Voices that matter

It’s been over a year since the coronavirus pandemic swept across Thailand. Restaurants, bars and other businesses have shut shop in droves while nightlife districts have turned into ghost towns. The streets are eerily empty while rental ads and closing signs are spotted on dusty iron shutters. Countless people who work in the nightlife and entertainment industries have been among the first groups to be most severely hit by the effects of Covid-19 and yet, they also seem to be the last group to receive any empathy from the powers that be. Their places of work have been temporarily closed or restricted to a point that they can no longer earn a livelihood. But empathy isn’t what they want (or need), they are demanding accountability from the authorities. Let’s hear what they have to say.

Nonthadet “Luke-Tao” Buranasitiporn

Representative of Thailand Nightlife and Entertainment Business Association (Neba)

It all started when the first lockdown began, last year. We have never faced a pandemic like this before and we are trying hard to adjust to the ‘new normal’ safety measures advocated by the state since last year, hoping this year will be a fresh start if we play by their rules. Honestly, everything is getting worse.

Nonthadet ‘Luke-Tao’ Buranasitiporn

When the third wave hit us, I’ve said that ‘If we still do nothing about it, we will be doomed!’ As co-owner of The Rock Pub, I’ve talked to others to form an ally by bringing nightlife people and entertainment entrepreneurs together. We’ve spent blood, sweat and tears promoting our objectives and drawing the government’s attention.

Within a week, we had more than 15,000 people who joined us and the number is still rising. We may have all come from different sinking ships, but we’re in the same boat now. We proudly present our alliance — ‘Thailand Nightlife and Entertainment Business Association (Neba)’, which comprises six main pillars: Pub and Bar Entrepreneur Association, Musician and Crews Association of Thailand, the Bangkok DJs and Promoters Society, Concert and Event Producers Association, Craft Beer Association and Bartender and Cocktail Bar Association.

They are divided into two. First, we want the government to give us our livelihoods back by removing all bans on the entertainment industry, selling alcoholic beverages in restaurants and hosting events and concerts. It has been proven that shutting down the entertainment and nightlife industries — and yet new clusters pop up — wasn’t a practical way to mitigate the spread. They are planning to reopen the country within 120 days, but we are still closed. That doesn’t make any sense! Honestly, don’t blame the people for causing the spread. We are all following orders and safety measures. If the government can’t come up with any effective solutions, we are willing to come up with them. Let us have an open discussion.

We have seen enough miscommunication between the government and related agencies like when the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) delayed City Hall’s plan to allow five types of businesses to reopen on June 1. That showed how messed up they are. So, we are asking the government to allow private sectors to participate in policymaking and open a channel to receive petitions for those in trouble. As far as we know, those policymakers are doctors, soldiers and politicians, who they don’t understand the real problem as we do. Alternative vaccines, soft-loan and handouts are other urgent help that the nightlife industry needs. We have been closed for more than 250 days, month after month, and there is no sign for us to be back in business soon.

That would be the last straw. Creative campaigns and civil disobedience is our first priority instead of creating another burden like shutting down the capital.

From now on, everyone can be a spokesperson for us by sharing news and stories from our official page: fb.com/NebaThailand, or stay tuned for our upcoming campaign. For those who are in need, don’t hesitate to join us via nebathailand.com or email at [email protected].

Sirisak “Ton” Chaited

Human rights activist for equality and visibility of LGBTQIA+ community, as well as sex workers

One of my life purposes is to be a human rights activist, especially for equality for the LGBTQIA+ community and sex workers. I have been campaigning for them for decades. I am also an independent sex worker.

Sirisak ‘Ton’ Chaited

We are the fuel that drives Thailand’s GDP and the tourism industry. Tourists visiting Thailand desire to experience our speciality. On the flip side, when the country is in trouble, we are the first ones that the state and society blame. We understand that our job involves physical activities and we are willing to take a break. But why are we now neglected by everyone?

They can be divided into two stages. For our lifelong quest — which I and others have been advocating for decades — is the legalisation of prostitution by abolishing the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996). It has been a stumbling block for us for years, preventing us from accessing the social welfare and help we deserve. Many people may label our profession as shameful or immoral, but, actually, sex workers aren’t that different from those so-called ‘honourable profession’. We all go through an interview process and experience office culture like timestamp attendance.

When the government shut down our places, we were left for dead. Although soapy massage parlours and entertainment venues are legal in Thailand, we sex workers are still labelled as illegal.

We put on our high heels and brought our bikinis to the Government House on June 29 as a symbolic gesture to call for monthly handouts of B5,000 in cash. Why cash? Because those e-wallets on the application provided by the government are impractical. There are still some expenses that those applications cannot cover like monthly rental fees and utility bills.

‘We will consider [your demand] and find a solution as soon as possible’, is what we were told. We have heard this kind of response every time we submit petitions to government administrations. What pisses me off more is that they ended our conversation with ‘Let’s go back to rest and go back to work.’ What the heck? Are you even listening to what we just said? We are jobless!

We are exhausted, but the show must go on. We have to raise our voices to make them aware of our existence. We delivered a petition on June 29, wishing that our request will be a topic at the next House meeting, but the meeting had to be adjourned due to the lack of a quorum of MPs on June 30.

