Tag Archives: Mae Sot

Real Thailand vs. Parallel Thailand

UPDATE: Okay, I put a password on this post for a bit, but now I’ve just decided to edit the post and take off the password. In case you even noticed and were wondering (I’m SURE you were), I got some nasty comments on one of those nasty anonymous trolling forums here in Thailand, and I ended up really stressed about it. Then I was like…um, this blog does not equal real life, so if it’s stressful, it’s not worth it. I don’t get paid for this! So I put a password on the post, but that stressed me out, too. I know, it’s exhausting to be me sometimes. So, screw it, I’m just editing and reposting! Although, frankly, I think I took about the most interesting and funny part of the whole post, but whatever. /End unnecessarily long explanation for something you didn’t care about anyway.

Real Thailand for me is the Thailand I live in; the neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, and people I know well. Your personal experience is your own Real Thailand. If you have a problem with my Real Thailand, write about it on your own blog, k? Parallel Thailand is what happens when I’m outside my comfort zone here, and it mostly involves weird Westerners and tourist areas, let’s be honest. This is not intended to be a debate about what is “authentically Thai”. If you want to get yourself a McDonald’s hamburger while you’re in Thailand, go for it. I’ll probably be next door getting a Dairy Queen chocolate dipped cone (those things are good and only cost about 40 cents!) and then stopping off at the 7-Eleven for, you know, whatever.

Food in Real Thailand

Get in my face, food!

Hell yeah, Thai food! You’re the best! Food in Real Thailand is cheap, fresh, and delicious. Pad thai is a single dollar, people. If it’s not cheap, it’s still fantastic. I love food in Real Thailand.

Also, food in Real Thailand can include Western food and, unfortunately, pizza with gross stuff on it. That’s just part of living the dream, people.

Food in Parallel Thailand

Worst. Food. Ever.

Some examples:

  • I spent 80 baht (almost $3) on some pad thai on the beach, which isn’t too bad for beach prices, right? Except that it was the worst pad thai ever. No normal Thai person would have ever served that to anybody, which makes sense because I was in Parallel Thailand!
  • I’ve never been, but I’m pretty sure that the Hard Rock Café in Bangkok is Parallel Thailand.
  • World’s worst green curry, two nights in a row from two different restaurants, on the island? Parallel Thailand!
  • Spending 250 baht (almost $9) on terrible-looking pad see eu (my favorite noodle dish) at a resort on Phuket is completely Parallel Thailand. Spending 250 baht for pad see eu at the world’s most expensive but also most delicious street stall in Bangkok  is not Parallel Thailand.  See where I’m going here?

People in Real Thailand

I don’t really buy into that whole “Thai people are the nicest in the world!” thing. There are some nice people and some big fat jerks, just like any other country (although maybe “big” and “fat” are exaggerations—it is Asia!). Land of Smiles? Sometimes people smile, just like in any other country. Sometimes they scowl. Okay, fine. I don’t mind that the people I deal with are, you know, people, with moods and personalities beyond what the tourist board tells us to expect. So, for me, people in Real Thailand aren’t about the smiles, necessarily. But they are about not harassing me to buy things and not ripping me off.

Sometimes people in Real Thailand want to soak you with freezing cold water.

People in Parallel Thailand

Sometimes people come to Thailand and then complain about how awful Thai people are, how Thai people ripped them off, or were rude, or harassed them, or some other horrifying story. When I ask where they had been, of course they say they’ve been to some tourist Mecca like Khao San or Phuket.

Of course, by now you know why they had a terrible experience.

Because they were in Parallel Thailand!

Tourist areas bring out the worst in everybody. If you go to some super touristy area in any country, you’re going to get jerk local people trying to rip you off. Of course, you’re also going to get tourists walking around Khao San without shoes or shirts (WHY? WHY? WHY?!) or sunbathing topless (I mean, come on!). Also, you’re going to get ripped off, period. That’s the nature of being in a tourist area. Expect it, deal with it, and keep your moaning to yourself.

Cab Drivers in Real Thailand

Jerks.

Cab Drivers in Parallel Thailand

Jerks.

