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Two weeks

By: Ray Sheahan Posted: December-23-2011 in
Ray Sheahan

Two weeks is what it took. Two months later, I don’t know why it took that long.

Before I elaborate on the above abstract sentence, I shall give a very brief description of myself. I am male and I am Irish. Those two words should already evoke a general enough idea of my appearance; freckled, grey eyed and dark haired. Or in short, white. Yes, I am a whitey. A cracker. (I can say those words because I am white, but if anyone else says it they are a “racist”). And in this part of the world, apparently, I am somewhat an exotic looking cracker.

Ok, you know what I look like. Let’s proceed by going backwards, shall we?

I wasn’t here in Phnom Penh for long before I noticed how much attention I attracted. Of course being white with long hair and a beard made me stand out a little. But I didn’t mind. People would stop me in the street and ask if I was a rock star; to which of course I would always reply “yes”. I don’t think that particular lie mattered as I am sure they didn’t speak any more English anyway. When I wore my leather trilby I got even more attention. A Cambodian guy with a hat (nothing like mine) even shouted at me, “Look! we are same same!”. We weren’t, of course, but I gave him the thumbs up and a smile. (I am still not sure if that gesture is even appropriate here.) With that, the small elderly Asian with the straw hat and no shoes continued walking where ever he was going.

Oh, the average local: so friendly and nice. And they genuinely are.

But there is an ethnic sub-group here in Cambodia that are even more ‘friendly’ that the average locals. There is no formal ethnic collective term for them. In fact, I am sure they don’t even realize they are an ethnic-subgroup. However, if the rather anal British Census writers were to give them a box to tick, I am sure it would be ‘Tuk-Tuk/ Moto Driver’. Which, coincidentally, is what I happen to call them.

I first met this group … well, when I first stepped out of my hotel, actually. They appear to speak many languages. A favorite greeting of theirs would have to be “Tuk Tuk!”. I assumed it meant ‘hello.’Considering that the next word out of their mouths was somewhat inquisitive sounding, “Moto?” the amateur linguist in me deduced that this must mean, ‘how are you?’ They all like to greet people at the same time, it would appear, as they swarm around me like bees to honey.

The sub-group seems to be entirely composed of men. I have never seen their women folk. Sometimes, I see the odd girl sitting in the back of their chariot like devices. One can assume that they are a nomadic bunch, these Tuk-Tuk/Moto peoples. One time, I saw a baby on the back of the chariot as her father greeted me with their ubiquitous salute. “Tuk Tuk?”, he asked. I said hello back.

Now, keep in mind that I have already told you that I am an exotic looking creature who, with no effort of my own, tends to get attention from the locals. Well, my shade of white skin appears to be like a magnet for them, because they tend to interact quite differently with me than the locals, whom they largely ignore.

Perched on street corners they wait for the first whitey to walk past to bombard with their greetings. Occasionally, they would say “hello”. This, it seems, is a ploy. Once you make the rookie mistake of acknowledging this greeting, they hit you with their own ethnic spiel. “Tuk-Tuk, Moto?”. Throw in the odd, “sir” and some strange gestures and I believe you’ve got yourself a local pidgin. In my amateur opinion, I would reckon the dialect is more closely related to English than Khmer.

If I am out of vocal range of their distinctive dialect, I get a clap. Or to be more specific, a series of aggressive claps, and the odd shout. These claps tend to catch the attention of the other packs perched on adjacent corners, who follow their compatriots’ lead by clapping, shouting, hollering and generally trying to catch my apparently precious attention. It does not matter if I am clearly not going their direction; they want to clap at me anyway. It appears to be a tradition. Clap at whitey.

Sometimes, while performing the delicate task of crossing the road, they will stop right in front of me, apparently just to say hello. It was not until this happened time and time again that I realized they don’t really care about my safety. So I began the tactic of attempting to completely ignore them. This, it would seem, means nothing to them. They keep speaking their pidgin anyway. The Tuk-Tuk/Moto ethnic-subgroup would appear to be a worthy anthropological study.

So what took me two weeks to figure out you ask? It took me two weeks in Phnom Penh to notice that these people are so utterly annoying that they have to be a subgroup of some kind, because they are nothing like the ordinary, decent local Cambodian people. Now that I think about it, maybe I do have something in common with that straw hat wearing old man. We both prefer to walk to our destinations.

Albeit, I tend to wear shoes.


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