Thailand At Work – Streetwalkers and Roadworkers
A year or so back ‘I wouldn’t get out of bed for that kind of money’ were spoken words that could often be heard in conversation in the UK. One year on and the beds of many UK households are creaking as the occupant endures another sleepless night worrying as to whether their interview went well enough to secure the menial, minimum wage post they applied for. Recession and depression are nowadays the perfect rhyme.
Very few of us pursue a career path that is one of intention. For most the perfect occupation never materialises. I always wanted to be a sports journalist, but the kids watching the polo matches and eating the strawberries and cream on centre court used words far more descriptive than mine. ‘ The referee’s a bastard,’ was the adjective and objective in the school of thought I passed through.
In Thailand, alive and survive are more commonplace rhyming partners. Shirk your work, and there’s no social benefit payments to feed the hungry mouths of your family. Or patch the hole in the roof before the rainy season closes in and swamps you.
Looking through my growing archive of Thailand photographs, I couldn’t help but notice the number of pictures that featured ladies working the streets and roads of Thailand. Working in extreme temperatures for a wage that probably beats many but lags behind loads more.
I’m uncertain if the top photo is of a man or woman, but I can assure you the day hasn’t and never will arrive when they can dump their food cart in the nearest Klong (canal) and retire to their villa in Phuket. The streetwalkers’ earnings will be above Thailand’s minimum wage but only because of the great effort and long hours that come with the job they do.
The lady pictured on the right dodges and weaves through traffic each day to sell her lucky flower garlands (phuang malai) to motorists sat waiting for the lights to change. It’s an occupation that swallows pollution but offers no real solution to the grander trappings of life.
Seeing ladies working on building sites and in road gangs comes as a surprise to many western visitors to Thailand, But the shock quickly becomes a commonplace thing. Thailand’s high number of single mothers make competition for the more arduous jobs just as gender competitive as London or New York’s search to fill its office and IT slots. Equal rights may be the way of the west, but in Thailand, a lass can expect to get paid a little less than the males of the road gangs.
A streetwalker selling her wares (picture right). The streetwalkers of Thailand are a vital cog that keeps the Thai economy churning. Streetwalking in the Land of Smiles reads street walking. Not so, in the western world.
Some of the food street peddlers carry their goods across their shoulders. The baskets contain many different things from sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves to honeycomb whisked from a beehive. The occasional vendor has a little moonshine hidden under it all. There’s no hiding the fact it’s a long hot day with little money at its end.
The wheels of the Thai economy are turned and churned by the feet on the street. Food vendors, shoeshine boys, lottery ticket vendors and trinket girls peddle their goods in a bid to survive and keep their small, modest dream alive.
Getting out of bed and hitting the streets to make your living in Thailand involves long hours in extreme weather. Facing blistering heat and heavy rainfall is rewarded with a wage that’s meagre or modest at best. Thailand is a tough country in which to earn a living, and in a strange, bizarre twist, a working-class girl has to get into bed to make the big bucks everyone wants, if she’s lucky.