All we want right now is encouragement. Please see us as human beings and recognise our career as one of the alternative professions. We are also collecting 10,000 names to abolish the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act. You can support us on the iLaw page via this link bit.ly/3Aom4KX. Or make a donation to the Empower Foundation at fb.com/empowerfoundation.cm.

Prapavee ‘Bamee’ Hemata

Creator of #Gu-Ja-Perd-Mueng-Ja-Tummai (I’ll open. Whatcha gonna do about it?)

I was on Facebook reading the latest restrictive measures imposed by CCSA that was announced at the last minute in the middle of the night on June 27. I could barely sleep that night. I calmed myself down by venting my rage on Facebook with the hashtag #Gu-Ja-Perd-Mueng-Ja-Tummai (which roughly translates to ‘I’ll open. Whatcha gonna do about it?’). Actually, it is just one of my regular statuses about how messed up the restrictions are, but it gathered steam. I decided to gather allies who are at a tipping point and ready to challenge the new order, to show the power of people through civil disobedience.

Prapavee ‘Bamee’ Hemata

What do you want from the government?

We don’t care about the compensation or ridiculous measures anymore because we talked about this over and over since the day they shut us down. The compensation and opportunities to reopen that they promised were just lip service. We obeyed their instructions for a year and nothing good has come of it. The only thing we want right now is to let reopen for business.

We have seen many venues sneakily selling alcoholic beverages. And, of course, the police have turned a blind eye when a bribe is paid. This shows the contradiction of Thai society, where people suffer from following the rules, while the others who break them survive when money changes hands.

We just launched a civil disobedience campaign dubbed ‘Kuen-Klang-Kuen’ (Returns the Nightlife) by organising an unplugged concert at Junk House Music Bar. The first-week gig will be hosted by Ammy The Bottom Blues and is limited to 30 seats per session. We encourage restaurants and bars to challenge the new restrictions by operating the venue with limited seating while following the safety measures in place. Our campaign is inspired by the flash mob model, where the next concert or activity will take place at different locations and times at our ally venues. The goal is to back-up those businesses and people while showing the government that we don’t give a damn about them.

Choltanutkun ‘Chol’ Tun-atiruj

Campaign co-founder of #Gu-Ja-Post-Mueng-Ja-Tummai

(I’m gonna post, what the f*ck are you gonna do?)

The civil disobedience campaign that I am co-creating is aimed at challenging the newly-drafted Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, B.E. 2551 that wants to fine you B500,000, and if you’re a business owner a million baht, for posting a photo of your drink online. Other one-sided regulations include a B50,000 daily fine for disobeying the officials until mistakes are corrected and an absolute autonomy granted to authorities to raid bars, restaurants or alcohol-related businesses without court orders. They also ban any indirect advertisements about alcohol, including those that are not about alcohol but could be interpreted as advertising about alcohol and drinking.

Choltanutkun ‘Chol’ Tun-atiruj

They are in the public hearing process to pass this new act until July 9, which means you can read more in the Thai version and vote ‘disagree’ via alcoholact.ddc.moph.go.th/act.

Just imagine the pain these restaurant and bar operators would suffer just by the orders to shut their business without compensation. I don’t get why this country is trying to paint a picture of it as bad stuff. It could be done better by educating people about its pros and cons.

The rule is simple: Just post a photo of your favourite drink with a censor filter, cover it and post it with a hashtag on your social media feeds.

Yes. Asst Prof Dr Charoen Charoenchai of the Surathai page has teamed up with food and beverage representatives by proposing other regulations, which are up for referendum, to rebut the previous act. They are asking for changes, such as amending the definitions of ‘sale’, ‘advertisement’ and ‘traditional catering’ to be appropriate and clear in interpretation. Revoke unreasonable alcohol sales regulations like limited selling hours and a ban on alcohol sales on Buddhist holidays and online platforms, also a ban on alcohol promotions. Arrange for representatives of the trade association of alcoholic beverage manufacturers and experts in the field of production as advisors to the policy committee.

You can save the food and drink industry by voting ‘agree’ via https://www.parliament.go.th/section77/survey_detail.php?id=146.

The funny thing is that we submitted this draft to the Office of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board of the Ministry of Health on June 16, but two weeks later, the government launched the aforementioned draft that is definitely the opposite of what we are demanding for change. Besides, food and beverage representatives are suing the government for traumatising the industry by its restrictions without compensation.

Alcoholic beverages are not a crime. Whenever the numbers rise, businesses involved with selling alcoholic drinks are always the scapegoat, regardless of other factors or not. They are the first industry mandated to close and yet they are the last ones to reopen. As a former nightlife writer and alcohol enthusiast, I have to back up my passion for alcoholic beverages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of drinker who gets drunk every night, but I take courses to learn and appreciate the essence of it.

My surroundings are also associated with bar and restaurant owners whose businesses are distressed by the government restriction on selling alcoholic drinks and a ban on dine-in service. I have seen my friends trying their best to stay alive and keep their heads above the water. So, at least I can support them through PR matters and encouragement.