hosts and parasites

Sawasdee from Phuket,

Isn’t it funny how a casual remark can have a revelatory effect? A student at school says that workers in factories, shops and hospitality outlets appear to be jovial, so they must be happy with their lot. It’s a serious suggestion, borne of a certain ignorance but also of a basic class divide.

master and servant

When workers are laughing and smiling with each other, sometimes lightening their drudgery with inane jokes and harmless self-deprecation, they are not announcing to all and sundry that they are satisfied with their position. They are not indicating that their boring, lowly-paid position is all they ever hanker for. And they are definitely not approving the power differential which is inherent in the master-servant relationship. They are making a drudgery that much more tolerable, just like chain gangs singing chants and slaves writing the blues.

Case in point: Maw is a foreign worker in the hospitality industry. She is here from neighbouring Myanmar, earning a lot more money in the hospitality industry here than she could back home. 

It’s all relative of course. Her wages here are at the pittance level compared to her customers. She works in a restaurant, taking “orders” from 8:30 am until 10:30 pm seven days a week, with one day off every fortnight. She has no formal lunch break and has to be on site throughout. Between shifts, there is just enough time to have a sleep in one of the Spartan huts built for the wait staff up the back and out of sight. She works in a restaurant where the privileged children learn about entitlement from the high chair.

Maw smiles radiantly at every interaction but she’s not happy. She’s unquestionably not at the apex of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. Nobody ever enquires genuinely about her existence: how lonely she might be, how homesick she is; how meaningful her work is; what she wants to do with her life; whether she’d like to cool off by having a dip at the beautiful beach over yonder; how she feels about being on the front line of the Coronavirus exposure?

millions of examples

Maw is not an unusual instance which is why it’s worthwhile recounting the detail. There are millions more in the system which says there will always be someone desperate enough to take it on. To conclude that these workers are contented is erroneous. For anyone who has ever been in such a position, it’s an outright absurdity. And that’s the benefit of being in such a position in the first place.

So, who is the host and who is the parasite? Isn’t it funny how a casual visit to the cinema can crystallise certain things in one’s mind?

Ping Lao from Phuket,


Other photos from hereabouts

Andaman Sea
on tour in the Andaman Sea

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