Well, actually…

That’s not entirely true. I’ve had cab drivers in Real Thailand and in Parallel Thailand refuse to take me somewhere for no good reason. No matter where I am, there are times when they won’t turn on the meter. But there are also times when I’ve had awesome conversations about food and I’ve learned new words and I’ve been happier at the end of the ride than I was to start with.

Still, I was recently talking to a Canadian tourist in my neighborhood, and he was proud of himself for bargaining a taxi down from 1,200 baht (about $40) to 700 baht (about $22) to get from the airport to his hotel. It should have been about 300 baht on the meter. I wanted to punch the cabbie in the face for him.

Lesson learned: Cab drivers are a parallel universe unto themselves.

Bah!

Transportation Costs in Real Thailand

Cheap! When the cabbies put on the meters in Bangkok, they’re of ridiculously cheap. If I spend 100 baht (about $3) on a cab ride in the city, I’m kind of shocked. It means either that I’ve gone really far or that traffic was horrendous.

Motorcycles, as I’ve reported before, are quick and convenient, although they will often cost you more than a taxi. If I’m in a hurry and it’s not raining, I’ll usually pay the extra baht to be able to go around all the cars! HaHA–take THAT, traffic!

Transportation Costs in Parallel Thailand

See above story about the cab ride from the airport. That’s got Parallel Thailand written all over it.

Parallel Thailand can more readily be seen, however, on islands like Phuket or Samui, where the taxis are basically a mafia scam to get every penny of your money. A ride that would cost maybe 150B in Bangkok cost me 500B on Samui because the cab driver refused to turn on the meter and refused to bargain, even a little bit. I had no choice, so I paid the 500B with a semi-smile.

But in my head, I was crossing my arms and huffing. 500B? I’d love to take a 500B taxi ride in Bangkok and see where it got me. Yeesh.

Motorcycle in Parallel Thailand are virtually non-existent, and ridiculously expensive.

You could always ride this sweet scooter!

Bars in Real Thailand

There’s no real hard and fast rule about what makes a bar in Real Thailand, but it usually involves a mix of people, Thais and Westerners.

Bars in Parallel Thailand

When I was in Mae Sot—decidedly not a tourist town—a few weeks ago, Sarah and I went to a bar frequented by the expat workers and volunteers in town. It’s run by Burmese people, so most of the food and staff were Burmese. As I was looking around, the realization slowly dawned on me that 99.9% of the patrons were white Westerners. There were no Thai people at all. Nobody had a Thai girlfriend. Not a single person. At one point, a couple of Thai woman walked in, talked to somebody, and walked out. It was so much Parallel Thailand that it made me feel uneasy, like I had accidentally shouted, “Beam me up, Scotty!” and been transported to a completely wrong destination.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was weird. It was definitely Parallel Thailand.

Similarly, every time I go to Khao San Road, I just spend time gawking at all the white people! They’re everywhere!

You're so weird, Mae Sot, but you have delicious food, so I'l forgive you.

Final Score:

Real Thailand: 1  Parallel Thailand: 1

I’m not saying I like Parallel Thailand all the time, but it’s a thing. And like I said, this is not a debate over which one is right or wrong…although clearly, Real Thailand is better.

JUST SAYING.

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Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Guilty About It: Part 2

**Apologies (mostly to my mother) for not posting sooner. I was in Burma/Myanmar for a week and could not access my site. Apparently the junta thinks I am dangerous! Sweet! The next week will be pretty sporadic, as well, for posting, as I’ll be doing a silent meditation retreat on Koh Samui, so no Internet, phone, reading, writing, speaking, etc. AT ALL. Good grief, I might just lose it.

For part 1 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Guilty About It, see here.

And now without further ado, here is the long-awaited (yeah, yeah) part 2 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind Of Guilty About It!

You’re welcome.

6. See Some Waterfalls.

Sarah arranged for a driver to take us around to some waterfalls in the area. He was Burmese, spoke pretty good English, had a 30-year-old car with no air conditioning, and also sold yogurt. We found about the yogurt because every now and then he would stop at a factory or a Karen-Thai village and say, “5 minutes!” Then he would take a cooler out of the trunk and sell some yogurt to people. It was…odd. But whatever, we were cool; we went with the flow.

