During the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming businesses and online platforms enjoyed explosive growth, especially for the entertainment industry. In Thailand, however, one particular traditional music business — molam — plunged into dire circumstances. Yet to be afforded legitimacy, molam artists receive little to no support from the government. Today, they hang onto a dimming hope that they will return to the stage as their art form gradually dies.
Guest contribution by Stephanie Clark
A popular street vendor at Khon Kaen University tells her story about her transition from an unfulfilled office worker in Bangkok to an accomplished business owner.
Hordes of students gather at the corner of 7-Eleven and U-Center behind Khon Kaen University every morning. They line up and surround Tanyachon Chumphon’s popular grilled meat skewer, or moo ping, stand. This has been a near-daily occurrence for the past eight years.
Before Tanyachon started her business, she worked as a secretary for a garment export company in Bangkok. Her job had uncertain hours often forcing her to work late into the night. Her least favorite part of this job was the insufficient pay of 8,000 baht per month, leaving her living from paycheck to paycheck.
Her motivation in switching professions was an increase in income. Before, she rented a single-room apartment with her husband. Since she began selling moo ping, she has been able to afford two cars and a house where she now lives with her husband, mother, and younger brother.
“I’m happy I can support my family,” she says.
Originally from Sukhothai Province, Tanyachon moved to Khon Kaen where her mother was living and selling moo ping. Tanyachon says she wanted to work with her mom so they could sell more moo ping together. Tanyachon and her mother marinate and make 70 chicken meat skewers themselves. Because they sell up to 500 grilled pork skewers daily, they hire a friend to prepare the pork.
There was a high up-front investment for her business, Tanyachon says, including the price of meat, sticks, rice, and bags to hold the rice. Supplies range from 7,000 to 8,000 baht per day, and Tanyachon usually takes home a daily profit of 2,000 to 3,000 baht.
But over the past couple of years, her profit has been shrinking, due mainly to the opening of other moo ping stands near U-Center, Tanyachon says. When she began, she was the only vendor in the area. Additionally, her prices have remained the same over the years while the price of pork rose from 70 baht per kilogram to 115 baht per kilogram.
Tanyachon says she is still happier selling moo ping in Khon Kaen than she was working in a Bangkok office. But she is considering a career change. She currently has supplementary income from hiring people to raise cattle in her hometown in Sukhothai Province. Every two months, she pays people to raise forty cows and sells them to a middleman.
Tanyachon says she may return to Sukhothai to pursue that business due to the decreased profits from selling moo ping, though she says she does not want to limit herself to a single source of income.
Tanyachon’s schedule is much different now that she sells moo ping. Every day, she gets up at 2am to steam sticky rice. Without fail, Tanyachon and her husband arrive at Khon Kaen University at 4:15am. When they start grilling the meat, students flock almost instantly.
“University students don’t like to sleep,” she says.
There is a steady flow of customers daily until around 8:30am, when students stop to pick up breakfast before heading to class, Tanyachon says. She and her husband sell until about 10am on weekdays, and 11am on weekends, which is typically when all the moo ping have been sold.
After selling out, Tanyachon and her husband pack up their supplies and return home to clean everything from their stand. She then begins preparing for the next day, which takes much of the afternoon and evening. This typically means there is no time to cook meals, but Tanyachon likes to snack on her moo ping when she gets hungry.
Tanyachon is finally able to go to sleep at 9pm, getting five hours of much-deserved rest. She describes her profession as “sleepless work,” but believes her hectic schedule is worthwhile.
“I’m happiest when I am selling moo ping and earning money,” Tanyachon says. She is proud to have her own business and says her life is better now because of it.
Now that she runs her own business, she is able to to take days off for family events and take care of her mother. Her relationship with her family is better than ever now that she is able to spend more time them.
“I started from scratch with no money,” she says. “What got me to this point is selling moo ping.”
Stephanie Clark is a junior studying psychology and Spanish at Tulane University. She studied development and globalization in Khon Kaen this past semester.