Dawn in the topics is an ellusive, transient affair, more a dividing line than an interval of time. On one side are the ladies of the night, trying to hail a cab home after servicing their final customer. (A real challenge as the cabbies are far more interested in picking up a drunken tourist too woozy to realize he’s being fleeced.) On the other side are the day workers, just beginning to stir in the brief coolness of the early morning. With the protesters continuing to block off major intersections in the city, they will be facing an even more crowded, miserable commute than usual.
Despite these disruptions, the maids who work in my apartment complex always arrive by eight, exchanging lively greetings with the pair of security guards wrapping up their night shifts. I have always been slightly bewildered by this routine. Back when I was holding down a job, I never felt like talking to anyone until maybe lunchtime, and that was on a good day. There’s a reason they call it the rat race; for me most mornings were a grind.
I can always pick out the cheerful, sharp voice of Lek (the one on the left) amongst the animated conversations that drift up through my balcony door, occasionally disrupting my morning sleep-in. She’s one of those amiable people I at times envy. Whenever she greets me — in Thai, of course — she always asks simple questions and is invariably patient in waiting for my stumbling responses. Fond of me as well: upon hearing last year that I was leaving for my two month U.S. vacation, she broke into tears.
Lek works in the main building of the apartment complex that serves as a kind of hotel, with tourists tourists checking in and out every few days. Being a month-by-month tenant, I also reside there. Every Monday afternoon, she along with another woman or two clean my room, which is how I have gotten to know her and the crew. This cannot be rewarding work, changing sweaty sheets, scouring grimy shower stalls and scrubbing out toilets. To make their jobs less onerous, I try to have everything picked up and out of the way before they arrive, sometimes leaving a trio of cold fruit juice packets — exotic tropical flavors of course — on top of the refrigerator. A welcome refreshment when one has to spent most of the day laboring in hot, cluttered confines. And of course I always leave a tip: two hundred baht ($6) each on regular days, or five hundred ($17) around a major holiday such as New Years.
And what better way to lift their spirits than a glass or two of red wine? Well, maybe that’s being a bit too kind-hearted, although I love teasing them about it, sometimes asking them to stop by my now sparkling-clean room for an after-hours nightcap. (They decline, but are always amused by the invitation.)
These women are deserving of any and all generosities. Their work is not well-paying and certainly not glamorous, yet they go about it each day with a pleasant attitude and a kind of dignity not easily found on Soi 4.