K-pop activism a lifeline for Thailand’s hard-hit ‘tuk tuk’ drivers

BANGKOK — Bangkok “tuk tuk” taxi driver Samran Thammasa, 39, had by no means heard of Okay-pop star Jessica Jung earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, however now the singer’s Thai followers are serving to him survive the lack of vacationer clients.

His brilliant inexperienced three-wheeled motorbike rickshaw has been largely vacant for greater than a 12 months. Previously few months, although, he’s earned about $19 a month to function Okay-pop adverts on his automobile.

“The additional earnings might not be quite a bit for most individuals however it’s for us,” he mentioned, glancing at a shimmering vinyl banner of Jung.

Drivers of Bangkok’s distinctive tuk tuks have been among the many hardest-hit by the pandemic’s devastation of Thailand’s all-important tourism trade, left haunting corners of empty metropolis streets complaining of mounting debt.

Samran used to earn round $47 a day ferrying overseas vacationers round Bangkok. Practically all of that disappeared as customer numbers fell by 85% in 2020, and Thailand will not be anticipated to elevate its strict border controls for months but.

Sudden assist got here this 12 months from Thailand’s politically disaffected and Okay-pop-obsessed youth once they stopped shopping for adverts celebrating their idols’ birthdays and album launches from public transport, as a substitute giving their advert cash to grassroots companies, together with tuk tuks and avenue meals distributors.

Over the previous few months, younger followers have mobilized to place up banners of their favourite Okay-pop idols on the enduring autos for a month at a time, offering a brand new supply of earnings for struggling drivers.

Samran and lots of others now drive their empty tuk tuks round Bangkok with a banner of a special Okay-pop sensation every month, stopping for younger Thai followers to take footage and use their service, typically with ideas.

Over the last few months, young fans have mobilized to put up banners of their favorite K-pop idols on the iconic vehicles for a month at a time, providing a new source of income for struggling drivers.
Over the previous few months, younger followers have mobilized to place up banners of their favourite Okay-pop idols on the enduring autos for a month at a time, offering a brand new supply of earnings for struggling drivers.

Political expression

Up to now, the initiative has benefited a number of hundred tuk tuk drivers. There are greater than 9,000 tuk tuks registered in Bangkok, based on authorities information.

The development has roots in anti-government protests final 12 months that drew tens of hundreds of scholars calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha – who first got here to energy in a navy coup – to step down.

Many Okay-pop followers had been protesters themselves, and final 12 months vowed to tug big billboard promoting charges from Bangkok’s skytrain and underground subway companies – a longstanding lighthearted custom for various fan teams – after mass transport shut right down to attempt to forestall college students from reaching protest websites.

The followers began printing vinyl or cardboard indicators and recruiting tuk tuk drivers at garages and on the road – funneling their advert funds to the individuals who want it most.

“It’s a political expression that we don’t assist capitalists. This marked a change from us competing to guide skytrain and subway billboards, however now it’s tuk tuks,” mentioned Pichaya Prachathomrong, 27.

Pichaya herself raised $565 amongst Thai followers of boy band Tremendous Junior to advertise member Yesung’s new album, earlier than recruiting 13 tuk tuks through a brand new reserving service on standard messaging utility LINE.

The “Tuk Up” service, created by 21-year-old college sophomore Thitipong Lohawech, was initially to assist dozens of drivers who rented autos from his household’s storage. However now it helps about 300 drivers from throughout Bangkok.

“The followers are distributing earnings to the grassroots, which helps drive social change and assist the financial system,” mentioned Thitipong.

Drivers mentioned they’ve seen little of the federal government’s authorized reduction of round $30 billion, as handouts had been largely solely accessible through a cellular pockets utility.

“By the point the cash reaches us, we’re almost useless,” mentioned Pairot Suktham, a 54-year-old driver who like many others doesn’t have a smartphone.

“The followers are our life assist system and provides us hope to maintain combating.”

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