Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute

BOOK: Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Miss Bangkok

Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute

 
 
 
by Bua Boonmee

 

with
Nicola Pierce

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to my children.
Prologue

 

Sometimes I feel like a turtle that is being grilled over hot charcoal. I am slowly dying. No matter what I do, no matter how much I try to escape, I cannot. I am powerless to change my destiny.

I wonder was I born to be unfortunate; is this life my destiny? I pray to Buddha that this not be the case. My life seems to be that of a country girl who has spent her days escaping from a tiger, only to be eaten by a crocodile. Mine is an ever-worsening tale with no end in sight.

You see, I am a prostitute, though
farang
s prefer to call women like me ‘bar girls’. I believe the term is more acceptable to westerners’ ears. But to a girl like me, it is all the same.

My job means nothing to me anymore. I have long since given up any hope of happiness. I exist for the pleasure of others. You might say the only certainty in my life is uncertainty.

I couldn’t tell you how many men have bought me, not that it matters. I prefer not to remember them.

In Thailand, we do not talk about such private matters. It is not customary to talk of things that should be forgotten. It is also of little concern to a girl of my standing. The only thing that matters is the baht that I am paid.

Though I suspect that mine is not the worst existence in the world, I must confess I wouldn’t know if it was. I know of little else.

You can buy me for 2,000 baht. In return, I will do almost anything that is asked of me, but I won’t kiss customers—some things are just too intimate to do with a stranger. Kissing is for a wife or girlfriend; sex is for Thai girls like me.

Chapter 1

 

If we were to meet, you might comment on how I look slightly different to other Thai women. You might say that my face is round, like a full moon in the sky. This is a trait I inherited from my father, who was born in Ubon Ratchathani, the second biggest province in Isan, the northeast region of Thailand.

Bordering Laos and Cambodia, Ubon Ratchathani was the location for an American airbase during the Vietnam War. This may or may not have had something to do with my father becoming a soldier in his teens. By the time I came along, he was a sergeant major, responsible for the instruction of new recruits.

My father was a restless young man, or so he would later describe himself. When I was a little girl, he used to set me on a
krae
(a low table of bamboo) and tell me about how he had ended up in the province Nakhon Ratchasima, commonly called Khorat, where he was entranced by a beautiful young girl who worked at one of the stalls in the marketplace.

I have a black and white photograph of this girl, my mother, which was taken shortly after they met. Her oval face is framed by her shiny, black hair, which is parted in the centre and drawn up into a perfect bun on the top of her head.

She is wearing a sleeveless, V-necked, polka-dot dress, and is smiling sweetly at the photographer—in a way that only lovers do. She used to boast to me about all the men that flirted with her. She was proud of her beauty, particularly since she had to quit school in third grade because her family were poor farmers. Sadly, they saw no reason why a woman should be educated, only to be married off to a man and be dependent on him for the rest of her life.

I do not know what year they met, or what year they married. Little details like that have never interested me. All I know is that my brother Nop was born in 1973, I was born in 1974, and my sister Nang in 1975. Apparently we lived in rented accommodation for the first two years of my life. It was a tiny house of which I have absolutely no recollection, although I do remember my mother pointing it out to me one day. She tried in vain to jolt my memory about the room in which I slept and where my brother and I had played and fought together.

‘Don’t you remember that room, where you slept in a hammock as a baby?’ she asked.

She also pointed out a tamarind tree, which she said I used to cling to when I was learning to walk, but I stared at it disinterestedly; it was a stranger’s house to me, with its simple two-storey style and wooden fence.

‘Sorry,
mae
. I don’t remember it at all,’ I replied, and she seemed a little disappointed.

After the arrival of the children, the rent got too expensive for my parents and we moved into accommodation in Khorat provided by the army. We lived there with other soldiers and their families. I think
mae
must have missed the little house, though she never admitted it; it represented more than simply being the first place she lived in after she married. It reminded her of a young couple in love and excited about their shared future. At least, that is what I like to believe, considering how the future unfolded.

The wooden town house that became my home was provided by the Thai government for its military. Accordingly, there was nothing distinguishing about it. It was one of hundreds that were built in small rows around the airbase where my father was stationed.

Each row consisted of ten columns for ten families, and each dwelling was a copy of its neighbour; two storeys with a small kitchen and bathroom at the rear and a bedroom/living area just inside the front door. Upstairs, there was another small bedroom and a tiny area in which to meditate and worship.

