CHIANG MAI, Thailand — As a young girl, Nang Nauk, an ethnic Shan migrant, hoped that one day she might become a famous model.
Instead, after moving to this northern Thai city with her mother, the 25-year-old found construction, agriculture and domestic worker jobs until landing a waitressing gig five years ago at a local Thai restaurant, where she now works every day from 11 am until 9 pm.
She had to earn a living, but that didn’t discourage her from pursuing her dream. Three years ago she started posing for magazines and advertisements in her spare time, until eventually customers in the restaurant began recognizing her and asking to take photographs with her.
Today, Lap Tom Yum restaurant near Meechok Plaza is known largely because Nang Nauk works there. “I did not expect to be this kind of model, although I had a dream in my childhood,” she told The Irrawaddy recently. “If possible, I want to be a model in my country.”
Born in a village near Taunggyi, Shan State, she is the youngest daughter in an ordinary family of three children, and she was educated through high school. She moved to Thailand at the age of 17 to meet her mother, who was already living and working in the country.
“My family used to have farmland [in Shan State], but the income from the farm was not enough to support me and my sister, so my mother went to work in Thailand and she sent money back to us. After I finished Grade 10, I joined my mother to help her,” Nang Nauk said.
“I faced many difficulties, such as the language barrier and differences with the transportation and food,” she added of her early days in Thailand. She now speaks fluent Thai.
Nang Nauk plans to continue working at Lap Tom Yum, despite offers from other restaurants who would like to hire her. At Lap Tom Yum, she has one day off every month and earns just 300 baht (US$9) per day. “I still want to help my employer, who has been good to me. I feel like this is not the right time yet to leave,” she said. “I am happy here and it’s like my family. It’s important to be happy with your job.”
She said she remains connected to the Shan community and participates in traditional Shan events in the city. “I will be singing in the Shan New Year’s festival this year,” she said. “I have never done this sort of entertainment for a Shan traditional festival in Chiang Mai before, since most of my time was spent working.”