Born to an army sergeant major in Isan (Northeastern Thailand), the author Bua had a happy childhood growing up among military tanks and trucks. She had no money for toys or even colour pencils while her mother gambled away her allowance and her father squandered money at watering holes on payday.
Before long, her parents were fighting and she would hide in her neighbour’s house. Her mother’s gambling habit grew worse. When she was 17, her father found a lover and her mother decided to leave him and take her and her sister to Bangkok. After having settled down in the Thai capital, her mother sold som tam (papaya salad) on the streets. A bartender by the name of Chai tried to hit on Bua. Her mother opened doors for him and urged Bua to marry him even though Bua had no feelings for him.
Bua and Chai got married and she only found out that he was a nut case who was very loving one moment and downright abusive the very next minute when she was pregnant with his child. Bua was beaten up whenever he suspected that she was having an affair. Bua decided to leave him and she left her son with her father in Khorat.
Bua went to work as a bartender, then a hostess at an upmarket nightclub. A wealthy Japanese businessman by the name of Hiroshi became enamoured with her. He showered her with money and gifts, hoping that she would agree to be his mistress. She rejected him, but he patiently courted her, thinking that she was a shy virgin playing hard to get. After three years, the amazingly generous and patient Japanese man gave up and stopped supporting her. Bua had to abandon her classy apartment and move into a shanty hut in a slum.
Then, she met a motorcycle courier by the name of Yuth who was “more attractive than Chai”. She found him “sweet” and “affectionate”. In spite of the tremendous restraint she showed in rejecting the wealthy and mature Hiroshi’s advances, she wasted no time in jumping into bed with the vocal and showy Yuth. Shockingly yet predictably, he turned out to be another wife-beater. She wanted to leave him but discovered that she was pregnant (again). She gave birth to two of his children and while he doted on them, he refused to work and the family eventually drifted into financial dire straits.
Bua tried to work as a hostess again, but at 29, she was deemed too old for the upmarket establishments catering to wealthy Asians. Realising that her “market value” had plummeted, she was recruited into a Patpong gogo bar by another Isan girl by the name of Nok. Yuth was agreeable to her prostituting herself as long as she only slept with Farangs and not Thais. Bua received her thong bikini and started dancing on stage, trying to get horny Farang men to bring her back to their hotel rooms.
Nhim, the mamasan at the gogo bar, ran a tight ship with strict house rules. Bua was regularly subjected to the indignity of having regular blood tests and her vagina douched at a VD clinic.
Before long, the inevitable happened. Bua met a then 35-year-old engineer from California by the name of Jack. He not only gave her orgasms, he even took her shopping. Bua was in the habit of telling her clients about an abusive ex-spouse to gain sympathy. She lied to Jack that she was a single parent. After Jack left Thailand, he sent her a long love email. She looked forward to the day Jack would book her on the next flight to California.
Jack visited Thailand frequently, but he seemed contented to remain a regular customer in spite of their apparently romantic relationship. As expected, Bua’s mother welcomed Jack with open arms but discreetly warned her not to get emotionally involved. Bua did not tell him that she was still living with an abusive husband and two children. She became confused and ambivalent. One moment, she was doubting his sincerity when he didn’t seem to mind her sleeping with other men in his absence and yet another moment, she was hating him for being possessive when he wanted her for himself only.
One day, Bua received an email from a certain Sarah – Jack’s fiancee! Emails from Jack stopped after that. She realised that she was not the only liar in the relationship.
Bua’s sister Nang found herself a Norwegian boyfriend and married him. She was instantly inundated with requests for money from family members to distant relatives. Nang offered Bua a means of escape from her unhappy marriage, but she couldn’t bear to leave her children. Seeing that the two of them were so attached to their father, they would hate her if she took them away. Bua ends the book with hope that she would one day meet a Farang who could rescue her from prostitution. Ironically, prostitution is her only way of finding him.
I finished reading this book in a couple of hours. It’s really very “light” compared to the classics that I often have to pore over word for word. I’m not sure if Bua had used a ghostwriter, but the language is simple, fluent and unpretentious. I can’t say that I’ve learned anything new from this book, but it does offer a complete story with an insider’s view of how a typical Thai bargirl came to be.
However, I take issue with Bua’s understanding of the Buddhist concept of karma. She wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that I must have done some terrible deeds in a past life to warrant such a terrible present”. It seems pretty obvious to me that the mess she found herself in was largely the result of her imprudence in this life. Suffice to say that she has not won my sympathy.
© Chan Joon Yee
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© Chan Joon Yee