Relationship and Hardship at the Bottom of the Social Pyramid
Toying with a kretek, the clove-tobacco cigarette, a whirling motion - a habit of some sort. I made my way across Klong Toey like many times before, the same old ritual, almost like whistling a tune while walking.
Klong Teoy is all about urban poverty, one that many Thais call a "crowded community" suspiciously avoiding words like ghetto or slum, possibly out of embarrassment.
Initial thoughts of being entrenched in the slums for a prolonged duration doesn't bother my well-being, though I am moved by the struggles of the poor. Bangkok, is a prime South East Asian destination for entertainment-hungry tourists, with the neon-filled nightlife and cheap goods sold openly at every street corner.
Poverty is oppression. Especially when the rich, in the city's social circle, sustains the mentality of the poor that they will always be poor, generation after miserable generation, is day-light robbery of human rights.
I have grown accustomed to Klong Toey, and made fast friends in other slums and dodgy back lanes of the city.
Maen, a 32 year old male street vendor, works 4 km away from his Klong Toey home, selling sausages on a mobile food cart. He has a girlfriend, who works at a nearby supermarket, and both had aspiration to settle down, one day, and start a family. Their story was created from shared values of affection and understanding urban hardship.
But tonight, a shirtless, dazed Maen, waved the brown cloth to ward away a swarm of mosquitoes, and said "We no longer together."
"What happened?" I asked, pausing briefly, not itching to light the kretek in between my lips.
"Bad time, she go back to her village. Sick grandfather." he said, avoiding looking at me. "We cannot be together. Same same, bad times."
He spoke for an hour, unhappy, switching constantly from English to Thai. His Leo beer was untouched, he kept shrugging his shoulders, his thoughts lost in a haze of desolation. I barely had time to digest his words, but I was aware of the sadness associated with a breakup.
The story goes that she had to leave her stable income, her friends and lover to look after her mother's aging father. There was no one else to look after him in the village. Money is a need, but she could not neglect her responsibility nor could she be in two places at once. By the time Maen was done sharing, tears flowed down his cheeks and chin.
The fact is people living in the slums face the same problems affecting society. Dehumanizing the poor, blaming their lack of emotions and sensibility, their poor education, and almost empty bank accounts, is common. Society at large seems bent on placing the poor in the lowest caste possible, while setting their children into a debased social class. For what? For the sheer pleasure of widening the gap between the rich and poor.
Poverty makes or breaks an individual. Many are subjected to a life devoid of prolonged happiness. Maen is a hardworking man respected by his friends and neighbors, despite his eccentricities. Not an easy life, for the likes of him, and many others.
Maen's life is a whirling motion of misfortune. Having little money and living at the bottom of the social pyramid makes it worse.