Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bajaj Adventure!

In one of my heart-to-heart talks with hubby, he asked me what was the greatest challenge for me living in Colombo (yeah I know it’s too Performance Management-ish).  Top of mind answer was mobility.  I’ve never been as dependent on somebody else to go around the city since I learned how to commute and drive (which were roughly more than 10 years ago).  Here in Colombo hubby and I depend on our driver.  Which is well and good – he is a good driver and committed to us.  Once I was doing the grocery and picked out a papaya (their papaya here is exquisite!).  He suddenly came up to me and said, “Madamme…” and took the papaya I chose and replaced it with a better one.  Why not?  His English is ok, there would be frustrating moments, he helps me with my Sinhala but on the whole we get by quite well.  But  the guy also has his life so he’s off on Sundays and I feel guilty keeping him late on weekdays.  We can drive but we still have yet to get our licenses (and for me learn how to drive on the right side! – thank God hubby had practice when he was assigned in Indonesia) so driving around on our own is pretty much limited as well.  Add to the fact that the Sri Lankans are quite fond of round-abouts (or rotundas).  Think QC circle diameter with other round-abouts on the side…  

So, I said to myself, I should take matters into my own hands.  And mentally listed 2 major objectives:

1)    Learn how to commute – for now, the Bajaj or Tuktuk or Tricycle (after that, bus and train)
2)    Get a driver’s license

Pimp My Ride
Today, I was able to accomplish the first part of #1.  The car had to be serviced and Wednesday is my mid-week grocery day.  There is a nearby mini-grocery (Cargills Food City) and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice commuting.

I did not attack the situation unprepared.  First my 2 closest friends in Sinhala class have taken the Bajaj.  Of course they’ve been in Colombo longer than I but they were Caucasians and prone to being ripped off in Asian countries.  I asked them how much they usually pay and what is their strategy.  I read in Lonely Planet that you have to agree on a rate first.  But my classmate has a different approach.  She just gets in and tells the driver where to go.  When she gets there, she pays the amount she thinks is reasonable.  And usually it gets accepted and transaction success!  Hubby pointed out that with this strategy she must pay more than the locals.  But as my classmate said, yes, but the stress of haggling is not worth the additional Rs. 50 (around Php 25).  Hmm… malaki rin yun! (That’s still quite an amount).  But my classmate is Brit and in Pounds it’s not even 1!  My other classmate has a different approach, she already has contracted a Bajaj and pays a certain amount for her to get to places.  Makes sense for her as she lives all the way in Mt. Lavinia.  Aside from consulting my foreign classmates, I also asked our driver for Bajaj rates for certain places I think I would be going to.  And I was able to get the local’s benchmark rates.

I was set with the information I need.  All I need now is to muster enough courage to actually try it out.  I dressed the part as to not to attract too much attention – specifically leaving my shades behind (even if the sun is up at 11:30 am!).  Walking out to the main road I was asking myself (albeit silently), “Kinakabahan ka ba?”  (Are you nervous?).  I was surprised to actually answer (again silently), “Actually, no.  Steady lang.”  As if it was the most natural thing on earth.  Well, it kind of is… back home.  Or when traveling abroad… but with a bunch of friends or my family.

First, apartment to grocery.  There were quite a few Bajaj waiting, I got into one, reached the grocery and paid the guy the amount our driver approximated.  No complaints.  Great, success!

Next, grocery to apartment.  Again, luckily there were a few Bajaj waiting as well, hopped into one, reached home and paid the guys the amount our driver approximated.  Again, no complaints… Success!

It was just that easy! I now can go around the city more freely! But I have to remember that the mode of transpo exposes you to more dirt.  I came home with my groceries and in one piece but with a mini-sore eye (as in it was really red and a bit painful) and allergies.  I never thought I was this weak!  Must load up on vitamins!  But nonetheless mission accomplished!  Here's to more Bajaj adventures!


  1. Very brave Mrs. O! Steady lang as usual and great preparation! Good for you sweety :) Are there no taxi's in Colombo? Why did you specifically leave your shades?

    Funny how you mentioned sore eyes! It's the same thing here! Jakarta is so much more dusty than Manila (I don't know how that's possible!) so when we wake up in the morning here, mas maraming muta (LOL!) serioso!!! TD got sore eyes when we were new in here, and our friend who was here only for a weekend got it agad also! I guess in a new country there are new germs and allergens that we have to contend with too! Even if we ARE used to the dirt and grit of Manila hehe!

  2. Diplo Wife! You can't quite hail a cab just like in most cities here. You have to call and I guess it's more expensive (I have got to try that too - after this post, quite a few Bajaj misadventures followed). Anyhoo I left my shades because I wanted to appear "local." HAHAHAHA! Like I didn't want to look like a foreigner. AS IF!!! Anyway I should have just brought it because of the dirt!!!


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