So, anyway, William (our Burmese driver’s name was William, duh) drove us around to see some water falling down hills. How that ends up being so beautiful is beyond me, but it is.

I think this is purty.

7. Eat Lots of Burmese Food

Funnily enough, I was heading to Myanmar right after I was in Mae Sot, but from all accounts, the Burmese food in Mae Sot is better than the Burmese food in Burma. After having been in Burma, I can vouch for this truth.

For those of you who will be venturing up to Mae Sot and are looking for farang-friendly joints, Borderline has the most amazing potato curry, chickpeas, tealeaf salad, and basil lime juice.

Burmese ginger salad. My mom's favorite!

Burmese tealeaf salad. Yup, it's really tea!

Drooling now...

SP Kitchen, it is generally agreed, has the best tofu salad and fish curry.

Lucky is the place to go in the morning for Burmese Muslim food, but you have to get there early; by 9 a.m. everything you want will have long been sold out. Sarah and I went one morning and had potato curry, chickpea curry, two roti, two naan, and two Burmese teas, and it cost us 54 baht. That’s less than $2 for all of that. As a bonus, you have kids (kids—not teenagers) who should really be in school yelling your tea order to the kitchen in the back and serving you food, so you can start out your morning alternately praising the heavens for the delicious food you are stuffing in your face and feeling horribly guilty because you probably shouldn’t be patronizing a place that employs kids instead of sending them to school.

What I find interesting about that, incidentally, is that this place is super popular with all the NGO workers in town, as well.

Just-made naan. GET IN MY FACE!

8. Go to the Markets.

Duh, it’s Thailand, it’s pretty much a law that you have to visit the markets in any given town. In Mae Sot proper, there is a very lively and large market that lasts all day. Part of it is the fresh market, with fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and–of course–large fried insects for sale. The other part of it is daily needs, clothes, that kind of thing.

Here’s a tip: Buy packets of tealeaf salad ingredients at the stalls here. They’re vacuum-packed and you can take them back with you and impress all your friends by adding some stuff and making tealeaf salad. If you’re in the United States and you are a white person (as in “Stuff White People Like” white person), this will immediately up your social standing by about 15,000 points because the kind of tealeaf you need is difficult and expensive to buy back in the U.S.

You’re welcome. Again. I really am providing you with a wealth of information today!

Burmese Muslim vendor. The white stuff on her face is called tanaka, and is used widely in Burma as sunscreen!

The other market, Mae Rim, is out of town at the river on the border of Myanmar and Thailand. Lots of tourist crap, really, but some neat stuff, too.

The market is right next to the Burmese-Thai border.

9. Hang Out in the Wats

The other tourist law in Thailand is that you’re required to visit ALL the wats.

My first trip to Mae Sot I was followed by the cutest—and dirtiest–kids ever at one of the wats. We shared some fruit and candy, I let them take pictures with my camera, they fought over who got to monkey-grip my various limbs while I was walking, and I had to practice my teacher look (I still got it!). It was good times.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?! STOP BEING SO CUTE!*

*(This pic was taken by one of the other kids.)

My second trip to Mae Sot, I found a Burmese Buddhist wat with a bunch of people hanging out. I knew it was Burmese Buddhist because the Buddhas have LED lights behind them like—Hey, here’s Buddha! He’s enliiiiiightennnnnned! Good for you, Buddha! Par-taaaaaaay!

What a horrible photo. Still, you can kind of make out the party Buddhas in the background.

I hung out around the fringes watching people until I got myself invited to give alms to the monks, eat a huge lunch in honor of a family member becoming a monk for a week, roam around the temple, and do some chanting (during which I fell asleep).

So, when I reviewed this picture, I'm sorry to report that I said, 'Oh my god, I look huge!' The lady to my left (in the pink) then said, 'But my skin is so dark!' Women in any culture: Insecure about their looks for one reason or another. Gah.

10. Do Some Shopping

Mae Sot has some nice fair trade shops like WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment), which is a registered fair trade store and supports Karen (an ethnic—and Christian—Burmese group) women refugees living in the camps. They have some really beautiful items, and I know that the money actually helps people, not just the organization.

