Allison Joyce for NPR
In February, NPR published a story on the tolls of the pandemic on Thailand’s sex workers. for COVID hit, international tourism made up 20% of the country’s GDP — and fueled a thriving sex industry. That poured in in March 2020 when the country shut its limits to keep the coronavirus at bay.
sex workers in the cities of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket had a hard time with lack of of sex tourists. Most barely passed, and many returned to their… home provinces in the countryside countryside. We check in with M., one of the sex workers who we interviewed and who has asked for anonymity because individuals have been disowned by their families of banned by their community for Association with a stigmatized, illegal industry.
About the next week, we’re going to look back with some of U.S favorite “Goats and Soda” stories to see “whatever happened met …”
When we interviewed sex workers in Thailand back in September 2020, many held on out hope the pandemic ends soon. But the coronavirus crisis in the country has only gotten worse, with the average number of daily new infections reach her peak on August 13 with 23,418 cases. While some holiday islands, like phuket, have reopened for vaccinated foreign tourists, tourism is far from recovered.
we caught up with M., 33, who we met in the Thai tourist center of Pattaya. Before the pandemic she earned good money as a topless dancer in a go-go bar and as a sex worker. But when we spoke to her during the crisis last year, she said she was struggling send money to her mother, who was caring for her two sons, and sharing one studio apartment with two others women who worked in the same bar. In January she returned to her rural hometown in the northeast region of Isaan and started a job in accountancy in a local hospital.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
AN year ago you were afraid that if tourism did not improve in Pattaya, you should move back to Isan. What led to you? decision leaving the city?
The COVID situation was more strict. There were no tourists of foreigners in Pattaya and I were very concerned over covid. I started thinking about going home because there were almost no customers. My roommates went back home around November last year. It was sad. Our room was quiet and I still had to pay rent for the room [on my own]. Happy, over New Years Eve, me made some money from a customer from Bangkok who came to Pattaya for an island holiday, and I kept it.
At the beginning of January, the bar owner decided to business. I was not sure what else to do in Pattaya. i called my mother and told her I was coming home. But I didn’t leave for another [few weeks] because I was looking for a job in An [government-designated quarantine] hotel in Pattaya but no luck.
what was the city like on the day you left?
I was speechless. I lived in Pattaya for [six years] and never thought that Pattaya would become a deserted one city. Pubs and Bars die were always lit up night are now shut down. The beach is lonely without tourists. At night the beach is a place for people [who have lost their jobs due to COVID] to sleep, and others go there to donate food to the homeless. When I think about it, my heart aches. i’m happy me survived.
Before the pandemic you had dreams of save enough money in Pattaya to buy more farmland for your family and start your own rubber tree plantation in Is on. How many of a dent has put the pandemic in your Savings?
I only had one small amount of money left. I had saved about 10,000 baht ($300) and used it to pay off my rent in Pattaya. I sent something money [in advance] to my mother for The expenses of my two sons, about 3,000 baht ($100).
What was it like when you first got home to your province?
When I returned to my hometown, I still couldn’t stay with us home. I had to report to the village leader and was required in go quarantine for 14 days. Mine mother sent me to live on U.S [small] rubber plantation. She sent me some food and drinking water.
After the quarantine period over, i could go home. I didn’t have much to do except [helping my mom with her] rubber plantation. I was frustrated because I didn’t know what to do next with my life. I started to look for work, starting with to apply for a job as Grab rider [a motorcycle delivery and ride-hailing app]. There are not many restaurants for meal delivery service in my hometown so most of my job was picking up passengers of packages. It didn’t earn a lot of money but was better than staying? home and earn nothing.
I was also pick up shifts a few shifts at the 7-Eleven and works as a life insurance agent.
Your mother and sons were dependent on your income as a sex worker to supplement your living expenses. How did they survive when you returned to Isaan and did not have a steady job?
Live at home without any money [in Isaan] is not as hard as life in Pattaya. In the countryside, we own a house so we don’t need to pay rent. Mine mother grows vegetables for herself. sometimes we buy meat of the market and the price of fresh food is not expensive like in Pattaya. Last year mine mother rented half of her rubber plantation to some farmers, so she made enough cash until live on.
What are you doing now?
l [started] work as a bookkeeper in a hospital [in early July]. My friend told me the hospital was looking for staff. I had to pass an accounting exam to be able to apply. l wanted this job because I planned to [make enough money to] Get on met improving our house.
Before the pandemic you said your job in Pattaya’s red-light neighbourhood earned you more money than from your previous one office function. Are you making enough? money in your office position now?
I’m a full-time employee with a monthly income. The salary may not be much, but there are health care, education for children and pension advantages.
How will COVID continue to affect you?
I’m afraid I’ll get infected with COVID because there are infected patients who come to the hospital. I protect myself by wearing An double mask.
what is life like for you now?
My routine has changed. On the weekend I have time to be with mine family. I make new friends. [Instead of going to bed late because of my evening shift at the bar], I get up early and go to a day job. It’s funny, I used to complain that one day I would have to sleep like a normal person!
Are you missing something over Pattaya?
Party life, pretty men, drinks with friends. I hardly drink anymore because of mine new professionbut I miss it so much.
Suchada Phoisaat is a in Thailand-based producer in Bangkok.
Aurora Almendral is an American journalist based on in South East Asia.
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