Monday, March 2, 2015

THE PRICE IS RIGHT


An empty tuk tuk waiting to lure me in

The tuk tuk. It was the single most anxiety-inducing aspect of my trip to Cambodia. If you have already seen our blog post of the time lapse video of one of our tuk tuk rides, you’re probably thinking you know why I was terrified of tuk tuks. You’re probably wrong.

There are lots of reasons why someone might have tuk tuk anxiety (all of the following happened to us at least once):
  • Your driver sometimes pulls into oncoming traffic.
  • Your driver sometimes takes you to his house because he needs to change clothes.
  • Your driver sometimes drops you off a decent ways away from where you asked him to and tells you, “It’s good for you to walk.”

This is our tuk tuk driver's house. We waited outside while he changed shirts inside. We did not know until we arrived that he was taking us here first.


All of these things made getting a ride across town stressful, but I could handle them. The real problem for me was something that seemed so simple: haggling for prices.

There are few set prices in Cambodia; from the market to the tuk tuk, most prices are negotiated. Some people find this invigorating. They love the thrill of the chase and the feeling of triumph when they get a good deal. I am not one of those people.

Sometimes I just want to pay and be done with it (which the vendors and drivers will gladly let me do if I’m willing to pay at least triple the actual price). Sometimes I’m afraid that I will ask a price that is too low and keep some poor vendor unable to feed her family because the comparatively rich American wants to save a dollar. Sometimes the tuk tuk driver will say, “That place is so far and I have to buy gas and it will take up a lot of my day,” and I will realize that the place is far away and it probably does cost a lot to get there, and I am tempted to offer the driver more money than he originally asked me for.

On paper, I should be good at haggling. I am logical, rational and good at debating. But when it came time to actually start haggling, I was hit by this complex wave of thoughts and feelings: guilt, insecurity, a sense of justice both for me and for the driver, and strange as it may seem, a desire to be liked by this individual whom I will never see again.

I’ve got a lot of learning to do if I’m going to live in Cambodia. Obviously I’ll have to learn what a fair price is and how to go about getting it in culturally appropriate ways. But more than that, I’ll have to learn not to be driven by the guilt of being a “rich” Westerner. I’ll have to get over my need to be liked. And I’ll definitely have to get over my need to be as efficient as possible because there is nothing efficient about having a five or ten minute conversation every time you need to go somewhere or buy something.

All of this will be good for me. There’s no good reason for me to be in such a hurry all the time. Being a people-pleaser gets me in trouble. And throwing money at people isn’t exactly going to create a more just society. It seems as if I have a thing or two to learn from these tuk tuk drivers, even if they would love nothing more than to rip me off. 

Besides, if I am going to be driven into oncoming traffic and told that I need to walk more, then I’m certainly not going to pay triple price for it.