Sunday, February 7, 2010

Say "Waterfall" One More Time, I Dare You!

Normally, people start out with phrases like "Hello. How Are You?" when learning a foreign tongue, but this is certainly not the case when referring to Luang Prabang's mass transit system, better known as the tuk-tuk driver. I am convinced that the most important word in their limited English vocabulary is "waterfall". This is definitely not by accident, as there are a number of exceptional waterfalls located within a 30 to 45 minute tuk-tuk ride from town. The price of such a venture ranges widely based on the honesty of the driver and the level of confusion on your face, but the fee for this excursion is the primary source of each driver's daily income. Luang Prabang is small, quiet, and pleasant to walk around, so there is no need to ever really use any means of transportation other than your feet. Tourists also have the option to rent a bicycle for $1 per day that comes fully equipped with a basket and clown horn attached to the handle bars...

"Come and knock on my door, I'll be waiting for you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Three's a Company too!!"

But, I digress. Back to the drivers. They do not resemble the in-your-face, "I know a great custom suit warehouse" tuk-tuk drivers of Bangkok, nor do they resemble the more friendly, straight-forward drivers of Siem Reap. Rather, the tuk-tuk drivers of Luang Prabang are like quiet assassins with only one task at hand...get you to the nearest waterfall for the highest price. I have observed three main forms of advertising that are utilised by almost every driver: excitement, reverse psychology, and my personal favorite, subliminal manipulation.

1. Excitement - You are walking down the street with your wife as a driver jumps directly out of his strategically parked tuk-tuk and yells "WATERFALL!" The power behind his declaration is so convincing that only a fool would refuse his suggestion. Gotcha!

2. Reverse Psychology - This method is best explained using an analogy that hopefully most of you will understand. In the movie "Anchorman", Will Ferrell famously reads "I'm...Ron...Burgundy???" at the end of one of his broadcasts. The miscue draws the ire of the station's producer as he yells to his staff, "Damnit people, how many times do I have to tell you that Ron is going to read whatever you put on the teleprompter!" With that scene in mind, imagine you are walking down the street and a tuk-tuk driver says "Waterfall???" using an intonation the explicitly implies uncertainty. This of course causes the innocent bystander to ask themselves the same question, which immediately peaks their curiousity. They wonder silently, "what is this guy not telling me?", and they decide that they need to investigate this so-called "waterfall" for themselves. Gotcha!

3. Subliminal Manipulation - You and your wife are walking down the street when you hear a faint murmur that sounds like "atrfl...", but you casually continue your stroll because you can not make out what was said or where it came from exactly. A few steps later, the murmur turns in to an almost perceptible word and you really begin to wonder about what you are hearing, but you still continue onwards. Fifteen steps later, you hear it for the final time more clearly, and your mind begins to think about the sweltering heat and the lack of shade along your walkway. You turn to your wife and confidently suggest that you should take an excursion to a nearby cool mountain source of water. She surprisingly agrees, not knowing quite sure why. But how would we get there?? Enter your smiling saviour, emerging from the shadows, keys to a nearby tuk-tuk in hand, ready to drive you wherever you should desire. "On to the waterfall good man!" Gotcha Again!

All that being said, we have not been to a waterfall yet, but we plan to soon.

(whisper) "waterfall"

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