Internet hits, viral videos and net idols are commonplace in Thailand’s technological society and a never ending flow of new “hot topics” (read: hot women) litters social and broadcast media.
Chiang Mai’s latest star is 22-year-old Aorawee “Ping Pong” Singdaeng, a humble pork vendor who set up shop on a roadside in Santitham no more than a few months ago.
With Thailand’s streets crowded with vending entrepreneurs, what’s the big deal, you may ask. Sure, she is a young girl, a university student trying to earn some extra cash on the side, but she’s certainly not the first vendor I have seen sporting a university uniform. So what makes her special? Why is she such a hit?
I paid Aorawee a visit one weekday afternoon, to taste her pork and find out why she has become such a viral sensation. While bagging up some cooling slices of moo yang, she told me how she went from “a nobody” to an internet sensation in just one afternoon.
“This reporter – a Thai Rath and Channel 3 freelancer – came to me and asked if he could interview me and photograph my stall,” Aorawee explained to me. “By the same afternoon, I was suddenly all over social media!”
While her grilled pork, along with all of those others sold on Chiang Mai’s streets are delicious, Aorawee’s undeniably attractive looks are what got the twitterers tweeting.
All of a sudden there was an intense media storm steeped in curiosity as to the inner workings of pork selling: the price, the source, the sauce…does she make her paste herself and how many sets does she sell a day? Pointless questions when almost everyone rushing to interview her
spent most of the time trying for a selfie and looking anywhere except her eyes. “I felt disheartened at first,” said Aorawee, “but the attention did bring me a lot of customers…”
Thing is, Thailand can be very superficial. Image is everything and if a beautiful girl is selling pork, she’s got more chance of hitting national news than a deadly fire in a hill tribe village. Such is the nature of Thai media where even the most serious and reputable news sources love to share the latest sex tape or nipple slip.
“Thai people are strange,” Aorawee mused. “They like girls, and sex sells. Thais will choose beauty over skills any day.”
That being said, Aorawee is no stranger to making money off her looks. For many years, to support her education, she has also worked as a “pretty” – basically a woman who is paid to stand around at various events looking beautiful.
I asked Aorawee if she enjoyed this rather superficial form of attention; given the fact she chose to be a pretty, maybe this attention is exactly what she seeks. “I used to own a bar, and we had many parties with sexy girls and all that so I am used to it. But we had to close,” she replied. “After that, I opened up my pork stall and people kept asking after me, where I had gone, why the bar closed. It’s obvious they liked me for more than my pork.”
Aorawee sells sets of grilled pork and her own homemade northern style chilli dip (onion or galangal flavours) for 60 baht, all quite delicious. The pork is grilled to perfection and the chilli dips are made from recipes passed down from her mother. When she first opened she was selling less than ten sets a day, now she’s having to open longer hours and sells up to 70 a day.
Aorawee is pleased with the business, but not blind to its reason for success. “At first I felt really bad,” she told me. “I’m trying to make a living but people are clearly visiting me because of how I look.” Following almost every report, notably lacking in any pretence at reporting on the economy or pork vending, would be a large selection of cute and sexy photos taken from her Facebook page.
“Soon people kept coming back again and again,” she said. “It couldn’t have just been my looks then, my pork must be good enough too, so for that I don’t mind the objectification so much.” She even makes a point of not wearing makeup; grilling pork is hot and hard work – makeup is just not practical.
“The thing I love most is being able to use these opportunities to my advantage,” she said, explaining that her looks bring in the customers, but her pork keeps them coming back.
“Everyone who wants to make it on their own must have something unique about them,” she continues. “Whether it is a new idea, a really clever skill or just their beauty. I know my pork isn’t amazing, but I can sell it well.”
Aorawee says that she enjoys the lifestyle of being young and likes to dress up sexily to party, but at 22 she is already struggling to keep up with the pretty lifestyle. “Finding a job as a pretty gets more and more challenging the older you get,” she explained. “Soon you find you are turned away because you are too fat or too dark-skinned. Even the girls fight amongst themselves, trying to get the best job they can – it can get quite nasty.”
Now Aorawee works her pork stall almost every day, and despite picking up the odd pretty job when she can, she tries to keep out of the politics of it all. “I’m kind of freelance now; I do what I want when I want,” she tells me. “I want to be a teacher in the future so I want to do a more normal job to earn some proper money first.”
Several social media users have commented on articles about Aorawee saying she’s too sexualised to be a teacher due to her past career as a pretty, but this only fuels her desire to take the pork business seriously – to prove that being seen as “sexy” does not bar her from a serious career.
Her parting comment is not only quite disturbing, but also an indictment on Thai society, using the word ngor, which means to suck up or appease desires charmingly, she flutters her eyelashes at me and says, “As a woman in this world, you gotta ngor. Whether you are a pretty, a pork vendor, or whatever, you gotta ngor if you want to succeed.”
Ping Pong Pork
Open daily, 10am – 6pm (closed Sundays) Muan Dam Pra Kot Road (on the roadside by soi 7, just past Rajabhat University) 088 252 6498, 089 997 9203