My father was the only one who used this room, and only on
wan phra
, or what you might call holy days. It had a little altar where a small Buddha sat, flanked by two vases of flowers.

Even now, I can still remember the heavy perfume of the incense sticks he burned as an offering to Buddha. The combined smoke of the incense and candles swirled as my father, kneeling in front of Buddha, chanted in a language unintelligible to me. I walked on my knees and sat quietly behind him in a position called
wai
—head bowed and hands pressed together—hoping that goodness would protect me. I remember that room as being filled with serenity.

Although we were poor, I didn’t have an unhappy childhood. We grew up surrounded by tanks and military aircraft, which were of no concern to us children, though I have pleasant memories of watching planes taking off every morning.

The army base was a place where everyone knew everyone else. The women knew each other, the children knew each other; you could say that even the dogs were familiar with each other’s tails.

Today, what I remember, perhaps more than anything else, is the colour of the earth. It was a reddish brown, and when you rode at full speed on a bicycle, the dirt would swirl up and taint your socks. It was contrasted by the surrounding greenery and deep-blue sky.

There were lots of trees and acres upon acres of green Bermuda grass. The summers were always extremely hot, and I can remember that the trees gave us shelter from the sun when it reached its highest point in the sky. A little bit away in the distance was a big, white wall that encircled the camp, shutting out the rest of the world. I am now a mother, and I realise the camp was perfect for children, who were unable to escape and always happiest when a parent was within shouting distance. The army base was our world. I had no inclination to leave it and explore what lay beyond its walls. You could say that I wasn’t a very adventurous child, because I dared not leave the confines. Was this my first mistake—to ignore the bigger picture and be content with what was immediately in front of me?

One of my earliest memories is that of my mother getting me ready for my first day of school. I remember sitting on her lap as she gently braided my hair. I loved my mother, but if I had to choose which parent I was closest to as a child, I would have to say my father.

Por
used to let me accompany him when he cycled to the market and also when he went fishing. The two of us would sneak into a paddy field where he’d dangle a bamboo stick that had a furiously wriggling worm or a small toad hooked to the end of it. He found it more productive to leave the stick unmanned for about thirty minutes or so and then return to check on its progress. I always hoped there would be a huge fish waiting for us, but invariably it would be just a little eel or a snakehead, which was better than nothing, I guess. My father would shrug in resignation as he pulled up the homemade rod, seemingly content just to have something to bring home to my mother.

Another highlight, if you could call it that, was the Red Cross Fair, which took place every winter. We went as a family, I holding
por
’s hand, my brother up on his shoulders, and
mae
holding my sister. These fairs were a marvel to me, with so many different toys on sale. Looking back now, I suppose it was just a few makeshift stalls selling cheap toys, but my brother and I were practically speechless with the excitement of it all. One year I fell in love with a blondehaired doll and dragged
por
over to where she was on display, so he could admire her as I did. I didn’t ask my parents for much as a rule, but I begged my father to buy her for me. He shook his head sadly in reply, ‘I can’t afford to buy her because if I buy you something, then I will have to buy your brother and sister a toy too, or it wouldn’t be fair, and I just can’t.’

I remember that day clearly because it was then that I learned that not everyone is equal. I watched other children leave the fair with their new toys, and I experienced envy, perhaps for the first time.

Por
hadn’t exaggerated. My parents never bought their children toys. My sister and I often collected leaves and branches to play makebelieve
kai kong
, in which we would act out the roles of food vendor and customer.

My father was an honest man, and I believe he hoped that we would make something of our lives. Unfortunately, a soldier’s lot was not a profitable one. I think he earned, at the most, around 580 baht a month, which was not enough to support a family of five. I now understand that’s why the government provided free housing to soldiers.

New Year’s Day, which was celebrated in one of the fields at the base, was the only occasion I would receive toys. All the children would line up, and the high-ranking officers would present us with a gift. I still cherish the memory of the day I was given a small doll and a box of cookies. It probably doesn’t sound too exciting now, but we were poor and looked forward to such rare treats immensely.

Por
was a quiet man who wanted a quiet life, but sadly, life in our house was rarely so. It was for this reason that he discouraged us from playing with the neighbouring kids. Sometimes, if one kid beat up another, the parents of both sides foolishly got involved and quarrelled. Although Thais generally try to avoid confrontation, as this is deemed as losing face, if a member of their family gets into a row, taking your family’s side is a must, regardless of the circumstances.

