Today I received an SMS from one of my streetwalker acquaintances, Gai, informing me she is “yaritai”. This is an informal Japanese word meaning “want to do”. Want to do what, you may ask. Well let us just say she’s not coming over to my place to debate drone strikes in Pakistan.
I’ve known Gai for over a year, but had gone awhile without seeing her until we bumped into each other down on Sukhumvit Road a few months back. I was returning home after an evening of Eight Ball while she was just beginning her “day”. Upon seeing me, she gave me a big hug, telling the other ladies that I was jai dii — good hearted. (I appreciated the compliment.)
Like most Thai women in her profession, Gai’s life has been difficult. Her husband died a dozen years ago, driving while drunk, leaving her to raise their daughter. Thailand can be a hard country, especially for single mothers. Though wages have risen noticeably in recent years, most women still only make ten thousand baht a month at best ($300). Not the kind of money that leads to a better future.
Both this year and last, I have paid part of the school tuition for Gai’s daughter. This was done on my own initiative. By Thai standards, I am unimaginably wealthy and there are occasions when helping one of them seems like a good idea. Admittedly, there’s no shortage of Bangkok bar girls and go-go dancers who are simply out to see how much money they can extract from a naive farang (white foreigner). But the solitary streetwalkers who linger on Sukhumvit into the pre-dawn hours are in general far less predatory and manipulative (and, unfortunately, less attractive). In some cases they have been dealt a very bad hand.
Such as Gai. This year, her seventy-six-year-old mother has become very ill and is possibly dying. Though it sounds like there are numerous children around to help out, the primary responsibility for her mom’s care has fallen on Gai, meaning she can no longer work the streets and thus has no money coming in. Again, I have provided assistance by paying for two hospital visits, the most recent involving a CAT scan. Nowadays, whenever we talk on the phone, Gai has her mom say a few words of simple Thai to me, expressing her gratitude.
Guess I truly am jai dii.