A bit of background for you:

Motodups are motorbike taxis, and they are everywhere in Phnom Penh—and I mean everywhere. Except when you actually need one. Only then will they not materialize out of thin air before you’ve even closed your front door. Only then will they appear to disappear from the face of the earth. Only then will you actually have to stand in the street looking for one to flag down.

My plan was to write ‘Ode to a Motodup’ to explain to the uninitiated the intricacies of how this system works. But I’ve opted instead for the simple, direct, time-tested epistolary form, which I think will convey all you really need to know.


Dear motodup driver,

If you call out to me from the other side of the street and I continue walking, texting, etc, it means ‘No, I don’t want a moto.’

If you ask ‘Moto, lady?’ and I say ‘No,’ this means I do not, in fact, want a moto.

If you ask me a second time, the answer will be the same as the first—ie ‘No. I don’t want a moto.’

If you ask me a third time, the answer will not have changed from the first and second times. I still will not want a moto. (I don’t know what you’ve been taught about foreigners, but we really don’t just change our minds from moment to moment about things like whether we require transportation.)

If you keep trying to attract my attention and insist that I respond to you as I’m attempting to cross the street without getting killed (and the answer, of course, will be ‘No,’ as I am crossing the street, which is indicative of walking), you will, one of these days, very likely get me killed.

The only silent motodup driver is a sleeping motodup driver...

Motodup driver, Phnom Penh. The only silent motodup driver is a sleeping motodup driver.

If I said ‘No’ to the motodup driver next to you, I promise you, my answer to you will be the same, so please don’t bother asking.

If I said ‘No’ to the two motodup drivers next to you, I promise you, my answer to you will be the same as it was to the first two, so please don’t bother asking.

If I am walking down the street reading and/or writing text messages on my phone, it is unlikely I am in need of a moto, so, again, please don’t bother asking. Especially please don’t bother asking a second or third time as I continue walking away from you, as I will then most likely just ignore you.

Ignoring you is neither an invitation for you to ask me again nor an indication that I may have, suddenly, changed my mind about my need for vehicular transportation.

If I answer ‘No, thank you,’ please do not ask me where I am going. It’s—sorry, but—none  of your damned business where I am going unless I have asked you to drive me there.

If I have answered ‘No,’ and then answered you anyway when you’ve asked me where I am going, I still do not want you to drive me there, so why waste both your time and mine by asking again?

If you see me getting off another moto, please, please do not ask me if I want a moto. I hesitate to even say these words but unfortunately you leave me no choice: If I have just arrived at my destination, clearly I do not need to be taken somewhere else. Because I have just arrived.

<em>This</em> sleeping motodup driver prefers the comfort of his own hammock to the comfort of his motorbike seat. And who could blame him? (re the shirt: It's fucking hot here!)

It makes no sense for you to ask me, ‘Tuk tuk, lady?’ when you clearly do not drive a tuk tuk. You drive a moto.

If I am not in need of a tuk tuk, it’s extremely likely I am neither in need of a moto. (Sidenote to tuk tuk drivers: If I am not in need of a moto, it’s extremely likely I am neither in need of a tuk tuk.)

If you have no idea where it is I’ve told you I need to go, please don’t nod your head at everything I say. As soon as you start driving in the wrong direction, you will have completely given yourself away anyway.

I know you think you are being polite by calling me ‘lady’ and I can tell this by the times you get confused and call me ‘sir. Here’s a small English lesson for you: ‘Lady,’ is not, in fact, the female equivalent of ‘sir.’ That term is ‘madam.’ Which I don’t really like to be called either, but at least it would be correct. Calling someone lady in speaking to them, in fact, usually has, in the English-speaking world, a pejorative connotation. As in, ‘Hey lady, will you move your goddamned car? You’re blocking me in!’

I understand that the above mistake is through no fault of your own, as someone obviously taught you what to say to foreign passers-by in order to do your job. I’m just letting you know that you were taught incorrectly.

If we agreed upon a price and got lost getting there because you have no idea where anything is in your own city, please do not demand more money from me once we have finally arrived at my destination as a) it is wrong—we agreed upon a price and it’s not my fault you don’t know your way around your own city; and b) you will not get it anyway.

If we agreed upon a price, please do not, upon arrival at my destination suddenly demand, request or try to wheedle more money out of me for no apparent reason whatsoever other than that I am a foreigner. This only makes you look like an asshole, which reflects badly on your profession and all of the honest and well-meaning members of it.

Lastly, in general, your passengers (I think I can speak for the foreign ones, at least), would prefer it if you actually adhered to the traffic laws, especially the most simple ones, such as like stopping when the light is red or, say, driving on the correct side of the street:  Think ‘with traffic, not against it.’

OK, aw kun. Thank you. And in the words of my people: Have a nice day!