Naomi Collett Ritz interviews Siem Reap masseuse, Minea, about her time in Thailand as an illegal migrant, being ‘sponsored’ by an Australian sex tourist, and the cheapness of Chinese customers.
Minea and I like to watch Californication when she massages me, but it is so much more entertaining when she tells me stories. When she turned 17, she paid the border police 4000 baht to walk into Thailand without papers. She lived there for ten years working as a nanny and a masseuse before moving back to Cambodia seven years ago. Last week I asked her why she came back, and how her life in Thailand compared to her life in Siem Reap.
“Well,” she started, “the food in Thailand is shit, darling. The money and the men are better, but the food – they don’t know. One cook I know in Bangkok he can make very good soup. And he is so handsome and big,” she winks and holds up her pinky, “not like Cambodia men.”
She works just off Pub Street, and gets paid one dollar per day plus any tips. But she said she’d had more work in Thailand than she ever gets in Cambodia. Before me, she’d only had three customers in the last three days, and “the Chinese and Japanese no tip, darling. Two hours, three hours and no tip. And when I am sick my boss take away two dollars from me every day. So cheap, darling, no good.”
Apparently when she lived in Bangkok she got a kidney infection and her boss paid for her surgery. When he was 81 he got very sick and stayed at Siriraj Hospital for treatment, so Minea stayed in the hospital with him until he passed away two years later.
Soon after he died, she moved back to Cambodia and settled in Siem Reap. She grew up in Battambang and said that she loves going there to visit her mother when her hands hurt from too much massaging. But she won’t live there again because it is too difficult to make money.
She met her boyfriend at work – one of her customers. I asked if he lived in Cambodia. No, she snorted, he lives in Australia and visits every four or five months.
“I am lucky, darling, he sponsor me. Send me 500 or 600 dollars to feed me, buy something nice clothes. In Thailand I keep the money for me, all. Buy some nice fish to eat. Now I come back to Cambodia I can give money to my sisters and my brothers. But my young sister call me a taxi girl. And when she hit she baby I tell her no hit on the head because if she hit the baby too much in the head then have a slow brain.” She taps her forearm and her butt. “Hit here okay, no problem, but she hit again and again. So I hit she with a stick, but she no afraid me. Give me so headache.”
She supports her siblings and their kids with the money from her Australian boyfriend, but they are ungrateful and disrespectful to her, so she says sometimes she drinks a can of beer to help her sleep. (Don’t we all.)
As she flipped me over, she said she couldn’t tell her boyfriend why she is unhappy because he doesn’t know that she spends his money on her siblings. “And I am so lucky when I find him, darling. Not like Thai men or Cambodia men. After only maybe five minutes he is finish! She laughs at this, clapping her hands and squeezing my thighs. Seeming very pleased with herself, she continues to giggle as she explains that he says he has bad knees, so she gets a lot of sleep.
I ask if he is old. “No old, darling, maybe 52 or 53.” Minea says she is 29. So, I asked out loud: if the money is better in Thailand, and the men are more handsome, and she doesn’t have to worry about her siblings mooching off of her…then why did she come back to Cambodia? “I tell you before, darling. The food in Thailand is shit.”
Naomi Collett Ritz