Once they sorted that out, the bigger guy tells me it’s dawp dollar, so I give him the no thanks wave and choose the other guy. We get into a beige Toyota Camry. (It’s ways a Toyota.) The AC is going. Not bad. We head the opposite direction of the city follow a guy on a motorcycle down a narrow dirt road to pick up a grandma and daughter. Three in the back and two in front. Cozy. The driver turns off the AC and opens the windows. My understanding of Khmer is getting better, I hear the grandma say, “The barang (foreigner) is going to get hot”—like the rest of them won’t feel the heat. I think we are ready to roll, but no, we pick up two more guys. Now four in the back, three in the front, and the driver is still trawling for passengers on our way out of town.

Once on the road, the driver flies out of town like a bat out of a cave at sunset. They all do. He favors the laying-on-of-horn navigation method, particularly when entering a town. He doesn’t slow down, just honks frantically. The two-lane highway becomes four-and-five-lanes at times. We pass on the right, on bridges; we do not stop at railroad crossings. We weave and dodge and somehow make it to our destination where the drivers are waiting for tuk-tuk negotiations to begin again.

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