This is not (only) a bike

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China / 01.18 – 04.18

Rowdy, compact and endlessly kitsch, the tuk-tuk is perhaps an immutable icon for South East Asian regions. It’s constituents include two things; a motorbike and a hooked appendage capable of carrying many things, including people. Whilst instinctively comical and slightly absurd at first, on closer observation its purpose is perhaps more humble and nuanced – a young Cambodian tuk-tuk driver once told us that buying his first bike lifted him out of poverty – it was his livelihood. It slowly became clear that actually the tuk-tuk was one one of many typologies or extensions of the motorbike and through cultural appropriation of this common vehicle, new and unplanned patterns of behaviours could be conceived.

Market places, for example, are guaranteed places for the parked mobile-stall: equipped with a stove, gas cylinders and signage, the motorbike is effortlessly transformed into a high powered kitchen dishing out delicious bowls of noodles. Attach a sofa-bench and you’ve got yourself a guided tour around town, or a bed for the driver to bunk on for the night. Appendages however are not the rule for variety: a family of five and their pet bouncing around on a bike is a common sight, while child-drivers, not older than 6 or 7, an even more common sight.

The versatility of the motorbike cannot be isolated from its context, and the South-East Asian spatial condition is totally congruent with the existence of these transformations – the uncategorised boundaries between programs, buildings and their users is a natural environment for a similarly undefinable vehicle. From the cities to the rural landscapes, rich and poor people, children and adults, foreigners and locals, the motorbike was crucial to people’s living because people see it as a tool and not purely as a mode of transport – the typology of the bike as a vehicle is stretched and pulled to accomodate a colourful stream of uses unimaginable, and perhaps impossible even, in other contexts.