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Ping Pong at the Can Do bar. All photos by Charlotte England. Sitting outside her bar in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Mai Janta tells me that she has regrets about sex work: She wishes she'd done it earlier.
I should have been doing it a long time before. Malee Van Derburg, who has been a sex worker for decades, as well as a prolific activist and advocate for sex workers' rights, interjects. And we learn about human behavior. It's very interesting. We get to learn other languages, meet people from all over the world. I ask Janta what she would change about sex work—"but what are the drawbacks?
She wants sex work decriminalised in Thailand so that all sex workers are covered by existing labor laws, because that would be the end of exploitative working conditions in the industry.
And she would like the customers to be more rich and more handsome. Both Janta and Van Derburg are members of Empower , an organization that advocates for sex workers' rights in Thailand. Janta is also the manager of Can Do , a small, faded bar on a quiet street, to the south-west of Chiang Mai's main red light district, Loi Kroh Road, which extends like an artery out of the east side of the picturesque old town. As we talk other women, who are also sex workers, come and go, occasionally they join in, but mostly they're busy—absorbed in chatting, laughing and carefully assembling a shared supper of fresh spring rolls.
One day a group of sex workers in Chiang Mai said, 'Actually the government doesn't get it We're going to have to build it ourselves.