Last week found the author visiting with 45-year-old Bayong Yamsang at her humble tin shack (see back issues: Talking about the Darker Side – Part I, 23 September 2002: http://www.bangkokpost.com/kat/archives/230902a.html). The discussion with Bayong now continues…
When questioned about her daily schedule, she answered, “I get up every morning at 6 a.m. Most of my day is spent doing housework, taking care of the children and either working or looking for work. I go to bed around 9 p.m.”
When I asked her what she spent the most time thinking about, she stated, “Money. And worrying when my husband is going to come home. He comes home every fifteen days even though I told him to stop coming. He drinks whisky, spends all of his money on whisky. Then, when he is drunk, he likes to box me around the house. Sometimes he does not let me sleep inside.” Her husband is 51 years old and although he does not sound like a good husband, Bayrong thinks he does an OK job at being a father. “The kids are OK most of the time. If there is a problem, they stay away from the house,” she stated.
When asked what she would do if hypothetically given 5,000 baht (USD$120), she was extremely quick to answer. “I would buy food and some supplies for a small (roadside) restaurant. There are a lot of school children in this neighbourhood and I could sell them their lunch and snacks. That way I could still take care of my kids, too.”
Although her house has electricity, it does not have running water. “We get our water from the canal up the street. We use it to wash clothes and dishes in, and for bathing. And we drink it,” she said, and then proceeded to giggle at the shocked expression on my face. When questioned about her health care, she said, “I don’t get sick very much. If I do, I can go to the hospital but they don’t charge me the full price because I have a card from the government telling them not to.”
Given the fact that six other tin houses share the small plot of land she lives on and the fact that five to six people live in her house, I can guess that there are about 38 people using the small outhouse on the premises. Good thing there is a lot of undeveloped jungle in the surroundings. When questioned about problems with snakes, she stated, “Of course they are here! We kill them and eat them!”
I then went with her on a tour of her house. Actually, it is a one-room tin-roofed structure with plywood floor adjoining a similar structure. Inside was an enormous bed for the entire family, a fan, a small rice cooker, a jumble of clothing, an old tire, one drinking cup, a few dishes, a clock, a propane gas stove, and a very small table. A defunct mosquito net was above the bed. It was less than meticulous and very claustrophobic. I had to remark to myself how incredibly hot it must get inside in Thailand’s tropical heat with the tin only serving to increase the already soaring temperatures. Bayong showed me her house and reported on her life without a bat-of-the-eye. She struck me as a tough and down-to-earth character, probably the reason why she was brave enough to stick around and talk to me in the first place when everyone else chose to vanish. I felt a bit odd asking her a bunch of questions with answers that seemed more than obvious to her. When I enquired if there was anything she wished to know aboabout me, she blushed out of shyness and declined.
I asked her if she thinks her life would get better and her response shocked me, not only because of its sadness, but also because of its incredible directness with respect to Thai culture. “My life is never going to get better. Not until my husband is dead or stops coming home. I wish I could leave but I can’t. I have nowhere to go.” His whisky drinking and drunken rages have obviously left her terrified of seeing him.
I felt humble and grateful as I climbed back into my car and headed off to my home where air-conditioning, running water, food, comfort and convenience were all waiting for me. Although I had driven by Bayong’s house hundreds of times before visiting her and had always assumed living there was difficult, it turned out that her life was even darker than I had expected. Bayong accepts her life and everything that goes with it in stride. I consider her to be a woman of remarkable strength.