Aomsin, from Myanmar, is a sex worker in Thailand in her 20s. She recounted her story to authors Shivaji Das and Yolanda Yu, who collected Aomsin’s and many other migrant workers’ personal histories in their book “The Visible Invisibles: Stories of Migrant Workers in Asia.” Told in their own voices, the stories paint an intimate portrait of the lives of low-wage migrant workers in Asia.
Aomsin’s story below is excerpted from the book and published with permission from Penguin Random House SEA.
I was born in Shan state in Myanmar. We are three brothers and three sisters. My parents were farmers. But my father was taken away by the Myanmar army to work for them as a porter. He escaped to Thailand and started working there. The rest of my family came later to join him. In Thailand, my parents worked as day laborers in farms, sometimes in lychee plantations, sometimes in garlic or onion farms.
When I came to Thailand, I was about 8 years old. I remember that we walked for three or four days to the border and then some people put us in a truck. There were many boxes filled with cabbage in the truck. So we became like cabbage. My family had to pay a lot to sit in that truck. They dropped us in the middle of the night on top of a mountain. We had to hide there overnight before we could come down to find a way to get into the town.
I was a normal kid: eat, play, sleep. In Myanmar, I was going to school. But in Thailand, I stopped studying after middle-high school and started working. I really wanted to study, but life just didn’t make it possible. I believe everyone should have some basic education. So many years later, I joined Empower, our sex worker organization, which runs education programs. There, I finished my high school. I studied because I just wanted to be smarter.
As a child, I was always at home, taking care of my siblings and doing housework. On weekends, I went to work, peeling garlic. Then I started working in the kitchen of a noodle restaurant. It was ridiculous. They made me work like 12 or 14 hours a day, for nothing, you know, very low salary. So I quit and took up the job of looking after an old person. After that, I became a domestic helper with a family close to that old person. That work was good, but my elder sister needed help in her restaurant in Bangkok so I went there.
This was almost like a 24-hour job, not just at the restaurant but also at the house. It was too much. So I came back home and began working in a tofu shop. Here again, the hours were long and the pay was very little. So I began serving beer in a small pub. And then some friends said, if you do the same work in a karaoke bar instead, you will get a much bigger salary. So I joined a karaoke bar. The conditions weren’t so good in that place.
After some time, I joined a Go Go bar. That is where I became a sex worker.
As a sex worker, I have more freedom and have to work less hours. Most customers are good men with very respectable jobs and they are very polite. For those customers who are not, we spread the word very quickly amongst all the sex workers: “Don’t go with this guy. He’s fussy, he’s mean or whatever.”
Earlier, I was the main breadwinner for my family. I built them a house. I also paid for the education of my brothers and sisters. Now that all that is done. I have already reduced the amount I send each month to my family. But since COVID, I can’t send anything. All Go Go bars are closed. There are no tourists also. I try to make do by selling lottery tickets, waitressing, whatever I can do. Sometimes I get some money for doing outreach or other work for our movement. But it has been hard. My savings are shrinking fast. I have many people behind me – my family – to take care of.
Once I was planning to use some of my savings to buy a home in Shan state. And then I imagined that I would have one home in Thailand and one home in Shan state. But with the recent military coup and the war going on, I stopped thinking about that. You know, we like all the local food here in Thailand, we work here, do everything here, but in my heart I feel that I am Shan. But then… actually sometimes in my heart I feel Thai…
What can I say about my future plans? I’m a normal kind of person. In my free time, I watch movies, sleep, listen to music, go home and visit my parents … or shopping, clothes or gold (laughs) …
So like any normal kind of person, yeah, one day I do want to have my own family. But it’s not something I’m looking for or something that I’m avoiding. I will need to keep working until I don’t need money or gold anymore. But I may change jobs.
If I stop working, life will be so boring. So even if I didn’t need the money or the gold, I will probably still do something. The last two years have been very boring without any work. Yeah. It has been a long holiday.
I have a dream: that on the first and fifteenth of every month – the day the lottery comes – I win the lottery. Then I will use that money to buy a big house and buy some more land. Then I want to come to Singapore.
Should I tell you the truth? I am now a stateless person. So before my dream comes true, I first need to get some kind of travel document, so it’s a long way. Anyway, people without a country don’t ever get any retirement pension. They have to work till they die, yeah.
I am not sure, I don’t know about my future. How about you? Do you know your future?