A Familiar And Sad Tale From Issan
Schoolteacher girlfriend Nok has been working pretty hard for 5 months in her new job and consequently we have both been looking forward to getting away for a few days. It’s the longest it’s been since she saw Mat, her 10 year old son, and I like Issan and, in particular, her family, so post Songkran (when she had to work!) it was off to Udon Thani.
Driving up on the Thursday when there was little traffic around was a pleasure and we made it to Udon in just over 6 hours. Two very pleasant surprises – firstly no tolls on the expressways, and, secondly, not getting stopped once by the boys in
brown! (3 times on my first trip last year). I’ve still got to get back though!
Sunday, and Nok and I are due to head off to Nongkhai. First however we needed to drop off Mat, who had been staying with us since Friday, at his village home just outside Udon. Initially this surprised me as I thought Mat was joining us on our trip, and Nok was a bit vague about the reasons for this change of plan.
Things became clearer when we reached the village, and a sad tale unfolded, to my eyes at least. On my previous, and first, visit in February last year, I was introduced to an elderly lady in her 80s, referred to by everybody as “grandmother”. She was obviously the matriarchal figure in the community, and, in fact, it was only after she had tied a good luck string around my wrist that full approval of my relationship with Nok seemed to be granted!
A few weeks ago this grand lady, sadly, passed away. It was only on Sunday, though, that I realised she had been caring for two of her own grandchildren. The lad, Leo, is 12, and the girl, Oy, I was startled to discover is 19, as she has the looks and maturity of a 15 or 16 year old.
The mother of these two children has resided in Pattaya for the past 10 years, and apparently is employed in the house of a farang as a “cleaner”. She also has a younger sister who is working somewhere in the bars of Pattaya.
The main purpose of our trip to the village was to say goodbye to Leo with whom Mat had grown up, and who was heading off to the local wat. After 6 months there he would then join the Khon Kaen wat which provides proper schooling.
Head shaved and tidily dressed, the lad looked terrified. The only “mother” he had known had died recently, and now he was going to be taken away from his community and embark on a life very different to that of his first 12 years.
This part of the story was sad enough. I then, however, discovered that later that day Oy was off to Pattaya. Her mother has decided that there are better job opportunities for her in Sin City (call me a cynic but I don’t think she’s talking serving in 7 Eleven!) and that she will be able to “meet a farang to take care of her”! Because the mother cannot provide accommodation for her daughter, the younger sister, the one working in the bars, will take Oy under her wing.
Nok and I spent 20 minutes with the girl trying to explain what she is letting herself in for, but we weren’t able to persuade her to change her mind. Like most families in Thailand the mother / daughter ties are strong, even when there has been little contact over the years. Oy believes, or, more likely, has been persuaded that “meeting a farang” is the answer to her problems, and that Pattaya is the place to do so.
We talked to her about what goes on in Pattaya, the types of farang she is likely to meet there, and that there are perhaps other ways to achieve the farang objective (if, indeed, this is what she really wants – she is, after all only 19, and a very young 19 at that), such as shopping mall jobs, the internet, even caddying at resort orientated golf courses. This was all to no avail, because mother had already decided! All we could get from her was a promise to call Nok if things were bad, and we told her that she could stay with us in Samut Prakan until she gets herself sorted.
We will be here in Udon Thani and Khon Kaen until the end of this week. I’ve asked Nok to find out as much as possible about Oy’s whereabouts in Pattaya and we will take a trip down there next week and see how things are working out. I could of course be completely wrong in my assumptions and we may just find Oy happily employed in Mike’s Department Store, but somehow I think not. I know enough not to get too involved, but I’d like this child to know that she has other options.
I know this is an all too common story in Thailand. It is, though, the first time I have seen it so close to home. I hope this girl can be kept out of the bars, or taken out before the bar can’t be taken out of her, and I know Nok will do what she can, but, somehow I suspect this is another sad Issan tale…
This really is very sad. I can understand a mother entering the bar industry because she has no money to provide for her children – and that is probably the most common reason for entering the industry. A terrible choice to make, but understandable. However, the situation you have outlined is something altogether different and a woman so young will be changed forever by the industry…