In Thailand, it is customary not to lose face. Face is an often misunderstood part of Thai culture. It means, to put it simply, a state of being respected by others, and yet there is nothing simple about face.

Thais generally tolerate poor service, because to complain would mean to lose face, both for the customer and for the waiter. Although face was extremely important to the families in the camp, they still engaged in these petty confrontations.

The many similarities between the lives of our neighbours and my family, strike me now as being most peculiar. Children were driven to school on a bus provided by the army. Our fathers went to work and then returned home in the evenings to gather at bamboo benches under the trees to drink. Meanwhile, the wives developed gambling addictions brought on by boredom, and fought with their husbands for not earning more money. It was a demoralising life for the adults, though the children did not realise this until they were much older.

You could say that my parents were conservative. My mother was very disciplined when it came to her children, and spent a lot of time yelling at us not to do this or that. She never let me go downtown with my friends because, she told me, it was a waste of time, since I had no money to buy anything.

This was the one aspect of my childhood that I hated above all: the constant reminders of my father’s financial predicament, particularly in relation to school. I can remember one time in particular when I wanted more than anything to be someone else. One of my school teachers told the class to make a pair of maracas out of two coconut shells. He wanted us to lacquer and decorate our instruments as colourfully as possible. He urged us to try our best, warning us that we were being graded on them.

That evening I went home and made a hole in the coconut shells, filled them with pebbles, and pushed a stick into each one. I shook them and they sounded like maracas. After playing with them for a while, I was ready to move on to the next stage—decoration.

There was nothing in our house suitable for this, so I asked
mae
for money to buy colouring pens and lacquer. She said no. I went to
por
, and he also refused, explaining that they couldn’t afford it. There was nothing to be done except present my maracas as they were. I tried valiantly to trim the hair with the kitchen knife, but it didn’t improve the overall effect; they were still very obviously coconut shells shoved onto two sticks.

The next day I brought them into school and nervously made excuses for the absence of any colour or frivolity. Instead of being angry, the teacher told me that he completely understood my situation, since none of the other poor students could afford to decorate their maracas either. He went on to say that, unfortunately, he couldn’t give me a good mark for the assignment, because I hadn’t completed it properly.

I do not pretend that this determined my eventual destiny, but I reacted to it by somehow admitting defeat. Today, I still think about this incident and how it affected me. I accepted what the teacher said and decided that there was no point in me trying too hard in the future, as I couldn’t change my circumstances.

Poverty became a constant theme in my education. If we were given school projects to complete at home, I never asked my parents for help or money. Instead, I would tell the teacher that I was incapable of completing the task.

Such incidents had a profound effect upon me. Above all, I promised myself that if I ever became a mother, I would make sure my children never had to go without, and that I would do whatever it took to provide for them.

I was 17 years old when I first discovered that my father was unfaithful to my mother. I have no doubt that
mae
probably knew that it had been happening for years, but she never complained. That is the Thai way of coping with such problems. We avoid confrontation and decline, politely of course, to discuss issues that impact upon us.

On paydays, the men headed to a nightclub downtown where they discreetly flirted with women. Maybe it was their uniforms, or the fact that so many went drinking together in a jovial group without their wives, but whatever the reason, there was no shortage of extramarital relations. The wives never accompanied their husbands to the bars. It was strictly a male ‘bonding’ exercise, and they were a secretive bunch, protecting one another from disgruntled wives, providing alibis, and so forth.

Perhaps
mae
realised this a few years into the marriage, and turned elsewhere for excitement, but in a different way to my father.

The women at the base gathered in each other’s houses while the men were at work. They spent their mornings doing housework and met in the afternoons to play cards and gamble. Normal practice was to return just before the husbands finished work, though my mother grew more careless about this as the months passed.

Gambling is a common enough source of entertainment in Thailand. Many Thai men bet on sporting events, from boxing to cockfighting to
pla-kad (
fish-fighting), whereas the women gamble on card games.

BOOK: Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Space by Stephen Baxter
The Drafter by Kim Harrison
The Odds of Lightning by Jocelyn Davies
Dragonfly by Julia Golding
The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
As Good As It Gets? by Fiona Gibson