Let us eat – How food vendor Sawan Panthaisong in Sukhumvit is surviving COVID-19

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sawan Panthaisong a food Vendor at Sukhumvit Soi 20, Bangkok. Thailand. Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

“Since the rapid spread of COVID-19, street food markets have turned into ghost towns. Many street food vendors need to figure out ways to survive. Sawan Panthaisong, a food vendor, is still serving food to consumers by adapting her small business to the changes.” 

Could you please introduce yourself? 

My name is Sawan Panthaisong, and I am 48 years old. I am a food vendor at Sukhumvit Soi 20. 

What are the changes since COVID-19? 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, my daily schedule has been changed. I normally go to work at around 3 to 4 a.m. Now, due to the curfew, I leave my home at 5 a.m. Arriving a bit late is okay for me, because everybody needs to follow the same policy.  

What are the challenges you have been faced with? 

Before, I used to sell noodles, but now I sell Thai-style grilled pork (moo ping) because it is easy to take away. I need to accept that I will earn less than before, but I still want to help those who still go to work. If there is no street food, workers need to pay more for food from supermarkets or convenience stores. One skewer of moo ping and sticky rice costs only 15 baht and it is enough for a meal.  

Since you are on the frontline, what does your day look like? 

Due to the current situation, I cannot sell much because companies and hotels are temporarily shut down. However, I am still happy and encouraged to earn a living. When selling food, I protect myself by wearing mask and washing my hands after receiving money from customers. After work, I go home, take a shower, and wash my hair before getting in contact with my family. 

My expenses are still the same, but my income is lower. If we look on the bright side, there is no more traffic congestion. Normally it takes me one to two hours to go home, but now it is only 20 minutes. It also saves me some gas, and the gas prices have dropped as well. 

Do you have kids? How do you take care of this situation for them? 

I have two children. The older one just graduated from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. I always tell my younger kid, who is only 14 years old, to take care of himself. I do not go to any crowded areas, and other customers are also wearing masks. I am not very worried about my kids. The older one is living in the dormitory and does not go out. For the younger one, I stock some food for him. He may go out to buy lunch near the house, but he cooks for himself for dinner. 

Why do you think COVID-19 is impacting women differently? 

I am concerned about my income, but I have to adapt. Everybody is affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. In the long past, men went out to work and women stayed home. Now that is no longer the case, everybody needs to work. 

I would like to say, please do not go out if it is not necessary. If you must go out to work or run errands, wash your hands often, do not drink or party, follow the Government’s guidelines, and go home right away after work. 

Do you receive any support from the Government? 

Now the Government has opened up for the registration of informal workers without social security. I have signed up, and am waiting for the result to see if I am qualified. If so, the Government will give away 5,000 baht per month in cash for three months. 

Is there anything you would like to add? 

This is a pandemic. We need to help one another, but help ourselves first. Do not wait for help from others. No matter how much you are able to earn, just continue working. All over the world, we are facing this together, so do not be stressed out. Be easy, like you are going on a holiday after a long period of work. Charge your energy and keep fighting.