Borderline, mentioned above for their food, is another store that has beautiful fair trade items.

______________________________________________________________________________________________
And that is my guide to Mae Sot. I really do recommend visiting, as it’s very different from any other part of Thailand I’ve seen.

Just remember if you go, though, to keep in mind the words of an extremely pretentious person on the Lonely Planet forum for Mae Sot: “Mae Sot is really for the traveler, not the tourist.”

And if you meet this person while traveling in Mae Sot, please punch him in the face for me.

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Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not Being a Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Guilty About It: Part 1

When I leave Thailand and people ask me how my time here was, I’m going to sum it up in one sentence:

Saw a lot of cool wats, ate a lot of delicious food, hung out with a lot of amazing people, the end.

Seriously, this accurately describes all my time in Thailand (ok, not ALL my time in Thailand, but some things are private, people!).

My time in Mae Sot has fit the mold, though Mae Sot is different than any Thai town I’ve been to. It’s on the border of Burma and has an interesting mix of foreign NGO workers, Thai, Burmese, and other ethnic groups from Burma like the Karen. There are several refugee camps in the area, and there is a large population of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians, though I can’t comment on the harmony of those populations living together because I don’t really know enough about the situation.

This is my second visit to Mae Sot to visit my friend Sarah, and while she is working, I’m off exploring, eating lots of food, and sitting in coffee shops. Oh, and taking naps, of course. What am I, somebody with a job?

Here is part 1 of my Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not Being a Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Bad About It list. It is highly subjective and only reasonably informative.

1. Embrace Your Inner Dirty Hippy

Do you harbor a secret desire to wear fisherman pants without irony and not wash your hair on a regular basis? Mae Sot is the place for you!

The foreign population in Mae Sot, in my entirely informal poll of people I’ve seen and talked to in a couple of days, is mostly made up of NGO workers and volunteers. Many are those extremely beautiful, makeup-less, fresh-faced, eager, young people who wear baggy fisherman pants without irony and talk about changing the world in such an earnest way you want to give them a big hug and protect them from the inevitable disappointments of the world. In Bangkok, these people are usually confined to Khao San Road, where they can eat terrible pad thai, drink buckets of whiskey and Red Bull and talk about how awesome Thailand is.

In Bangkok, there is a largely-professional group of expats working in the city. Even (“even”!) English teachers dress up for work in business clothes. I generally try to dress like a normal human being in Bangkok and make an effort to put on make-up and wear heels occasionally. In general (GENERAL), Bangkokians may not dress up, but they don’t really dress down.

In Mae Sot, though…I’m totally embracing my 20-year-old inner dirty hippy. I’m wearing the same dirty pants (trousers, Brits, trousers!) every day I’m here, I’ve got my hair in a bun, no make-up, and I’m wearing those awesome head covering things that I usually only wear at the beach or for hiking. And you know what? I totally do not stand out and I am loving it.

I don’t even feel unattractive, whereas in Bangkok I would be the biggest slob on the block in these get-ups. Not that it would matter, but still.

Yay, inner hippy drinks tea from a Snoopy mug while listening to somebody talk (but looks introspective)!

p.s. I’m sure there are plenty of professional people here, and clearly not everyone is a hippy, but it’s funnier that way!

2. Take a Burmese Cooking Class

My mother’s favorite restaurant in the Washington, DC area is a Burmese one called Mandalay, and she adores their ginger salad. When I told her I was going to a Burmese cooking class in Mae Sot, she gasped, “Oh, be sure to make my salad.”

Well, Mother, never fear, I have made your salad, and it is stupid easy to put together. I’ll make it for you when I get home.

The class we attended was at Borderline, which has a cute shop and a tea garden/restaurant with scrumptious food. We started off the day by going to the market in town for supplies, then stopped off for breakfast at a Burmese tea shop, where we sat on teensy little stools and had some noodles and…tea. I know, that’s a shocker.

I like to keep you on your toes.

In the class, we made ginger salad, tealeaf salad, veggie pakoras with lime ginger dipping sauce, potato curry, and basil lime juice. And then we put it all in our faces and made a lot of obscene “mmmmmmm…ohmygodthatissogood” noises.

