Tuk-Tuk Hell, or Heaven

Bangkok, Thailand, tuk-tuk driver

Tuk-Tuk Hell, or Heaven

A description of hell from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees:

If you go visit hell, you will see a room like this kitchen. There is a pot of delicious stew on the table, with the most delicate aroma you can imagine. All around, people sit, like us. Only they are dying of starvation.… They are starving because they only have spoons with very long handles.… With these ridiculous, terrible spoons, the people in hell can reach into the pot but they cannot put the food in their mouths. Oh, how hungry they are! Oh, how they swear and curse each other!

(Source: http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1095121)

Or, hell could be our first afternoon in Bangkok.

The four of us squeezed into a glorified golf cart, gasped as our driver gave a polite bop-bop on his horn, barreled through a lane our driver had just invented between two trucks, and inhaled a sooty, smelly mouthful of hot, humid air.

Obviously, standing on a street corner with our faces hidden behind a huge map on our first day in Bangkok could have identified us as easy marks. Lucky for us, a friendly man who spoke English approached us to help. He happened to be a teacher too! It happened to be a special day of cultural events our children would love! The nice man flagged down a tuk-tuk for us, and we were on our way.

When we arrived at the temple that was supposed to have a dancing festival, it turned out we had just missed it. At least another very friendly and helpful man was right there, though. And if we just happened to visit three spots selling beautiful gems, our friendly tuk-tuk driver would get reimbursed by the government for his troubles, and we would only need to pay him 10 baht, or about 30 cents.

Tuk-tuks, Bangkok, Thailand

We traveled from place to place, always just missing the promised cultural delight, but having plenty of chances to purchase some gems. I sheepishly admit that it took us over an hour to realize that we were in the middle of an elaborate scam. Everyone we had talked to in the last hour–at least about ten different people in all different areas of Bangkok–was in on it. Get the tourists to the gem shops. Get the tourists to the gem shops. Get the tourists to the gem shops. It turned out that was about the only rule that all the locals needed to follow to keep this seemingly elaborate lie boat afloat.

When I got the hard sell in a tailoring shop, enough was enough.

“I prefer to stand,” I snapped, too loudly and with attitude.

“Ma’am, I just need you to sit down so that I can show you our catalog,” the polite young man insisted.

“I’m not sitting down.” My kids cringed with embarrassment at my raised voice and obvious anger. Why was I being rude to this nice man?

My husband and I looked at each other. “What are we doing?”  we both said. We turned and left the shop and were back on the street in a moment. Our friendly tuk-tuk driver started to tell us the next place we needed to visit. If we kept playing along, the government would reimburse his expenses, the story went; otherwise he would not be paid for his time.

“We are all done with this trip. How much do we owe you for your time?”

“But I just need you to–”

“We are done. How much?”

“100 baht.” I peeled off a hundred, feeling embarrassed and obnoxious, and I turned on my heel to flag down a metered taxi.

My kids were mortified by my rudeness and didn’t believe it was a scam until they saw all the details later that night on Wikipedia.

Remember hell from The Bean Trees? Here’s the rest of the story:

“…you can go and visit heaven. What? You see a room just like the first one, the same table, the same pot of stew, the same spoons as long as a sponge mop. But these people are all happy and fat…. Perfectly, magnificently well-fed, and very happy. Why do you think?”

He pinched up a chunk of pineapple in his chopsticks, neat as you please, and reached all the way across the table to offer it to Turtle. She took it like a newborn bird.

The starving people in the story could use the spoons to feed each other, making their hell a heaven.

It took us a few days to realize it, but it wasn’t the situation that made our experience hell. Like the people with the too-large spoons, we could choose to view it differently. The noise, the traffic, the speed, the sights, the elaborate conspiracy: I had to admit it was thrilling. The truth is, our Bangkok tuk-tuk adventure was a little afternoon of heaven.

More Thailand photos

Bangkok, Thailand, on a tuk-tuk

This is part of a series, Scene from a Memoir.

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About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
This entry was posted in Books, Scene from a Memoir, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Tuk-Tuk Hell, or Heaven

  1. Rahmath says:

    Just read the whole thing in Wikipedia from the link. It’s so elaborate. OMG. Were the Gems worth it??? But what a foolproof scam!!!!

    Thinking about topics for Scene from a Memoir. Will comment soon!!!

    • Marcy says:

      I was most amazed by how elaborate it was. Thankfully, we didn’t buy any gems, so we were just tricked out of our time. (I guess I should have made that clear.) 🙂 I’m not into gems and usually don’t even wear the jewelry I do have. Thanks!

  2. May says:

    I am impressed that you were able to reframe this into a positive experience. Says something about your character.
    May recently posted..I AmMy Profile

  3. It’s lovely you remember this experience positively, and I did enjoy reading your story! Thank you so much for sharing it, and for hosting 🙂
    April @ The 21st Century Housewife recently posted..The Place Where I Live
    Kristy Lynn’s Victoria
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  4. What an incredibly insightful post. I really enjoyed your story – I had never heard of that, very interesting little scam they have going on over there, huh?

