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Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute
by Bua Boonmee
with Nicola Pierce
In the interest of privacy, some people have been given pseudonyms. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. PUBLISHED BY MAVERICK HOUSE PUBLISHERS. Maverick House, Oﬃce 19, Dunboyne Business Park, Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland. Maverick House Asia, Level 41, United Centre, 323 Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.maverickhouse.com ISBN: 978-1-905379-43-9 Copyright for text © 2007 Bua Boonmee. Interviews conducted and translated by Pornchai Sereemongkonpol. Copyright for typesetting, editing, layout, design © Maverick House. 54321 The paper used in this book comes from wood pulp of managed forests. For every tree felled, at least one tree is planted, thereby renewing natural resources. The moral rights of the author have been asserted. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for insertion in a newspaper, magazine or broadcast. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This book is dedicated to my children.
ACK NOWL E D G M E NTS
I WOULD LIKE to thank my children, my mother and my sister, for giving their love when I needed it most. Thanks to my friends, especially Roj, Priew, Parn, and Oﬀ, for helping to make my job more bearable. My thanks also to Nicola Pierce and Pornchai Sereemongkonpol for their great work in helping me to tell my story, and to Jean, Gert, Jessica, and Bridgette at Maverick House Publishers.
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 farangs 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.
CH AP T ER 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 twostorey 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
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