Lady Tuk Tuk

An understanding developed a few years ago. It involves how I spend money. Awareness began cultivating, that one powerful method of expressing my values is by aligning my purchases with the principles I hold dear. Spending meaningfully is one way of making a statement. Yes, I am only one individual and perhaps the conglomerates whose lean production costs are capitalizing on overseas labor don’t miss my patronage. But the social entrepreneurs taking risks to start businesses representative of their own convictions, value my support on a very personal level.

This being said, I have been officially reduced to the auspicious title of Lady Tuk Tuk.

Two nights ago, based on a desire to spend my Riel in significant ways, I strolled past a looong row of drivers along the narrow street, all competing for my off-season business by shouting the afore mentioned “Hey lady, tuk tuk?!” Wrong move. “I’m no lady,” reverberated through my head but didn’t quite convey the reversal of respect I was hoping to command and therefore kept the thought precisely where it belonged. Instead, a young man uttering nary a word, caught my eye. He was a young twenty-something wearing a baseball cap and when I approached, he smiled a smile that lit up his entire face and I just knew — he’s my guy.

“You want tuk tuk or motorbike?” he asked and I noticed the bike was unhooked from the cab and I’m all about the cool night breeze whooshing through my hair! “Motorbike,” definitely the motorbike. His name is Boran and his temperament is every bit as genuine as his smile. I also find that he makes for very good company.

After two days of climbing Angkor’s holy rocks I’ve self-prescribed some extended temple rest and decide that open road therapy is the sweet cure I’m looking for. So, I employ my newest friend and we head for the hills. Breaking through the city limits, cruising with our gorgeous traveling companions flora and fauna, it’s a rural daydream leaving nothing but dust! The highlight is undoubtedly our trip to the butterfly sanctuary — from caterpillars to pupas into winged beauties, the fluttering works of art are precisely what the doctor ordered; we even spy two butterflies mating!

Inhaling the scenery in reverse, Boran returns me to town where digging into the Siem Reap soil also unearths a bountiful bouquet of happy. A myriad of projects cultivating empowerment, education and community are sprouting up on either side of the river, providing numerous opportunities to support this city in lasting ways. Planted along busy streets and quiet roads are shops, eateries, galleries and hotels offering charming collections of meaningful methods to help grow local prosperity and travel with a purpose.

Along with Sala Baï, a small handful of neighborhood restaurants are also serving as training grounds for fresh, young pupils looking to make their mark on the world. Traditional and experimental artists occupying studios and alleys include painters, photographers, weavers, carvers and silver smiths — amateurs to master craftsman, from remote villages and developing cities. Landmine victims are peddling books by pedaling with their arms and clothing stores are assisting women living with HIV/AIDS. Boutiques offer sustainable handbags, Fair Trade souvenirs and jewelry crafted from recycled materials; there is no shortage of shops focused on projects supporting orphans, education, the disabled and disadvantaged.

Time, energy and financial means are finite resources and therefore not only valuable but cherished, and expenditures I make return the favor. In addition to receiving the benefit from the product invested in, I’m also granted the gift of satisfaction. At home and abroad, knowing my dollars, Rupiah, Riel and Rupee are feeding sustainable systems provides a small slice of inner peace. Even if Lady Tuk Tuk does at times, go a little out of her way to pay it forward, its well worth the effort. The rewards are priceless.

~ by Christine Fowle