• Published: 8/11/2009 at 12:00 AM
• Newspaper section: Spectru
From her appearance, Pui, 31, (not her real name) looks like a perfectly normal, healthy Thai woman. But she is actually HIV-positive. By day Ms Pui is a part-time cleaner and a mother to a 16-year-old daughter; by nights, she is a freelance prostitute, working along Sukhumvit Road. She has sold her body for the past eight years.
Ms Pui, who keeps her condition a secret from her family and friends, has unprotected sex with customers, even though having sex without a condom is probably how she contracted the disease in the first place.
“Now it’s too late for me to think what I should have done better in the past. Surely I would do things differently by insisting on a condom. I was careless.”
A life on the streets was never what she contemplated when Ms Pui left her native village in Loei province in northeastern Thailand about 13 years ago, to look for work in Bangkok. She made the move so she could support herself, her young daughter and her parents.
“I’m not the only one who has done it. There are many other girls who left poverty-stricken villages and came to Bangkok looking for a better life, but not all ended as prostitutes or HIV-positive like me. It was not my intention to become a prostitute, but because of a lack of education [she only had six years of schooling], I couldn’t get a well-paid job here,” she said.
“When I came to Bangkok the first time, I was about 18. I could only find an unskilled job in a factory, for 4,500 baht a month.
“It was enough then, but as my parents were getting older and my daughter growing up, I needed more money.
“I wanted her to be well-educated so she could get a good job, and not end up like me. And the only way to make extra money was to become a prostitute. I started when I was about 23, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Ms Pui said.
“I was definitely infected by a farang, because at that time I only went with them, but now I’ll go with anyone, whether they are Arab, African, Japanese or whatever, provided they give me money,” she said with the same degree of coolness she displayed during the entire interview.
She doesn’t know when she was infected, or who did it.
“It might have been the first man. Who knows?” she said.
Ms Pui goes out looking for customers about 6pm daily, except on Sundays, which she spends with her 16-year-old daughter. Because she is relatively better looking than most of the other women working the streets, she says she can get customers almost every day.
“I’ll walk or stand on the pavement of Sukhumvit Road between sois 3 and 5, and sometimes sit in open bars. Since Middle Eastern men prefer fat girls to skinny ones, who are in the majority, I usually have no problem finding a customer.
“I charge 1,000 baht for a short time and prefer not to use a condom, because it’s faster. I can make money easily and go home. I’ll take only one customer per day, and if I can’t then I’ll go home at 11pm.
“I can’t stay too late because I must get up at 6am to send my daughter to school and then go to work,” she said.
Ms Pui doesn’t show much consideration to her foreign clients and readily agrees to, and even encourages unprotected sex, despite knowing that she might infect not only her customers, but also their wives and girlfriends as well as other prostitutes. Some of her foreign customers, she says, take two or even three women every day.
Surprisingly, Ms Pui blames men for the problems she faces, but denies she is seeking revenge by deliberately infecting them.
Most of the men, especially from the Middle East and Africa, won’t use a condom. Every man who takes girls from the street should realise the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. It appears to me that they don’t really care, so why should I? I’m HIV-positive, they are not!
“The business around Sukhumvit is getting worse for Thai women because of the influx of prostitutes mainly from Uzbekistan and African countries. They’ll stand on the pavement the same as we do and approach foreigners who are passing.”
This gives us a lot of competition, because many men, especially from the Middle East, like to take them,” she complained. “For sure, I’m not the only one who is HIV-positive working on the street. There are others as well.”
Other street women and transsexuals who are joining them on the street in increasing numbers will have sometimes two or even three customers in one day.
“What can I do? I need money now more than ever before. My daughter is a bright student and I want her to continue her studies at a university, so that she can get a well-paid job when she grows up and not end up like me. ”
She wants to be a doctor, but I doubt that this will be possible because I don’t have enough money to give her that kind of education.”I also have to take care of my 65-year-old ailing father.
My mother died six years ago, when she was 44. She didn’t want me to have an abortion; at the time I was only 15-years-old.
“The child’s father, a 20-year-old Thai man, left me before she was born, and never contacted or supported us.”
I haven’t had a boyfriend since and I don’t think that I want one now. I like to stay alone with my daughter.
Ms Pui discovered she was HIV-positive about two years ago after she applied for a manual job with a government agency and was told to have a medical examination before she could start work.
“When I saw the result, I was devastated and tore the medical certificate to pieces. I couldn’t sleep, eat or do anything for days, and I cried constantly. I thought: ‘I am dead.”
“I thought that my sick father and daughter would lose their only breadwinner, and it made me miserable and it still does. After the blood test, I didn’t contact the government agency. “I couldn’t go back and tell them because others would find out sooner or later about my misfortune.” It took her a few days to pull herself together and to find a full-time cleaning job with a private company, where she earns 7,500 baht a month, and importantly for her, there was no compulsory medical check-up required. At the same time she returned to Sukhumvit Road, looking for men.
“As my income from cleaning is not enough, I have to subsidise it by going with men. There’s nothing else for me to do. I have to pay 2,500 baht for a room and utilities, send 2,000 baht monthly to my family and look after my daughter.” At Spectrum’s request, she went to a city hospital and took a further test, which confirmed the original result.
After her first HIV test, a doctor suggested she start taking a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs. She refused, saying it would result in pimples on her face. “Even now, I’m not taking any medicine or getting treatment. But I’m otherwise healthy, apart for an occasional cold. In fact, I’m getting fat. I now weigh almost 75kg.”