    Loved the reference from The Bean Trees too.
    @sherib0bbins recently posted..my summer of ’69My Profile

  5. Susi says:

    Sounds like some adventure. I would have been scared the whole time, so out of my comfort zone. Sounds so interesting though and I like the prompts. How long is the link up open???
    Susi recently posted..I’m baking… Vanilla Pound CakeMy Profile

  6. sammy says:

    We fell into a similar experience in Bali, both times. Our driver would take us where we wanted, but would add in some extra stops that he thought we would love … silver and art shops. The guilt that was placed on you was incredible. I now am the proud owner of a silver necklace that I know I will never wear, but also of a beautiful painting that I love and know would have cost a fortune back home.
    sammy recently posted..It’s impossible to lick your elbow …My Profile

  7. Mel says:

    Way to spin this into something positive. That is a very elaborate scam. Holy cow! Glad you guys caught on.
    Mel recently posted..TRIFEXTRA: Goldi’s Lock UpMy Profile

  8. Wow! I am so naive–there’s no telling what would happen to me in a foreign country! Loved your story!
    Jennifer Worrell recently posted..Goldilocks Adds Three Cents to 50 Shades of Gray CommentaryMy Profile

  9. stephanie says:

    I’m glad you turned it around to see the positive. I’ve traveled quite a bit and this is one of those things that you learn as you go. I’ve been to Bangkok and had to be firm but nice. But it didn’t stop me from loving the whole experience. Loved the post as it took me back. Great post.
    stephanie recently posted..Art from the AshesMy Profile

  10. So glad you found a way to use the spoons. Love that book.

    It is wonderful that you and your boys have had so many amazing travel experiences – that, in itself, is heavenly.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..A-Z: Urban DictionaryMy Profile

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  12. Lana says:

    Marcy, that was a wonderful story! I probably would not have figured it out as fast as you did! I am really naive:( But it was a great experience and a good introduction to local creativity:)
    I love the idea of linking stories and would love to participate. My life has been turned upside down in a bad way recently – that’s why I had to save your email and comment so sate:)
    Looking forward to this! And I love both April and Alea:)

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  14. Karen says:

    Marcy, I am always so envious of your adventures. You’ve had some incredible experiences. Your sons are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel and explore other cultures.

    P.S. I love the Bean Trees.

    Karen recently posted..When I Grow Up. . .My Profile

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks, Karen. I like Bean Trees, too, but I read it a long time ago, and that was one of the only parts that stood out clearly for me.

  15. This makes my story about taking public transportation in the UK for the first time look like child’s play! I’m glad that, when it was all over, you were able to view it as a nice tour of the city.
    that cynking feeling recently posted..Blogging Alliance of the Damned: the one that got awayMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I don’t think so because I was with my family. Doing things alone is what I find really hard (especially at the age you traveled to another country by yourself!)

  16. Vanessa D. says:

    I can’t imagine how you could consider yourself timid, I rarely travel to the city and never another country. I hope the rest of your trip was scam free, even if you gained a memory from the experience.
    Vanessa D. recently posted..Brahm’s LullabyMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      It’s funny, I guess. I am very timid at home, but I have always loved to travel. Thanks for your comment.

  17. M L Sexton says:

    Oh, to travel. I hope to have as many adventures as you someday. Although, I’ve lived in another country for several years, I would love to travel and visit those on my list (Japan, Italy, France, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland).
    M L Sexton recently posted..Second ChancesMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I’ve always wanted to live in another country for an extended period. Ireland was my favorite place to travel to, and it’s the country I would most like to return to.

  18. I am so glad I saw this, because I am hopeful that one day I’ll make it to Thailand and I’d hate to be taken in, haha.
    And after reading this, I’m glad you decided it was an adventure, because it sure sounded that way to me. 🙂
    Natalie – The Cat Lady Sings recently posted..Rejection Haikus, or Yeah, I Could Be a MimeMy Profile

  19. Madhura says:

    My god! This is a real, actual scam! I very much love the way you wrote about this, making the experience a positive one, in line with the Bean Trees story reference (Which, I did not know before)! So thanks so much for enlightening me, and I loved it 🙂
    Madhura recently posted..First lovesMy Profile

  20. Wow. I have been that traveler staring at a map or guide and been approached by locals to visit a shop, have tea. I can relate to trying to protect yourself when you’re far from home. Kingsolver’s story helps weave a positive spin on this adventure you had with your family.
    abundance in the boondocks recently posted..Three A to Z SurprisesMy Profile

  21. Kim says:

    Wow! Glad you caught on and can laugh about it now. I fear I’d probably still be riding around in tuk-tuk hell loaded down with gems. 🙂
    Kim recently posted..Finding One’s Voice: 30 30-SomethingsMy Profile

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