That's some potato curry getting ready to be cooked up and shoved into mouths. GET IN MY BELLY, POTATO CURRY!

It all costs 450B (about $14) per person, and we got a cookbook to keep, as well. Worth every freaking penny.

Foods. Delicious foods.

3. Go See Burma

Notice I didn’t say you could actually visit Burma from Mae Sot. You know how Sarah Tiny Fey Palin can see Russia from her house? Well, you can see Burma from Mae Sot! You used to be able to cross the bridge and go into Burma, but Burma closed the border in 2010. Mrwah.

Those buildings are in Burma, right across the river. Soooo close...

4. Rent a Bike and Ride It Around

While living in Japan, I had a bike I rode around the city, as many people did. I would zip around people and ring my bell at them with great glee. I miss it quite a lot, to be honest. And you might think I take my life in my hands when I ride a motorcycle taxi in Bangkok without a helmet, but I would truly be suicidal if I rode a bicycle around that city.

Enter Stage Left: Mae Sot!

Dang, people, riding a bike around this town is fun.

Positives:

  • It costs 30B (~$1) a day to rent a bike.
  • Traffic jams don’t exist here, so it’s fast getting around.
  • It’s flat flat flat.
  • It takes no time at all to bike outside of the town and find yourself in the middle of rice paddies and water buffaloes. I biked about 20 minutes from the center of town and was really in the sticks, with people staring at me and gasping, “Oh, farang!”

Negatives:

  • It sucks when it rains.
  • Not so easy in a dress/skirt.
  • It’s hot hot hot.

The goat stared at me until I said, "HELLO!" and then he smiled, muttered, "Farang," under his breath, and moved on with his life. Oh wait, that was ALL THE PEOPLE IN MAE SOT who did that.

5. Battle Some Soi Dogs

Thailand’s population of stray soi dogs is approximately 5 times the population of the actual country. Packs of mangy, poorly fed, pitiful dogs roam the streets and sometimes bother unsuspecting Canadians like my friend Sarah. I think she doesn’t normally wear her maple leaf flag badge so the soi dogs don’t know they’re supposed to leave her alone and pick on Americans, like the rest of the world. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

USA! USA! USA!

Anywho, Sarah has to routinely battle soi dogs who chase her on her bike and nip at her heels as she’s trying to ride home. She has tried various tactics including yelling, jabbing at them with an umbrella, and–her last resort–bribing them with dog treats.

So far, Sarah is winning the battle, but she is afraid it’s only a matter of time before she starts to lose.

But she's too pretty to attack, soi dogs!

All this is to say that if you’d like to get your adrenaline going and do some battles with stray dogs, you should make a trip to Mae Sot. You won’t regret it. 

***Part 2 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not Being a Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Bad About It will be coming here in a few days…

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Challenge: Sarah and Megan vs. Jackass Tuk Tuk Driver

The tuk tuk is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Thai transportation: They can’t get no respect.

(Other comparisons considered and rejected were–Donald Trump: tacky and annoying; Simon Cowell: obnoxious; and Piers Morgan: ridiculous.)

There’s a reason for this, though. Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok are known for scamming and seriously overcharging people. I very rarely take tuk tuks here because I don’t want to deal with it. Consequently, I’ve also never been ripped off by a tuk tuk driver.

Until. (Cue ominous music.)

My friend Sarah lives in Mae Sot, up near the Burmese border. We had gone together to Chiang Mai and then took a bus to Mae Sot.

In Mae Sot, there are no taxis, so Sarah and I grabbed a tuk tuk at the bus station.

They're different from tuk tuks in Bangkok.

Here was our fatal mistake: We didn’t ask how much the ride was going to be. I don’t ask the motorcycle guys at my apartment any more how much it’s going to be to the BTS; similarly, Sarah always gets charged the same amount for a ride to her apartment (100 baht), so we didn’t bother asking.

At this point, I see long-termers in Thailand slowly shaking their heads and judging us. Go ahead, people, judge away. It’s almost impossible to out-judge me, so HA!

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Yeah.

