The recent winner of the Chomnard Award, writer Thanadda “Eri” Sawangduen talks about becoming a prostitute, the justice system and the difficulties of starting a new life.

I grew up in Bangkok. But we lost our house after my dad couldn’t pay the mortgage. After that, we had to move often.

At 17 years old, I got pregnant after having sex with one of my cousins. It was my first time. I dropped out of school in ninth grade but he didn’t take care of me and once hit me. So I had to go look for a job.

I did a lot of odd jobs, like washing dishes and helping at a shop, until a friend invited me to work in Pattaya, as a waitress.

It turned out I had to sit in front of a mirror waiting for customers to pick me and go drink with them. At that time, I still didn’t know what this could lead to.

I had no customer for four days and only four baht in my pocket. The mama san introduced me to a client who later took me to a hotel for sex. I told him I was not a prostitute and asked to leave. He gave me 4,000 baht, though we didn’t do anything.

I realized how easy the money was and I made up my mind to be a prostitute.

I only slept with foreigners. I was too embarrassed to sleep with Thai guys.

I never let my family know anything about my career. I think they were curious but never dared to ask.

After a few months, I came back to Bangkok. I didn’t want to do this job anymore. I started selling cigarettes in Patpong but the money wasn’t anything like my old job.

I always dreamed of going abroad. When an agent asked me to be a prostitute in Hong Kong, I immediately accepted, even after he warned me that I would have to be with 20-30 men per day.

It was really traumatic. After three weeks, I went to the police to beg them to arrest me and deport me. I made about B80,000 from my stay there.

After a week in Thailand, I took another job in Japan. I met a powerful yakuza in Shinjuku and he let me run his hostess bar for a year. He also gave me a new nickname, Eri, which means perfect lady.

I made millions of baht but I lost it all to gambling.

I tried to run away but the yakuza beat me. Finally, he was arrested in a murder case. I met an ex-client, and we got married.

While I was waiting for my wedding visa in Thailand, I was arrested and accused of intoxicating a guy to steal his money. In fact, he nearly raped me. I was jailed for three years.

This is the problem with Thai justice. Many people in jail are innocent. They don’t have money to fight in court and they get tricked by the police. My accuser even cried to me that he was sorry to send me to jail.

I tried out a lot of jobs but none of the jobs worked out because I was too old.

So I went back to being a prostitute. I met a guy who said my story was extraordinary and said I should write a book.

I never expected that my story would gain this much attention and win an award.

I have nothing to lose from telling my story. I just want to say that our lives are not easy. We’re miserable and don’t have any options. We need organizations to teach us skills.

I can’t stop other girls from going into prostitution but I want to warn them that this work brings money but not a good life.

Poverty is the main problem. If people weren’t so poor, they would have more opportunities to be something else.

I dream of having some skills to make an honest living, as a make-up artist, manicurist or hairdresser—anything.

Don’t discriminate based on age or people’s past profession. We’re human. We’re all equal. We have more ability than people might think. Just give us a chance.“Chan Kue Eri” is available at bookstores nationwide (in Thai) for B159.


Leave a Comment