On a wet narrow lane behind the bustling Yaowarat Road, the main artery of Bangkok’s Chinatown, I caught a pleasant fishy and aromatic smell that was unfamiliar for me. It was not the smell Chinese soup that I found on the way. I instinctively followed the smell and noticed a group of people gathering around a food cart and eating steaming hot noodles. They chatted with each other in a language that is not Thai. There were red spots on the ground, and the unmistakable smell of betel nuts filled the air. Then I realized who they were.
Burmese workers have been an integral part of the workforce in Thailand since the last few decades. In Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, they are like worker ants that help driving local businesses. In this photo story, I documented lives of Burmese migrant workers living in a small community amidst the labyrinth of Yaowarat. Leaving their families and friends behind, they come to Thailand with a suitcase full of hope for work and money to send home. Due to limited education background and language barriers, most of them end up doing low-skilled labor jobs, especially at Sampheng Market, a wholesale marketplace for clothes and accessories that runs from 1 – 8 a.m. Being paid a minimum wage, which is nevertheless much higher than what they earn in their home country, they have to share apartments and meals with friends from the same villages.
Obviously, it is not an easy life. But they come here with the same goals: jobs and money. They all share the same hope for a better future, not only for themselves but also their families.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – NOVEMBER 30, 2018: Aung Myo Thun, a Burmese worker from a village near Naypyitaw, Myanmar, praying in his apartment in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown. Under the Buddha’s portrait is a photo of his old mother, who still lives in his hometown. He is one of Burmese workers who came to work in Thailand with hopes for a better future.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 14, 2018: A Burmese worker on the terrace of a commercial building where he works and lives in Yaowarat, with the skyline of Bangkok in the background. Hundreds of Burmese workers live in Bangkok’s Chinatown. They are an integral part of the workforce that drives the business of Yaowarat, living up its original spirit as a melting pot of foreign immigrants since its establishment in the late 17th century.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – SEPTEMBER 4, 2018: On the top floor of an apartment building in Yaowarat, where all tenants are Burmese workers. The rooftop is converted and partitioned into small rooms as high as 1.20 meter.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 12, 2018: A Burmese migrant worker setting up a stall at Ratchawong Intersection, which marks one of many entrances to Sampheng Market, a wholesale night market for fashion accessories that spreads over backstreets and alleys of Yaowarat. Most of Burmese workers living in Yaowarat work at this market.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 11, 2018: Burmese workers at Sampheng Market. Due to limited education background and language barriers, they are hired for low-skilled labor jobs and receive minimum daily wages (10.50 USD/day), which are higher than what they earn in their home country (3.50 USD/day).
BANGKOK, THAILAND – NOVEMBER 29, 2018: A Burmese worker playing with his pet rabbit after work in the Old Market of Yaowarat. As they live cramped apartments, small pets, such as rabbits, hamsters, goldfish, are popular among Burmese workers.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – SEPTEMBER 5, 2018: A Burmese worker carrying toiletries in a plastic basket walking back to his apartment after taking a shower in shared bathrooms.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 11, 2018: Most Burmese workers in Yaowarat prepare their own meals and eat at home, mostly Burmese food. Special ingredients from Myanmar can be found easily in Burmese grocery shops in the neighborhood. They usually eat by using hands, which is common in Myanmar.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – AUGUST 25, 2018: A betel shop run by a family of Burmese workers in the Old Market. It also serves as the meeting point for Burmese workers in Yaowarat. Many Burmese men still maintain the habit of betel chewing, even when it is no longer common in urban society of Bangkok.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 17, 2018: At a party to celebrate and welcome a newborn of a Burmese worker family in Yaowarat.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – SEPTEMBER 6, 2018: A poster of a Burmese actress inside a shared apartment of Burmese workers, as a reminder of their home.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 1, 2018: Zaw Min and his wife checking results of Thai lottery. They allocate a budget from their wages to play lottery every month. They have won prizes a few times after living in Thailand for two years.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 17, 2018: Aung Myat exercising with a barbell he made himself by filling plastic water bottles with sand. Keeping fit is important for Burmese workers, as most jobs that they get require physical labor.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – DECEMBER 17, 2018: Aung Myo Thun crossing Yaowarat Road, the artery of Bangkok’s Chinatown. He has been working in Thailand for seven years. He is thinking of moving back to Myanmar after saving up enough money to start a business in his hometown.