One thing you need to know about driving in Thailand is that it’s insane chaos at all times. Motorcycles zip around cars, bicycles mingle on the streets with food carts pushed by vendors, buses zoom by them at top speed, taxis drive in the oncoming lane to get around traffic, and pedestrians are dodging across the street in a high-stakes game of Frogger, yet somehow almost nobody honks or gets upset. You put the average Washington, DC-area driver down in that mix for 5 seconds and you’ve got yourself 12 dead taxi drivers and 15 motorcycles crushed beyond recognition (many DC-area people are extreme overachievers, and that includes when they experience road rage).

I usually begin to suspect I’ve got a loony driver if they get aggressive because of the chaos, and the tuk tuk driver we had in Mae Sot did just that. A bicycle safely merged into traffic way up ahead of us, as far as I could tell, yet our driver honked, yelled some stuff, and then muttered under his breath for awhile.

Foreshadowing, people. If this were a movie, there would be some close-up shots that showed Sarah and Megan smiling and laughing, being completely oblivious, while the entire audience shouted, ‘HE’S CRAZY, YOU BIMBOS! GET OUT NOW!’

Yeah, yeah. Feel better about yourself if you’re positive you wouldn’t make the same mistake.

When we got to Sarah’s apartment, I asked, in Thai, how much it was going to be. Again, hindsight. We probably should have just handed him 100 baht and walked away, but every now and then I think that humanity has decency.

Sigh.

The driver said, “200 baht.”

Sarah had already gotten out of the tuk tuk with her bag and when she heard that, she said, “No way!”

So the driver said, “How much you want?”

Sarah replied, reasonably, “100,” at which point the driver picked her bag up from the ground and threw it back into the tuk tuk with me.

Erm?

I placed the bag back out on the ground and the driver threw it back into the tuk tuk.

I am consciously choosing to say that I “placed” the bag outside while the driver “threw” it back, by the way. I had gone into middle-school-teacher survival mode, so while I was seething on the inside, I remained kind of preternaturally calm on the outside.  Thanks be to teenagers for teaching me that, at least. The driver clearly had not had such training, and was raising his voice and yelling at us.

Sarah went to get a staff member from her apartment to help us out. I was still sitting in the tuk tuk with my backpack in my lap, and the driver started to push my backpack to indicate that I should stay where I was.

Again: Erm?

Still, I have those three years as a middle school teacher under my belt, and I actually dealt with children who were far, far, far crazier and scarier than this guy. Students have pushed me, threatened me, got up in my face, and cussed at me.

So I just said, simply and without visible anger, but also very, very seriously, “Don’t.”

He looked at me and pushed the backpack again, so I said it again: “Don’t.”

Luckily, he stopped, because my patience was wearing thin.

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Anyway, after arguing with the guy for awhile, Sarah and I eventually (the apartment staff was NO help) realized we had some choices here.

  1. We could throw 100 baht at him and then run like the wind. Tricky. We had all our bags and weren’t sure we’d make it up to her place before he caught us. Plus, I hate running. So, no.
  2. We could continue to argue with him and he could continue to get crazier and angrier and then we would lose it and…hmmm…perhaps not a good choice.
  3. We could just pay the 150 baht he had finally settled on as acceptable and realize that it was his karmic debt for being a giant jackass he had to worry about. Sigh. Fine.

So we paid him the rip-off price of 150 baht and he trumpeted, “Bad farang! You farang bad!”

Good. Grief.

Final Score:

Jackass Tuk Tuk Driver: 0     Megan and Sarah: 1

We never once raised our voices and I think we didn’t lose face at all. The driver may have gotten 50 baht extra from us, but he looked like a serious ass in front of everybody in the neighborhood. I’d call that a win.

Just for the record, this is the first time somebody has been aggressive with me in Thailand, and I don’t want it to seem that I think every tuk tuk driver loves jackassery and wants to rip you off. It just happened that we got a driver who loves jackassery. As a matter of fact, the next day we had a very good experience with a very sweet tuk tuk driver, so don’t take my bad experience as a blanket statement about tuk tuk drivers. Take it as a blanket statement that that particular guy was a total jerk face.

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