“40 baht for one hour,” the tuk tuk driver shouts at me from across the road in the burning heat of Bangkok. “Happy hour, I’ll take you around the city for 40 baht,” he repeats. I do a quick calculation and realize it’s only $2.
“40 Baht,” I ask. “Yes,” he says as he draws it with his finger on the palm of his hand. He knows I’m skeptical and is quick to smile. Exposing his broken and stained teeth he says, “You like, you give me a tip.”
I like this man already and think what a smart strategy.
We get talking over the din of the traffic as I suck in Bangkok’s fumes making me feel light-headed.
Meng tell me he is 52 years old and has lived in Bangkok all his life. He is not sure how his surname is spelt in English as he only speaks the language.
Driving tuk tuk’s for 24 years, Meng still rents his tuk tuk as he cannot save the $3,000 NZD to buy one. With gasoline, his tuk tuk costs him a little over 8,500 baht a month ($430 NZD).
He also rents his home, one room, three by four meters, enough for two mattresses with no kitchen and no bathroom. He shares it with his 24-year-old son who’s at university. This costs 2,700 baht a month. ($110 NZD).
On a good day Meng tells me he makes 500 baht, ($20 NZD) and works seven-day a week, 14 hours a day. His monthly income is $560 NZD. With his tuk tuk expenses and room rent there is little left.
Meng can make extra money by taking passenger to certain jewellery and handicraft stores where he’ll get a small commission paid in gasoline vouchers. He does not pay taxes and there is no superannuation so his hope of retiring is a distant dream.
We visit a temple and I ask Meng if he has ever been a monk as they are revered in the Thai society. Life after death is better if you have taken time out to pray. He proudly takes his cap off and shows me his short hair sprouting back.
On a piece of paper he writes the numbers 1-12 and circles 8, 9 and 10. I realize he is showing me he was a monk from August through October and has only just come back to driving his tuk tuk. I didn’t ask him what made him do this, but he was forthcoming telling me his mother had cancer and he wanted to pray for her. He pats his stomach and says, “Eat only once a day and no talking, not good. Lose seven kilograms.” We both laugh. Living as a monk Meng’s food and living expenses are taken care of.
We continue on our tour of Bangkok and I realize we have been circling the city for nearly two hours. Meng is a little agitated and I am aware we have not discussed the fare since we started the city tour.
We reach our destination and I shake Meng’s hand. Touring with Meng has been a highlight in this crazy city. I pay Meng and he is ecstatic. His strategy has worked a miracle and hopefully it might help his dream of retirement come closer.