Thailand's Sex Workers
With Thailand's borders closed, a good living turned into a bad one for the country's sex workers.
"At 11 a.m. at a bar on Soi 6, Pattaya's main red-light strip, the dancers who had moved into the spare rooms upstairs were just waking up, bleary eyed and untangling themselves from rumpled blankets printed with Disney princesses or SpongeBob SquarePants. The women were still in big T-shirts and basketball shorts or loose cotton dresses, their platform heels stacked on the steps of the hot pink-painted stairwell. A washing machine filled with last night's uniform of short shorts and crop tops rumbled in the hall.
Downstairs at the bar, the metal gate was rolled halfway up as the dancers got ready for another shift. One woman flat-ironed another's hair as she ate a breakfast of hot noodle soup. Others perched on barstools in front of the mirrors, applying makeup while Thai pop songs played from their phones.
N., 28, who asked that only her first initial be used, says that before the pandemic, "the men would just walk in." They'd buy the women drinks, for which they would earn a 50-baht ($1.60) commission. Perhaps a patron might hire one of them for the evening. On a good night, these sex workers could make as much as 3,000 to 6,000 baht, $100 to $200.
The night before, a Friday, most of them had made no money at all.
They were all working harder and earning less, N. says. There were about a dozen women at each of the Soi 6 bars that managed to stay open, fewer than before, but far outnumbering the foreign customers, most of whom were expats living in Pattaya or visitors from Bangkok.
"Boys, boys, boys, where are you going," the women said as a couple of men strolled by. "I love you!" they yelled at strangers. They pretended to swoon and called every passing man handsome. One woman, tilting on her stilettos, tugged with her full might at a man's arm to pull him in and perhaps oblige him to buy her a shot. He wrestled his arm freeand walked on."
Text by Aurora Almendral